Sommer Seeking Return To Adams Board of Selectmen
Donald Sommer is looking to return to the Board of Selectmen with hopes of having the Community Development refocus.
ADAMS, Mass. — Since being off the board, former Selectman Donald Sommer has been keeping an eye on town politics and he doesn't like what he sees.
He sees the town spending money on studies that just become shelved, selectmen who don't seem to delve into issues and ask questions and businesses opting to open shop in neighboring towns instead of his own.
"I don't think there is one big problem in Adams. I think there are a lot of small problems," he said on Wednesday.
With his children taking over more and more of his business affairs, the 79-year-old is vying for a seat back on the Board of Selectmen to finish what he started and jumpstart a serious push to reel in more businesses.
Particularly, a $50,000 warrant article at this year's town meeting is asking for voters to hire a consultant to create a formal reuse plan for Memorial Middle School. But Sommer says officials already know what the school needs — and know that it is best to just give it away to a business that will bring jobs.
"All of these $50,000 studies don't amount to anything," Sommer said. "We know what has to be done, we don't need another study."
Sommer says he would like the town to take that $50,000 and hire a consultant who will go out of the region and try to "sell" the building. There are biotech and other industries that could use the classroomlike spaces, he said, but the town has not aggressively sought them out.
"Just give a company the building and let them bring in 30 or so jobs," he said.
The town is currently seeking short-term leases with the Youth Center and Ooma Tesoro's marinara sauce maker but neither of those will bring in the number of jobs Sommer envisions for that property.
The marketing person could become a town position that could focus on one building at a time with the old Community Center being the next.
"The town needs somebody to go out and talk to people and show them the comfortable living," Sommer said, adding that the new high school is a good selling point to attract people to town. "Every other town is doing it."
Sommer also doesn't like the way the Department of Community Development has been utilizing funds. Recently, the town tore down garages behind the former Albert's Hardware and put in a parking lot on Summer Street. A streetscape project was also completed on Summer.
But Sommer, who owns the Halflinger Haus restaurant on Commercial Street, says that money should have been focused on Park Street instead. Summer Street shouldn't be ignored, he said, but it has businesses that serve the neighborhoods while Park Street is the attraction.
"I think Community Development needs to refocus," he said. "The town can't support two business districts... I don't think we should start trying to attract people to Summer Street until we've filled Park Street."
The school and the Community Center are going to be a "serious problem" for the town to maintain and Sommer wants to see them back on the tax rolls somehow.
"We need to get rid of those buildings and get them on the tax rolls," he said.
Sommer says there are too many empty storefronts and too many businesses have opened and failed. If the town can put its effort into Park Street, if only one small shop can survive, that will start a snowball effect for the entire street.
"If one makes it, then maybe the one next door can make it," he said.
But that isn't to say that he thinks the town hasn't done good things too. Sommer supports the Greylock Glen project, particularly the plan to build an amphitheater. And the recent agreement with Berkshire Scenic Railway to run scenic train rides out of the Visitors Center had worked well in South County so that will be a boost to downtown Adams, he said.
"I think the rail trail is the best thing they've done in a long time. So many people use it," he said.
Sommer also supports the work of the Thunderbolt Ski Runners to revitalize the annual ski race. Efforts like that help make Adams a destination, he said, and that will grow with the Greylock Glen project.
He also hopes to finish what he started with a farmers market, which could attract people to the downtown. He said he started the process while on the board in the past but it never came to fruition.
While those major projects can help the business and tax base, Sommer said there are little things the town could do to help save money. During his three years on the Board of Selectmen before losing his seat in 2010, he said they went through every budget line and cut what they could. So much, that there isn't much left to cut.
But, he says working with Cheshire and North Adams could prove to lower material costs. He used asphalt milling machine, which reuses pavement, as an example. While the town may not be able to afford it alone, if it partners with other towns, the cost would be reasonably small.
"We don't need all of our own equipment," he said.
