Nicholas J. Caccamo, Patricia 'Pam' Malumphy, Mayor James M. Ruberto, Mark A. Marciano and Rick E. Moon prepare to match wits in the PCTV studio.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A free-flowing forum on Friday with nine of the 10 candidates for mayor focused on finances and government transparency.
Incumbent James M. Ruberto, seeking a fourth term, defended his administration's financial acumen and his ability to shepherd the city through the continuing economic crisis. He cited the success of his tenure for sparking one of the largest mayoral races in some time.
"I think one of the reasons why we are seeing such interest in this mayoral race is because we've shown over the last six years what progressive government does," he said. "It produces results and it allows everyone to feel that the more engaged they can be in the process, the greater their opportunity to serve."
But his challengers said Ruberto's administration has seen property taxes go up and has failed to fully reveal budget details and certain project funding.
Moderated by local commentator Daniel Valenti, whose columns appear in The Pittsfield Gazette and The Berkshire Eagle, the 90-minute session was taped at Pittsfield Community Television. Valenti put the forum together at short notice because only one other forum, sponsored by PCTV, the Gazette and Berkshire Community College, has been scheduled before the Sept. 22 preliminary election.
Seated from left to right at two tables slightly facing each other and according to their position on the ballot, were Nicholas J. Caccamo, Patricia "Pam" Malumphy, Ruberto, Mark A. Marciano, Rick E. Moon, Daniel L. Bianchi, Paul Kwasniowski, Lisa M. Boyd and Jeffrey W. Ferrin. Stephen A. Fillio did not attend.
Valenti asked questions and also allowed responses between candidates. Ruberto, Bianchi (Ward 6 councilor) and Malumphy (a former councilor) dominated much of the conversation.
Malumphy said her work as regional director for the state Office of Business Development gave her insight into the needs of businesses to grow jobs while Bianchi pointed to his past service as the city's financial officer and on the control board that oversaw spending when the city was in financial crisis some years ago. Both called for greater cooperation and collaboration with surrounding communities.
Caccamo, a recent graduate of Champlain College, said the city should look to sustainability and efficiency to save costs. "When we cultivate a 'Buy Berkshires' mindset it'll allow us to take more control over our economic sitution and will allow us to weather national economic trends."
Marciano and Kwasniowski both said the city should look into energy savings, with Kwasniowski also adding that public safety should be the No. 1 priority: "We need to get these gangs out of Pittsfield."
Boyd, an accountant, said better planning and budget analysis could find savings. Several candidates pointed to specific spending items they said should be eliminated or changed to save money, such as outsourcing services, relying on paper mail rather e-mail, and freezing hiring.
Daniel L. Bianchi, Paul Kwasniowski and Lisa M. Boyd wait for a question from Daniel Valenti. (Jeffrey W. Ferrin is also seated at the table.)
Ruberto disagreed with Ferrin's assertion that supplying city workers and police with global positioning systems and cell phones was wasteful spending. "When [police] get on the squawk box, not only do you know they're coming — the druggies know they're coming, too."
The candidates split on whether to impose a 2 percent local rooms tax, which Ruberto supports. "If it passes, we will take those revenues and we will offset ... property taxes," said Ruberto.
Malumphy said she could support at most a 1 percent increase because "it feels like we're taxing our way out of everything." Ferrin agreed, as long as there was accountability. Marciano's, Moon's and Kwasniowski's answers were all no; Caccamo's and Boyd's both yes. "Taxes are going up for everyone, why not for them, too?" said Boyd.
Bianchi said it was an issue for cooperation with other communities, "to make sure the city of Pittsfield isn't disadvantaged."
The talk of taxes lead to issues of government transparency. Ferrin complained that his quest for cell-phone costs for the city resulted in a counter demand for $2,145 to compile the information. "If someone walks into an office and asks for this information, it should be readily available," said Ferrin.
Boyd, too, said her efforts to track down spending items, including the $750,000 of work on Wahconah Park, was stymied. "There's no reason why numbers aren't available two weeks out."
