U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, right, walks North Street with Mayor Daniel Bianchi. The new Democratic senator stopped at shops along the way.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Newly sworn in U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren looked to gather input from Berkshire County officials Wednesday while touring sites in the downtown area.
"I'm delighted to be here," said Warren, who was sworn in with the 113th Congress last week. "And just to learn more about how I can be helpful. The more I know, the more I'll be able to do down in Washington."
At City Hall, Warren sat down with Mayors Daniel Bianchi and Richard Alcombright, of North Adams, Berkshire legislators state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and state Reps. Paul Mark, Gailanne Carridi and Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Sheriff Thomas Bowler and other community leaders to hear some of the priorities and programs on their mind.
Bianchi and Bowler, a former Pittsfield detective, both stressed the desire for a new police station, a subject that has received increased attention recently in part because of the reactivation of a Police Advisory Committee, and said they would welcome any ideas or suggestions the senator might come up with for funding one.
Alcombright seconded this concern, saying North Adams was "very similar to Pittsfield" in its infrastructural needs.
Education was a key point of discussion, with Bianchi emphasizing his enthusiasm for the Pittsfield Promise literacy initiative lately begun along with musical education, new vocational and life sciences learning, and other efforts at "rebuilding" the local school system.
Warren, a professor of economics, highlighted this as a particular priority for her.
"I want to find out what we can do better on education," she said. "I lobbied hard to get on the committee that deals with education."
"Our job collectively is to try and figure out where the opportunities are going to be so that we can educate our children, to be ready. So that we can focus our infrastructure, to be ready," Warren told the group. "When we fail to do that, we rob our children."
In the wings:
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing of Pittsfield said he will decide by Friday whether to run for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
So far, only U.S. Rep. Edward Markey has announced for the Democratic nomination. Former Sen. Scott Brown, whom Warren beat in November, has hinted he may run for the Republican nomination.
Warren also inquired about the progress of increasing broadband infrastructure in the county.
"The challenge we now face is how do we get from that pipeline being brought into a community, to getting that pipeline to all those constituents that are around it that we've been trying to serve," Downing told Warren. "We think that there's a role for the state to play in financing, and I think we're going to try and make a case for that in this fiscal year at the State House, but certainly any help at the federal level would be a huge help."
Farley-Bouvier asked Warren to help find better solutions to national issues like immigration that also impact such things as local literacy rates.
"Don't forget the gateway cities," she implored, "Help us fix what's so broken in Washington."
"I got a good list, and I took notes," said Warren of the topics local officials weighed in on, and promised ongoing communication with the constituencies in the western part of the state.
"We're having a physical office in Springfield, but outreach across Western Mass. It's important to us that we not just sit in the office and wait for people to make their way to us, but that we're out there on a regular basis."
After meeting at City Hall, officials lead Warren on an hourlong tour through a slice of the city's newly designated state cultural district. The senator chatted with some retail merchants and at some length with a bride being fitted for a wedding gown at Deirdre's, then toured the Berkshire Museum and Colonial Theatre on South Street.
"Berkshire County is such a special place, not just in Massachusetts, but in the world," said Warren. "But it needs a strong future, and that means good planning on your part and our part."
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