Going in with other towns to make bulk purchases of material — such as road salt — could also save money, he said.
Sommer is the oldest of the candidates seeking two spots on the board. He is running against Richard Blanchard, Michael Young and Joseph Nowak in the May 5 election. But, being the eldest of the candidates is what he says makes him a better one.
"I think age and successful experience helps," he said.
Sommer has a master's degree from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and has been in business for 40 years, after turning Greylock Apartments from a failing company to a successful one. He was on the School Committee for seven years, chaired the Redevelopment Authority for seven years and was on the Finance Committee for nine years. He served three years as selectman.
This is the second of four profiles of the candidates for selectman in Adams.
Nowak Seeking Seat on Adams Board of Selectmen
Joseph Nowak is a lifelong Adams resident who is embarking on his first campaign for the Board of Selectmen.
ADAMS, Mass. — Joseph Nowak remembers when he returned to Adams with a master's degree and struggled to find a job.
"I had a master's degree and I was mopping up locker rooms," he said. "It took me a while to just get a job with the state."
He stayed and worked his way up with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation because he loved the Adams community.
But, things haven't gotten much better in the last 40 years with the major manufacturers moving out of town. There aren't many incentives for a young family to stay.
Now there are run-down apartment buildings, vacant storefronts, farms are going out of business, and there's a transient population and aging infrastructure.
Nowak, with his degree in land use and a history working with the Democratic Party, is running for one of two vacant selectman seats to help Adams return to the quaint New England town that it once was.
"We need a community with a vision. It's a balancing act, we need to promote the town's history as well as look to the future," Nowak said on Wednesday.
It will take a long time for Adams to solve all of its issues but Nowak wants to be part of starting that process by helping to create an "identity."
The biggest problem, he says, is that a simple Google search shows that Adams is cutting its school budget while still having one of the highest tax rates in the county, which is not very attractive to families looking to relocate to the Berkshires.
"We're not able to get people to come to town," he said.
The 61-year-old says the town needs to help get Topia Arts Center up and running. The center has the ability to be an anchor of the downtown, spurring new development, he said, but leaders of the nonprofit are "discouraged." They have not been able to complete the project to renovate the center after investing $1 million of their own money into it. They want the town's help in reeling in state grant money.
"We'd be foolish if we don't try to work with the people who own Topia," Nowak said.
The Greylock Glen has long been seen as the keystone to the town's futures and Nowak wants to support that, too. Hiking trails, an educational center and campgrounds will help draw people to the Berkshires, he said and cited 22 years of working in state parks to show that he has seen the type of draw natural resources have.
However, he is concerned with the plan to build an amphitheater because that would increase traffic on the side streets and cause light pollution. Additionally, he said that if the Glen is developed, there will need to be some type of officer there to keep it from being vandalized.
"I worry mostly about the traffic," he said.
While those two projects should be priorities to start turning Adams around, Nowak said there are "a lot of little things" that he'd like to see to build on what the town already has — such as placing signage promoting that Adams is the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony.
While focusing on the projects already begun, the town needs to continue to look for other businesses to bring in, he said. He said there is a need for a slaughterhouse, a medical marijuana facility and train depot that could work in Adams and town officials should look toward finding those businesses.
"I will promise the people of Adams that I would be creative and innovative," Nowak said. "We have a long path ahead and there is no one big thing that will happen. But we need to get people on the street."
As a member of the Conservation Commission and one of the founders of the Agricultural Fair, Nowak is also very concerned about the future of farmers. There are only two remaining dairy farms in Adams and he would like to set policies to help farmers stay in business.
Those efforts will help broaden the tax base and set the town up for future growth, but he isn't sure if there are immediate ways to lower the tax rate. Town buildings are needed to be repaired and the school needs more funding, he said.
"You are between a rock and a hard place," Nowak said. "If you own property and it is in disrepair, you have to fix it."
