Ruberto Seeks Re-Election to Keep Pittsfield on TrackBy Tammy Daniels
01:26AM / Wednesday, September 02, 2009
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With only three weeks to the preliminary election, Mayor James M. Ruberto formally announced his run for re-election on Tuesday surrounded by dozens of supporters at Sottile Park.
Touting the changes the city's seen for the better over his past three terms, Ruberto said now was not the time to sit back, that it needed strong, experienced, responsible leadership.
"Just as we see the city reawakening," he told the cheering crowd, "I am running for mayor again to make sure we keep moving on the same path."
The three-term mayor is starting his campaign a little late, although not as late as two years ago when he kicked off his campaign five days before the preliminary election. That time he won handily against his two challengers; this year, he has nine opponents vying for the two spots in the November election.
Ruberto was one of the first to take out nomination papers in May, accompanied by his wife, Ellen, who strongly encouraged him to run again. She had been battling cancer through his last term and died July 22.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ruberto ticked off many of the same issues he faced when winning his first term in 2003: crime, education, city services, economic revitalization and governmental relations.
Many of the same topics have been raised by his challengers, most recently at a taped forum on Friday, which focused heavily on the city's finances.
Ruberto, however, pointed to the city's A1 bond rating and the nearly $2 million in new revenues brought in through the sale of timber and surplus property, and hundreds of thousands in fees charged for solid waste collection and use of the waste-water treatment by other communities during his tenure. Savings in health insurance costs by negotiating increases in municipal employees' contributions and joining the state health insurance pool "is something which has made Pittsfield the envy of all my colleagues, the gateway city mayors," he said.
Mayor James M. Ruberto announced his campaign for re-election at Sottile Park in a nearly 40-minute address to dozens of supporters.
The city's been honored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council this year as "most creative community," it was among the first in the state to adopt a streamlined process for permitting that has made it easier for businesses move here, and millions have been invested in the downtown in entertainment, business, restaurant and residential units, he said.
"Everything we do is focused on making Pittsfield a better place to live and a better place to work and a better place to play," said Ruberto, adding that critics claiming they can cut taxes and still provide services "are selling you nothing more than a fantasy."
Still, the need to continue to create jobs of all types — from service to industrial — is imperative, he said. "You're going to hear that service jobs and jobs related to the creative economy are not real jobs ... To that I say hogwash. Every job is a real job."
He stated confidence in the Police Department's ability to control what has become "criminal on criminal" violence and lauded Chief Michael Wynn's strategy and relationships with local, state and federal law enforcement entities. The city has funded school resource officers, added three uniformed patrolmen and raised funding for the drug task force from $20,000 six years ago to $200,000. The most important thing, he said, was learning the importance of patience.
"Because the goal is not just to apprehend the scum that commits crime," said Ruberto. "The goal is to do so in a way to that provide hard evidence needed to convict the scum."
When the Rubertos returned to the city in 2001, "we had a hard time recognizing the place." There was infighting on the City Council and with the School Department, and the city was suffering from decades of neglect, he said. "People were no longer believing their elected officials could bring about any change. ... Government was paralyzed."
While it has changed for the better, there is still much to do, said Ruberto.
"The next two years will be some of the toughest we have faced some businesses will suffer ... and you know as well as I that we need strong leadership to keep downtown progress going."
A sore point is the empty William Stanley Business Park being overseen by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. PEDA has come under fire for what many say is a lack of transparency and incompetence. Ruberto defended PEDA while admitting it should have performed better. The public's perception was based on PEDA's inability to explain the difficulties of redevelopment and "in large part the fact that there are no buildings and no jobs on the site."
"Yes, I am frustrated and I am disappointed that progress hasn't moved as quickly as we had hoped and expected," he said. "No more excuses. I will take the blame for the lack of progress of PEDA."
Ruberto said he hoped to solve the problem by handing marketing strategy over to David Rooney of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp. and forging relationships with MassDevelopment and experts in brownfields reuse.
"I've had to ask myself if this election really matters," he said. "You know what? I concluded it does. This election matters because this election will determine whether we go forward and improve our city or whether we go back to those days of hunkering down and looking to assign blame."