Thursday, August 16, 2007

Its Powell Time!...

During the odd-numbered years, Springfield finds itself in the throes of yet another municipal election cycle. Usually, the focus has been on the mayor's race, as is the case to some extent this year. The City Council Race, however, could be heating up to a level not seen in a long time. As has happened for the past few years there is an open seat, but the momentum may be there to unseat some incumbents, too.

Among those showing some strength early on is Karen Powell. A lifelong city resident and business owner, Powell has actually been active in local politics for sometime. Her advocacy for issues affecting the city goes back 10-12 years. Hers was among the most vocal in opposing Albano's boondoggle of a baseball stadium in the North End and in advocacy for the libraries during the crisis in 2003. Recently, Karen sat down with WMassP&I to offer some perspective on her views and vision for the city.

Powell emphasized her position that public service should be something that one does because they want to make a difference, not to collect a paycheck. The city council in particular, while seemingly irrelevant today, remains a conduit for public opinion. To begin, she intends to try to counter the all too common pessimism seemingly prevalent in our city. As a city councilor she would have the access to the media to get the word out about the positives of the city. Those positives, which have always been there, have been in her mind relegated to the sidelines because "people felt they had not say" and their opinion "didn't matter," or "nobody listened."

When asked if the city's problems were economic, governmental, or community-based, Powell stated it was a combination. In her estimate the city has to spend money on a number of social programs. Meanwhile, the tax base has faltered all the while, there is a loss of cohesion in the city.

Powell describes Springfield's biggest problem as the perception of crime. The problem, she explains is both a crime problem and a perception problem. To address this, Powell calls for more officers on the street to help fight crime. However, what we do with those officers is just as important. Powell advocates a strong Broken Windows Campaign. For those readers unfamiliar with this type of campaign, Broken Windows emphasizes enforcement of small offense and quality of life issues. The hope being that it will reduce the perception of crime while creating a situation where crime is less able to flourish. As a city councilor, Powell would work with the Police Department and Commission Flynn and ask them what do they need to get that job done.

Powell has called for a better policy to regulate the city's rented properties. She states that absentee landlords are in serious need of enforcement up to and including not only code enforcement, but potentially home rule legislation enabling the city to license landlords. When asked which issue is getting the least attention by officials and media, Powell responded with "litter." She explained that trash strewn about adds to the perception of crime and sullies neighborhoods. Powell suggested that cleanups should be organized more frequently.

Finally, she also sees the schools as key to the city's turnaround. Working with the school committee, she hopes to work on improving city schools in every way from decreasing class size to working on discipline.

Powell stressed that the only way she can do her job successfully is to build relationships with even the more tenured of city officials and respect their opinions. To advocate for the city, Powell promises to go out to speak to businesses and the legislative delegation, and promote Western Mass. Her years of political activism behind her have brought her more clout than the average person.

Powell describes her campaign as going "very well" with all the door to doors, and preparing for the now all-but-certain preliminary election. Her typical campaign-intensive day involves phones calls, working on her database, delivering signs, planning events, and more.

When asked what about her and her campaign appeals to voters most, Powell notes how she has spoken up for problems, been pro-active, does not over promise, and is easily accessible. Most importantly, she describes herself as an atypical politician. In other words she is one of us.

Looking ahead, Powell sees either herself or recently declared candidate, Patrick Markey taking the open council seat with either her or Markey felling an incumbent. She concluded by saying "I know that I would do a good job." Her optimism may be among the most important things she can give the city. Powell added "You can always change things."

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