Malumphy said the lack of transparency was one of the "tipping points" that had propelled her candidacy. She had helped Wahconah abutter Jenny Hersch file a petition for details on work there that has gone unanswered two months later. Bianchi, however, targeted the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority for not operating in a transparent manner: "Anything of any substance goes in executive session."
Caccamo, when asked by Valenti, said the city's budget process is "about as open as it gets."
Ruberto said initiatives undertaken during his tenure have been open, starting "with a conversation, they move forward in some cases with public hearings, in some cases with ad hoc committees, in some cases with neighborhood groups."
There's also an effort to ensure full information is available, because "incomplete information will lead to more questions," said Ruberto, adding the Wahconah numbers will be released after all "the expenses are duly reported."
Moon's take was more philosophical: "You don't fight the darkness; you turn on the light and make it go away,"
Marciano launched a spirited attack on Malumphy and Bianchi, questioning what they had done to further openness and claiming Malumphy had ignored the calls of a North Street business. Ruberto jumped to Malumphy's defense, saying it was unfair to use anecdotal evidence against anyone. (Malumphy later provided iBerkshires an e-mail from the business in question, thanking her for speaking with them.)
The candidates also touched lightly on the role of PEDA, public safety and education. The entire, unedited forum is scheduled to be broadcast on PCTV on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 8:30 p.m.; Sept. 2 at 3:30 and 11 a.m., Sept. 5 at 5 p.m. and Sept. 6 at 1 and 10 a.m.
The candidates will next meet in BCC's Boland Theatre on Monday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m.
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I have received much interest in this filmed debate, most of it positive. Some critics have leveled charges that I set this up because I am in some way trying to "engineer the results" by engaging in "king making." Not true, of course. This forum came together in three days, for which all the candidates must be thanked. With this many in the mayoral mix, faces need exposure. No organization other than the Pittsfield Gazette stepped forward, and that's why I got involved. Despite concerns about the brief window of opportunity, it got done, showing that when you cut through the bureaucratic and political gobbledy-gook, the wheels have a chance of moving rapidly. We filmed this live, in one take, to ensure as much spontaneity as possible. What we saw is what viewers will get. An alleged Svengali manipulating behind the scenes would not, and could not, work this way. Special thanks to State Rep. Dennis Guyer for coproducing, to Dave Cachet and the folks at PCTV, and the crew, who did a great job.
til next time!
Thanks Dan for stepping up and facilitating the debates - it's important for people to learn as much as possible about the candidates.
Kudo’s to the Gazette for organizing the debates. We are very lucky to have the Gazette in town.
It was a pleasure to be part of this forum I initialy thought it would be prepped for a few selected candidates. Even thogh Roberto had taken up a good 45-50 minutes of the debate I have to say Mr Valenti for the first time meeting with you. I have to say your a good hearted gentleman and that it takes the courage you have and the way you handled yourself You didnt back down afraid to step on toes you got your finess and your tactics on asking questions and that my friend is awesome journalism. We need you to be a key part of Pittsfields voice. Thanks once again. I look forward to many chances to speak my vision and let others know that were all on the same team and that as a team we can accomplish many things. We should all have one common goal and thats preserving the individuals right to the persuit of Happiness. Once again Thanks very much and to the ones saying Dan staged this even so be it he took on a chance and went with it for 9 of us to show up in 4 days notice on a FRIDAY says Dan is a man of integrity. Not to mention he works witht the true paper of pittsfields choice.
My name is Stephen Meehan, and I am considering becoming a Pittsfeild citizen.
My three young daughers have been relocated here after a high conflict divorce/custody battle. Although there hae been four years of regular door-to-door child exhanges, the custodial mother continues to try to file false cause for protection orders/stay away/supervised visitation etc. to maintain complete control and remove the father...same old story...BUT
This week I recievd an email from the mother who is touting her relatinoship with "the mayor, the senator" and her discussions at a DOMESTIC Abuse Awareness rally. The mother has a history of false filings. The Maryland case 20-DO6 005828 is a no fault divorce with a generous parental time share...
I would like to have some assurances from the Mayor and Senator that they do not intercede in famly affairs or case assignments that result in political interference in family courts.
Father relocating to remainin lives of 3 yong daughters
Being a member of several father's rights groups