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7 Make Case For Pittsfield At-Large Council Seats
By Joe Durwin On: 10:58PM / Wednesday October 30, 2013

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Three incumbents and four challengers outlined accomplishments, experience and positions as they compete for four at-large seats on the City Council, to be chosen by voters of all seven of Pittsfield's wards next Tuesday.

Incumbents Barry Clairmont, Churchill Cotton and Melissa Mazzeo laid out their records and positions against those of hopefuls Kathleen Amuso, James Conant, Mark Miller and Donna Rivers in a debate held at Berkshire Community College on Monday, ranging over issues such as school budget, new business development, and the future of some city buildings.
In statements, each sought to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field of candidates, all of whom are well-known figures in local politics.
"I believe in a bold, progressive, and dynamic city," said Clairmont, touting what he deemed the accomplishments of his first term, including a volunteer tax abatement for seniors, a new advanced manufacturing study, and support for attempts to put in new businesses at the site of the former Plunkett School and Crane Freight House buildings.
"I think I've had life experiences that give me a different perspective from most of the other panel members," said Cotton, who said he was seeking re-election "So that everyone has an opportunity to be represented at City Hall."
"I hope you all take the time to think about what is important to you, your family, and your community," said Mazzeo, who highlighted herself as being without ulterior agendas, in contrast to others on the City Council. "And ask if we really have been doing our job, or if it's time for a change."
"I have proven results," said Amuso, who pointed to a 12 percent increase in graduation rates during her tenure as chairman of the PIttsfield School Committee as an example. "Being a member of the City Council will give me an opportunity to use my expertise and knowledge to work collaboratively to move Pittsfield forward."
"I have the experience and working knowledge of city government, as I have served on board and committees in Pittsfield for the past then years," offered Conant, a former parks commissioner who currently serves on the School Committee and as chairman of the Conservation Commission.
"I'm the outsider in this race," said Miller, a longtime newsman and 2011 state representative candidate, who highlighted his knowledge and extensive education in political science, journalism and management against the others' governmental experience.
"I'm running because I believe it is time for us to embrace a new way of looking at old problems," said Rivers, a local business owner and radio personality. "I'm running because a lifetime of experiences has lead me to this very moment."
Candidates offered varying takes on a currently controversial proposal to develop big box retail at the quasi-public-owned Williams Stanley Business Park.
Cotton suggested it was premature to say categorically there should be no retail at the former General Electric site, while Mazzeo and Amuso spoke strongly against the current proposal, and Conant said retail should only be considered after all other possibilities have been exhausted. Miller proposed that regular tours to showcase the mostly vacant, fenced-off industrial park be held by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority that oversees it.
Opinions also differed on another hot-button issue over the past term, that of the City Council's handling of school budget issues. Cotton said the council's responsibility was the same as within any budget: "To review, ask questions and then accept or reject it. But to try and pick and choose which things should be taken out I don't think is our responsibility."
"The School Committee and the superintendent should be allowed to do their job," answered Rivers.  
"Expecting accountability is not opposition," said Clairmont, "It is unreasonable to expect an unquestioned budget."
Opinions were also polled on what should be done with regard to two dormant city-owned buildings, the former Hibbard School and Springside House, which just began a process of assessment through a recent grant from the state.
Several candidates favored rehab of the Newell Street school to return it to an educational purpose. Conant strongly emphasized the need to return it to use as an alternative high school for students who would not succeed in the mainstream high schools, with which Miller voiced agreement. Rivers suggested that it could be looked at as a home for the Adult Learning Center, whose relocation last year was a matter of considerable municipal debate. 
Clairmont, Cotton, Rivers and Amuso all spoke fervently in favor of restoration of the Springside House for its value as a potential historic and educational asset to the city. Conant expressed skepticism about its condition and said the study of the house needs to be completed before any further funds are invested. Miller believed restoration of the house should not be a priority for any major funds, suggesting instead that a new more modern building could be constructed there to enhance use of Springside Park.
The seven contenders will appear on ballots in all seven wards in Pittsfield's citywide election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.  The four top vote recipients will become the at-large members of the 11-member City Council for the upcoming two-year term beginning in January.

