Ruberto, Bianchi Continue Jabs Over PEDA, CrimeBy Tammy Daniels
01:05AM / Tuesday, October 27, 2009
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The mayoral candidates trod familiar ground on Monday night as three-term incumbent James M. Ruberto defended his record while challenger Daniel L. Bianchi tried to poke holes through those defenses.
Ryan Peterson of Capital News 9 welcomes participants and audience to the mayoral debate.
"I kept my promises ... we've made progress," Ruberto told the packed room at Berkshire Community College. He ticked off a list of accomplishments from creating jobs, to strengthening the Police Department to controlling expenses, and said his experience would be critical in steering the city through "this terrible recession."
Bianchi, a city councilor, countered that "I've met with thousands [of citizens] over the past six months and I'm hearing concerns. They told me over and over again, it's time for a change." The alternative, he said, "is two more years of more of the same."
The two men have sparred numerous time over the past few months, including three debates in the run-up to the preliminary election on Sept. 22 that narrowed the field of 10 down to these final two.
Monday's debate in BCC's K-111 auditorium on Monday night was sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and moderated by Ryan Peterson of Capital News 9 in Albany, N.Y. It was broadcast live on Pittsfield Community Television.
"We've been seeing a lot of each other," Ruberto said as the two men were introduced.
That familiarity is certainly spilling over into their responses, as each one stuck to their playbooks on crime, economic development, cultural development and controversial proposals to charge for some curbside trash pickup.
About the only things they agreed on was that balancing services and taxes can be complicated - and that they'd both be supportive of proposals for a new baseball stadium. They diverged, however, on whether they'd work with Jim Bouton on a baseball plan; Ruberto was no, while Bianchi said yes.
Peterson questioned the results of a task force begun in Ruberto's first term, "Jobs for Pittsfield," which was headed by William Hines Jr. and sought to generate 150 new jobs a year that would pay around $35,000.
James M. Ruberto is running for a fourth term as mayor.
"We have worked and invested, and we've had good, solid results," said Ruberto, listing eight business, such as Unistress, which have established or expanded to create new jobs, but adding "certainly not the level the Mr. Hines envisioned ... We're doing it one at a time."
He touted the $42 million in investments in job creation through tax incentives as well as low-cost loans, saying the city has been working with 69 small businesses as well as large ones.
But Bianchi said Hines' role as "job czar" hadn't shown good results and continued his attack on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's failure to lure business to the William Stanley Business and its board headed by Hines.
PEDA has great potential, he said, but its administration is rife with cronyism and inefficiencies. "We need someone with a track record in marketing ... we need and have to insist on a good business plan for PEDA," said Bianchi.
Ruberto agreed that PEDA's performance has been disappointing but noted it had still attracted business to the city. "Our goal was job creation, not job creation on a certain configuration," he said.
PEDA would be working more closely with David Rooney, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp. and brownfields developers, he said.
Rooney has already played a role in linking Unistress with the massive chip-manufacturing plant being constructed by GlobalFoundries in Malta, N.Y., Ruberto said to a question by Peterson on how the city could take advantage of ancillary supplier needed for the plant.
Bianchi said such small businesses would be a good fit for the city, describing them as the backboneof the community.
"What we have not had is a package of incentives that's understandable," he said, reiterating his claim that the Ruberto administration hasn't focused enough on small, existing businesses. "We need to formalize and connect to those organizations."
Ruberto scoffed at Bianchi's claim that Fortune 500 companies are hesitant to relocate from Albany to Pittsfield over crime concerns. "If somebody in Albany is worried about crime in Pittsfied I'd like to meet them," he said.
But Bianchi stuck to his statistics taken from the state Department of Public Safety that serious crime — aggravated assaults, burglaries, etc. — are up 60 percent. He called for "1,000 eyes on the street" through an crime watch program he says is now moribund.
Ruberto responded that, according to the FBI, crime is down overall and the Police Department is working well with state and federal law enforcement to attack crime. Calls overall are up, he said, showing that a not-so-moribund crime watch is working.
Ward 6 City Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi aspires to the city's executive position.
The two also differed on curbside trash pickup, with Bianchi saying targeting multiple-unit owners would only pass the cost onto their tenants, the least able to absorb the cost. Ruberto said Bianchi was calling for looser regulations for landlords that would affect the living conditions of those same tenants.
They also argued over the efficacy of cultural investments — Ruberto touting streetscapes and venues like the Colonial in attracting companies and Bianchi saying the millions would better spent on affordable housing and site development.
Bianchi also brought along a mailer put out by the Ruberto camp to again refute charges he'd cut jobs to balance the budget, as was done by elected officials back in 1991 when Bianchi was director of administration and finance. The mailer is covered with articles taken from The Berkshire Eagle at that time.
"You're looking at ancient history," said Bianchi, who's called the mailer misleading. "You entered into negative campaigning."
"Is there anything there that isn't true?" asked Ruberto.