Pittsfield Council Candidates Meet in DebatesBy Tammy Daniels
12:48AM / Tuesday, October 20, 2009
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — All the City Council candidates in contested ward races in this year's election answered queries ranging from curbside trash pickup to crime watches in a set of speedy debates on Monday night.
Above, John Krol, left, and David Murphy prepare for Monday's final debate at PCTV. Top, incumbent Lewis Markham and Christine Yon get last-second directions.
Sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and hosted at the Pittsfield Community Television studio, the televised-live debates allowed each ward race under 25 minutes for opening and closing statements and questioned posed by moderators Larry Kratka of the Berkshire News Network (for Wards 2,4 and 7) and PCTV CityLink coordinator David Cachat (Wards 1 and 6).
This was the first televised debates for candidates in Wards 1 and 6; the others matched wits last month for the preliminary election because of surfeit of candidates in each race. The debates began at 6:30 and ended just before 9 p.m.; only a handful of audience members were allowed in because of limited seating.
Several of the candidates traded jabs over experience and who has and has not attending been attending meetings.
In Ward 1, incumbent Lewis C. Markham stressed his experience over that of challenger Christine Yon.
"This the city is going to face some desperate times in the next two years and I'm running because I can do the job," said the three-term councilor, adding that Yon seemed to be running because her family has been involved in politics and "it's her turn." "[The city] should be run by the people who know what's gong on."
Yon, a local businesswoman, countered that her door-to-door campaign has confirmed to her that citizens want change.
"People have been overwhelmingly positive about my candidacy. I'm committed to working hard and to raising the standard of representation in the ward," she said, by bringing her experience in business and community involvement as well as wife and mother.
She strongly supports continuing the city's current trash system — "I believe citizens of Pittsfield pay their taxes and curbside pickup is a good thing" — and said she was against shifting the city's split tax rate toward residential — "People have to do more with less and I don't think the citizens of Pittsfield can take on any more taxes."
Markham said he preferred an alternative system. The city currently offers unlimited trash pickup but has been discussing limiting amounts and charging multiple-unit housing.
Those proposals, he said, "were not brought in a proper manner and so didn't get the proper debate." He expects the issue to be brought up again. Markham also supported providing some relief to businesses by lowering the commercial tax rate: "I prefer to have the commercial tax lowered and the property taxes raised perhaps 1 percent" he said. "That seems kind of cruel, but these businesses employing residents of the city of Pittsfield that are paying the taxes."
In Ward 6, two newcomers — John Krol and David Murphy — are vying for the seat left vacant by Daniel Bianchi, who is running for mayor.
Without a record to point to, both the Pittsfield natives stressed their work place and life experience.
Krol, media relations manager for Berkshire Healthcare Systems, spoke of his service on a number of civic and community panels, including chairman of the Pittsfield Green Commission. "I was public affiars coordinator for the city of Pittsfield so I do have hands-on experience ... good experience on working on constitutent issues with department heads," he said.
Murphy, an attorney, said has been active in community volunteer work for many years in leadership roles, including with the Westside Neighborhood Resource Center.
"I think the being a city councilor would be an extension of that public service," he said, adding that working as an aide many years ago with the late U.S. Rep. Silvio O. Conte taught him that "constituent service is No. 1."
In response to a question about the conditions of the ward's two elementary schools, Krol said the Crosby School Council, of which he is a member, was working to change the perception of the school by raising awareness of the quality of its programs.
"There is no question it does need upgrades but right now, as a member of the School Building Needs Commission," he said, "I know and recognize that the focus is to a feasibility study for the high schools."
"All those schools need renovation, we know that," said Murphy, who pointed to Conte Community School as an important element of the neighborhood. "The high schools need renovation but we should look at that carefully before leaving those elementary schools behind."
In terms of trash pickup, Krol said he would not support fees for single-family homes but "I would be in favor of charging units of three and up ... Those are commercial properties."
Murphy disagreed, saying all housing is residential. "We should have limitless trash pickup. It's a basic city service."
Both agreed that recycling would help, with Murphy urging greater education but not sanctions. Krol, however, said the city's "recycling rates aren't bad, they're dismal" and supported incentives to encourage green-thinking.
We'll have short write-ups of debates 2, 4 and 7 later. If you can't wait, the audio of all three is below. PCTV will be rebroadcasting the debates on Tuesday, Oct. 20, beginning at 8:30 a.m. and at 6:30 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 22, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 23, beginning at 12:30 and 9 a.m. For more times, check www.pitsfieldtv.org.