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Crime, Finance Return in 2nd Alcombright, Moulton Debate
By Tammy Daniels On: 08:02PM / Wednesday October 30, 2013
Richard Alcombright, left, and Robert M. Moulton Jr. shake hands after Wednesday's debate at the WNAW radio studio.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Incumbent Richard Alcombright, seeking a third term, and Robert M. Moulton Jr., a local businessman and former city councilor, traded jabs for an hour over crime, blight and taxes Wednesday morning live at the WNAW radio studio in their second and final mayoral debate.

Megan Duley of WNAW moderated and asked questions along with Tammy Daniels of and Jennifer Huberdeau of the North Adams Transcript. The debate was taped for broadcast on NBCTV.

Moulton stuck with his campaign platform of making the community "safe and affordable," saying he would "put together a team that will get North Adams moving again and will make sure that the middle class of North Adams has a voice again." The same statement he made during last week's debate.

Alcombright, however, focused like a laser in on Moulton's prior public comments, asking for specifics of his challenger's "action plan" and "can he say he will not raise taxes and if so, what will he cut from city services to balance the budget?"

Moulton, pressed repeatedly by the panelists, declined to say how he would fund his ideas of more police, expanded inspection services or a charter school other than saying they would have to be "sustainable" and the state could play a role.

Instead, he claimed that Alcombright had been left with $3 million on taking office and had raised fees and taxes. "I'm not the one spending money ... Where's the money? Where's the money?"

Alcombright responded that he'd been left with $1.2 million in reserves and a $2.6 million deficit that's been whittled down to just over $300,000. Taxes have gone up, but they've gone up every year for more than a decade, he said, (pointing out that both he and Moulton had approved increases as councilors) while the budget is up only about 1.5 percent, making it more "a 12 to 14 percent reduction."

"We've raised taxes but cut the budget significantly and not replaced many staffing positions," he continued. "We've downsized where we could, we've created efficiencies where we could."

That was the tempo of the debate, starting when the two clashed over the first question, when Moulton repeated his assertion that crime is up 60 percent in the city and that residents are scared and even feel unsafe their homes.

"We've got to be more proactive than reactive, we need more money for police," he said, adding that the with overtime being spent the police structure could reviewed. "The community has to be part of this and be involved."

He accused Alcombright of failing to fulfill a priority he'd laid out four years ago to address crime in his first run for mayor. The incumbent, however, said Moulton's continued reference to a broken promise was false.

"I did not run on crime, I ran on financial integrity, economic development and transparency, those were my three topics that I ran on," said Alcombright. (His priorities also included housing, according to a 2007 article; in 2009, it was partnerships and economic growth.)

"We do not have a 60 percent increase on crime. .... Crime is up about 25 percent as far breaking and entering are concerned. Other than that most crime is really stable," he said.

The violent incidents involved people who knew each other, he continued, and more police wouldn't have stopped those crimes.

Alcombright said his administration hasn't "had our heads in the sand over this," pointing to increased patrols and support from the district attorney and sheriff's offices and state police during the spike in crime over the last few months, and the closure of a local bar after a stabbing.

"To really bring closure to this, we need to look at the roots of the problem," he said, such as drug addiction and poverty.

The Moulton kept it simple, pounding the incumbent on crime and finances; Alcmbright pressed the challenger for how he'd fund his ideas.

Moulton, however, maintained "this is nothing that just popped up in the last few months it's been ongoing and it's been a problem."

The incumbent called for Moulton to say how he was going to pay for more officers — by raising taxes, cutting services or making the Fire Department volunteer?

The challenger didn't respond to Alcombright's question.

Both did agree that jobs were critical to attracting homeowners and expanding the tax base but differed greatly on how to do it.

Moulton continued to the tout the 20-year-old Hyett Palma report for reinvigorating the downtown while Alcombright pointed to the ongoing master planning process that looks at all areas of the city. Moulton described the master plan concept as "sexy" but not particularly useful despite the state's use of such plans for grant funding and the majority of the current City Council as well as candidates not only backing the process but actively engaging in it.

He also called for the health inspector post be reinstated to crack down on blight.

"It is arguably the strongest enforcement board that we have and that's critical," he said, and inspectors should be walking the neighborhoods to find violators. "Make them responsible for their properties, making your neighborhood safer and more attractive and also it's going to increase your property values."

Alcombright said the post was not eliminated when the building and health departments were combined as Inspection Services to save some $55,000 by not replacing an assistant inspector.

