Central District candidates differ on marijuana, downtown | Merrimack Valley

METHUEN — Through a forum that was at times rocky, two candidates for the City Council’s Central District discussed marijuana, how to revitalize the city’s downtown and how they plan to work with mayor-to-be James Jajuga.

School Committee member and former city councilor Joyce Campagnone sat with political newcomer Derrick Tony Jones for the forum. A third candidate, James McCarty, could not attend the forum due to what moderator Ray Pilat called “an emergency.”

The forum started about a half-hour late after Jones struggled to find the location, and experienced a few hiccups throughout, such as when Pilat nearly forgot to let Jones answer a question. Still, Campagnone and Jones made their pitches for the two open council seats, and McCarty was represented through a written statement Pilat read over the air.

“I’ve served as the East District councilor, on the School Committee and councilor at-large. I want to see this community move forward with businesses and the people of Methuen having a say into the businesses and types of businesses that come into our community and to give them a safe space for their children,” Campagnone said. After being term-limited out of re-election to the council in 2015, Campagnone served one term on the School Committee, which expires this year.

Jones has pulled nomination papers and run for council in the past, but has never held the seat. A native of Guyana in South America, he has spent time living in Quebec and moved to the United States about 15 years ago.

“It is with a sense of destiny and a feeling of profound gratitude that I have decided to offer to the residents of this beautiful city my background that has spanned several decades in both community and political activism,” he said. “I see everything in life through two prisms: one, politics, two, religion, not necessarily in that order.”

McCarty, through his statement, said he has served as an Essex County field organizer for Save Our Public Schools, is a member of the Democratic City Committee in Methuen and a delegate for the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He mentioned that he hopes to provide police and firefighters will the resources they need to protect the community. 

While they agreed on some fronts, Jones and Campagnone differed on several topics they discussed at Wednesday’s forum, including how the city should handle recreational marijuana and how the council should approach a revitalization plan for the downtown neighborhood. 

Campagnone said she supports marijuana as a medication, but said she “(has) a problem” with it being “available to everyone.” Even medical marijuana, she said, “is something that needs to be scrutinized down to the letter.” 

Jones, on the other hand, said he does “not want to believe that marijuana as a drug, per se, is more dangerous than other drugs.” He noted that the drug is legal in other countries, then said “this is a situation where I believe there needs to be respect for the vote that was done statewide, and let us have regulation.”

The pair also disagreed slightly when asked about restoring Methuen’s downtown through mixed-use development. 

Campagnone deferred to the business owners downtown who “have been through the very thick and thin times of our community,” suggesting that the City Council should let them “come to us with ideas they’d like to see happen.” She also advocated for bringing more parking to the area. 

Jones he felt “too much emphasis” was placed on certain areas of the city at the “expense of other areas,” and said the Central District “need(s) far more economic stimulus.” He suggested the council create a committee “to look into how we can stimulate business, more economic growth.” 

When the candidates were asked how they plan to work with James Jajuga, who is running unopposed for mayor, Campagnone noted that she has worked with him for years on on the council and through the youth center. 

“He has some real, real good thoughts and he has a lot of energy and with the town’s best interests at heart,” she said. “I plan to work with him, but not be a rubber stamp for him.”

Jones has not worked as closely with Jajuga, but has met him through other avenues. 

“One thing that struck me is that he’s a very humble, simple individual,” Jones said. “He showed no indifference to me because of my ethnicity, and was always willing to listen.” 

Jones said that he had hoped to partner with Jajuga for a project. While it didn’t come to fruition, he said he still hopes to work with Jajuga as mayor to get the project off the ground, even if he is not elected to the City Council.  

The forum will be aired on Methuen Community Television periodically before the upcoming election on Nov. 7.