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Ward 3 Hopefuls Outline Platforms in Pittsfield Debate

By Joe Durwin
Pittsfield Correspondent
Nicholas Caccamo, left, Thomas Wells, Richard Latura and Jeffrey Germann express their ideas for Ward 3 at Berkshire Community College.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Four contenders for an open seat in Pittsfield's Ward 3 laid out their priorities and concerns in a debate held Monday, in advance of a preliminary election that will narrow the race next Tuesday.

Nicholas Caccamo, Jeffrey Germann, Richard Latura and Thomas Wells expressed their diverse opinions on issues ranging from traffic and commerce to more neighborhood concerns about the disposition of the Hibbard school and the conversion of a former church into a day care.

The debate sponsored by the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television at Berkshire Community College was broadcast live. Moderator was Dan Dillon.

The four are vying for an open ward seat. Two will be chosen in the preliminary to proceed to the November election; the only other preliminary race is in Ward 1.

Perspectives among the candidates varied somewhat on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and an emerging proposal for a big-box store at the William Stanley Business Park, which straddles the border of Wards 2 and 3. 

Wells voiced the most enthusiasm for the proposal, expressing disappointment with the rate of progress of PEDA in attracting industrial or technology business to the former GE property. "I think we should explore other uses, whether it's retail or something to that effect," he said.

"I think PEDA is doing a good job," Germann espoused, suggesting Pittsfield "wait it out" for a better possibility. "I don't agree with another box store."

"I don't agree with putting retail into it," said Latura, "I do agree that [the process] has dragged, and dragged, and dragged."

Caccamo expressed some skepticism about the viability of developing the site for retail, but also emphasized that challenges to attracting major manufacturing operations may be even more daunting. "It may mean 50 or 60 jobs here and there," he said, "but I don't think it's going to be the manufacturing hub it once was."

The Ward 4 hopefuls also offered their ideas on the future possibilities for the former Hibbard Alternative High School building on Newell Street, which was closed in 2009 because of facility inadequacies and worsening building conditions.

Latura suggested that if financially feasible, the building could perhaps become a secondary fire station or house additional city offices, but voiced staunch opposition to it being sold for commercial purposes.

Caccamo questioned the educational impact of re-absorbing the program and students at Hibbard into its other high schools: "Maybe it should return to that use."  

Germann agreed that this was a strong option that should be examined. Wells also believed the building still had potential for educational uses, potentially as a site for the Adult Learning Center, whose relocation to a rented North Street retail site last year proved controversial.

The candidates were evenly divided on a plan by the Building Blocks day-care center to reuse the former All Souls Mission on Pembroke Avenue.

Wells and Caccamo both thought the day-care operation (currently located on Dalton Avenue) would make an ideal use of the vacant property if concerns of abutting neighbors can be addressed; Latura and Germann staunchly opposed a change in use that they believe will create major traffic and parking issues at that location.

The four contenders outlined differing priorities and perspectives in what they hope to bring to the role of councilor for Ward 3, for which two candidates will emerge next Tuesday to run in the general election in November.

"I think we need to better monitor taking care of our properties," indicated Wells, calling for an improved building maintenance plan. Wells said he believed he could bring business experience and "new ideas" to representing Ward 3.

"Residents want to see projects that enhance the city, past Ward 3," said Caccamo, who pointed to his experience attending council meetings following unsuccessful runs for mayor and at-large councilor. "I think most importantly being accessible to constituents, returning phone calls and emails and getting the information back to them, that requires a good deal of organization and that's all going to be part of making sound votes and improving the infrastructure and well being citywide."

"We need to start making our neighborhoods safe," said Latura, who repeatedly emphasized public safety issues such as crime and traffic. "Then we can concentrate on the arts and entertainment, and we can get back to everything else.  First we need to make our neighborhoods safe, and the rest of the city will follow."

Germann cited road repairs as one of his highest priority issues, and also urged for refurbishing of Goodrich Pond.
"We've got to fix the roads and sidewalks first. when I'm elected, I will work hard to make sure your issues are addressed in a timely manner," he said.

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