Mayoral candidates John Barrett III and Richard Alcombright debate the issues on Wednesday night at the Church Street Center as moderator Paul Hutchinson listens.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — It was a more sedate debate with fewer snappy comebacks on Wednesday night as mayoral candidates John Barrett III and Richard Alcombright each tried to woo the voters to their sides.
This second matchup between incumbent Barrett and Alcombright, a three-term city councilor, focused heavily on jobs and economic growth. Barrett, running for a record 14th term, pointed to past successes; Alcombright to looking at new paths to economic growth.
While both agreed that expanding the commercial base was imperative, they differed greatly on their visions of how the city should do so and how much could actually be done.
Barrett has prided himself on shepherding North Adams from mill town to artists' haven, frequently noting the dire circumstances the city found itself in when he first took office in 1984. In his book, maintaining infrastructure and creating an attractive environment is the way to lure new residents and business.
"What brings jobs to a community, what brings new business to a community, is the image of a community," he said, adding that more than 20 new businesses have been established as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art continues to act as a catalyst.
Adams Town Clerk Paul Hutchinson moderated the debate and posed questions from the audience. Video can be found here.
"I believe we are moving forward despite these tough economic times," said Barrett. "We're seeing new businesses being created in the Windsor Mill all the time."
Alcombright, however, said the Windsor Mill may be fulfilling its role as an incubator, "but some of the businesses that have located there in the last few years have really been at the expense of private entities and commercial property owners."
Too many of the employers touted by the mayor — such as Morrison Berkshire and Excelsior — have been around for years, said the bank vice president, advocating a more aggressive marketing of the city's potential as a destination for recreation, residence and business.
"We have not seen a whole lot of growth," said Alcombright. "We need more business across the board. ... When [I have been] walking through the poorest parts of the city, these people are saying, 'we need jobs.'"
Barrett said the city has been marketing, holding aloft a brochure from Mass MoCA touting business and community leaders. But the ability to pull in businesses is limited, he said. "We don't have a lot of room for growth in this city."
Alcombright disagreed, saying there was plenty of room in the empty storefronts, buildings and the industrial park.
Originally planned for the American Legion, the debate was held in the same place as the first one on Sept. 30 at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Church Street Center. The last-minute venue change was made over concerns that the Legion hall wouldn't be able to handle the crowd.
It would have been close; while not nearly as packed as the first debate, many of the pews in the main hall at the center were filled. Candidates' supporters also weren't ushered to specific sides as happened last time (apparently through a miscommunication with the student volunteers), which had given the debate the atmosphere of a Hatfield-McCoy wedding.
Moderator Paul Hutchinson kept things on track and cautioned backers against outbursts. The time format was the same but questions were provided by a media panel — Charlie Dietz from WAMC, Jennifer Huberdeau of the North Adams Transcript, Tammy Daniels of iBerkshires and Larry Kratka from WNAW — and from the audience.
The debate was sponsored by the Transcript and will be the second and last for the candidates. Both men were invited to a radio forum on WNAW next week but Alcombright declined citing scheduling and the prior agreement to two debates.
It was a question by Kratka — what would they see in a photograph of North Adams — that distinguished the men's perspectives. Where Barrett saw a flourishing city that, if not perfect, could boast of good schools and roads, low taxes and affordable living, Alcombright saw progress but also an underpinning of poverty, crime, empty stores and unemployment.
North Adams Transcript Closing Arguments (This link may be archived behind a pay wall.)
"I've had more visitors who say they can't believe this is the same city," said Barrett of the positive comments he's received.
"What I want to see is a comparison shot from 1963 to today," said Alcombright, who wanted to paint a picture of "what people here see. ... I wouldn't see as many jobs. There is no growth."
Barrett countered by channeling President Reagan with the shot "There you go again, Dick." His administration hasn't been ignoring problems but tackling them, said Barrett. "We deal with the problems of the poor, we don't stick our heads in the sand."
The two also disagreed about the level of crime. Barrett applauded the work of the Police Department and its collaboration with Berkshire County Drug Task Force.
"Every time we've had an unfortunate murder it's been drug-related," he said. "As soon as a drug dealer shows up in the city the drug task force shows up at their door. ... I'm proud of the work they've been doing. We're on top of it; we're proactive. Believe me when I say we're on it."