Nowak says the town should look to move relatively quickly with tearing down a portion of the Memorial Middle School to alleviate the maintenance costs and build a park area for children at the Youth Center.
The reuse of portions of the building by Ooma Tesoro's and the Youth Center are good fits for those portions of the building, he said, but the rest of the building is too costly to repair.
"It's beyond its life cycle," Nowak said. "It'll be an albatross around the town."
With the Youth Center now leaving the Community Center vacant, Nowak wants the town to move quickly on that, too. If a buyer doesn't appear soon, Nowak wants a salvage company to come help tear the building apart and save what they can.
If the town doesn't start moving in this direction, Nowak fears things will only get worse — particularly with the new Walmart SuperCenter opening in North Adams.
"They don't mind putting people out of business," Nowak said.
Nowak is one of four vying for the two seats on the board. Also running for the position are Donald Sommer, Richard Blanchard and Michael Young. The election is on May 6.
Senate Candidate Gomez Boasts Military, Business Background
Steve Melito talking with Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Gabriel Gomez believes that if Congress is going to make decisions on business and military issues, they should have some experience in those areas.
The former Navy SEAL has embarked on his first political campaign, vying for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by John Kerry. He is one of three Republican candidates on the ballot for the April 30 primary and the only candidate without any previous political experience.
He is running against state Rep. Daniel Winslow and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan.
"I'll put my military record against anyone I am running against. I'll put my private sector experience against anyone I am running against. And I will concede that they can win the political experience battle. That's fine with me," Gomez said on Sunday when he met with voters at Daddy O's Diner. "I think you see what happens when you have career politicians down in D.C. You have what you have right now. You have dysfunction, you have gridlock, you've got failure."
"The fact is," he later added, "I am the only one who is not a lawyer. I went to business school instead of law school. And I am the one who hasn't been in politics. I am the one who has been in the private sector helping businesses grow and become successful. I am also the one that wore the uniform as a pilot and a Navy SEAL."
Being a newcomer to the political scene is what Gomez said people want and that rang true for those greeting him at his campaign stop in Pittsfield.
"He is a different kind of candidate. He listens. Because he has a military background, he understands what it means to get results. He also comes from the private sector and he understands the importance of jobs and what it takes to create a job," said Steve Melito of Adams. "His personal story is very appealing as well. I think Republicans get a tremendously bad rep of being the party of the elite and the rich."
Michael Case, a veteran and Republican candidate in several local races, praised Gomez's military background. He was glad Gomez came to Pittsfield because in the historically Democratic Berkshires, he said, residents don't get to hear much about the Republican candidates.
Gomez is a first-generation American after his parents emigrated from Colombia to Los Angeles. He learned to speak Spanish before English but his family was never considered outsiders.
"At a young age I saw how this country embraced my parents and welcomed them with open arms and gave them a chance at the American dream and gave their kids a chance at the American dream. So I wanted to give back so I applied to the Naval Academy," Gomez said.
He was a pilot for four years but wanted a bigger challenge. He applied for SEALs (Sea, Air, Land Teams) training knowing that only 20 percent complete the training and his acceptance meant he couldn't go back to flying.
He completed the training and became class leader of SEAL Class 181. In his first detachment, he met his wife, Sarah, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in the West Indies.
"Now we've been married 17 years and have four kids, ages 13 to 8, and we live out in Cohasset on the South Shore," he said.
In 1996, he left the Navy and enrolled in Harvard Business School and has been in the private sector for the last 16 years. After graduation, he worked for Advent International, an investment firm, where he worked closely with small and regional business.
Gomez said voters want a senator with his background in business and military instead of another lawyer or politician.
He says business are "stifled" with regulations, taxes and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. While the intent of the health care law was good, he says it hasn't addressed the cost and states should be deciding how to do that.
"When you go to a bank for a loan, you deal with more compliance officers than loan officers," Gomez said.
