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Candidate for Mayor: Peter Marchetti

By Joe DurwinSpecial to iBerkshires
Note: These interviews constitute an experiment in crowd sourcing election concerns from the public. Over a period of weeks, responses from the public were solicited as to what questions they would like to hear the two mayoral candidates answer. The questions were selected and distilled from among those received most frequently via email, Facebook, Twitter, and conversations with voters to be representative of some of the concerns respondents felt they had not heard not heard enough on candidates from.

Favorite Color: Green.

Favorite Sandwich:  Spicy Italian from Subway

Endorsed by: United Educators of Pittsfield, The Berkshire Eagle, Mayor James Ruberto, City Council President Gerald Lee

There seems to be a lot of disagreement and animosity amongst Pittsfield residents, before and throughout the campaign season. Why do you believe you are best candidate to unify people as, to use your term, "One Pittsfield," and how would you reduce the animosity between those of different groups and interests?

In order to move forward, we have to unite. I believe my track record on the City Council speaks more of unification than of division. While getting all of the 45,000 people in Pittsfield to agree on something will never be realistically possible, I think I have demonstrated my skills for building concensus and establishing compromise, for instance in the rezoning of the Petricca property. One of the most important tasks of the mayor is to help make sure all parties realize what it is they're striving for, and then they find there is usually a lot that they agree on.

You have been called by some 'an extention of the Ruberto administration' — do you agree or disagree with that assessment, and why?

I think it's important to remember that I have served as a city cCouncilor under two mayors, and two City Council presidents, and have worked with all of them to set goals and advance agendas. There have been decisions [of Ruberto's] I have not been happy with, such as appointing himself to the PEDA board, and I have made those concerns known.

Also, I think that my leadership style is different. But I think the real question is, what are you afraid I'm an extension of? I intend to continue those policies which have been successful and improved life in Pittsfield, and I think my opponent would also agree that he is in favor of continuing the positive growth we've seen as well.

The immigrant population and ethnic diversity of Pittsfield is growing. How would you address the need to increase the racial diversity of teachers in our schools?

First of all, I think that all city government should reflect that kind of diversity, that it should be representative of the people it's serving. Having devoted so much of the last 7 years to the Morningside district, which is the most diverse in the city, I feel I am uniquely prepared to make strides in this area.

With Pittsfield receiving international attention for one of our most serious crimes in years and a wave of recent robberies, what do you think of the current state of crime in perception and reality, and what as mayor would you do to improve both?

There is crime, and obviously more needs to be done. Public safety services need funding. There's also an issue of perception vs reality, and its important to look at everyone's perception. I feel safe when I am walking around at night near our cultural outlets, but someone else might not, and if their perception is of being unsafe, then that's their reality and we need to do something about that. I want to have a permanent full-time police chief and work with them to reduce crime and increase the perception of safety in town. I want people to feel safe. We have had a terrible violent crime recently, and that's a tragic situation, but I think unfortunately it's lead to a perception that 'none of us are safe,' and I think it's important for people to remember that this was not a completely random act. The parties had an existing relationship with each other, they weren't strangers. There was an underlying issue, so it's not something that was a random act that might happen to any of us at any time.  

You've indicated that continued cultural growth in Pittsfield is an issue of great importance to you.  About a year ago, WBUR from Boston did a lot of coverage of the emerging arts and cultural scene here, and since then at least three of the establishments featured Storefront Artist Project, Pittsfield Contemporary, and Emporium —  are no longer open. This and the closing of shops such as Chapters Bookstore has some wondering if interest in cultural happenings is declining in Pittsfield, or if support for the cultural sector is lacking. What as mayor would you do to support and foster more growth?

First of all I would point out that stores like Chapters are foremost a business, and not a cultural attraction. Retail-oriented business is tough and there is only so much support the department of Cultural Development can do. I do think that the mayor needs to work with Megan Whilden to get more grant funding for the department to use in its efforts. I'm in favor of creating a full-time grant writing position for the city. But I think that if you look back to a few years ago, when you had Pittsfield with no major cultural venues, in the center of these communities with long-established attractions like Tanglewood, and now we have Colonial, we have Barrington Stage and the Beacon. We have people like Julianne Boyd and Kate McQuire and we have all these things going on. My opponent and some of his colleages voted against all that.