Alcombright countered that the city is in one of the highest crime areas in the state and rates for drug-related offenses and property crimes are up; his own home was broken into in June.
"We do have a police force that's on top of it," he said. "But our compaign has walked every street in this city and crime continues to be the No. 1 concern of these people."
When questioned if he'd been active enough on the City Council, Alcombright defended his service by noting the stands he'd taken on veterans' benefits and city employees' insurance issues, along with his work on several council committees.
Barrett again taunted him for failing to ask hard questions on the budget; Alcombright responded that the council isn't given enough detailed information and had little time to review the numbers.
The councilor pointed to the blue-ribbon commission he was appointed to by Barrett to review the city's housing stock and submit a report with recommendations. The mayor claimed "that commission really came back with nothing." The report has never been released.
Where Alcombright said he would work regionally with agencies and neighboring leaders, Barrett said he, too, is more than able to work with local leaders, using the city's collaboration with Williamstown to fight federal fines against the shared waste-water treatment plant as an example.
He also brought up two Alcombright supporters he'd worked with on projects. "It doesn't matter who they're supporting. It never did," he said as some in the audience tittered. "We work with them all the time."
"I guess I all can say to that, mayor, is if half the stories I hear are half true about people coming into your office with ideas, including me, then I don't feel as though people are well received in this community," Alcombright responded.
In their closing remarks, Barrett spoke the "labor of love" that has been tenure as mayor and the challenges ahead.
"It's going to be a difficult two years, it's going to be the most difficult two years in perhaps anytime in the history of this city," he said, asking for another term.
Alcombright said he had a vision to make the city safer and more productive.
"I have a plan for the city based on the hundreds of conversations I've had with residents over the past few months," he said. "I'm asking you for the chance to implement this plan."
The debate will be shown in full on NBCTV, Channel 15, on Thursday, Oct. 15, at 8; Friday, Oct. 16, at 7 and Saturday, Oct. 17, at 6. Video will be available later Thursday on iBerkshires.
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I'm proud of my city and I'm proud that we have Mayor John Barrett.
Putting personalities aside, I think we have two good candidates. Dick is a guy we are proud to have in the city but doesn't seem vocal enough for me to stand up to many of our slum lords. John comes across very tough sometimes but I believe his heart is in the best interest of the city. The city needs jobs and everyone knows it but its hard to imagine manufacturing or industry coming back to not just this area, the northeast in general. Both have a vision but I think the city needs to keep taxes low, keep crime low, continue to rip down "eyesoar" properties and no new sewer taxes. John may need to be more receptive to ideas but he seems to be a better fit during these tough economic times. I wish Dick well and will support him if he wins but my family has had nothing but good experiences with John as mayor and he has earned my vote.
I came into this mayoral race with an open mind. I really like both Dick and John. I wanted to see the debates to make up my mind and here are some thoughts that strike me from the debates:
1. I was disappointed that Dick seems to be playing the political game of not taking any firm stances on issues. I was hoping that he would give his opinion on important issues to us and not try to waffle his way out of them by saying he needs more time to assess them. He should know which way he is leaning to on these issues and we deserve to know them!
2. I am also disappointed that Dick is not willing to debate the Mayor on the radio. Dick should be taking every opportunity to let us know how and why he should replace the mayor. Why would you not accept another debate. It strikes me as funny that someone with his platform of involving the community more, is acting the exact opposite. Involve the community in this decision by debating the issues more and in different venues. Don't be afraid to make a mistake or take a stand. We want a strong leader in these economic times.
3. I really wanted Dick to win, but so far he has done nothing to make me want to vote for him. Dick, please take a stand!!! One of the criticisms that my friends who are Barrett supporters make is that you are too nice a guy and will be a weak leader. So far you are proving them right!
Dick - Debate Barrett again and again and take some stands!!! I really want to vote for you, but you are not doing anything to make me want to do that. At this point with 3 weeks left in the race, I am leaning towards Mayor Barrett, because at worst case he should be able to bring us some financial help from the state and federal levels because of his connections.
I think we should all be grateful for the terrific coverage iBerkshires and Tammy in particular have provided during these two debates. Regardless of who you vote for or support, her stories have been balanced, filled with good information and as always, well written.