He said with recent college graduates carrying so much student debt, it's unacceptable that the unemployment rate for those ages of 21 and 29 is at nearly 25 percent. Businesses need to grow so that his young children and those like them will have the "opportunity for the American dream."
"I want to be part of the solution instead of sitting on the sidelines complaining. What I will bring to the table is a military man's discipline, a father's sensitivity, a businessman's experience," Gomez said. "The way we are going right now with $17 trillion in debt and these policies coming from D.C. that are stifling companies' growth, that are stifling a company's ability to hire people. That just decreases the ability for a young person, or anybody, to go out and achieve their dream."
Gomez is calling for tax reform by closing loopholes for both companies and individuals while making the system much simpler. Meanwhile he is calling for cuts in government spending across the board.
"I think that every part of the government has room to trim," Gomez said, including in the Department of Defense, where he says there needs to be proper funding to ensure servicemen have the equipment they need to complete a mission safely. But, there are programs that are not needed and there are 10 to 15 percent too many civilian employees.
He says the retirement age should gradually be increased and there should be a "means test" to reduce the Medicaid and Medicare benefits given out so those who don't need it, don't receive the full benefit.
Those changes to the tax policy and the reduction of spending will pave the way for tax rates to decrease, thus providing more people with spending money, said Gomez.
"They're not going to diners like this as often as they want to," he said, standing in Daddy O's. "What drives the economy is people's ability to go out and spend their money. They're taking home less and less money not just because of taxes but also because of the regulations."
Gomez points to the recently passed Senate budget that "doesn't balance and has a trillion dollars in taxes" as an example of how "career politicians" are failing to understand the real-life issues businesses face. He said he will limit himself to two terms and is calling for term limits of two for senators and three for representatives.
Whoever wins the Republican primary on April 30 will face off against the Democratic winner — U.S. Rep. Edward Markey or U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch — in the special Senate election on Tuesday, June 25.
Senate Candidate Lynch Meets With Unions, Voters in Pittsfield
U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Lynch poses with supporters at Dottie's Coffee Shop on Saturday morning.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Firefighters Association wants Stephen F. Lynch to be the first card-carrying union member on the U.S. Senate floor.
Four Candidates Eyeing 2 Adams Selectmen Seats
ADAMS, Mass. — Four candidates will be vying for two vacant seats on the Board of Selectmen.
Nomination papers were due Monday and Richard Blanchard, Joseph Nowak, Donald Sommer and Michael Young have all returned papers to be on the ballot. They have until April 3 to withdraw their nominations.
That's one short of last year, in which five candidates tried for two seats. The race also ensures new faces on the board — albeit Sommer has served before.
The two three-year seats available are those that had been held by Paula Melville and Scott Nichols. Melville resigned from the board last year and Nichols has opted not to run for re-election.
Nichols instead will be running for moderator against Edward Driscoll, another former selectman. Both are looking to fill the seat left vacant by Joseph Dean Jr., who died in December.
The one-year seat left open by the resignation of former Chairman Richard Frost on the Board of Health will also see competition with two candidates. Glen DeMarsico and Allen Mendel are both vying for it.
A three-year Board of Health seat held by Roy Thompson is also up for election but Thompson will run unopposed.
Three people will by vying for one three-year assessor seat. Dennis Gajda, Lorraine Kalisz and Susan Rowe have all returned papers to run.
There are a number of unopposed elections as well; Holly Denault for treasurer; Karen Kettles for library trustee, Martha Stohlmann for Planning Board; Lawrence Clairmont for cemetery commissioner; Elizabeth Buskey for Redevelopment Authority; and Joseph Allard for McCann School Committee (Northern Berkshire Vocational School District). Paul Butler and Joshua Ryan DeMarsico-Birkland are running unopposed for two seats on the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District Committee.
A three-year library trustees, a five-year Housing Authority seat and a one-year Redevelopment Authority seat have no candidates.
The town election is Tuesday, May 6.