by John Torsiello
It might take awhile, but the impact of a college education at Fairfield University, with its emphasis on community service, is always there for a graduate to call upon.
After spending over 20 years in the field of occupational safety and health, Daniel Knapik ’89 decided it was time to put to good use his political science degree from Fairfield. In 2009, he was elected mayor of Westfield, Mass., a city of 40,000 that he felt needed a change of direction. He’s running for a second term this November.
“It didn’t really hit me at the time, perhaps, but Fairfield University’s ethics, morals, and philosophy of giving back to the community we’ve always there in the back of my mind,” said the 44-year-old, who first entered politics when he won a seat as a city councilor of Westfield in 2002. “And of course, my favorite professor, Dr. Carmen Donnarumma, would always tell us that a Jesuit education was a great gift and that we were obligated to give back to our fellow citizens in some way. It all came together when I decided to run for public office. I sold my occupational safety and health consulting and training business in 2000, and it allowed me to spend more time in Westfield, where I had maintained a home even while traveling for business over the years. It allowed me to give back to the community by becoming more involved in government and trying to change things for our residents.”
Knapik ran for mayor of Westfield because he believed the city needed innovative thinking and new methods of governing in order to return it to financial stability.
“What I saw was that when things got tough, government typically cut services. I thought we needed to think creatively and find a way to stop cutting services by relying on our own business community to help attract new businesses to town and create jobs. I believed with 20 years in business that I could put together a winning strategy to put the city back on its feet.”
When you are the mayor you are always the mayor, 24-7,” he continued, reflecting on a tornado that roared through Westfield in June.
“People look to you immediately when something like this happens that isn’t anticipated or planned for and you have to respond quickly. Within an hour we were in the affected neighborhoods, meeting people and assessing the damage.”
Knapik pointed to several major initiatives and projects realized during his tenure as mayor.
“We are in the final phases of a multi-year, $100 million infrastructure investment by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the U.S. Highway Department that we’re seeing to the end. We also have an elementary school that is slated for closure and I’m happy to say that we are in a position to launch construction of a new $30 million school early next year. A school, which I’m pleased to say, my two young sons will someday have the chance to attend.”
He and his wife, Tricia, have two children, Tommy, 4, and Jack, 3.
Knapik said his brother Michael, who is also in politics, having served in both the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1990-1994) and in the State Senate since 1995, played an important role when it came time to decide what college to attend after graduating from Westfield High School.
“My older brother went to The College of the Holy Cross and he said that I should go to Fairfield because of its Jesuit tradition (like Holy Cross) and its excellent academic reputation. He had never seen the campus, nor had I, so it was a leap of faith.”
He remained close to his alma mater through his work, which centered on industrial hygiene and safety services, and encompassed environmental reporting and inspection, mold remediation, and indoor air service.
“The town of Fairfield was a client of mine in the 1990’s and every so often I would stop onto campus and check in on things. I still keep up on the school through the alumni magazine.”
For Knapik, that decision to come to Fairfield – and the encouragement he received from his professors to give back to the community – has shaped the course of his life, and continues to guide him as he strives to be the best public servant that he can be. “I walked through the door at Fairfield and I never looked back. It was a tremendous experience.”