Hello, my name is Rebecca Lisi and I’ve spent the past 14 years as a Councilor at-large for the City of Holyoke. I’m here with my husband, Damian, and our son, Lucien. I wish to thank you all for joining us on this cold and sunny day. I’d also like to take a moment and acknowledge that we are gathered on Nipmuc and Pocumtuc land.
They say a city is only as good as the people who are in it. And I can say, that as both a city councilor and citizen, Holyoke is home to some of the most resilient, most hardworking, and celebratory, people in all of Massachusetts, if not the world. This is a city where we show up for each other—we shovel each others’ sidewalks, we pick up each other’s kids. Holyoke is a place where traditions matter. Where politics matter. The citizens of Holyoke show up for their politicians, too. And it’s not usually to tell us Congratulations, you’re doing a great job! The people of Holyoke petition their local government, they demand accountability, a fair process, and can tell when they’re not getting either. It’s for these reasons and so many more that I’ve been proud to call Holyoke, “home.” I live in Holyoke. I work in Holyoke—I work for Holyoke—and it’s through my hard work and dedication to this city that I’ve won campaign after campaign. As City Councilor-at large, you’ve entrusted me to represent your voices in the council chambers. For that, I am truly humbled and grateful. And it’s in this spirit of grace and humility, and my deep love for the City of Holyoke that I am here today to announce my candidacy for the next mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts.
They say city politics, like showbusiness, is all about who you know. Most people know me as “City Councilor Rebecca Lisi.” I’d like to take a second to introduce you to Rebecca.
I was born in Long Island, NY the first born daughter of Joseph and Ellen Lisi. My father, like his father before him, was a beat cop in Manhattan. My mother was a purchasing agent for a medical supply company. Family was very important to them, particularly my mother, and particularly family dinner. Every night, no matter where my brother Dougie and I were, 6pm, no excuses, when we heard the bells from St. Thomas Church, ring six times, we knew we’d better get home.
My parents didn’t make a lot of money, but what money they did make went into their children. And since they had never gone, it was really important for me to be the first in our family to go to college. I did, though like a lot of students, it took me a while to find my footing.
I first came to Massachusetts in 2002—shortly after graduating from Binghamton University with a degree in Biology. I’d just accepted at job as a door-to-door canvasser for Clean Water Action, a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening legislation around the environment and public health. It truly changed my life.
It was with Clean Water Action that I learned the value of shoe leather. It was long hours going door-to-door, year-round, talking to people about legislation that may not have been high on their radar. Some canvassers don’t last more than a couple of weeks. Me—I moved from canvasser to trainer, to field manager, to director all within a single year.
For me, grassroots, door-to-door organizing was bigger than any piece of legislation. It was about helping empower everyday citizens, reminding them how important their voices were to the democratic process. And in talking to people about the power of the political voice, I’d finally found my own.
When I moved to our home in Holyoke, I didn’t have much¬¬¬¬ besides Damian. No friends, no extensive family connections, just a biology degree I hadn’t much use for and a few years of organizing under my belt. I felt that I was outgrowing my role at Clean Water Action when a ward seat opened up on the City Council. It was then that I decided to take those same skills I learned canvassing and begin knocking on doors for my own city council campaign.
They say a good politician can talk their way out of anything. I’ve found the opposite to be true. A good politician knows how to listen. And this is how I’ve run for office and how I’ve gotten to know you and learn about our city—by knocking on YOUR doors, hearing YOUR stories, asking which issues are important to you, and then just listening. Never assuming I knew what was best for Holyoke, but an earnest searching for ways to find commonalities in our stories, thinking about how to combine and find compromise among our various interests, and building connections between groups and issues.
As Mayor, my priority will be helping our city build bridges that connect us. Holyoke’s ‘power to grow’ rests in each and every single one of us. My job as mayor will be to develop opportunities that let YOUR talents, YOUR visions, and YOUR passions create a bridge to our collective tomorrow.
I promise to help build a bridge from our past to our future; one that honors our historic buildings and assets while bringing in new designs and innovative technologies.
I promise to help build a bridge between “old” and “new” Holyoke; one that connects families who have lived in Holyoke for generations, to those who love Holyoke enough to make it their home for the first time.
And I promise to help build bridges between the government and the people; one that ensures that government decisions are reflective of the diversity of our city.
Behind me is the Holyoke Public Library. It stands as a testament to the ways that past and present, old and new, public and private can combine to create innovative historic preservation and renovation projects that speak to Holyoke’s legacy as the first planned industrial city.
Over the past fourteen years, I have been working hard to ensure that our historic building stock and urban identity is not lost. I was out front fighting for the green renovation of the Lyman Terrace, the preservation of Mater Dolorosa church, and the adaptive re-use of our historic mills for revenue-generating marijuana manufacturing. Years of landlord neglect is deteriorating the rich history of our city’s building stock. Buildings left in poor condition compromise our ability preserve that history and stands in the way of future growth. We need aggressive legal strategies that hold absentee landlords accountable.
