If the 2015 mayoral race in Chicopee had a theme song, it would have to be Shalamar’s 1979 hit “Second Time Around.”
Richard Kos was Mayor from 1997 to 2004 and then returned to practicing law. Mike Bissonnette was elected mayor in 2007, and held the office until Kos ran again. He unseated Bissonnette two years ago.
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The two candidates have plenty of opportunities to point fingers at each other’s records. Kos says he inherited an unfinished legacy.
“There was a change in his administration over the years, and towards the end there was just stagnation,” Kos says. “Even now he’ll list the things that need to be done. And I agree, but his approach just couldn’t get it done.”
Bissonnette says he voted for Kos twice. But this last term, he thinks Kos isn’t working hard enough. But he insists his assessment is nothing personal.
“The question is often brought up about whether or not this is sort of the Mike Bissonnette Revenge Tour,” Bissonnette says. “It really isn’t.”
The two candidates disagree over many issues, including how to stem growing gang activity in the city, and whether to develop, or demolish, long closed properties like the Uniroyal administration building.
In a recent debate on WGBY, Kos and Bissonnette went at it over personnel matters.
“In the last two years since Rich has been mayor, more than a dozen department heads and major figures in city government have left. We had a pretty good team,” Bissonnette said.
“Some of the people we have to replace are people that got put out of office because of improper decisions my opponent made,” Kos said, referring to a Massachusetts Civil Service Commission ruling last year that a police chief appointment made by Bissonnette when he was mayor was “tainted by personal and political bias.”
That chief is out. The one Bissonnette passed over is in.
On paper, both candidates have been effective leaders, says reporter and Reminder Publications managing editor G. Michael Dobbs. And both, he adds, are homegrown guys.
“Among their constituents are people who’ve know them almost their entire lives. So, there is an element of personality that perhaps you wouldn’t see in elections in larger cities,” Dobb says.
This is compelling race to watch, Dobbs says. Kos, a successful lawyer chose to come back to the relative madness of running a city. And Bissonnette remains beloved despite his foibles. Most recently, a tussle with a police officer on primary day. When he was mayor two years ago, Bissonnette used his government email to peruse Ashley Madison, a dating website. And, more recently, he’s not paid his taxes on time.
“His supporters view these things as pretty minor,” Dobbs says. “They’re true believers.”
Balance that with Kos’ popularity and Dobbs says he’s certainly not going to make any predictions about what could happen at the polls next week in Chicopee.