AGAWAM -- A local businessman has launched an election campaign in hopes of defeating longtime Mayor Richard A. Cohen, but as an unofficial candidate.
William Clark, a 40-year-old Agawam native, missed a chance to appear on the ballot this fall when he fell short of collecting the 100 certifiable signatures of registered Agawam voters required of mayoral candidates. So in the next months, Clark said he'll be passing out postcards that detail his platform and spreading his message through word-of-mouth.
Clark, who owns Second Wind Yoga at 327 Walnut Street Extension, said he doesn't expect to win; but he believes his campaign will, at the very least, bring attention to what he thinks are the town's most pressing issues: Deteriorating sidewalks and too much emphasis on the Walnut Street Extension revitalization.
"We're not investing in our infrastructure," Clark said during an interview with MassLive Monday. "If no one keeps running against [Cohen], nothing's going to change."
Clark argues that not enough funding has been put toward sidewalks, with the town spending around $100,000 per year on their rehabilitation. That's about 4 percent of what's spent in West Springfield, which is similar to Agawam in size and population.
Cohen countered that West Springfield has an annual budget that's about $5 million more than Agawam's, a higher tax rate and Level 3 public schools -- which receive more funding -- opposed to Agawam's Level 2 schools.
He also said the town is in the process of conducting a comprehensive study of its sidewalks in northern Agawam through a community block grant. Once another block grant is secured, he said, repairs will be underway.
"I don't disagree that we can always do more. But we have to do everything being cognizant of our taxpayers and what we can afford," he said, later adding, "I manage the town's money like I do my own - very carefully."
Clark also said Cohen has concentrated too much effort into the Walnut Street Extension revitalization , with the hope of transforming the roughly 0.3-mile road into a vibrant, walkable "Main Street" for the town. As someone who owns a business on the extension, he said, it appears to him that the funds would be better used elsewhere.
"If you go around town and look at all the businesses, the ones that stay the longest are on this street," he said. "How are people going to get here while the work is being done?"
Cohen said the project will be worth the town resources being funneled into it.
"The extension area was talked about among the town council back in 1983 as being a target for redevelopment," he said. "I have taken that responsibility. We want it to be destination site and something we can be proud of."
Cohen also said the revitalization design plan will includes ways to keep businesses accessible to patrons.
But Clark contends that the contaminated former Games and Lanes site -- also at Walnut Street Extension -- is a prime spot for redevelopment. He asserts town officials have dragged their feet in cleaning it up, and should have opted into the programs created by the state Brownfields Act a decade go.
"I would take the property, tear it down, collect unpaid back taxes and look into cleaning it up," he said.
But Cohen said it's not as simple as instituting eminent domain. He said going through the Brownfields Act -- which the town has done for the cleanup of the former Agawam Sportsman's Club -- is a drawn out and complicated process that doesn't have to be employed in the case of Games and Lanes. And if the town were to take over the Games and Lanes site, he added, it would also be taking on surrounding areas where contamination plumes have flowed.
"I want that site cleaned up more than anybody," Cohen said. "As the town leader, it's always my fault and my responsibility."
Clark grew up in Agawam, attended its public schools and later received a business degree from Bentley University in Waltham. He opened Second Wind Yoga in 2011.
Cohen said he doesn't see Clark as a threat to his campaign.
"He had as much time as everyone else and couldn't get enough signatures," the mayor said. "That's concerning."
Clark filed nomination papers and 103 signatures for the mayoral race in August. To run, candidates must collect at least 100 certifiable signatures of registered Agawam voters. Only 92 of his were certified, according to the town clerk's office.
The last time Cohen ran opposed in a mayoral election was in 2011, when he defeated former state Rep. rosemary Sandlin for his sixth term in office. He lost an election to Susan Dawson in 2007, but was re-elected in 2009.