MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM WARD ONE
My name is Christopher Keefe, and I am the City Council President and the Councilor representing Ward One. I hope this article finds you well as we pause on the eve of our last holiday of the year.
The year 2011 will be remembered as one of disasters and rebuilding. At 4:30 PM on June 1st, staring at a particularly ominous thunderstorm, I found myself sprinting into my West Springfield office to shut down the computers before the power went out, only to have my colleagues inform me three minutes later that I had just missed the tornado, which had passed less than a third of a mile south of our building through the Merrick section. Cell phone calls were impossible at that point in time, but I received a text from my daughter Julia that her friend Ashlee O’Connor had been standing on Falley Drive just minutes before, staring up into the funnel of a forming tornado. That tornado regrettably found ground just a short distance later, and I’m still amazed – and relieved – that despite some property damage, so little personal harm resulted.
And so we thought we were done for the year; after all, how often do we get tornadoes in Westfield? But come late August, there I was, standing on the newly cleared dike with several of my neighbors, wondering if our new $60 million dollar bridges were going to be washed away as the rainfall from hurricane Irene surged east along the Westfield River. My best guess was that the crest missed the bridges by about five feet, but it was an unnerving sight to see, especially as a Prospect Hill resident who has spent the past few years struggling with traffic to get off the hill. Fortunately, the bridges were not only spared, but have been re-opened, although there is still work remaining, including the rebuilding of the so-called Drug Store Hill bridge and the repaving of the Elm Street corridor between Franklin and Holy Trinity. And yes, Union Street as well: the Mayor assures me that the repaving will commence this summer, once the construction downtown has settled down.
As for our last disaster of the year, on behalf of the entire Westfield City Council, I want to publicly thank the Department of Public Works, the Westfield Police Department, the Westfield Fire Department, the Westfield Gas & Electric Light Department, the Health Department, the Emergency Management division, the School Department, the Mayor and all of his staff, and most of all, the thousands of residents who pitched in to bring Westfield back after the worst snow storm to strike our city since the April Fool’s storm two decades prior. Thanks to so many remarkable efforts, Westfield was back up and running twice as fast as most of our neighbors. It’s a visible testament to the skill and dedication of our local agencies and our citizens, and I think it’s one of those intangibles that truly make Westfield, Westfield.
Last thought, on a more personal note: at our last City Council meeting, we took a moment to say goodbye to two of our at-large colleagues. Nicholas Morganelli joined us four years ago, and Gerald Tracy was elected at the beginning of the current term. While different and distinct in many ways, both men shared a common characteristic: their passion for their causes. Nick fought tirelessly for quality-of-life issues in the city, from trees to curb cuts and crosswalks, and his most visible achievement within that sphere was the passage of an anti-smoking ordinance for our public parks. Gerry’s focus was always on recycling and renewable energy, and he brought vision like few others, seeing opportunities for green energy and power where no one else ever imagined. He has opened the eyes of many city departments to the possibility of generating electricity right here in Westfield, and I look forward to the day we cut the ribbon on a project he inspired.
On behalf of myself and the entire Westfield City Council, allow me to extend our best wished for a happy and healthy holidays and a prosperous new year. Merry Christmas,
Westfield City Council