Ward 5 Candidates Differ on Downtown, City Garage
The debate was sponsored by the Berkshire Gazette and BCC and aired on Pittsfield Community Television. The moderator was Shawn Serre of PCTV.
Jonathan Lothrop pointed to what he said was clear improvement in Pittsfield, and throughout Ward 5, in the eight years since he had taken office. He contrasted his terms on the council to the dire economic situation of the city and perceived lack of progress on projects in Ward 5
As throughout the debate, Breault in his opening expressed no particular antipathy for the incumbent or his performance as Ward 5 councilor, but stressed that he felt that it was important to the democratic process that people have a choice, "and if they're looking for a change, that change can happen." He cited this belief in the importance of voters having a choice as his main reason for running for office.
Lothrop agreed that the building is a serious problem, but that no one had yet offered a viable solution. "We need to see some real data, not just 'here's an idea and let's see what you think about it."
As to whether Pittsfield should continue to have a line item on the budget for funding Downtown Inc., Lothrop was in favor, saying that having the nonprofit association, which operates similarly to a chamber of commerce for downtown, has been an important partner with the city in advancing projects such as the Beacon Cinema.
Breault said that although as a business owner he was a member of Dowtown Inc., he believes that the organization has "run it's course, I don't think it's necessary anymore to have that organization in the taxpayer's pockets." He views it as obsolete now that the city is involved in countywide promotional efforts with the formation of the 1Berkshire coalition.
Breault and Lothrop both said they supported the allocation for Ice River Springs to move its cooling tower and increase the number of empoyees. Lothrop said the city government had worked with the company on an ongoing basis to see that promised jobs would be created and noise issues arising from the facility were dealt with. Breault also expressed satisfaction with the way the issue has been handled, and expressed enthusiasm for doing even more to create new jobs in Pittsfield.
In closing, Breault reiterated that the primary reason for his candidacy was to offer residents a choice. He pointed to his experience as a longtime business owner of Jimmy's Restaurant in Ward 5, and his involvement in the community through being a supporter of Little League baseball in Pittsfield for 25 years.
"The choice is now clear for anybody in Ward 5," he said. "They can vote for a change, or if they're happy with what they have they can stay with the current councilor."
Lothrop pointed to what he saw as some of his accomplishments in Ward 5, such as a compromise on the airport, blocking a transfer station on South Street, and negotiations with Ice River Springs, pointing to a lack of involvement by Breault in those conversations.
"My biggest disappointment is that five years ago, Mr. Breault tried to propose a strip club in Ward 5," Lothrop said, referring to a 2005 application to open the controversial Munchies on West Housatonic Street, which Lothrop opposed.
North Adams Mayoral Debate Video
It was hosted by the North Adams Transcript and moderated by Transcript Editor Michael Foster and Senior Reporter Jennifer Huberdeau.
NBCTV posted the video on YouTube.
Ward 3 Candidates Split on GE Fund, Grossman's Demo
The candidates took the stage in the first of four debates on Monday night sponsored by the Pittsfield Gazette and Berkshire Community College, and aired on Pittsfield Community Television. The moderator was Shawn Serre of PCTV.
The two had little in common and split immediately on the thorny subject of taking down the 35,000-square-foot former Grossman's Outlet on East Street. Capitanio said it would cost $190,000; Ferrin, $2 million or more.
Capitanio said the vacant eyesore "should be demolished; it's blight ... it's certainly not an asset."
The current councilor has asked the city to foot some of the bill for tearing down the condemned structure. "If anybody else has a plan we'd certainly listen to it but they've been trying to sell it for five years."
"Councilor Capitanio voted against that, which concerned me because his question was where'd I get my information and how did we know it was true I spoke to them," said Ferrin. "That would have been the perfect opportunity to ask those very questions. ... I'm kind of concerned he wanted to approve the money to raze it but didn't want anybody to answer any questions."
They also disagreed on problems at Deming Park, with the Capitanio saying flooding had been an issue but he worked with Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to alleviate the problem. "We took care of the four or five properties that were affected," he said. "I don't know of any flooding issues."
Ferrin said the flooding hasn't been completely dealt with and may have been affected by unpermitted changes to the infield and other areas. He vowed if elected to ensure that any future work was properly permitted.
The two generally agreed on the continuance of curbside trash pickup, with Capitanio considering further exploration of using the toter system and Ferrin saying "education, education, education," was the key to increasing recycling.
Capitanio defended the use of up to $275,000 in GE Economic Development Funds to reimburse Ice River Springs for moving its cooling tower because of neighborhood noise complaints and tied in increments to adding jobs. "I'm absolutely for that," he responded to a question on personal standards for release of the funds.
"I'm unsure about the Shaker Village, I did vote for that," Capitanio continued, referring to funds to aid the living history museum in launching a historical architectural program with Amherst College. "I don't know if I regret that or not but, hopefully, it will work out."
Ferrin took a harsher view, saying he was "absolutely against Ice River Springs" getting fund money because the company "lied about their employment status — they employed part-time and temporary workers from agencies instead of full-time workers under their TIF agreement."
He said he was leery of giving economic development money to nonprofits such as Shaker Village, but thought he could have supported the Colonial Theatre, "but it still hasn't produced livable wage jobs for the community."
Both were against borrowing to replace the school bus fleet at this point, with Ferrin saying a comprehensive plan needs to be laid out first and Capitanio that other options should be considered, particularly privatization. Both also agreed the dissolution of the Parks Department had some benefits but has also affected the other departments' abilities to get the work done.
Ferrin stressed the research he does on issues and vowed to be the voice of the taxpayers. "I have no connection to the good old boy network."
Capitanio briefly chastised Ferrin for failing to pass on an email from a constituent, leading her to believe Ferrin was her councilor. He then talked of the projects in Ward 3 he helped bring to fruition, and said he would continue to work hard for his ward. "If we work together and help each other we can maintain the quality of life Ward 3 deserves."
Candidates Clash on Voting Records, Visions for Pittsfield
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."
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.