NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The first candidate for the corner office has thrown his hat into the ring less than a week after Mayor Richard Alcombright announced he would not run for a fifth term.
Thomas Bernard, a city native who is currently director of special projects at Smith College in Northampton, took out nomination papers Monday afternoon.
"I'm running for mayor because I believe that my deep roots in this community combined with my professional, administrative, and volunteer experiences have prepared me to answer the call for a new generation of leadership to move our city forward," he said at a press announcement in the living room of his childhood home.
Bernard said his focus would be on "education, infrastructure and public health as the foundations of economic development."
He would build on the foundations laid down by previous administrations and "build on the tradition of innovation that has characterized the city since its earliest days."
"North Adams has been at the forefront of economic and industrial movements that have shaped the world," he said in his statement. "I am tremendously excited by the opportunity to hear your ideas and to share my vision as I work to earn your vote for mayor of our remarkable city."
"We're at a generational turning point," he said, describing this year as a pivotal moment for the city. "This is the first election in 34 years without an incumbent running, so that opens up the field for different kinds of conversations, for different perspectives.
Bernard also described the opening of Building 6 at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art as pivotal in that it felt different that past projects.
"I think we're on the cusp of something really exciting and that that engine has moved forward and has turned over and will really start humming along," he said and referenced the projects beginning to take shape along the "Cultural Corridor" of Route 2 and the proposed extreme model railroad museum. "All these things taken together say we've got some good momentum and we've got a chance to build on it."
Bernard joked over the weekend that his decision to run for mayor was "one of the worst kept secrets" in North Adams. He had been considering a run for public office for some time and had been recently begun attending City Council meetings.
Alcombright's decision not to stand for re-election firmed up his determination to run for mayor and he said he wanted to come out early and strong as a candidate. So far, City Councilors Benjamin Lamb, Keith Bona and Lisa Blackmer have indicated that they would not run for mayor.
Bernard's parents, his mother, Jane, and stepfather, Tom Bernard, both worked as teachers in public school system for 34 years. He graduated from Drury High School in 1988 and earned his bachelor's degree from Williams College and a master of public administration from Westfield State University. He has previously worked in administrative positions at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts that have including financial oversight and development.
He and his wife, Jennifer, have a daughter, Alexandra, who will give the valedictory address at Drury High School on Thursday. She will attend Williams College in the fall.
Jennifer Bernard said the family supported her husband in his campaign. "I think it's very exciting," she said.
Bernard sees his three priorities -- education, public health and infrascture -- as overlapping and strongly connected in building an economic foundation for the city.
"I've seen as a parent how much the arts and cultural programs make a difference, not just for my daughter but for the students in the band and the performing arts management program and the chorus," he said. "It's not in additon to learning, there's deep learning that takes place in those programs. ...
"I think they're a competitive advantage for the system, the kind of thing that when you think about school choice ratios -- to sort of transition North Adams from a sending district to a net receiving district -- those are the programs that are really going to make a difference."
Bernard said he would look for "pragmatic collaboration" with other school districts by building on the work being done by the Berkshire County Education Task Force. And in looking to the "best vocational educational system in the commonwealth," McCann Technical School, for solutions in developing a workforce that can match skills with jobs.
Public health has its role in preparing and supporting children -- such as through food security or addressing the addiction crisis -- so they can perform well in school. He also talked about developing a health services model that offers what residents need while still being sustainable.
"How do we then think about public health in the sense of the tremondous assets we have in this community?" he said, listing things like the area's natural resources, local food production and renewable energy assets. "All of those things together help to create conditions for economic development, the things that are going to bring investment in, they're going to bring people who want to create jobs in the community."
Bernard says the city has to market itself and tap into opportunities such as life sciences and high tech industries over the border in New York's Capital District. At the same time, it has to ensure there's space for local entrepreneurs to develop homegrown industries.
As for the city's well-documented infrastructure needs, he said, "the things we know are local problems have solutions that go beyond local abilities ... how do we advocate forcefully with our state delegation, with our federal delegation to say these kinds of projects are essential to revitalize our community?"
All that plays out in a city with a limited financial resources and a looming levy limit.
"I'ts a little chicken and the egg ... how do you grow by bringing people in by creating the conditions for investment?" he said. "That's a tricky one. Nobody's quite gotten to it yet."
Bernard's putting a campaign team together and plans on knocking on doors to get his name out and having conversations with residents and any other candidates over the next five months.
A registered Democrat, he said, "we've got to look beyond party, we've got to be pragmatic where we can be."
Bernard recalled something that former Gov. Deval Patrick often repeated during his terms.
"We don't have to agree about everything to come together to do anything," he quoted. "That's the kind of place I want to be."
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