Westfield’s state representative candidates face-off in first debate

Westfield Taxpayers Association President Brian Richards offers opening remarks during the Sept. 16, 2020 state representative debate.

Taxes, water and PAC funding addressed 

WESTFIELD – Three candidates for Westfield’s state representative seat faced-off Sept. 16 in the first of two debates hosted by the Westfield Taxpayers Association.

Independent candidate Ethan Flaherty, Democrat Matt Garlo and Republican Kelly Pease answered a series of questions from moderators Agma Sweeney and Patrick Berry in the debate that was live streamed on Westfield’s Community Programming Channel 15. The debate was sponsored by Westfield Bank.

A second debate will take place Oct. 13 and a 2nd Hampden & Hampshire Senate debate between incumbent Democrat John C. Velis and Republican challenger John F. Cain is slated for Oct. 8, both livestreamed on Channel 15.


Each candidate offered an opening and closing statement in addition to questions posed to all candidates. There were three round-robin style questions with opportunities for rebuttals, as well as several lighthearted questions geared toward getting to know the candidates outside of their political views.

Flaherty said he wants to take action to affect change, not just sit on the sidelines. Being an Independent would help him bridge gaps between political parties. He said he has knocked on doors throughout the city and in addition to introducing himself and educating residents on his views, he has “learned something from everyone” he met. He said he hoped that following the debate, residents would know more about him and feel confident he would work on their behalf to earn their vote.


Garlo, who has had government internships and positions in both Albany and Washington DC, said he could have stayed in one of those communities to further his political career. Instead, he returned to his hometown.

“My experience can be maximized right here, and that’s why I’m running for state representative in Westfield,” Garlo said, noting he has met with school and city leaders to learn more about the city. how it runs and the issues facing residents.

Pease, a retired U.S. Army chief who spent most of his career in intelligence, also served as an aide to former Sen. Donald F. Humason Jr. Pease said he was the best candidate because he was a city homeowner, father of a child in the public schools and would take that, plus his experience in the Army and from his time early in life as a Hilltown firefighter, police officer and selectman, and work for all of Westfield’s residents no matter their political party affiliation.


One question asked the candidates’ opinion on whether Westfield receives its fair share of transportation tax funding for its roads, bridges and schools.

Garlo said the city would “never have 100 percent of what we would like.” He said during the coronavirus pandemic, cities may need to reprioritize funds. He said he was happy Westfield received its full Chapter 70 funding for schools and he would advocate to continue fully funding schools again next year while keeping an eye on infrastructure for roads and bridges.

Pease offered a resounding “absolutely not” in response to the question. He said western Massachusetts only receives about one-quarter of available Chapter 90 funds for roads, bridges and other transportation needs even though it comprises about 70 percent of the state’s roads.

Flaherty noted that the state uses a set formula to distribute funds, however, he would advocate for more funding overall and an increase in Chapter 90 funds.

“It’s not enough across the state,” he said.

The first round-robin style question was in regard to equality of women. The candidates noted the recent 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote and all said they would do whatever they could to continue to further women’s equality.

A question regarding the opioid crisis touched some candidates personally. Pease and Garlo both mentioned that their families and friends have been affected in some way by the epidemic. All three candidates stated that closer attention must be paid to prescription drug use, which is often the starting point to addiction.

“In Westfield we typically lose 10-15, even 20 people per year [from overdoses],” Flaherty said.

The contamination of city water from firefighting foam used at Barnes Air National Guard remains at the forefront of resident concerns. The candidates were asked, if elected, what they would do about the cost of cleanup.

Pease gave a brief update of the current situation, with Wells 7 and 8 back online and exceeding testing requirements. Wells 1 and 2 are in the process of receiving new filters and Pease said the city is seeking a zero percent loan.

“As state representative, I’d advocate for that,” he said. “I’d put pressure on the federal government – they have to pay their fair share.”

Flaherty said there are six polyfluoroalkyl substances the city does not test for and funding must be increased for testing.

