by Edward Shanahan
We elected William P. Nagle to represent us, but it is always about him, never about the citizens of Northampton.
Every two years, for more than two decades, the scenario has been the same - no opponent, no contest, no sweat. And with successive free rides, Nagle gained more and more of a taste for leadership positions, until finally he became Majority Leader of the House, or Numero Dos after Speaker Thomas M. Finneran.
In some quarters it was thought to be good for Northampton that Nagle had the trust and presumably the ear of the Speaker. But as a result of a recent ugly internecine political battle on Beacon Hill over leadership perks and shifting power blocs, it turns out that Billy Nagle is pretty much a paper tiger.
Not only did he sell his soul and his support to win leadership status, but in the process sold out the interests of his constituents as well. He hitched his political future to Speaker and lost his ability to function as an independent voice to speak for those who elected him.
The urgent question now is will Billy Nagle continue as Majority Leader and play altar boy to a dictatorial Finneran, or will he jump ship for the safe haven of being named clerk-magistrate in the Ware District Court, which is about as distant geographically from Northampton as you can get and still be in the county?
The debate should be about us, not Nagle.
When it comes to challenging authority, Northampton residents can be feisty and vocal. So why did they play dead and send Nagle back to Boston for term after term without ever asking what he has done for us lately.
Think about it.
Now that the State Registry of Motor Vehicles has moved into a new home across the river on Route 9 in Hadley, we should ask ourselves where Billy Nagle was when the decision was made by the RMV to abandon Northampton. This would be unheard of in any other representative's district. We just take it.
And when you try to exit the parking area of the new Registry office, they promise us a warning that no left turn is permitted. When you have to travel east on Route 9 even though home requires you to go west, ask yourself where was Billy Nagle.
And as you fight the traffic trying to inch across the Coolidge Bridge on a trip either east or west on Route 9, especially at the rush hour and on weekends, you might wonder why Rep. Nagle has been a non-factor in decisions about when and what action is required to reduce congestion and shore up the bridge.
More importantly for the well-being of Northampton and its citizens, where has Nagle been as the city tries to overturn the brutally unfair formula for distributing state educational aid, a formula that has all but impoverished Northampton's schools. What has Mr. Numero Dos done about that?
After all, Nagle is not just another state pol, driving down to Boston every day to pick up a fat paycheck for very little heavy lifting. He's the Majority Leader, Numero Dos, and he gets a fatter pay check. That should constitute power, clout, influence. Yet, all that power and clout that Rep. Nagle has accumulated over the last 25 years never seemed to be exercised for the benefit of the folks back home.
On a theoretical MCAS test for legislators, Nagle gets a failing grade for his inability or unwillingness to deliver for his constituents, which is, after all, a true measure of the effectiveness of an elected representative.
Nagle not only has been a no show when it came to keeping the RMV in Northampton, or speeding up repairs or the replacement of the Coolidge Bridge; and for all his purported power, where was he when the Legislature, of which he is a leader, redistricted Northampton, the county seat, right out of the First Congressional District, represented so ably for so long by Rep. Silvio O. Conte, and later John D. Olver, and threw it into the Springfield district represented by Richard Neal.
For Neal, Northampton is just another small town, compared to his home base of Springfield, while in the old First District, Northampton was a prominent player along with Pittsfield and Holyoke. And that's critical when it comes to the community enjoying the benefits of federal programs and largesse.
Meanwhile, what role has Nagle, who is said to prefer to work behind the scenes, played in efforts to develop the sprawling Northampton State Hospital property, a process that has moved at a snail's pace for years but whose eventual development will have serious consequences, for good or ill, for the long-term health of the city.
Ask Rep. Nagle what has he actually accomplished in the legislature for the city that elects him, other than moving up the leadership ranks and enjoying the financial perquisites of high office. Unlike State Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst), Nagle rarely speaks out on any issue, preferring to keep his opinions, if he has any, to himself and his legislative patrons.
There is no question, he has done well, but has he done good, not for himself but for Northampton?
Rep. Nagle gets an EZ pass every two years so perhaps keeping a low profile is the way to go.
Still, traveling east from the RMV office in Hadley on Route 9 to get to Northampton is definitely not the way to go unless you're headed to Ware.
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