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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Marie Harpin: City Council Candidate

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Incumbent city council candidate Marie Harpin
•SEE VIDEO INTERVIEW
•SEE VIDEO INTERVIEW

North Adams – Marie Harpin, 67, of 15 Rock St., said that her affection for the city is every bit as strong as that of her city council colleagues and city Mayor John Barrett III.

“I love North Adams, so Mayor Barrett, Dick Alcombright, and Al Marden are not the only ones who have a love affair with the city of North Adams,” Harpin said during an Oct. 7 interview. “I also have a love affair with the city of North Adams. My history is here.”

Harpin is among eight incumbent city councilors and seven challengers vying for nine city council seats during a Nov. 8 city election. City Councilor William Donovan announced in September that he will be moving from the city and is no longer seeking reelection to the council.

Harpin is the area director of the Berkshire Community Action Northern Berkshire office at 85 Main St.. She is seeking a fifth two-year elected city council term. Harpin has six children, 14 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, and is not married.

She is proud of her city roots and knows first-hand about the challenges facing many city residents, Harpin said. She raised six children “on my own,” she said, and watched four of her children graduate from the Charles H. McCann Technical High School.

“I know the struggles people have,” Harpin said. “I know how hard it is to raise a family, especially alone.”

Route 8 Development

She said she supports a Nigro Development LLC proposal to erect a shopping center along Route 8 near another property set to be developed by the Starwood-Ceruzzi firm. Nigro company officials withdrew a development proposal during an Oct. 3 Planning Board meeting “without prejudice,” meaning that the firm may resubmit a proposal at a later date. The withdrawal came after Nigro officials postponed several city reviews of the proposal and also after Adams town officials and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission raised objections to several proposal components.

Harpin said that she believes the developers will return with a proposal, and believes that the end result will deliver benefits to city residents.

“I’m so excited about this down on Curran Highway,” she said. “It’s going to bring jobs into this community. It will bring other people into this community.”

Harpin said that the property will likely host an anchor store, a restaurant, small shops and a bank.

“That takes people to operate,” she said. “To me, it’s jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobs and housing are my priorities.”

“I know how people are living and maybe these major developments, these major companies, maybe they will offer benefits to families, to people who will be working there full-time, and offer a health benefit plan.”

$.89 Paycheck

To underscore her belief that jobs are needed, Harpin described a recent work-related encounter with a city woman who is employed at a Northern Berkshire school department outside of the city. The woman, who has children, returned to work at the school year’s start, and her take-home wages for four days of work totaled $.89, Harpin said.

The woman’s employee health insurance payroll deduction had eaten much of the paycheck, Harpin said. When Harpin suggested that the woman give up the employer-offered health plan and enroll the children with the state’s MassHealth plan, she was told that state law requires working people to enroll for workplace health plans if they are available.

During an interview discussion, Harpin agreed that many of those working at or near minimum wage are finding their take-home wages eroded by health care costs. Those with children enrolled in childcare centers are hit even harder because of childcare costs, she said.

“So you don’t even have to rob Peter to pay Paul, because there’s nothing from Peter to take,” she said.

Harpin said that city councilors cannot dictate how developers develop properties that they own or control, but can inform developers of their preferences.

Schools

“What I’d like to see is the council get more involved with new people and new developers coming into the city and act as ombudsmen, good neighbor ambassadors, advocates, whatever term you want to use, and take [developers] around, show then our city, let them know what we have here.”

“What we have here” includes good schools, Harpin said, and cited the accomplishments of North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James Montepare.

Montepare has secured much grant revenue, including recent grants of $124,000 for the Mass. Family Network and $772,000 for the Community Partnership for Children, Harpin said.

“To me, this is so impressive,” she said. “These are programs for our children, for our future. That’s what our kids are, the future of the city. That’s important. That’s important to me and to everybody in North Adams.”

Harpin’s grandfather was among the first Italian-Americans to serve as a city councilor and also served as a council president, Harpin said. He was a city businessman, as were her uncles and stepfather.

“I’m proud of that,” Harpin said. “We’re a part of North Adams.”

Harpin recalled her childhood and being raised in the downtown at a time when housing and businesses existed almost side-by-side. Downtown housing could enhance the city’s business climate now as well, Harpin said.

Housing

“You know that I’m very interested in housing,” Harpin said and noted that she is a member of the area’s Habitat for Humanity selection committee and is a past member of the Community Development Corp., which had a strong interest in housing opportunities.

“I would like to see more housing in North Adams and I think the Mayor is right, it’s got to be centrally located housing,” Harpin said.

An urban renewal project launched over four decades ago “wiped out” about 22 downtown streets, Harpin said, among them, the street where she lived with her mother and five siblings. Before the project began, countless families lived and shopped within the city’s hub, she said.

“All these people lived in that downtown area,” she said. “So they were in that North Adams center of town, and they did shop at the Newberry’s and the Grants, at the Woolworth’s [all retail stores], which we had then. If there are shops here, people will shop here, especially if they are in walking distance.”

K-mart Plaza

As for development at the K-mart plaza , Harpin said that there are numerous “rumors” churning throughout the city.

“When we say that we want to develop the K-mart property, well, we can’t, because we [the city] don’t own the K-mart property,” she said. “So we have to work with the developer and let them know what we would like to have put in that area.”

Speculation about a Peebles department store, restaurants, and “this and that” is exactly that; speculation, Harpin said. Facts about a development proposal won’t be known until the First Hartford Corp. presents a plan, she said.

Harpin said that as the council liaison to the Planning Board, she was present during a mid-July Planning Board special meeting that was scheduled for 6 p.m.. The agenda held two items, and representatives of First Hartford were first on the agenda, she said.

Harpin said that Planning Board Chairman Michael Leary called the meeting to order at 6 p.m. and then called for the First Hartford representatives.

“They weren’t there, so it [the pending matter] was filed,” Harpin said.

The second agenda item was handled and the meeting concluded within 10 minutes, she said.

“The meeting’s over and here comes the [First Hartford] lawyer,” she said. “He looks at his watch, he sat down, he looked at the clock, and then he went out the door. A few days later, they file a lawsuit.”

Harpin said that city meetings are required by law to begin as posted. She said that all parties involved in the special meeting were notified of the meeting date, time and their place on the agenda.

"We"

Many people have come to the city from other locales and become involved in city leadership, Harpin said, and cited City Councilors Michael Bloom, Clark Billings, and Alan Marden as examples of individuals who are not city natives but have worked hard for the city.

“Everybody’s got to work together to make this place better for everybody,” she said, and stressed that there is no “us” and “them,” but there is a “we.”

Harpin said that she hopes to be reelected and hopes that city residents believe that she is worthy of their vote. Her numerous committee posts will keep her involved in city affairs if she is not reelected, she said.

Harpin said that as a city councilor, she finishes whatever she begins.

“I care about North Adams,” she said. “If I start something, I’m going to see it through. I plan on being around here for a long time.”

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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