Springside Park, Pittsfield's largest and most historically controversial park, has had recurring differences of opinion about what projects and uses are appropriate. Do you have any particular vision or ideal for the future of this 200-acre area near downtown, and/or ideas or priorities for Pittsfield parks in general?

In order to look at really making much progress in doing anything at Springside Park, there needs to be an effort to connect the dots between all the people involved. There's about five different groups involved, you've got the Friends of Springside, the Arboretum, Morningside Initiative. It needs money, of course, but before you can really do a lot with it there needs to be a concensus and some connections cultivated between the groups. There's been some progress already, we've removed the outdated heating house there, Morningside Initiative is talking with Jim McGrath [parks manager] on the issue of restoring the pond.  Generally I'd say priorities like preserving and restoring natural beauty and the Springside House come before a dog park, but again, we need to get everybody together and see where we agree and don't to move forward with this.

Candidate for Mayor: Daniel Bianchi

By Joe DurwinSpecial to iBerkshires
Note: These interviews constitute an experiment in crowd sourcing election concerns from the public. Over a period of weeks, responses from the public were solicited as to what questions they would like to hear the two mayoral candidates answer. The questions were selected and distilled from among those received most frequently via email, Facebook, Twitter, and conversations with voters to be representative of some of the concerns respondents felt they had not heard not heard enough on candidates from.

Favorite Color: Green

Favorite Sandwich: Preferred not to pick a favorite. "There aren't many foods I will say no to."

Endorsements: Building and Trades Council; Laborer's Local 473; Local 12 Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers
There seems to have been a lot of differences and animosity between different segments of Pittsfield population since long before this campaign began. As mayor how would you seek to unite a divided city and represent constituents with such seemingly conflicting ideas about where Pittsfield should be going?

First of all I'm glad that you're using the word seemingly, because I don't think there really is. I think the people of Pittsfield, with maybe some exception, ... are very good, polite, smart, hard-working people.

I think what's happened is we've created this government that's very exclusionary. Unless you're on a certain special list ... I've talked to enough businessmen who wanted to do something in Pittsfield, and they just didn't seem welcome at City Hall, and I've heard that from other citizens, too. What we have to do is create an atmosphere — and it starts from the top — of welcoming. People are not getting encouraged to get involved, so we've got to really welcome people. I think that just having a welcoming environment will unify people.  

Of the remaining $6 million in GE Economic Development Funds, are there any promising opportunities you see on the horizon for future allocations?

Industries ... Especially the life science industries. When you think about it, Pittsfield has high, inordinate cancer rates, and I think that life sciences would be an interesting fit. I'd like to see us with either research or development firms, or manufacturing firms involved with green technology and renewable energy. Also, we have a very, very strong plastics industry here in the city, so I think that a cutting edge plastics company should be something we would consider.

With Pittsfield receiving international attention for one of our most serious crimes in years and a wave of recent robberies, what do you think of the current state of crime in perception and reality, and what as mayor would you do to improve both?

You can say it's just a perception, but when you have senior citizens who are concerned for their safety, that's a reality to them, that's not a perception.  We have had a rash of armed robberies, a horrendous triple homicide ... It's really hard to just look at statistics and go 'Compared to the natural average, we're not that bad' ... but we shouldn't be satisfied with hovering around the national average. We're a small community, in a beautiful area, and we should be doing everything we can to drop that crime rate down.  

It's very important that we encourage everyone to understand that they have to be invested in reducing the crime rate, and being involved.

The immigrant population and ethnic diversity of Pittsfield is growing. How would you address the need to increase the racial diversity of teachers in our schools?

I think diversity should alway be a goal. You want your school systems, you want your government to be reflective of the people that they govern and that they educated. Having said that, you always want to go for the most qualified people.

Your opponent has said in campaign speeches and debates that you voted twice against the creation of the Office of Cultural Development, and once against Megan Whilden's appointment once she had been selected.  How would you describe your position on the creation, and continuation of this department?  

Once at a subcommittee level, once at a City Council level. What he [Marchetti] fails to say is that I subsequently voted at least twice for it. He's done a lot more research on my voting record than I have, and I've done none on his. I've really tried to look forward as opposed to looking back. But I have voted for that, and I think that the person that's in there is doing a wonderful job. My vote against it, originally, was really a protest at how shabbily the mayor had treated a longtime city employee who had been responsible for having donated to us a beautiful, wonderful art center. I believed that was politically motivated, and not called for.

