Candidates Clash on Voting Records, Visions for PittsfieldPITTSFIELD, Mass. — Heated disagreement and barbed comments characterized the debate between mayoral hopefuls Daniel Bianchi and Peter Marchetti on Monday night at Berkshire Community College.
This final debate of the evening at the college interspersed questions from moderator Brandon Walker of YNN with opportunities for the candidates to pose them to each other. The debates were sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and the college, and broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television.
Several of the questions were hauntingly familiar to those sparred over in the 2009 mayoral debates between Bianchi and James Ruberto, among them PEDA, cultural development, and school buildings.
Bianchi, who also expressed impatience with the progress of PEDA during his unsuccessful 2009 campaign, has repeatedly stated that he would appoint himself to its board, as Ruberto had. "We have not operated with a sense of urgency when it comes to new jobs and new job creation," he said.
Marchetti repeated his view that the mayor's role was to link the PEDA board with that of Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp., the state Office of Economic Development, and other relevant agencies "to set clear goals and objectives ... and if that board cannot meet those goals and objectives, then it's the mayor's responsibility to replace them with those that can.”"
In one of Marchetti's open questions to Bianchi, he challenged the former city councilor on his votes against the creation of the Office of Cultural Development, as well as the $1 million allocation to the Colonial Theatre from the GE Economic Development Fund.
Bianchi said he had supported the Colonial, previously voting in favor of $460,000 in funding, but felt that the million-dollar "gift" was not necessary because of the Colonial's other fundraising efforts.
As for the Office of Cultural Development, Bianchi said he had voted for Megan Whilden's appointment twice, acknowledging he had voted against the post initially. "I was frustrated the first time the appointment came around. That frustration was a result of the mayor getting rid of a longtime employee," he said, referring to Daniel O'Connell, who previously developed and coordinated public arts and activities from the Lichtenstein Center from the 1970s to 2005, when he was let go to make way for Whilden to take the helm of the newly created office.]
"I guess we both like to rewrite history in our own ways, because I have the minutes from the City Council meetings where you voted twice against the Office of Cultural Development," Marchetti responded.
In one his questions, Bianchi took issue with his opponent's record on what he depicted as favoritism in Ruberto's hiring practices, including a 40 percent raise for Tricia Farley-Bouvier when she worked at City Hall.
Marchetti suggested Bianchi was being misleading, that in fact the vote had been to create a new position, director of administration, not just increase a salary.
"I never took a vote to give the mayor's ally a raise, I took a vote to create a job position," Marchetti said. He also vowed that in his administration, there would be none of the "acting appointments" that have become controversial during Ruberto's tenure.
On a related subject to those appointments, Bianchi spoke in support of a suggested charter review commission to retool the city's governing rules, "and I believe, Pete, that you've suggested you would not do that."
At this, Marchetti once again accused his opponent of "rewriting history."
"Any chance I've had the ability to vote for the establishment of a charter commission, I voted in favor, so let's just make sure we keep our facts straight in this debate."
It was on the thorny issue of school building needs that the sparring between the two candidates became most heated. Both men said they have always supported major overhauls of both Taconic and Pittsfield high schools as opposed to a "one high school plan."
Marchetti was asked by his opponent why he had opposed a recent petition brought forth by Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Joseph Nichols to place a question on the ballot asking voters to weigh in on the school building decision process. When Marchetti began to answer that the question as phrased was flawed and did not address any of the issues both candidates had just discussed, Bianchi interrupted him several times to interject that it could have, if it had been referred to the Committee on Ordinances and Rules for retooling.
"You asked me a question, please be respectful enough to let me answer it," Marchetti said, raising his voice. Moderator Brandon Walker interjected, asking Bianchi to allow Marchetti to answer the question.
"I made comment that night that there is not enough information at this stage of the game to craft a question. It wasn't that I wasn't looking for the people's input ... the question was premature."
The question, as presented to the council at its July 12 meeting, read "Do you support the School Building Needs Commission's decision to build a new high school in Pittsfield?" It was voted down 9-2, with only Mazzeo and Nichols in support. The majority opinion was that the question proposed would be confusing and misleading to voters, as the commission has reached no such decision.
