Alcombright Runs on Growth, Partnerships
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright tells the crowd to squeeze into the Eagle Street Pocket Park on Friday to hear his campaign kickoff speech.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The scene Friday night was in stark contrast to Richard Alcombright's announcement almost exactly two years ago that he would run for mayor.
Then it was three brave supporters and two reporters — and an impromptu lectern in his Williams Street living room.
How things have changed. On Friday, more than 75 people including community and business leaders crowded into the little Eagle Street Pocket Park and spilled onto the sidewalk to hear Alcombright sum up two years in office and plans for two more.
It's been a tough 16 months, he acknowledged.
"Upon taking office this country was still reeling from the first economic crisis since the Great Depression," Alcombright said. "During my debates with former Mayor [John] Barrett, he said that the next two years in the city of North Adams would be the most difficult since the 1930s — unquestionably, he was right."
The popular five-term city councilor knocked the state's longest-serving mayor out of the Corner Office in 2009; but victory has been tempered by the city's budgetary struggles. But it's a challenge the former banker said he loves.
Alcombright has been upfront on the fiscal shortfalls facing the state's smallest city. Rising costs and significant reductions in state aid over the past four years — some $2.2 million — has officials scrambling to close a $1 million budget gap and maintain services. Fisal 2012, he warned, "will be a turbulent ride."
Last year, Alcombright increased property taxes 10 percent, hiked water rates and instituted a sewer fee. He alluded to those efforts in his speech, saying citizens acknowledge the need to raise revenue.
"This city has accepted and understood the need to maintain services, and in order to do so, we needed to pay for those services," he said. "Until the state can fund communities again at a higher level, we need to take care of ourselves, we need to weather the storm."
He said he'd worked "tirelessly" to institute sound fiscal practices and pointed to partnerships with citizens and businesses, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and groups like the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Partnership for North Adams, Develop North Adams and the local chambers of commerce.
He mentioned his efforts to create regional partnerships — a success that could be determined by the appearances at the rally of Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin and Town Administrators Jonathan Butler of Adams and Michael Canales of Clarksburg. Also at the kickoff were Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Michael Supranowicz and state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, along with City Councilors Keith Bona, Lisa Blackmer, David Lamarre, David Bond, Michael Bloom and Michael Boland.
Despite the fiscal difficulties, he said, "2010 was a year of the revitalization of the democratic process in North Adams with openness and participation in many levels."
From answering questions on Facebook (3,500 friends and counting) to reinvigorating subcommittees and boards, and engaging citizens, Alcombright said these efforts have "instilled a new and vibrant sense of commuity spirit and volunteerism." Citizens also felt free, he said, to vigorously oppose (if unsuccessfully) the proposed Super Walmart.
Looking forward, he pointed to continuing and beginning work on the armory, Windsor Lake, Historic Valley Park Campground, using events such as the upcoming Solid Sound Festival for future growth, and the pursuit of Green Community status and installations of cost-saving solar arrays at Drury High Scholl and the landfill and, of course, the development of Walmart on Curran Highway that is expected to spark development on the south end.
"Growth is the only catalyst that will ensure a healthy future for those that follow us," he said, and took a swipe at critics who have called the master plan proposal "useless." "I am very much commited to following through with our work toward a community master plan ... through public opinion, and strong governement and private partnership."
Alcombright was applauded several times before concluding his remarks. He hosted a reception next door at Desperados.
"Your support is what put me here, your support is what brings me back," he said, summing up his campaign. "And although we don't agree on all things, we have agreed on most things. And that's what brought me to this day."
Bunt Resigns as Tourism Director
Rod Bunt, right, leads the Fall Foliage Children's Parade in 2009. The director of the city's office of tourism for the last decade resigned Thursday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Rod Bunt quit abruptly Thursday as the city's director of tourism and cultural development.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he and Bunt had spoken Wednesday and the parting was amicable. Bunt submitted his resignation effective today.
"I wasn't shocked, he wasn't shocked," said the mayor, who added that Bunt was planning to pursue opportunities in the private sector. "I'll miss him, he's a great guy."
Bunt told the North Adams Transcript, which broke the story earlier this afternoon, that his annual salary of $34,160 hasn't moved much since he was hired in 2001 and he "had some irons in the fire."
The former WNAW morning show host was named director for the newly created office in 2001 by former Mayor John Barrett III. He oversaw events and promotions in the city including the annual farmers' market, Winterfest and the Fall Foliage Festival.
He told the Transcript it wouldn't be fair to the city to hold the post while looking elsewhere. Bunt said he would be available to help the new director transition into the job.
"Rod's been the events guy for the city for 10-plus years," said Alcombright. "He's done a lot of things and grown a lot of events. He's been kind of the feet on the street for us."
Bunt reportedly also resigned as director of the annual Fall Foliage Parade, according to an e-mail sent from parade sponsor Berkshire Chamber of Commerce to the Parade Committee.
His name was removed from the city's website by Thursday afternoon. The mayor's administrative assistant Lisa Loomis is listed as the contact and will be the liasion to the chamber.
A call to Bunt on Thursday has not yet been returned.
