Ward 2: Candidates Talk Trash, PEDABy Tammy Daniels
01:54PM / Thursday, September 03, 2009
This is the first of three ward debates filmed Monday, Aug. 31, at Berkshire Community College. Wards 2, 4 and 7 all have three or more candidates; their numbers will be winnowed down to two each in the preliminary election scheduled Sept. 22 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Crime, trash and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority divide the three candidates running in the Ward 2 preliminary election.
Peter White, a coordinator at the Brien Center, is focusing on community building and being accessible.
Incumbent Louis A. Costi, seeking a fourth term, and challengers Kevin Morandi and Peter White fully agreed on only one question posed by moderator Daniel Dillon during the nearly 50-minute debate on Monday: They all favor expanding the bottle bill to encourage recycling.
Ward 2 was the last of three ward debates sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette at Berkshire Community College on Monday night. The three candidates will be narrowed to two in the Sept. 22 preliminary election. They were seated and questioning began based on their position on the ballot: White, Morandi, Costi.
Costi and White, both founding members of the 4-year-old Morningside Initiative, found common ground in areas of crime prevention and community outreach. Costi and Morandi, however, had several testy exchanges, spilling over from the two men's last political battle two years ago.
Morandi, a ward and city resident for barely 18 months, nearly unseated Costi in 2007, losing by only 28 votes after calling for a recount.
The "lightning rod," as Dillon described it, back then was Hill 78, a GE toxic waste dump discovered in back of Allendale School. This election, however, the hill has barely caused a blip.
Costi said he has not received a complaint in two years, which he puts down to residents understanding that it's being carefully monitored.
Both White and Morandi, however, said they've heard anecdotally of people leaving the neighborhood because of it.
Crime has overtaken Hill 78 as an issue, from vandalism at the closed St. Mary's parish and to shootings.
Morandi said crime is spreading in the ward and that residents had told him of their fears. "A lot of people are afraid to go out in the streets."
White objected that while crime is an issue, people aren't hunkering down. "We need to work on busting that myth," he said. "We're seeing a lot of bad-guy-on-bad-guy crime ... It's scary when you read it in the paper but for the people there, it's not scary to live there."
To many absentee landlords are a large part of the problem, said Costi. "We have so many absentee landlords who will rent to anyone as long as they have the money. My main priority to get landlords to clean these properties up."
Both Costi and White said the Morningside Inititiave works closely with the Police Department and that the answer is getting the community more involved. Costi said the city's Health Department also has a great deal of power to force landlords to clean up.
Kevin Morandi, a small-business man, said he wants better communications with constituents to keep them informed.
"We need to stop it," said Morandi, who added he work with police. "We need to get them out of here totally."
The three split on whether to impose extra fees for trash pick up on four-unit apartment buildings.
Costi supports not only four-unit, but any nonowner-occupied rental property: "If it's an investment [property], it's a business. It doesn't matter how many units are in it."
Better education and more use of recycling is the answer, said White. "Owner-occupied or not, the city has an obligation to remove the trash or it's going to end up in our parks, it's going to end up on our curbs."
Morandi said any fee would inevitably be passed on to renters and that city should be growing the tax base. "If we brought in jobs, we wouldn't have to be having this conversation about garbage."
Part of that is PEDA falling down on the job, he said, and being too secretive - "all very hush-hush" - in what it's doing. He suggested that a councilor or Ward 2 resident be appointed to the board to ensure the neighborhood knows what's going on.
"PEDA needs to answer to somebody; their meetings need to be televised," he said.
White said he would not ask to be placed on the PEDA board and noted that it had had some success in attracting businesses such as LTI SmartGlass to the city - even if they didn't build in the William Stanley Business Park. As for allegations of it's lack of transparency, he wanted more information before making a statement.
Costi, while admitting his unhappiness with its slow progress, defended PEDA. "As far as hush-hush, every single meeting is advertised and is a public meeting."
Morandi countered the meetings were at 8 a.m., that maybe PEDA should meeting in the evening. Costi shot back that councilors often have to meet with boards and department heads during the day, prompting Morandi to assure the television audience "I can certainly answer to my constituents [during the day]."
Incumbent Louis Costi said his goal is to keep taxes low and Ward 2's infrastructure in good condition.
Dillon tossed out a question on what to do with the former St. Mary's property, one of the parishes shuttered during the Springfield Diocese's consolidation over the past few years and now up for sale. White and Morandi said the city should have input on reusing the site, with White expressing concern over its deteriorating condition.
Costi said residents had had other concerns, but he thought the buildings should be on the tax rolls if they weren't being used for religious purposes.
"I'm going to make a lot of enemies for saying that, but quite honestly, there are a lot of very good properties out there that are tax free and we have to consider taxing them."
PCTV will telecast all three debates frequently over the next few weeks, including Sunday, Sept. 6, at 3 and 10 p.m. and Monday, Sept. 7, at 10 a.m. Visit pittsfieldtv.org for schedule updates.