Holyoke’s legacy of innovation must continue as we chart a course for economic redevelopment in our city. Since my first campaign for office, I have been spearheading downtown revitalization as a means to stabilize the city’s tax base. As Mayor, I would work closely with the Office of Planning and Economic Development to make sure we are marketing the city, expanding indoor grow operations, and bringing small shops and restaurants back to the urban core. I will also work in close partnership with Holyoke Gas and Electric to ensure we have the natural gas capacity and municipal fiber internet capabilities that Holyoke needs in order to grow.
Even as vaccine distribution signals that the end of the pandemic is on the horizon, its effects will not disappear anytime soon. Hampden County has been hit hard by the coronavirus. For the past year, we’ve had to watch COVID-19 sicken our loved ones, compromise our businesses, and keep us away from our family and friends. It’s disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives.
COVID-19 has made our lives more home-centered, more “remote.” School, work, ordering food, attending our medical appointments—we are doing more things from our kitchen tables than we could have ever imagined. Access to the internet has now become as essential as heat and hot water. Which is why a strong, consistent internet connection can no longer be seen as a luxury; it has become a utility, and a matter of equity. It is imperative that Holyoke develop residential access to municipal fiber in order to ensure equity in education, healthcare, and employment. This is why I was proud to sponsor the 2019 ballot initiative to gauge the feasibility of a residential fiber network. Municipal fiber will also help Holyoke maintain its competitive edge in attracting new businesses and residents to the city, particularly as the housing crisis in Boston pushes people westward.
COVID has also brought into sharp focus the importance of our relationships for our individual mental health and also our community health and resilience. From Smith’s Ferry to Ingleside, Oakdale to Elmwood, The Flats and Rock Valley—each neighborhood has its own particular identity and set of concerns. But one thing they all have in common is a powerful tradition of neighbors helping neighbors. A key part of my platform will be the creation of Neighborhood Associations, something that would be funded out of the budget of the mayor’s office or with Community Development Block Grants. These groups would be established to support new and old residents working together to create neighborhood events and programs. In the process of participating in these activities, neighbors get to meet each other, learn about the issues in their neighborhoods, and find ways to work together on common, shared goals. It would be similar to what I created through c.r.u.s.h. which was responsible for a brief spurt of broad civic volunteerism that led to the canals being lit for the holidays, a winter carnival, and serval years of the Great Holyoke Block Party. It’s city boosterism from the inside out.
When it comes to bridging the people and government, it’s important to remember that the government is not a fixed entity that exists on its own. Government is an institution that translates citizens’ interests into laws and policies; it is representative of our ideas and involvement. It is a vehicle for citizen action that determines the quality and direction of our lives. And it is powered by the voices of those who participate.
So, if we want robust public education facilities, effective public safety initiatives, or efficient trash and recycling programs, then city leaders must hear from our residents about what is working and what is not. We can only identify problems and begin to improve our performance once we understand your experiences in the community. My promise to you is that you’ll always find an open door to City Hall, and to my office as mayor, where you will find a listening ear.
In order to continue to provide and improve the present level of services in the city—police, fire, trash, recycling, and more—we need to get Holyoke’s in-house financial functions in order. As a City Councilor, I have been attentive to the financial pillars that the Departments of Revenue and Local Services have outlined for us. I can assure you that I have the experience needed to manage the city budget and I will carefully guard taxpayer money. By implementing financial best practices we can improve our financial standing and avoid falling into another state receivership.
Our city’s stabilization account is very healthy and continues to grow and protect the city should we ever encounter any emergency situation. However, Holyoke has been lacking a capital investment plan for too long and we are seeing the outcome of the lack of planning in the deterioration of our vehicle fleets, equipment, and building conditions. As mayor, I will set up a capital stabilization account and develop an investment plan that will get us back on track with predictable purchases and maintenance timelines.
I know that at this moment in Holyoke’s history, we are being presented with an opportunity to allow ourselves to be enlarged by our diversity. It’s time to embrace our neighbors and move forward together. I am ready to be your next mayor, but I can’t do it alone. I hope that in the coming months you will help me carry my message to your friends and families. To do that, we need folks like you contributing their time and money to this effort. Contributions can be made on my political website, votelisi.com. All donations are welcome as they are each a gesture of your support. If you are not in a position to contribute financially, please consider becoming a volunteer in the campaign—whether you want to host a party, work with data, or help knock on doors to get the word out, there is a role for everyone. And if you are still considering your options and want to learn more about the candidates, please follow my political page on Facebook, for more information and updates as the campaign goes on. Thank you again for your time today. My name is Rebecca Lisi and I’m asking for your vote for Mayor on November 2nd.