In closing statements, candidates continued to outline differences in their visions for Pittsfield. Marchetti highlighted his five priorities for moving Pittsfield forward: job creation, continued improvement in education, neighborhood improvements, continued support of the arts community, and improved communication. "I believe that my record supported many of the positive changes that have taken place in Pittsfield over the last eight years."
Bianchi said the election offers "a clear choice" for voters. "I'm the candidate with an ambitious, comprehensive plan to create an atmosphere within City Hall that welcomes public opinion and embraces our differences, and sets a reasonable pace for moving Pittsfield in a new direction."
Beacon Hill Upholds Preliminary Election Results
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The state House of Representatives and Senate approved Monday validating the preliminary mayoral election results.
The special legislation now awaits Gov. Deval Patrick's approval in the next 10 days. The city adopted a homerule petition three weeks ago to accept the results as counted despite 460 votes being illegally cast.
The ballots instructed voters to pick two candidates and 460 voters did so. However, state law does not allow voters to choose more candidates than there are available seats.
The difference between the second highest vote-getter and the last vote-getter was more than the 460 illegal votes and, therefore, the results would still have narrowed the field to Ronald Boucher and Richard Alcombright. Instead of throwing out the votes, the City Council agreed to let the extra votes stand instead of holding a second election but that requires state approval.
Boucher Shares Views on Mohawk Theater Development
"I believe the Mohawk Theater will play a significant role in the economic recovery of the city and also the revitalization of Main Street. Many of us remember what downtown used to be like growing up, with all the consumer foot traffic on Main Street, and re-engaging the Mohawk as an entertainment venue is key to this. I would move immediately to restart the renovation of the Mohawk which has been dormant the past two years under the current administration."
"Key to this initiative is to establish a for profit organization to access the $2.2 million in readily available historical tax credits which were awarded to the city during the prior administration. Once renovations are complete, the Mohawk can be sold to a for-profit organization of the city's choosing. Included in this sale would be stipulations that the Mohawk must be used for performances, shows, or movies, similar to the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, which has revitalized that section of South Street. Also, selling the Mohawk to a for-profit organization would place the city in a position to continue to receive property taxes from a sought after location on our Main Street. Under the mayor's plan, he would turn the Mohawk over to the MCLA, which would make the property tax exempt and each year the city would lose a large amount of potential property taxes."
"Please remember, election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. At this crucial point in time for our city, it is very important that all residents take the time to make their voices heard and vote."
The campaign to elect Ron Boucher Mayor of North Adams would like to extend an invitation to the public for Boucher's second Spaghetti Supper Fundraiser at the American Legion on Nov. 2, and also to stop by his new campaign headquarters at 107 Main St.
You can also learn more about Boucher, his campaign and views by visiting his website at www.VoteBoucher2011.com or emailing him at VoteBoucher2011@yahoo.com.
Marchetti Campaign Plans Pancake Fundraiser
Cost for the breakfast is a $7 donation. Kids eat free. Tickets may be purchased at the door, or reserved by calling 413443-1411.
Marchetti is currently in his eighth year on the Pittsfield City Council. He is the vice president, chairman of the council subcommittee on Finance and vice chairman of the Community and Economic Development subcommittee, and serves on the Public Health and Safety Council and as council representative to the Conservation Commission.
Marchetti's five-point plan for Pittsfield includes job creation, education, the arts, neighborhoods, and improved communication. He says he wants to see us write the next chapter in our history by building on the successes of the past and growing optimistically into the future.
He has always been very active in the community, serving with the Morningside Initiative, the board of PCTV, state youth and adult bowling leagues, the Helen Berube Teen Parent Program, the Pittsfield Parade Committee, and many others.
Marchetti Campaign Headquarters if at 766 Tyler St. Campaign volunteers and supporters are welcome to stop in and sign up to help.
For more information, visit the campaign website at www.petemarchetti.com, send an e-mail to email@example.com, or call headquarters at 413-443-1411 or 413-443-1220.
Alcombright, Boucher Talk Budget, Basics at Debate
Incumbent Richard Alcombright, left, and challenger Ronald Boucher take questions on stage at the MCLA Church Street Center on Friday night. The debate can be heard here.
Challenger Ronald Boucher said the city is not as attractive or lean as it could be and was failing to grow under a visionless leader with poor management. The incumbent, Richard Alcombright, ribbed Boucher for failing to see downtown improvements and thriving businesses or acknowledge the budgets cuts and savings made during his tenure.