"These guys are out every day they are doing inspections, they are writing citations, they are very, very active and very, very responsive," he said, challenging  Moulton to find the money in the budget for another inspector.

Moulton made it clear where he stood on two issues: for the Conte School renovation and against the planned Greylock Market project.

Moulton strongly backed a petition against the school and lost. "I'd have to support the school, that's what the people wanted," he said, although adding "I think we're spending way too much money for that school."

He would toss out, however, a nearly-completed agreement for the privatization of Heritage State Park that could bring in some $6 million in private investment and look for new proposals. The city has made money on the park, he said, and it shouldn't abandon the non-profits located at the park now.

He also cast doubt that the state would fund it as a new gateway to Mount Greylock. "I don't believe the state has the money for that."

Alcombright said not only the state was onboard, but the Berkshire Scenic Railway was a factor as well.

The park hasn't made any money for the city because it belongs to the Redevelopment Authority, he said. It has for years been "a loss leader as it is," he continued. "We ought to get it out of our hair."

There was also some discussion over the relocation of the school district's central office and student needs into a single location on Main Street. Moulton said it may be costing taxpayers too much money at $70,000; others during the campaign have described is as "hundreds of thousands."

According to the contract, the school district is paying $69,000 a year for three years (with the first year heavily discounted) including utilities, new carpeting and office modules on the second floor of the Berkshire Bank building. Superintendent James Montepare had said at previous meetings that it was costing around $100,000 annually to keep the offices in Conte School.


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Alcombright Rings Up Endorsements in Mayoral Race
On: 10:31AM / Tuesday October 29, 2013

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Incumbent Richard Alcombright has received endorsements in his campaign for a third term as mayor of North Adams from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler.

"Over the course of his tenure as mayor, Dick Alcombright has continued to put the residents of North Adams first. Whether it is through his efforts to work with the northern Berkshire communities to regionalize veterans services or his diligence in finding new businesses to grow the Route 8 corridor and create more jobs, Mayor Alcombright understands what it takes to keep North Adams thriving.  Knowing his history and dedication to the City, I wholeheartedly endorse Mayor Dick Alcombright for re-election."

Congressman Richard Neal

"As your attorney general, it goes without saying that I am a strong advocate of public safety.  As a prior resident of North Adams, I commend Mayor Alcombright for taking decisive steps to work with District Attorney Capeless, the state police and the sheriff's department to increase police presence over the past three months. Dick has clearly recognized the problems within the community and has taken action to protect the citizens of North Adams. Dick's ability to work collaboratively with law enforcement has resulted in multiple arrests and created a safer city for residents and visitors alike. I have known Dick for over 50 years and can attest that his only motivation day in and out is to move North Adams forward.  I am proud to support Dick for re-election."

Attorney General Martha Coakley

"Dick Alcombright cares deeply about every issue a mayor deals with, and more. He is a passionate advocate for North Adams and for those causes which will improve quality of life in his community. He has been an able partner in every effort we have undertaken regionally to expand opportunity in the Berkshires. I am proud to call him a friend and hope that residents of North Adams agree with me that he has earned a 3rd term."

Sen. Benjamin Downing

"As sheriff of Berkshire County, I have had the delightful pleasure for the past  2 1/2 years of working very closely with Mayor Dick Alcombright. What I have discovered is that he is a man of integrity, and simply a person who cares for the citizens of North Adams. Since in office, he has reduced the city’s deficit, created new jobs and brought many new businesses to the city of North Adams.  It is very evident his goal is to enhance your quality of life ... which all of you deserve."

Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler

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Bowler Endorses Breen for North Adams Council
Letters to the Editor On: 10:23AM / Tuesday October 29, 2013

To the Editor:

I am proud to endorse Jennifer "Jenny" Breen for re-election to the North Adams City Council. I have  known Jenny for years both as a local attorney and through both of our roles as elected officials.

I am happy to endorse her, as I did in her first race for office in 2011. Ms. Breen is a person of integrity and honesty. We have had multiple conversations focused on her love for her city, North Adams, and her desire to see North Adams move forward. I also know Ms. Breen as a person of intelligence and education in public safety.

