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Joshua Garcia Becomes Holyoke’s First Puerto Rican Mayor

Joshua Garcia says that, among his friends, family, and colleagues at various career stops, there was always an expectation that that he would someday run for mayor of Holyoke. And not just run, but win.

“Even when I was a kid … people would say ‘this young man one day is going to run for mayor, should be mayor,’” he said, adding that it took a while before he eventually started believing — and acting on what people were saying.

Born and raised in Holyoke, he attended city schools and spent much of his time at the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club, where he would later work. Starting at an early age, he got deeply involved in the community.

That involvement included stints on the School Committee, the Fire Commission, Nueva Esperanza, an agency devoted to promoting entrepreneurship and spurring economic development in the city, and other groups. Meanwhile, on the career side, he was gaining experience in the management of municipalities, early on at the Holyoke Housing Authority (while he was also earning a master’s degree in Public Administration), then with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, which he served as municipal services coordinator, and later as town manager of Blandford, population 1,200.

That blend of professional growth and community involvement would earn Garcia a 40 Under Forty plaque from BusinessWest in 2015. Meanwhile, each of these stops seemed to bring him closer to that ‘someday’ when his friends and family thought he would run for mayor, and that day came last year, and an election that would determine a successor to Alex Morris, who left Holyoke City Hall to become town manager of Provincetown.

“I started getting the questions again … it was election time, and people were saying ‘why aren’t you running for mayor?’” he recalled. “My answer was that I liked my career track — it was great being a town manager of a town where I could go home at the end of the day and spend time with my family.”

It was with some prodding from his wife, Stefany, (Garcia actually called it an “endorsement”) that he was eventually swayed to become the seventh candidate to declare for the position.

“That endorsement really sealed the deal for me,” he told BusinessWest. “She just simply said that, in her opinion, being mayor of the City of Holyoke, knowing who I am, is bigger than her family. I thought that was a very humble and unselfish response. We talked more about what that meant …and felt strongly that if running for mayor to help more people is the sacrifice, then why not?”

He would eventually triumph in that crowded race, becoming the city’s first Puerto Rican mayor. He commenced finishing Morse’s unfinished term in November, and started his own first term in January.

Garcia moves into the corner office at a time when Holyoke is in what most would call a growth mode, especially when it comes to jobs, new business development, housing, and overall vibrancy. As the story on page 14 relates, the city has benefited tremendously from the strong five-year start of the cannabis industry, with many of its long dormant or underutilized mills roaring back to life as homes to a wide array of cannabis-related businesses.

But there is more to the story than this one industry, he said, adding that, even during a pandemic, many new businesses have opened across several sectors, especially hospitality.

“During the pandemic, when restaurants everywhere were shutting down, Holyoke was opening six new ones,” said the mayor, adding that the EforAll Holyoke, the nonprofit created to inspire would-be entrepreneurs and help them get started and to the proverbial ‘next stage,’ has helped create a wave of entrepreneurial energy that is bringing new businesses to the downtown and other areas, and also creating more interest in the city as a place to live.