Dick Alcombright doesn't need WNAW's fake "debate" in order to win this election. That's a set-up by Mayor Barrett, just like the Mystery Telephone Push Poll and the latest "public safety survey". Barrett has hired a very expensive PR firm to lie to us and intimidate us in this election.
It won't work.
Rather than insult the intelligence of the voters, Alcombright has relied on the common sense of the people of this city, and he's done it well. He's walked everywhere. He's addressed every false claim. He's run an honest campaign, and it shows. He's done very well in the bona fide debates, against an experienced pugilist. He keeps his cool and carefully answers all questions. He knows when to say "I don't know, but I'll find out for you."
Innuendos and fake posts from Barrett's PR firm are not going to win this election for him. We can see through these dubious tactics, because we've had 26 tears of EXPERIENCE with the incumbent mayor.
Each successive attempt to obfuscate the facts is another nail in Mayor John Barrett's soon-to-be-interred political coffin.
They can't erase 26 years of history. And most importantly, they can't vote.
Were people on this board watching the same debate?? Tammy's writeup was excellent,and even here, you can see that Alcombright clearly showed that the mayor's policies for economic growth and job creation have failed miserably, and crime and poverty are on the rise. And not take a stand? All Dick had was new ideas for becoming a more vibrant city! Watch it again.
It's interesting to listen to the mayor and read the posts from his supporters. It comes down to planning on landing one thing: outside aid from the state and the feds. Another hand-out. I never hear any talk about going it alone, weaning the city off the dole. The city is becoming a municipal beggar. We have to move forward, not look back, and Barrett's not the one to move us forward.
Great media coverage by Tammy.. We are lucky to have 2 good candidates.. one who has done a good job over the last 26 years.. and one who WILL do a great job over the next 2 years... Dick will see us through these tough times and get us ready for the challenges ahead.
These comments can only come from people who are totally detatched from the way our city government works. Please do yourselves a favor and follow this advise...
1. Find the most honest and trustworthy person you know that has some involvement with city government and that has no reason to lie on behalf of the mayor.
2. Get them alone in a private setting.
3. Ask that person what they see on a daily basis at city hall. The good and the bad.
Then, if you hear the wonderful praise you all speak of, continue to vote for John Barrett. But make sure to be open minded. Don't dismiss the negative that you hear. Remember this was the person you felt was the most honest and trustworthy to base your opinion on. Your opinion cannot already be solid if you aren't there to see it yourself.
Once again congratulations Tammy for participating in the panel, taking the photos, and posting this timely coverage. Talk about multi tasking.
That said the debate was a bore and a snore. Terrible questions and enervating, tedious responses.
This lacked the punch and energy of the first slug fest.
The questions, particularly from the audience, as read by the moderator, were off target and redundant. There was little or no discussion of an arts driven economy. The Mohawk development was never mentioned and there was just one comment about the recent Megaplex closing. It is a signifier of failed planning and inept cultural development.
Berkshire Fine Arts.com
Editor: Yep, somewhat snoozier. Mostly cordial and no snarky comments. Jen tried to elicit more with the businesses moving/closing but didn't get much. We also tried for some different issues since arts/economy/budgets have been gone over so many times. I don't like this style of debate because once the ball's in the air, the questioners are out of the game. I'd rather be able to call them on their answers. Instead, they yada yada and we type.
Williamstown millionaire Bo Peabody and Dick would like to make North Adams a lot more like Williamstown. If you want that move to Williamstown. Barrett wants to keep North Adams for us. I'm tired of the Alcombright supporters trashing our Mayor. No one loves this city more or has worked harder for us than John Barrett.
I have no ties with the mayor. Just an interested voter who thinks he's done a pretty good job for the city. We do however need a voice for the city who stands up to Boston when needed and the mayor has done that. I think Dick is a nice guy but he hasn't said much in his time in the city council and I'm afraid that might carry over into his mayorship if he wins. Question: Why was there no discussion last night on the Movieplex or did I miss it in the article?
Editor: We rolled the closing into a general question about businesses leaving/closing. I don't think either candidate could do much about the theaters. The corporation that owns it went bankrupt and they would have no control over its operation anyway. We tried to stick to issues that a mayor would have some impact on.
