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."