LYNN — Call it debate fatigue, voter apathy, or a preference to watch the Houston Astros play the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, but the School Committee and City Council candidates outnumbered the audience at a forum Thursday night.
With less than three weeks left to convince voters, incumbents and challengers made their pitch to the African American Leadership Council at the Community Brotherhood Club. It’s the ninth candidate night since the election season began.
With fewer than a dozen voters in attendance, the candidates were mostly talking to each other.
That didn’t stop seven School Committee candidates from making their cases. Incumbents Brian Castellanos, Donna Coppola, Lorraine Gately, Jared Nicholson, Michael Satterwhite, and challengers, Sandra Lopez and Tiffany Magnolia were required to be succinct given the strict one- and two-minute time limits.
Gately, a retired middle school teacher who spent 33-plus years in the classroom, said she ran the first time to improve schools for all students and that remains her goal.
“We need to reach everyone,” she said. “I will continue to fight for excellence.”
On whether students should be given free contraceptives, Gately said she was torn over the issue.
“That’s a tough one for me,” she said. “But I probably will support it.”
Coppola, now in her 10th term, said she is the mother of four who all graduated from Lynn schools. Her first campaign was inspired, she said, because she was disappointed in the schools and wanted to be part of the solution.
She stressed Lynn schools are still the place where extracurricular activities such as sports, music, and clubs remain free while other communities charge fees.
“And I’m proud to say now we offer free breakfast and lunch to all students without the stigma of having to fill out an application,” she said.
On contraception, she is supportive because as a daycare teacher she cares for children of public school students.
“Kids are having sex and getting pregnant,” she said. “I’ve seen elementary school age children have babies.”
Nicholson, who said he and his wife are expecting their first child any day now, said they want their kids to go to great schools. The law professor at Northeastern University said he has a lot to contribute to making schools better.
He also said one of the district’s top priorities is hiring staff that is more reflective of its students.
Data presented at the forum revealed of the 1,800 teachers, 56, or 3 percent are minorities.
Lopez said she immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 and is a social worker.
“I want to work to make schools better,” she said.
The key, she said, is to encourage parent involvement.
“We can’t leave it all up to the schools to do everything,” she said.
Castellanos, a social worker, is seeking his second term. He described himself as a first-generation college student.
“It’s my responsibility to advocate for school resources on the local, state and national level and that’s what you get from me with one of your six votes,” he said.
Magnolia, a professor at North Shore Community College, said while she is not a native Lynner, she grew up in a similar urban environment in Washington, D.C.
“We need to educate the whole person,” she said.
Satterwhite said his education philosophy is to focus on the hope for every student. He said the city needs new schools to solve overcrowding and that English High School may have to purchase portable classrooms.
The council candidates were asked to explain why they are running.
Participating in the forum, was Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi; Ward 3 Councilor and City Council President Darren Cyr and his opponent George Meimeteas; Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci and his opponent Natasha Megie-Maddrey; Ward 5 Councilor Dianna Chakoutis and her opponent Marven Hyppolite; Ward 6 Councilor Fred Hogan and his opponent Cinda Danh; and Ward 7 Councilor John “Jay” Walsh.
Walsh’s opponent, Alexis Reynoso and Ward 1 challenger William O’Shea, were no-shows.
Ward 2 Councilor Rick Starbard is running unopposed and did not participate.
The City Council-at-Large candidates included Buzzy Barton, Hong Net, Brian Field and Brian LaPierre, along with challengers Lennin Pena. Jose Encarnacion and Joel Hyppolite did not participate.
Lozzi said he loves the work of a councilor and said he is the right man for the job.
“Results are key and I deliver,” he said.
Colucci, brought some humor to the night when he said “Vote for me and I’ll set you free.”
His opponent, Megie-Maddrey, a mother of five from 12 to 23, said things are not getting done in Ward 4 and it needs fresh representation.
“All of Ward 4 needs to be represented and all voices need to be heard,” she said.
Pena, making his first bid for office, said is a problem solver.
Cyr said he got elected in the city he loves to make a difference.
“I’ve done that,” he said. “I was up at 3:30 a.m.in the middle of the storm helping to remove downed trees. When I leave here tonight I’ll be getting back to the cleanup.”
Meimeteas, his challenger, said he has a degree in business management and given the city’s budget problems, his schooling will come in handy.
Hogan who is facing a serious challenge from Danh, said he’s running for re-election because he cares about Ward 6.
“The last 24 hours have been draining,” he said referring to the storm. “Basements were flooded, trees were down. I got two hours sleep and went back out.”
Danh said her parents are Cambodian genocide survivors.
“I know what it’s like not to have a voice,” she said
“Government is best when everyone is represented.”
Barton said he served 28 years as a fireman and is doing a different kind of public service as a councilor.
Walsh, a Lynn Vocational Technical Institute who worked as a plumber at General Electric Co. where he served as a union representative, said power on his street went out Wednesday night at 3:30 a.m.
“My wife just called and it’s back and she’s very happy,” he said.
Net said he loves the job and wants to see the city to continue to go in the right direction.
Field said his service as a funeral director for 23 years prepared him to serve residents.
“In that role, I’ve served many Lynn families and now I serve people through government,” he said.
LaPierre said Lynn means everything to him.
“You wear Lynn on your sleeve and it’s a badge of honor,” he said.
Chakoutis, the only woman on the council, said she enjoys serving the public.
“We stick together and I hope to continue to serve,” she said.
Hyppolite, who came within striking distance of beating Chakoutis two years ago, said he’s a first generation Haitian-American. He said rents are skyrocketing and the new luxury developments are not affordable to many Lynn families.
“We need a councilor who will reach out to everyone,” he said.