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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Kelly Lee: City Council Candidate

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, October 14, 2005

City Council challenger Kelly Lee
•SEE VIDEO INTERVIEW
•SEE VIDEO INTERVIEW

North Adams – Kelly Lee, 57, of 243 Union St. #106, has lived in several states and said he’d once held a belief that he would eventually settle in Vermont.

“The moment I hit New England, I just had the feeling I was going to end up here, to be honest, I always figured it would be Vermont,” Lee said during an Oct.12 interview.

But fate intervened; Lee and city artist and property developer Eric Rudd were high school friends, and while busy at the computer one day, Lee discovered Rudd was active in the city. Lee reconnected with Rudd, and subsequently traveled to the city for a visit, he said.

“When I came up here, it was better than Vermont,” Lee said. “It was everything that I’d been thinking I wanted.”

Lee 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 earlier this month that he will be moving from the city and is no longer seeking reelection to the council.

Lee is a graphic artist and has worked in that capacity with major television network news programs. He spent a decade working as the lead artist with “ABC World News Tonight,” three years working with the Baltimore, MD.-based Fox 45 “Fox News at 10,” one year working as art director for the Republican National Committee and a committee-sponsored television program “Rising Tide” with Haley Barbour [the current governor of Mississippi], and nine years as the senior artist and animator with “The NewsHour” with Jim Lehrer.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in art and English at Windham College and spent a year at George Washington University studying photography and art history. He attended the International Academy for creative Arts in Salzburg, Austria and an artist workshop in Venice, Italy. Lee has been honored for artistic achievement in every decade from the 1960s to the 1990s for his work.

He is not married.

Politics and Art

He was surrounded by political conversation as a youth, he said.

“My father was actually the chief liaison officer between China and the U.S. during the war, so when I grew up, there were always lots of politicians around the table talking about everything,” Lee said.

Lee said that he “embraced art” from an early age, but after college graduation, learned that the phrase “starving artist” was more than just a clever term.

“I found out that it wasn’t easy for a fine artist to make a living,” he said. “I went into commercial art but I went in with a purpose. I chose television news because I really did want to make a difference. I spent 30 years in that business and I think I did make a difference.”

“Making a difference” led to his acquiring skills that could benefit the city council and the city, Lee said.

While at ABC, Lee served as the Writer’s Guild union shop steward and was a key figure during a Washington D.C. Writer’s Guild strike. Lee was heavily involved in contract negotiations for a Washington, D.C.-based ABC network writers “shop” as well as negotiations for guild writers working with a CBS New York City “shop,” he said.

“I found that fascinating and a real tool that’s served me well ever since,” Lee said. “I think it’s one of the things I could bring to the city council, that experience.”

Contract negotiations taught him about “finding ways to get things done where everybody feels like a winner,” he said.

Successful contract negotiations and overseeing what Lee termed “a fair strike; we never broke the rules,” left him with a sense of accomplishment, he said.

“I was very proud of that, that you could get what you wanted and you didn’t have to have a lasting contentious relationship that followed.”

Arts Community "Not Enough"

He is interested in keeping the city’s progress moving and said that several things have been done to keep the momentum going.

“One of the things I think was done very well was allowing the zoning change to allow the mill projects [artist housing development generated by Eric Rudd] to go on,” Lee said.

The move permitted an influx of artists who operate as “small businesses” and in some cases employ one or two individuals or a few part-time employees,Lee said. The artists spend money within the community and they do attract others to visit the city, he noted.

But the city needs more, Lee said.

“It’s not enough to just have an arts community,” he said. “If you look at other communities sparked by the arts, you find that the divergence of business is always there, and it does tend to attract businesses that are small and unique, and really does attract tourists.”

Lee said he supports city job growth via small business.

“I do think that the smaller, local businesses are better,” he said. “They add character to the town. Larger stores come with a lot of clout but I think in a big way that they don’t always help the communities they go into.”

Much “big box” store revenue is destined for a parent company and parent companies are often headquartered in another state or another country, he noted. Small business tends to “keep money in the community” and offer both better employee wages and better employer/employee relationships, Lee said.

Downtown

Main Street growth is a major city issue, he said.

“Everybody’s talking about that, of course, because there’s a lot of empty stores there and on Eagle Street, too,” he said.

The situation is “very sad” because the city’s history is illustrated with numerous photographs of a bustling, social, downtown, Lee said.

“Perhaps North Adams needs its’ own chamber of commerce again,” Lee said. “I know they were folded into the larger [Berkshire Chamber of Commerce], but I don’t see that’s doing a lot to help North Adams.”

A city-focused chamber could work in tandem with the Mayor’s Office of Tourism and Culture, Lee said.

A trolley-style bus owned by the city could be put “to more inspired use,” Lee said.

The procedures for launching a city business could be “streamlined,” Lee said.

“The whole process of getting business running could be more streamlined or smoothed out, worked on in a way that made it more attractive to people and to businesses coming here.”

City parking meter parking limits could be expanded as well, Lee said.

“Perhaps the meters need to have longer times on them, maybe even, as things get going, if there is business downtown, maybe some diagonal parking of cars,” he said.

Downtown benches “would be nice,” he said, and would permit older citizens a place to sit and rest while they do their downtown shopping.

“Of course, [benches] would have to be looked after in a way so they don’t become a problem,” he said.

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is the single biggest turning point leading a post-Sprague Electric Co. city renaissance, Lee said. The Williamstown-based Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute benefits the city as well, Lee said, and noted that Clark visitors often travel to MoCA.

“The Clark is something and MASS MoCA is huge” as city tourism lures, he said.

Localize State and National Issues

City councils can support state and national proposals via position statements and similar mechanisms, and Lee praised City Councilor Gailanne Cariddi for researching Gov. Mitt Romney’s single-payer health benefit proposal and crafting a letter about the proposal that councilors could endorse.

Because issues such as employee health care costs significantly impact city-based business, the issues merit council attention, he said.

“I commend Gail Cariddi for actually doing that,” he said. “She did take the time to look at what the Governor offered.”

"Everybody Benefits"

Lee said that if elected to a council term, he would work hard for the city and its residents.

“I’ve always worked hard at every job I’ve ever been given,” he said. “I’m really good at getting things done on time. I’ve been very successful at having people have meetings of the minds, where people work out compromises and get things done to everyone’s satisfaction.”

He is an advocate of development that is accomplished fairly, he said.

“I’ve done a lot of stories on development and one of the problems is if it’s not done right, some people get swept aside and ignored,” he said.

“Whenever you have development in a community, you really have to think of everybody, you have to make sure that economic development doesn’t displace people, that rising values of houses don’t tax people on fixed incomes out of their houses,” Lee said. “Fairness is one of the key things; if people think things are done fairly, they’ll be happy with it. As long as it’s fair, and everybody shares, and it’s in the common good in the long run, everybody benefits.”

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