Once again, John Barrett attempted to correct Dick Alcombright on the level of State Aid that North Adams receives. Once again, he was incorrect. Saying that Dick didn't understand some fixed costs.
The Massachusetts clearly states the level of state aid that every locality receives in a plethora of reports. For fiscal year 2009 State Aid was 53.46% of our budget (not 48% as the mayor said). You can see for yourself here:
i do not live in north adams, but if i did i would be voting for dick. i am tired of entering the city every day and every day, seeing a new store front being occupied by some stupid art gallery. there is more to this city then art.
To be kind, the mayor was extremely incorrect when he tried to correct Dick Alcombright about Mr. Alcombright's opening statement, which contained a a statement that 46% of North Adams students are considered low-income by the state. The Mayor said, "As far as the ratio of low-income students, students on free and reduced lunches, that number has gone down during my time as mayor."
I did some digging after the debate, and it turns out that, actually, it has gone up, from 1/3 (33%)of students to almost 1/2 (46%) of students from 1991 to 2009, according to the Department of Education. You can see both reports, from 2009 and 1991, respectively in links below. Just scroll down on the tables to "North Adams":
The winner of this race is in for a very difficult time. The next round of budget cuts could be very painful.
At that time,I'd rather have a mayor in office that believes in transparency when it comes to creating the budget. I want a mayor that will engage in dialogue with city department heads rather than dictate to them. I want a mayor who will show exactly where the revenue is coming from and not just throw a budget in front of the City Council that doesn't explain the revenue side of it.
Mayor Barrett's assertion that "We don't have a lot of room for growth in this city." has to be a joke, right? There are hundreds of thousand of feet of unused commercial space in North Adams. He talks longingly of Sprague Electric, but apparently in his alleged search for new industry he's forgotten that the Sprague Building on Curran Highway is vacant. Someone, please send the Mayor a memo on this and maybe some photos of all the empty parking spaces in the industrial park on Curran Highway that are waiting to be filled.
Crime is a socioeconomic problem. The best way to combat it is to create jobs so that people have options other than crime. The Police Department's fine response to the rare murder has little to do with the 7 day a week drug dealing and assaults that are taking place.
I watch drug dealers do business everyday in my neighborhood. Business must be doing ok because they just had new furniture delivered yesterday and a satellite dish installed last week. The Mayor needs to do what Dick Alcombright is doing. Walk the neighborhoods and talk to people. I dare the Mayor to take a stroll after dark down Houghton St. and over to Bracewell Ave and Chase Ave.
The Mayor was right on MOCA. He's done a lot of good things for this city. But he's entrenched in a closed belief system that is worn and abrasive. It's time for some new blood and a more transparent city government.
"he's entrenched in a closed belief system that is worn and abrasive. It's time for some new blood and a more transparent city government."
It's time for some new blood so we are going to elect a man who's been on the council for 8 years and is only a few years younger than the mayor? Sorry, doesn't add up.
As for a worn and abrasive belief system, you are just flat out wrong. The mayor runs this city well. Change for change's sake is a stupid idea.
I have no idea what all this talk about "transparent" government is about. Nobody shows up at meetings, the budget is available to everyone, etc. The government is plenty transparent, nobody cares to look though. The city budget is a hell of a lot more "transparent" than the McCann budget. How can we expect any better from Alcombright when his record proves otherwise?
I disagree that the city could do nothing to help the theater from closing as stated below. They would likely still be closed, but the lack of signage makes it impossible for any traveler to know a theater is there. The city makes the process for signage difficult. Most theaters have large signs on the main routes promoting what is playing. You can stand on Main Street, look directly at the plaza, and still not know there is a theater.
The theater also wanted an arcade along the walls of the main entrance. Some games were already installed when Barrett did the first tour. He had them removed and made sure no arcade was to happen. It would have brought them some extra revenue, plus give teenagers a nice place for activities.
The company did go bankrupt, but the city didn't help.
The mayor's position seems to be contradictory. At one point he even invalidates one of the audience questions about the troubled infrastructure of the city. (read as, keep me in office, everything is fine) Then he turns around and predicts the worst two years imaginable on the horizon. (read as, keep me in office, the sky is falling)
Which is it chicken little? Is everything fine and change is scary? Is the sky falling and change is scary? Either way, I hope the people of this fine city can see beyond the politics of fear.