PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidates vying to be the next mayor of Pittsfield spent just over an hour on Monday night staking out positions on issues ranging from school maintenance to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.
Stephen Fillio, Donna Walto, Joseph Nichols, Daniel Bianchi and Peter Marchetti, aligned according to their ballot position, answered questions from moderator Larry Kratka on the stage in the Boland Theatre at Berkshire Community College. Their numbers will be narrowed down to two in the preliminary election slated on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
More than a few of their responses were similar, but they diverged to some extent over use of the PEDA and how to bring jobs back to the city.
Larry Kratka of WBEC was the moderator; the forum was sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television. Check listings for repeat viewings.
"The sense of urgency isn't there," said Bianchi of the PEDA board, noting the members all had jobs."We have to have a greater sensitivity to those people who are not that fortunate. We've got some real challenges."
The operation of PEDA was a flashpoint in Bianchi's narrow loss against Mayor James Ruberto two years ago. The former city councilor said he would appoint himself to the board that has been "plodding along" to ensure "a well-defined planned marketing plan." He also promoted the idea of an business development director to search out good companies and an incentive package to attract them, not just for PEDA but the city as a whole. "We need to have a greater sense of urgency to get these things done."
Marchetti said he would not appoint himself to the board but would put the members on notice they'd be replaced if they didn't perform. "I would make clear to them that we have goals and objectives that we need to meet," he said. "And if we can't meet them then by all means the appointing authority (mayor) needs to replace each member of the PEDA board that does not want to toe the line."
The current city councilor said communication was a major problem with the PEDA board and he would require a quarterly report to the City Council "so the public understands what's happening at the PEDA site."
Fillio said the PEDA board had to be more open-minded about possibilities, and earlier in the forum had suggested a multi-use stadium. "All they're looking at is one thing; they're looking at as just business, business, business, when there are some other things we can do." Fillio claimed some other concerns had approached PEDA but were turned down. He also said the city had to do more for the businesses already here, such as licensing. "As mayor I'd be right on top of that."
Walto had a more flamboyant vision, calling it an "opportunity to build the best, the brightest, the greenest building the city has ever seen" on the former GE site. She said the city should set an architectural competition to design a building for the William Stanley Business Park, based on the city's historic, industrial and innovative heritage.
"We need to be forward thinking, we need to make sure we design the best building," she said. "This could be the linchpin and be part of the economic development of the city once again."
The forum was friendly, with candidates eschewing debate to concentrate on getting their messages out to voters.
Nichols said it was important to get out the message that PEDA was established to ensure the city and GE weren't held liable for the any contamination, and that brownfields legislation extended that to any companies building on the site. "As mayor, I feel it would be my position to talk to investors in explaining to them about the brownfields legislation and how they're safe to invest there," he said, adding he would also stop PEDA from contracting with outside marketing firms.
"We would be much better served for them to manage the site and have the mayor of this city, and anyone else who wants to help, to bring clients in," Nichols said.
All five said they would fill the city solicitor's spot, left vacant over the past several years as a supposed cost-cutting measure, as well as fill the higher-level posts including a director of personnel. Marchetti went a bit further, saying he would dispense with political appointments and put the personnel director in charge of most hiring and firing.
They all also agreed they were not in favor of making acting appointments, including to head the fire and police departments, as Ruberto has done.
Nichols called it "some kind of control mechanism for the mayor" while Walto dropped the quip it was all because of "the Ruberto administration's renaissance and the arts — everybody's in drama in the city now and that's why they're all acting."
Bianchi said it might not be easy to fill the spots because of Civil Service rules, but "I don't think our goal should be acting chiefs but permanent chiefs." Marchetti pledged to push for permanent posts "to guarantee continuity in the deparments."
They also supported two high schools and better maintenance and upgrading of the Crosby, Conte and Morningside elementary schools that were left out of the last round of school renovations.
In opening statements, the candidates had touted their backgrounds and experience in demonstrating their capabilities to take on the duties of a mayor.
Walto (Berkshire BackRoad Tour Co.), Nichols (The Cove Bakery) and Fillio (construction work) noted their experience as small-business owners and entrepreneurs. Bianchi (former city director of administration and finance) and Marchetti (compliance officer at Pittsfield Co-operative Bank) also talked of their business and financial backgrounds as well as their strong involvement in muliple civic and community organizations.
Fillio said his concern was the city's youth: "They literally have nothing to do but roam around the city and get in trouble."
Walto said she was the right candidate with "the strength of a man but the caring of a woman."
Nichols informed the audience he had "no party affiliation and no political baggage my only loyalty is to the people of Pittsfield."
Bianchi spoke of his family giving him "core values and traits that I think I could bring to the table and I think they would match up very well with the values of the people of Pittsfield."
Not to be outdone, Marchetti said he had "a great love for the city" and would listen to the people, and told Bianchi, "I, too share your family values."