North Adams mayoral candidate Paul Babeu emphasized an “open-door” policy, establishing a nonprofit fund for youth programs, and the need for new leadership during a speech at his official campaign kickoff, which took place Tuesday, Sept. 18 at the Holiday Inn Berkshires. He is running against incumbent Mayor John Barrett III, who is seeking a 10th consecutive term.
Babeu also promised to keep the city budget balanced and to target what he considers North Adams’ No. 1 problem: an ongoing decline in population. He said he believes the city will not flourish solely on the purses of tourists, and that he will work harder to recruit business and industry from beyond the region.
Having lost by only 353 votes in the 1997 election to Barrett, in a race for which voter turnout was an unusually high 75 percent, Babeu told the 120 or so audience members that “we’re going to win this election for mayor this year.”
“We’re going to do it by putting a professional in the office of mayor. Clearly, we need a mayor who will maintain the bottom line and the budget, and I will do that as mayor. I will set fiscal priorities, as I have done in my service on the County Commission, where I served four years during tough fiscal times. I sharpened our pencil, and I made sure that we had surpluses in a time when there was little money to go around. We achieved that together as a commission.”
Babeu has most recently served as headmaster and executive director of the DeSisto School in Stockbridge, where he had spent two-and-a-half years before resigning to run for mayor.
Population is critical issue
“Most important in facing the future of our community is the population — the fact that it’s declining. And as the mayor I will stop the population decline. I’m not going to stand here and argue with the Federal Census Bureau about the numbers; I will work to keep people here, to provide opportunities to keep our young people in North Adams and families here, rather than year after year after year, we see people leave our community — and some of the best and the brightest that we have. And that’s a shame, and it’s a fact.”
He said residents, not tourists, support the backbone of the community. “When we have a resident who lives here 365 days a year, they shop here, they pay taxes here ... they have their car repaired here, they buy tires somewhere, they get their hair cut here,” he said. “You can just imagine the ripple effect of someone who lives here year round. And we have to keep them here.”
Babeu said the city needs to provide more opportunities for young people entering the work force. “It’s a shame when it becomes a foregone conclusion that our young people that we send to school ... if they’re to get a decent job opportunity, they have to leave our community.”
“I’m a big supporter of tourism, and of MASS MoCA — been a member, enjoy MASS MoCA ... — and I enjoy the investments being made and I would encourage that and will go out and aggressively encourage investment in our community like The Porches, and others, but that’s not the end-all and be-all for our community. ... [The service industry] shouldn’t be the only opportunity that our young people in North Adams have. And that’s why the mayor has to go outside this community and attract and aggressively promote this community and attract investment and business opportunities here. That’s not being done — and that’s the clear difference between John Barrett and Paul Babeu. I will go outside and make that my chief priority to change the current state of affairs.”
“This isn’t a one-man show”
Babeu said he is ready to listen to city leaders. “I was meeting with some business people today — some leaders in our downtown — and I do that every day. I talk to people, I listen to them, I ensure that they know they have not just an open door that they can walk through — I’m going to walk through their door. I’m going to make sure that when I go to them, that they know that I want to know what they’re thinking — what I can do as their mayor to get road blocks out of the way so they can become successful. Not only that they can stay here, that they can expand.”
He said with the current administration, listening to and acting on the behalf of citizens is “not happening. And when we don’t include some of our greatest assets and experience and leaders in our community, there’s no way we’re going to be able to achieve our full potential. Just by the fact that we’re excluding people in any process that goes on — immediately, you limit yourself. I’m going to change that tone. And as the mayor, I’m going to open it up, where, I don’t care whether you agree or disagree with me, you’ll always have an opportunity to be involved, to share your opinion. And if we disagree, you can come back and feel welcome to be involved, to participate and offer your opinion, and I’m going to seek that opinion from you.”
Babeu said he was taught that “leadership is by example, and you don’t need to browbeat people into submission. That for anything to have the greatest measure of success, you include people from the very beginning.”
“We’re going to have everybody on board. This isn’t a one-man show.”
More youth programs
“The youth of our community is very important to me,” said Babeu. Growing up in North Adams, he was affected by “volunteers who put in so much time and effort to do good for our community and for our youth. ... They do such fantastic work; some of them don’t even have children playing sports. ... I’m saying as the mayor ... I’m going to partner up with these volunteers and support them.”
“I will as mayor in January establish a 501(c)3, a nonprofit entity set up specifically to benefit the youth of our community. As the mayor I’ll go out and coax corporations, businesses and individuals to contribute to this fund, and not spend one dollar of city money to support these organizations in the success they have to build character and teamwork within our young people, which are invaluable lessons that we have to support.”
“We’re going to put together playgrounds that are second to none ... multiple playgrounds like that in our community and neighborhoods. ... I did this at DeSisto school. ... With less than one-tenth of my time, we raised over half a million dollars for special programs and operations.”
“I know that I can raise enough money to make these things happen, and there isn’t a better cause.”
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