The Northampton mayoral race is starting to heat up.
Shanna T. Fishel, an activist, social worker and former special education teacher, announced their campaign for chief executive of the city.
“I am running for mayor of Northampton because I am invested in the future of our community. Having overcome personal obstacles and supported others to overcome theirs, I am well-equipped for the challenge to lead our community efforts towards growth and transformative practices and policies,” Fishel said in a statement. “Upholding justice and transparency, I am excited to collaborate with residents, business owners and organizations to ensure that every voice is heard.”
Mayor David Narkewicz’s confirmed in January that he won’t seek a fourth term in office.
Fishel’s platform includes leading an “equitable, safe and effective” recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, supporting small businesses in the Hampshire County community, ensuring housing equity and rent stabilization, enhancing infrastructure investments, expanding educational opportunities and more.
Their background is one of hard work, resilience and pain. In 1997, Fishel was injured in a motorcycle crash and had to undergo three surgeries and varied medical risks. A doctor said they would never run or dance again, “breaking Shanna’s spirit,” according to the campaign.
Twelve years later, when Fishel’s twin children were less than a year old, the candidate suffered a stroke, losing “words, memories and physical abilities,” the campaign detailed.
“For the second time in their life, Shanna endured a long, painful journey of rehabilitation,” the campaign said. “A year later, against all odds and medical predictions, Shanna completed a sprint-triathlon in 1:37:07 and was propelled into further growth. Each turn and trauma built Shanna’s ability to believe in the power of resilience and healing.”
Fishel worked for America Reads, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and was president of their college chapter of Hillel. They have also helped the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, the Connecticut River Conservancy’s river cleanup events and Tapestry Health.
The candidate is an educator as well. After graduating with a master’s degree in special education from Lesley University in 2005, Fishel worked within Boston Public Schools.
As a first-year teacher, Fishel “confidently stepped into the open position of teacher’s union representative and organized fellow teachers to strike with the BPS teachers union,” the campaign noted.
In the years that followed, Fishel gravitated toward sexual justice issues, volunteering for roughly five years for the Planned Parenthood hotline and eventually working as a private consultant, counselor and educator in the public and private sector for close to a decade, according to the campaign.
After graduating from Smith College School for Social Work and becoming a certified social worker, Fishel now provides community outreach services for individuals experiencing “co-occurring struggles, trauma and oppression,” the campaign said.
Fishel is also working to decrease food insecurity and waste in Northampton, collaborating with others currently to bring a community fridge to the city, according to the campaign.
“Shanna T. Fishel is committed to invigorating our town, renewing our community pride and creating humane practices in government,” a statement from the campaign reads. “Driven by life-long community building and cross-community collaboration, Shanna will work with you to implement strategic planning for housing equity and community resilience, address infrastructure needs rooted in environmental justice, expand justice-oriented educational opportunities, revitalize our small businesses and improve transportation and programming to benefit our youth and the elderly.”
Fishel, who is gender-nonconforming, and their partner are homeowners in Leeds, where they live with their twins, their dog Freeda and their three cats.
The news of Fishel’s candidacy came the same week Northampton City Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra launched her bid for mayor.
Serving on the council since 2014, Sciarra, a Democrat, has worked on multiple subcommittees and currently chairs the Finance Committee and vice-chairs the Committee on Legislative Matters. She was unanimously voted in by her colleagues as council president in 2020.
The council president’s platform in running for mayor includes prioritizing racial and social justice, addressing the impact of climate change in the city and spearheading an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 public health crisis.
“This year has brought unimaginable challenges and for many it has been personally devastating. The pandemic has laid bare the inequities and injustice of many broken systems in our country,” Sciarra said in a statement announcing her bid for mayor. “While hard, these moments also hold hope and opportunity for change. I’m ready to work with everyone in our community to move us forward to a more vibrant, more accessible and more equitable Northampton.”
Sciarra was named as a possible mayoral candidate after Narkewicz’s decision not to seek reelection was made public in January. The names of Chelsea Sunday Kline, an activist and former state Senate candidate, and Alan Wolf, the mayor’s chief of staff, were floated as potential contenders as well. However, both individuals have made it clear they won’t be tossing their hats in the ring.
The city will hold its municipal election on Nov. 2. If more than two candidates for mayor are certified, a preliminary election will be scheduled for September to narrow the race down to two contenders for the general election. The leadership of Northampton will officially change hands in January 2022.