WESTFIELD, Mass. (Westfield News) – 2015 was only a day old when a long-rumored announcement from City Hall sent shockwaves through the Westfield political scene.
When word got out Thursday that Mayor Daniel M. Knapik will not be seeking another term, candidates began mulling whether to throw their hat in the ring for the next mayoral race, with Michael Roeder, who lost a nail biter by 333 votes to Knapik in 2013, the only confirmed candidate at this time.
Knapik said Friday that his reasoning for declining to run for another term is practical in nature.
“I said in 2009 that I was going to do A,B,C and D and it all got done,” said Knapik. “I was pretty goal-oriented, so there was really no point in sticking it around.”
Knapik cited restoring fiscal balance to the city, the groundbreaking for a new senior center, determining the fate of a new school and seeing through all of the capital projects that were approved during his tenure on the council as his goals in 2009.
“Those things were critically important and they’ve all been accomplished. There’s a new set of challenges on the horizon, so it is time for some new folks to get involved,” said Knapik, adding that he doesn’t have a new job lined up.
“I’ll be taking a look around. I’ve got 365 days to figure it out,” he said.
When contacted Friday about his mayoral aspirations, Roeder reaffirmed his commitment to the race.
“I’ve made the decision, my wife’s fine with it and a lot of people are happy about it,” he said.
As to who he’ll face, Roeder said he hasn’t heard of anyone, but he expects them to come forward sooner or later.
“I believe candidates should be challenged. Even if it was Santa Claus in the mayor’s seat, I’d hope someone would challenge the guy,” he said. “I know I’m going to be challenged. I just don’t know who will yet.”
“It is so early in the game and I may need a couple weeks or longer to get my act together in terms of how I’m going to campaign and what kind of support I can raise up,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job of that than I did last year.”
The impact of Knapik’s announcement will loom large over the City Council’s first meeting of 2015 on Monday, when they will decide who will succeed At-large Councilor Brent Bean as council president, who has decided not to seek reappointment.
Whoever is selected would become the acting mayor should Knapik vacate the office after June 30, avoiding a special election that would be triggered if he were to resign less than six months into the year.
Speculation has been running that At-large Councilor Brian Sullivan will be voted in as the new council president, while fellowAt-large Councilor David Flaherty is also rumored to be in the mix.
When asked about his political future, Flaherty said he has actually been asked several times to run for mayor but, as a small businessman with children, it simply isn’t in the cards.
He added that the ideal person for the mayor’s office would be a “retired executive with leadership experience” but said he knows who will get his vote for council president Monday.
“He’s been around a long, long time and I would support him,” said Flaherty in reference to Sullivan. “A couple of weeks ago when he was calling looking for support I said that that would be fine with me.”
Some councilors feel the Knapik announcement needs to factor into the council’s decision on who succeeds Bean Monday and whomever is elected president should recuse themselves from running for higher office.
“Due to the special circumstances of the possibility of the Mayor’s departure prior to the completion of his term and the unfair advantage it might give any potential candidate, I feel that anyone running for Council President should commit to not running for Mayor,” wrote Ward 1 Councilor Mary O’Connell in a Westfield News column this week, harkening to mind Governor Deval L. Patrick’s appointment of Mo Cowen to the Senate seat vacated by John Kerry when he became Secretary of State in 2013.
Regarding Sullivan’s potential election as council president, Knapik said he would also support his selection.
“I said the other day that Brian and I have an excellent working relationship, having been on the council for eight years together and then for my years as mayor,” said Knapik. “His steady leadership was a critical factor in resolving the tax levy issue this year, so I hope he ends up with the presidency and I assume that he will.”
While Sullivan could not be reached for comment Friday, sources close to the longtime at-large councilor say that, while he definitely is running for council president, he has not made up his mind about a potential mayoral run, although he has assembled a committee to explore the possibility.
When asked what a potential showdown with Sullivan in a mayoral race would be like, Roeder said Sullivan would pose a “serious challenge.”
“I’ve never met the man and had a deep conversation with him, but he’s been around a long time, he’s a popular guy and a strong presence on the council,” he said. “If I were to say that I’m not worried about a guy like that, I’d be lying to you. I’m going to have to campaign very hard against a guy with his background and support.”
Roeder added that Sullivan’s strong political lineage in the city – his brother Rick served as mayor for 13 years, as state secretary of energy and environmental affairs and most recently as Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s Chief of Staff, while another brother, Kevin, serves on the Westfield School Committee – could be a hindrance against a candidate like himself.
“I think it’s time for a change in the way things are done. I think Knapik and the people associated with him have been in control of this city for too long and a lot of people believe like I do,” he said. “Maybe someone like Sullivan versus someone less experienced like me for a mayoral position would motivate a lot more people in this city to go to the polls.”
“I think it’s going to be a hell of an interesting year,” Roeder concluded.
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