Ms. Breen is a former prosecutor, and as such, I appreciate Ms. Breen's understanding of her municipalities' role in policing and law enforcement. We have discussed her spearheading neighborhood watches in North Adams and the integral role of community policing. I also understand Ms. Breen's support of her local police and fire departments and the risks these men and women face in the front lines. Most importantly, I know Ms. Breen to be a champion for children and the elderly in her work as an attorney. She endeavors to attack the root of crime, poverty, by embracing the private sector's contribution to the tax base in North Adams.

I give my endorsement to Councilor Jennifer Breen for re-election to the North Adams City Council, and ask that you vote for her on Nov. 5.

Very truly yours,

Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler
Oct. 27, 2013

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Krol, Nichols Clash Over Pittsfield's Westside
By Joe Durwin On: 07:40AM / Tuesday October 29, 2013
Incumbent John Krol and challenger Joseph Nichols differed sharply during the Ward 6 at BCC on Monday night.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Incumbent John Krol and former Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols traded jabs during a heated debate Monday over who voters should choose to represent Ward 6 in next week's local election.
The two candidates, who frequently opposed each other on the council during the 2009-2011 term, drew pointed contrasts to each other on issues and governmental philosophy as well as disputing each other's honesty during the sometimes tense 40-minute forum held at Berkshire Community College by the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television.
Sparring began in opening statements, during which Nichols criticized what he called a lack of responsiveness to constituents on the part of the incumbent.
The two were also staunchly divided on the issues of residential property taxes and regulation for homeowners.  
Krol defended his role in the council's 7-4 decision last year to amend the shift factor in commercial/residential property taxes from 1.72 to 1.68, altering the distribution of tax increase in fiscal 2013 to rates of $16.70 per $1,000 residential and $34.48 commercial rather than $16.48 / $35.30 ratio proposed by Mayor Daniel Bianchi.  
"We live in a competitive market, in a world where businesses are making choices about where to do business," said Krol.  "A small shift that makes a few dollars difference on the residential side makes a huge impact on the commercial tax rate."
"It's a shortsighted gesture," argued Nichols, who blamed Krol for imposing too great a burden on fixed income homeowners. "The businessman can write off taxes, and pass on the cost of that expense, but the homeowner cannot do that."
Nichols also blamed Pittsfield's 2010 adoption of the Stretch Energy Code as being a major impediment to a city lagging behind in the recovery of its housing market.
Krol however said that it was that very regulation and code enforcement that was improving their  Westside neighborhood, and citing addressing "problem properties" as a significant measure toward reducing crime.  
The two candidates agreed on little, aside from both opposing a current developer proposal to build a new big box retail complex at the William Stanley Business Park, and overall approval of the revised city charter that will also be on the ballot next Tuesday.
The debate jumped the rails off its question-and-answer format during a brief but heated exchange after Nichols accused Krol of being non-collaborative in working with the Bianchi administration.
"John says that he collaborates with our mayor" said Nichols. "But I spoke with Mayor Bianchi today and he said that Mr. Krol has not been in his office in two years.
"That's completely not true," Krol interjected, stating he had met with the mayor in his office on several occasions.
"I called Mayor Bianchi soon after the inauguration, I called him several times to get a first meeting in his office, and eventually I did get a meeting," Krol continued. "I have tried to work with Mayor Bianchi and I have continued to try and work with Mayor Bianchi however I can."
Nichols reiterated his statement, and further accused Krol of exaggerating Bianchi's committment to a $200,000 budget item for a sports field at Berkshire Community College.
"I don't think that Mayor Bianchi would lie to me right before a debate," said Nichols. "Again, Councilor Krol has gone beyond what the reality of the situation is, in order to, evidently, make steps toward getting re-elected."
Krol flatly denied this as well, naming several individuals including, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, among whom he'd met with the mayor on the project and had confirmed his commitment to the capital funds.
After briefly allowing the dispute in controlled 30-second responses, moderator David Cachat cut off the argument, while disgruntled whispers echoed through supporters of both candidates in the small audience.  
In closing arguments, Krol emphasized a record of what he saw as progressive improvements for the city he had helped accomplish in the his past two terms.
"These take communication and advocacy, and that is what I've done," Krol  summarized. "Responsiveness is what it's all about as a ward councilor." 
 Nichols ended by again challenging his opponent on that responsiveness, claiming widespread complaints that the incumbent councilor had been incommunicative.  
"I think it's great to paint a pretty picture at election time," concluded Nichols. "But actions speak louder than words."

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