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Acting mayor in Holyoke gives emotional farewell address

Holyoke acting Mayor Terence Murphy gave a farewell address just days before leaving office.
Paul Tuthill
Holyoke acting Mayor Terence Murphy gave a farewell address just days before leaving office.

Terry Murphy looks back over an eventful seven-month tenure

Holyoke, Massachusetts will get a new mayor on Monday – the fourth chief executive of the city this year.

Mayor-elect Joshua Garcia is scheduled to take the oath of office at 9:30 a.m. Monday in a public ceremony in the Holyoke City Hall Auditorium. Under the provisions of a special law, Garcia will fill the remaining weeks of the four-year term of former Mayor Alex Morse before beginning his own four-year mayoral term this January.

When Morse resigned on March 26th to become the manager of Provincetown, City Council President Todd McGee became mayor. But McGee said he could not take a leave of absence for more than 2 weeks from his private sector job. The City Charter dictated a special election be held, but at the City Council’s request, the state legislature approved a special act allowing for another council member to be appointed mayor until the winner of the November municipal election could take over.

Enter 73-year-old Terry Murphy -- the Ward 2 City Councilor picked by his colleagues to be Holyoke’s acting mayor.

Now, as he prepared to wrap up his time as acting mayor, Murphy delivered a farewell speech to an audience of city employees, elected officials, and friends gathered just outside the mayor’s office in City Hall.

“It has been my honor to serve this city and to serve you and hopefully make your lives a little better,” Murphy said.

Murphy was more than a placeholder for seven months. The accomplishments he listed included putting together a budget, improving police-community relations, starting the process to build a new middle school, and allocating half the city’s share of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, roughly $16 million.

“New housing, improved infrastructure, safer working conditions, small business supports, and programs for youth are all part of that allocation,” Murphy said.

Seven months ago, Holyoke City Hall was not a happy place to work, said Murphy. Many departments were understaffed and being run by “acting” administrators. The interim mayor met with city employees and promised his office door would always be open to them.

“I am very proud to say that many city employees have spoken to me about improved morale in their departments,” Murphy said.

Murphy also pledged transparency. He held forums with interest groups and scheduled frequent news conferences.

“All have informed people about things that are happening in Holyoke and made people have a better feeling about what is going on in this city,” Murphy said.

Garcia who ran on a platform that highlighted his experience in municipal management said after his election victory that eliminating a $2 million structural deficit in the budget will be his first job.

“I am very much looking forward to getting Holyoke on a stronger path so we can focus on the investments our city has needed for a very long time,” Garcia said.

One constant in the Holyoke mayor’s office is Nilka Ortiz. She has been executive assistant starting with former Mayor Elaine Pluta in 2010.

As one of his last official acts as mayor, Murphy surprised Ortiz with a proclamation and a plaque.

“She has been an absolute essential component of any success that has occurred during my tenure,” declared Murphy.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.