With a summer season filled with the Food Festival, the return of Wilco and a giant Zumba dance fundraiser on Main Street for the annual Relay for Life, the position won't go vacant long. Bunt's departure, however, will give the city an opportunity to re-envision the job's responsibilities and write a "carefully crafted" job description, said the mayor.
That will mean searching for someone with a marketing and branding background, and possibly experience in business and the arts, to coordinate with the city's cultural and business groups. The mayor expected to post the position within the next week or so.
"I fully intend to fill the position," said Alcombright. "There are a lot of events that are in a sense city events that you can't bump off onto the private sectors."
Council Committee Rejects Street Name Change
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Community Development Committee rejected on Tuesday a proposal to name a street for a famous former resident and, instead, find a better way to honor him.
"I don't think we should rename streets except for to address public safety issues," said Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer. "It's costly."
Local historian Paul W. Marino had approached the City Council last November to consider renaming the section of Summer Street between Ashland and Church streets for Lue Gim Gong, a horticulturist who bred the late-maturing orange often named for him.
Lue had lived for a time in the Burlingame house on the corner of Summer and Church that is now better known as the offices of chiropractor Peter May.
Lue Gim Gong came to North Adams as a boy.
Blackmer acknowledged Lue's accomplishments, particularly the orange ("Which I guess is great for all mankind.") but didn't think changing street names was an option. Larry Murray, a resident of that section of Summer Street, said he, too, was opposed to the change because of the aggravation it would cause.
Fellow committee members David Lamarre and Michael Boland agreed that renaming the street should not be recommended to the council. Councilor Marie Harpin, also in attendance, thought her colleagues were right.
However, they were open to other possibilities of honoring Lue, who spent most of his life in the state of Florida but kept in contact with North Adams residents.
"I think something more in the spirit of his accomplishments," said Boland, who suggested renaming one of the planned pocket parks for him or possibly the greenhouse program at Drury High School. "Since his history is a horticulturist, maybe tie something into that."
Marino said, "monuments have a tendency to become invisible." He'd hoped for the street change and a marker at the private Burlingame house to reinforce name recognition.
Lamarre and Boland thought that might be accomplished at Western Gateway Heritage State Park — a path and/or garden area named for Lue and a display at the North Adams Museum of History and Science.
The committee voted to refer the matter to the Conservation Commission and the Historic Commission.
|Tags: Lue Gim Gong|
Bosley To Be Next SteepleCats President
NORTH ADAMS, Mass — The SteepleCats will name former state Rep. Dan Bosley as the team's new president Friday.
SteepleCats General Manager Sean McGrath held a press conference at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts Wednesday to make the official announcement.
"We are very excited about his leadership and look forward to Dan's leadership as we celebrate our 10th anniversary," McGrath said in an e-mail.
Bosley said on Sunday that he has had a long friendship with McGrath and the two always talk about baseball. With his connections to the community, Bosley seems to be a right fit for the positions, Bosley said.
Bosley will take over for City Councilor David Bond who led the team since 2009. Bond stepped down and Cats officials previously said the team would be run by committee, but then Bosley accepted McGrath's offer. Bond will serve on the team's Board of Trustees.
The SteepleCats will be welcoming its third president in three years. In 2009, local attorney John B. DeRosa left the presidency for a larger role as the president of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
|Tags: Steeplecats, Bosley|
Help Us Remember JFK's North Adams' Days
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Thursday is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inaugural address but we remember him from back in the day.
Attorney Richard Taskin and iBerkshires were talking about the upcoming anniversary when he brought us this picture from 1958 — when the scion of the Irish-American dynasty was referred to as U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Taskin can't be seen because he's hiding behind the police officer in the back but his brother Howard and his mother Edith are in there. Edith is in the dark glasses next to the officer; Howard is in front of her to the left.
Taskin said Elias Sabin, a mailman, is in the light coat next to Kennedy. The Taskins have had the picture framed on their wall for decades.
The rest of the people? We don't know! Do any of our readers recognize anyone in the picture?
Here's what we've uncovered about the photo: It was taken by United Press photographer Ted Polumbaum on assignment for Life Magazine. Polumbaum documented Kennedy's 1958 Senate election campaign. The up-and-coming senator had already vied for a vice presidential slot in 1956 and was easily taking the national spotlight.
That photo ran in the magazine's inside pages on Feb. 23, 1959, with a story about Kennedy being a front-runner to be the Democratic candidate for the 1960 presidential election. It's on page 102 if you're too impatient to look through the entire book.
According to Berkshire Eagle and Transcript archives, JFK spent the weekend of Sept. 27 and 28 in the area. Some 500 people greated him at Bousquet on Saturday night. On Sunday, he apparently greeted well-wishers at the Richmond Hotel.
He walked in the Fall Foliage Parade and then flew (yes, flew) to Springfield from Harriman-West Airport. That was in Sprague Electric's heyday when the parade drew more than 10,000 people.
We don't know if this picture was taken during this trip but it seems likely, based on another picture from that day taken by Polumbaum.
Also of note, Edward "Ted" Kennedy was the campaign manager for the 1958 Senate election and walked in the parade, too.