The event at Massachusetts College of Liberal Art's Church Street Center was well attended, if not filling quite as many seats as last election's face-off that saw Alcombright elected. This time Boucher, the City Council president, is hoping to topple the incumbent.
The two took turns answering questions posed by North Adams Transcript Editor Michael Foster and Senior Reporter Jennifer Huberdeau. The debate was sponsored by the newspaper and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
Boucher has taken issue in particular with Alcombright's description of the city's finances as "a little less than horrible" as quoted to a Boston Sunday Globe reporter in a story earlier this year.
"The image of a community, I think that plays a very big part in everything. It's how you sell your community outside this area," he said, chastising the mayor for not putting a more positive spin on the city and allowing it to be described as the poorest in the state. "I think that businesss and people outside the area reading that article would get the impression that, hey, 'why would I want to come to North Adams to start a business?' "
Alcombright said he wouldn't apologize for stating facts for describing the city's finances: "We are in horrible financial shape but we're getting better, we're getting better despite many things."
He said the structural deficit he inherited has been reduced through a combination of cuts and savings. "In the FY2010 budget it went $3.2 million to just about $422,000 in two short cycles, so we're getting better," he said, continuing that he'd saved thousands by restructuring debt, cleaning up the health insurance, taking over the city water treatment plant.
Boucher said he didn't believe there was any significant saving from taking over the plant because it hadn't taken into account the pensions and benefits of the workers; Alcombright said those had indeed been part of the savings analysis.
Alcombright said he would continue to look at ways for savings and raising revenue to balance the budget.
"I do not think we can do one without the other, that doesn't mean I'm a tax mogul," he said. "Last year was an anomaly [when the city taxed to the levy and instituted a sewer fee]. This year, we may see taxes go up 3-3 1/2 percent."
While Alcombright said he'd look at raising fees, Boucher responded that he'd already forced the Board of Health to back off a fee hike claiming it would be "political suicide."
"If you're going to empower boards to do their job, let them do their job," retorted Boucher.
Boucher also claimed there was "a lot of fat still there" in city governement and "we need to do more with less." Alcombright got a laugh when he claimed the only fat left in City Hall "is in the mayor's office."
The candidates agreed on a number of items, including supporting the arts, getting tourists downtown from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts, community policing, and not quite knowing how to capitalize on the new MCLA science building yet.
They continued to differ on long-vacant Mohawk Theater, with Boucher insisting it should be sold to a for-profit venture as a way to generate tax revenue and bring people to the city for concerts, live-streamed events and plays. A for-profit would be able to tap into the $2.5 million historic tax credits available, he said.
Alcombright said he is working on a plan for MCLA to take over management of the theater to use it as a learning lab for its fine and performing arts department as a way to bring students and other into the downtown. His proposal, he said, would cut the estimated $12 million development in half, making the tax credits insignificant.
In a back and forth about the Fire Department, Boucher indicated he'd be open to changing the department's structure from full-time staff to a core staff with paid volunteers.
"There's a presumption out there I'm out to cut the Fire Department," he said. "That's not the truth."
However, he said the city's population had significantly dropped and it was worth looking at options that could be instituted "5 or 7 years down the road."
Alcombright said he remained committed to a fully staffed department because even if the population dropped, the aged buildings, and college, hospital and high-rise remained. He also objected that because the population had shrunk, it didn't mean it wouldn't rise again.
While Alcombright touted the relationships he's built with the local communities and regional organizations like the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Boucher said he'd keep the BRPC at arm's length, claiming it had sunk the Lowe's deal on Curran Highway with onerous environmental demands (a claim also made by the former mayor John Barrett III in a radio interview the day before).
"Lowe's might have been here if they hadn't gotten in the way," said Boucher, adding that recent news the home improvement chain has once again scaled back its store openings means the city will never see one.
Alcombright said he was more convinced it was the low traffic volume and economy that induced Lowe's to step back, not the BRPC. With the Super Walmart coming in, that may change, he said.
"What I'm hearing with a statement like that is 'back to basics' really means back to past practices," said Alcombright, taking a shot at the challenger's campaign motto.
"Again you're a fan of them, I'm not," said Boucher.
The 75-minute debate will be aired on Northern Berkshire Community Television, Channel 17, on Saturday at 5 and 9 p.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Check listings for further airings.