Pittsfield Candidates Make Final Pitch Before PreliminaryBy Tammy Daniels
12:27AM / Tuesday, September 22, 2009
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In a nearly two-hour town hall debate on Monday, the large cast of mayoral hopefuls made one last attempt before Tuesday's election to get their messages out to the voters on issues ranging from taxes to the airport expansion.
Daniel Bianchi signs Stephen Fillio's name card. Fillio had participants autograph the sign as a souvenir.
The 10 candidates will be winnowed down to two after Tuesday's preliminary election. All 10 — Nicholas J. Caccamo, Daniel E. Bianchi, James M. Ruberto, Rick E. Moon, Stephen Fillio, Lisa Boyd, Mark Marciano, Jeffrey Ferrin, Paul Kwasniowski and Pam Malumphy. Ruberto and City Councilor Bianchi in particular traded jabs over taxes, crime and economic development.
Hosted by "Talk Berkshires" on WBRK 1340-AM, the forum was held in the Grand Ballroom in the Crowne Plaza before an audience of more than 60 with questions being accepted from the audience and via e-mail.
The candidates covered familiar ground, however, this was the first opportunity since a forum several weeks ago for them to address each other, which was allowed by moderators Sherman Baldwin and John Garb. A panel including iBerkshires reviewed the submitted questions to eliminate duplication and statements. The four-person panel was ready to step in if the audience ran out of questions, but the time ran out first.
The first query out of the gate challenged incumbent James Ruberto on why the city has raised taxes each year.
"I don't think anybody likes raising taxes," said Ruberto "But in some areas, we have to look at what we haven't raised in terms of taxes." He reiterated his claim of saving $2.5 million by placing municipal workers on the state's Group Insurance Commission, and pointed out how after having to vacate some 100 instructional-related jobs in the School Department, 40 of those positions have been refilled.
But Ferrin, a city employee who was on the negotiating committee considering the shift to GIC, said he wasn't convinced of the savings. "The last I knew it was a little under a $1 million," he said, and that co-pays and premiums had increased.
Bianchi said the city's been building its budgets backwords. "There should be a target set of what is an acceptable tax rate ... with a sense of what the citizens can pay. We should start with that as an objective."
It's all well to talk about philosophies of budget management, said Malumphy, but Bianchi's been a city councilor for 10 and the Ruberto's been mayor for six. "Why haven't those philosophies taken action, why haven't there been collaborations with department heads to make those changes happen?"
Caccamo stressed that energy efficiency and buying local will not only save money and promote local business, it would also make the city a more attractive investment for new businesses.
Better control over budget management and energy and focusing on the skills and abilities of residents now would promote savings and jobs, said Boyd.
Bianchi again charged that the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority has failed in its mission to fill the William Stanley Business Park and can't even keep its Web site up to date. "There doesn't seem to be an urgency to create jobs." He pledged to restructure the board.
While taking responsibility for PEDA's lack of progress, Ruberto said much had been done to bring in and retain high-tech jobs, pointing to LTI Smartglass and Interprint. If re-elected, he said he planned to bring in a better marketing team for PEDA.
"You shouldn't have a political fire under you to do these things," responded Bianchi.
Of the 10 candidates, only Ruberto supports having the mayor on the PEDA board; the others expressed concern over the mayor overseeing a board he also appoints.
Students from Monument Mountain Regional High School took audience questions and keep the candidates on time. They stopped to pose with John Garb, left, and Sherman Baldwin, right.
Marciano said PEDA should be scrapped and any money saved poured into the schools to develop vocational-technical curriculum and institute career guidance for students.
Malumphy defended the creative economy as a generator for creative entrepreneurship after former Mayor Sara Hathaway questioned how the master plan was really helping working families. "A creative economy more than arts and culture - it creates jobs" for those families, she said.
"We're pitting things against each other," said Ruberto. "It's either downtown or the neighborhoods. ... It's not one against the other. Pam hit it on the button. Let's look at the way job development has been managed."
Bianchi, however, said he believed creating jobs had been subordinated to the development of a creative economy downtown.
The city should use those creative elements to brand itself as a family friendly community, said Moon, as a way to attract new residents and businesses.
Kwasniowski continued to insist that the city's fire equipment is at least 60 years and desperately needs to be updated. He, too, has been promoting the idea of developing alternative energy — wind power in his case — as a way to save money and attract business.
The candidates have restated their positions on whether to renovate both high schools (Caccamo, Bianchi, Fillio, Marciano, Kwasniowski and Malumphy) or combine them in a new building (Ruberto). Both Moon and Boyd said they'd abide by the council's decision.
Boyd came out strongly in opposition to the controversial expansion of Pittsfield Airport, saying it was poorly planned and would negatively affect the wetlands and environment around it.
"No. If I'm mayor that airport project is stopped," she said, suggesting that the business people who planned to use the airport would do better to use videoconferencing.
Ruberto countered thatY "there is a public purpose here, there is a reasonable alternative. You can't videoconference a week at Canyon Ranch."
"They'll make it there some other way," said Boyd.