“We’ve been poisoned for years,” he said.

Garlo said he recently met with the Department of Public Works staff for a tour that included the water department. He said he would “be a leader on this issue,” which he said requires requires partnership and cooperation.

On Wednesday, the three state representative candidates were respectful to each other. Pease and Flaherty specifically acknowledged that Westfield historically supports clean campaigns.

When asked whether any candidates accepted donations or endorsements from Political Action Committees (PAC), unions, etc., Pease took the opportunity to address allegations of dirty campaigning made by his former opponent, fellow Republican and City Councilor Dan Allie. Pease won the city’s primary election Sept. 1 by a narrow margin of just over 100 votes. Allie has since pointed to a PAC mailer sent to residents on Pease’s behalf that included a photo of Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr, his son and Pease as persuading some voters. Allie said it falsely gives the impression that Humason endorsed Pease. He also said that Humason did not give permission to use the photo. Pease maintains that the PAC sent the mailer without his knowledge and when he saw it and spoke with Humason, he advised Pease not to contact the PAC.

Before bringing up the Allie allegations, Pease said he did not accept a contribution from the PAC, which acts on its own.

“PACS are independent and by law can have no contact with candidates,” Pease said. “I have never accepted money from a PAC. During the primary, I talked to Dan Allie several times and he never brought it up.”

Pease said the mailer became a problem for Allie after the election and that Allie should have taken Pease “more seriously” as a candidate.

“We knocked on over 2,000 doors, we had weekly big standouts,” Pease said of his campaign team. “To have my honesty and integrity questioned . . . is wrong.”

Pease said “Westfield saw how hard I worked.”

Flaherty noted during the debate that he agreed with Pease on the topic and that Pease “did not do anything wrong.”

For his part, Flaherty said he has not received any funds or endorsements and he did not intend to accept any.

“I refuse,” he said.

Garlo said he was endorsed by the Massachusetts Teacher Association but has not received contributions from any PACs.

Another round-robin question about Proposition 2 ½ and the tax levy ceiling brought similar responses from all  candidates.

“I don’t think we should address this by raising it to Proposition 3,” Flaherty said, while Garlo said creating reserves and cutting costs was the answer. Pease noted that the levy is $81 million in Westfield and property taxes are at $76 million. “We’re getting close” to the levy, he said.

Moderators asked the candidates’ thoughts on police reform and spending funds given to police on social programs instead. Flaherty said he supports the Westfield Police Department but does have some concerns about police investigating themselves and centralized reporting for data such as use of force.

Garlo noted that this question is “quite divisive” across the country but he does not see it being a problem in the city, however he would address it if and when it became an issue here. Pease said Westfield police “do an outstanding job” and he would be supportive of police using some of its budget to bring in mental health consultants for specific cases.

A question on government support to sustain local farms was met positively by all candidates who said they see the need for keeping local farms and local food an integral part of the community at-large.

Candidates were asked about their thoughts on education during COVID-19 and if home, remote, charter, public, private or parochial education is the answer.

Flaherty said it did not matter which model was used.

“The most important thing is continuing to educate kids with IEPS and special needs,” he said. “We need to keep moving forward.”

Garlo again noted Chapter 70 funding and agreed with Flaherty regarding special education. Pease said the state should supply schools with personal protective equipment for all staff and give better guidance. He added that “Westfield does a great job – it’s not easy and the school system is doing the best they can.”

One of the lighthearted questions was which historical figure the candidates would like to meet and what they admire about that person.

Pease said he would enjoy meeting the country’s founding fathers and talk with them about what they were thinking while creating the United States of America. Garlo said without hesitation he would meet Martin Luther King Jr. Flaherty said he would choose Ghandi because his quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” resonates with him and inspired his campaign.

Candidates were also asked about teachers who inspired them and what they have done to make their grandmothers proud. Garlo noted that his grandmothers were proud that he was bringing forth the values of his grandfathers during his campaign and that both of his grandmothers have been holding signs during standouts.

To Top