|By Carley Dangona|
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Mayor Gregory Neffinger faced off against opponent Ed Sullivan in a debate that left the animated crowd buzzing with chatter.
The West of the River Chamber of Commerce sponsored the mayoral debate that took place on Oct. 10.
In his opening statement, Neffinger, an architect by trade, said, “I became involved in politics because I saw we could do things better.”
Sullivan opened the debate by stating, “I love this community and consider it my extended family. I am motivated by what’s beneficial for West Springfield in the long run.”
Both agreed that economic development is vital to sustaining the town.
Neffinger said, “We don’t need a casino to drive economic development in West Springfield.” He added that if re-elected, he would continue his efforts to support the Planning and Development Department, which now has a director after a 12-year vacancy that Neffinger hired.
Sullivan noted the number of vacant storefronts on Memorial Avenue alone and said that the first to steps in drawing retailers was to improve the school systems and increase public safety.
During the discussion about schools, Sullivan questioned Neffinger why the mayor had not completed a CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) check for the School Department. Neffinger stated that he had and told Sullivan “to check your facts.” Sullivan responded stating he had and that there was no CORI on file for the mayor.
State law requires a CORI for School Committee members, among others.
Both candidates were asked about their approach to budget cuts.
Neffinger said he has already cut taxes twice. He cited one as the reduction of overtime hours as a means of lowering taxes. He noted that his budgets have passed without teacher layoffs.
Sullivan said that unlike the mayor, he would not resort to “deficit spending” and would instead streamline the operating system of the town. “We don’t need three people in the mayor’s office and one running around taking pictures of me,” he said.
Sullivan asked Neffinger his opinion about the fact that the town department heads have petitioned for a union.
Neffinger stated he was not aware of that fact. “If you’re going to make change, you are going to ruffle feathers,” he said.
Sullivan stated, “I would not be a dictator, I would work well with others.” He added that as former Town Council president, he has a proven track record of doing so.
Neffinger addressed some of the communication issues of his term. “The people wanted change. I’d love to get along; why not come along with the mayor’s plan. I fought the status quo every step of the way because I would do good things for the residents and they didn’t like it. Is West Springfield better than it was less than two years ago? Yes.”
At this point, some members of the audience yelled “no” in response to the mayor’s comment. He then accused the audience of “conspiring” with Sullivan’s campaign. Sullivan asked that the audience to remain respectful.
The mayor stated that Sullivan had no plan to run the town, but that as mayor, he had kept every single campaign promise he made.
At one point, Sullivan called Neffinger “a politician in true form, trying to get short-term gain for himself.”
Neffinger referred to Sullivan’s interview with Reminder Publications in an article published in June outlining his campaign platform. He asked Sullivan if he would continue working at Sullivan Paper Co. Inc if elected.
Sullivan responded stating that he’d already secured a leave of absence from the company and would abide by the town’s Home Rule Charter and be a “full-time mayor.”
“I suppose you could do some consulting on the side, who’d know?” Neffinger rebutted.
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