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Historic victory feels ‘awesome’

By Mike Plaisance

Source: Sunday Republican (Springfield)
Sunday,November 8, 2009

Being the first woman is important, but Holyoke’s new mayor is not losing sight of the issues.
HOLYOKE – The woman who would be making history in less than an hour sat in her kitchen and pulled a black shawl around her.

“I shouldn’t hug anyone tonight,” said Elaine A. Pluta, who had been fighting a cold.
But supporters either didn’t know about her cold or didn’t care as they lined up to hug Pluta, a city councilor, shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday as precinct results poured in showing she had been elected the city’s first female mayor.

She defeated Daniel C. Boyle, by a comfortable margin, 4,794-3,245.

Pluta, 66, will be sworn in in January to replace Mayor Michael J. Sullivan, who has been mayor since 2000 and didn’t seek re-election.

Making such a historic mark obviously matters to Pluta, who described the feeling of becoming the first female mayor with words such as “fantastic” and “awesome,” but she also was dwelling on concrete matters.

There’s the large number of Holyokers in poverty, many of whom speak little or no English, who need jobs, she said.

“We have to get those people involved,” Pluta said.

Another big issue is the new-horizon potential awaiting the city with the planned $80 million high-performance computer center, she said. The project is being planned for the canal area by Gov. Deval L. Patrick and a team that includes the University of Massachusetts, Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Prominent women and others here discussed the meaning of Pluta’s election.

“Of course, she is an inspiration for many other women,” School Committee member Gladys Lebron-Martinez said.

Lebron-Martinez listed Pluta’s trajectory. She raised a family, spent 14 years on the City Council, worked four years as Management Assistance Program director in the 1990’s, got a bachelor’s degree in politics with a minor in urban studies from Mount Holyoke College and is on leave from her job as an aide to U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst.

“It is, for those of us who know her, like me, it is an inspiration,” Lebron-Martinez said.

Suzanne L. Parker is executive director of Girls Inc., a nonprofit here that offers programs for girls of ages 5 to 18. Pluta’s election as mayor fits with the organization’s vision to help girls be strong, smart and bold, she said.

“We’re always looking for women out in the community that are doing things that you don’t necessarily see women doing,” Parker said.

Pluta and her husband of 46 years, Theodore A. Pluta, have two sons and a daughter, all grown, so she said she understands the importance of an adult setting an example for young eyes.
But she said she also gets it that becoming her native city’s first female mayor makes her a role model.

“It is a big responsibility. You have to be better than average. You have to remember that you’re a role model and you always want to put your best foot forward,” Pluta said.

She was born on Columbus Avenue and her family moved to Dwight Street when she was 2. Now, she said she is preparing to meet on Monday with Sullivan and on Tuesday with Gov. Patrick and other newly elected mayors on Beacon Hill.

Vanquished campaign foeDaniel C. Boyle criticized Pluta for being unfriendly to new businesses looking to locate here.

Pluta said as a councilor she has voted in favor of more than two dozen businesses. They included the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside expansion, the Holyoke Crossing plaza that includes Barnes & Noble and purchasing the hydroelectric dam, the key being the business can’t be more harmful than helpful, she said.

Pluta’s ability to manage a budget will be tested soon into her term. Most of Holyoke’s $119 million budget consists of state funding and Patrick has warned that massive cuts loom.

City Councilor at Large Rebecca Lisi said the danger in assessing the election of the city’s first female mayor is to dwell on that at the expense of positions Pluta has taken that matter to people, at least as much or more than her being a woman.

Examples include Pluta’s emphasizing economic development that is “green,” or environmentally friendly, and re-establishing a vibrant downtown, Lisi said.

“I don’t think that her ‘femaleness’ was something that was driving voters toward her, but I do think that what it signifies for us, as a community, is we were open to sharing power among diverse groups,” Lisi said.

Councilor at Large Kevin A. Jourdain said it is important that the city has its first female mayor. In Pluta, people can expect someone who is not only willing to listen and compromise, but will say no to someone if that’s best for the city, he said.

At her home at 72 Berkshire St. on Tuesday, Pluta noted it was nearing 7:30 p.m. Polls would close – and results would become known – in a half hour.

“We should get going,” Pluta said. “Time to face the music.”

At her post-election party at the Wherehouse? restaurant on Lyman Street, Pluta’s friend Helen F. Norris, a former city councilor, summed up the election.

“It’s historic, and Elaine couldn’t have been a better choice,” Norris said. “She’s cool and she’s thoughtful.”
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