Springside Park, Pittsfield's largest and most historically controversial park, has had recurring differences of opinion about what projects and uses are appropriate. Do you have any particular vision or ideal for the future of this 200-acre area near downtown, and/or ideas or priorities for Pittsfield parks in general?

"Of course, I grew up over there [on Harvard Street], so Springside Park was just such a great place - I learned to skate over there. I would really love to see us put aside some money to do something there. I also would love to put together a cross-section of the community to talk about what we could do with Springside Park. Is there something that we could do that wouldn't be intrusive but that might generate money for the park that could go into a revolving account. Maybe new hiking trails, or low-impact Appalachian camping that would generate fees. I think we've got to think creatively. There's been some talk over the years about putting in a golf course, municipal golf courses are very popular, I don't know whether or not Springside Park is appropriate for that, I think that there's some things that we could do."

In a recent ad, City Council President Gerald Lee accuses you of being absent from city affairs since being defeated in the 2009 election. Would you like to take this opportunity to respond to that, or discuss what you've been doing during that time?

When things change, there's always an opportunity. First of all, I do hold a job, so it was nice to be able to focus on that. I belong to a civic organization called Unico, and they do an awful lot of wonderful things for things like the Special Olympics, the Brien Center, Women's Financial Center, National Association for Mental Illness, walk for life. I also had the time to help out with the National Diabetes Association this year, I'm very involved with St. Mark's Parish, and the finance committee there. Theresa and I started a group called the Family Sponsorship Program, and it's very quiet, but when there are parishioners who have a need, or an illness ... so we do that. My daughter Madeline was a senior at Taconic High School, and they were always fundraising for one thing or another. It was neat to be able to focus on different things.  

We Are the 25 %: A Gen Y Cynic On Why You Should Vote

By Joe DurwiniBerkshires Editorial
While watching the election results come in from the Oct. 18 special election for 3rd Berkshire District state representative at the Crowne Plaza, I found myself chatting with City Council-at-Large candidate Nicholas Caccamo about voter turnout. 

He mentioned my visit to the hub of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and we made various jokes about being part of "the 25 percent." That is, the 25 percent who consistently vote, in most elections, national and local, and the 25 percent or so who essentially end up electing even our most significant national figures, when half or more of the eligible citizenry never hits the polls at all.

That night, the final tally was actually just a little over 21 percent of registered voters that turned out (erroneously reported elsewhere as 24 percent). Tricia Farley-Bouvier won with 33 percent, which means Pittsfield will be represented in Boston by someone only 7 percent of voters here specifically supported.

Nick and I are in another 25 percent (or so) niche, as well: voters in the 18-35 demographic. At the risk of oversimplifying, we grew up in an era and culture of interconnected isolationism. More virtually and potentially connected to each other than any group of humans in the history of the world before us, and yet we are arguably more focused on our own individual selves, in terms of our outward expressions and day-to-day activities, than any group of people in living memory. Over the past couple of decades, an enormous shift has taken place in interests and time spent, from those based around family units, clubs and large group participation to individual pursuits, whether health and self-betterment activities or individualized recreation alone or in small cliques of friends.

As part of that shift from community and larger social concerns, we grew up in a time where it was basically uncool to vote, to be interested in politics. Most of us heard early and often how fatally screwed up The System has become, how corrupt and purchased it all is. Rather than face the ongoing rage and frustration so visibly experienced by the activists of all shades we saw around us, most just turned the sound down on the whole noise. In some quadrants the mere suggestion that any type of voting could ever make a difference brings half-sneering, half-guilty lectures.

I've operated more of both my youth and adult life in those quadrants than in the mainstream, so in some ways I thought it was high time to voice some of my sentiments on this issue. As someone who has been described at various times as a "radical," "anarchist" and even "fascist"; as someone who in a long enough discussion of views is bound to offend almost anyone of any political persuasion, eventually.

So, when I talk about voting, try to keep in mind that this is coming from someone who is as disgusted as anyone by the behavior of government, someone who has over the course of my life created ugly spectacles while officials were giving speeches, and run from cops at protests gone awry; someone who felt ill after voting in my first presidential election in 2000, applied for Australian citizenship after 2004, and I'm pretty sure was on an informal "keep-away-from-the-Senator" list among Kerry staffers for a number of years. You're talking to someone who knows all about the evils of campaign financing and the distortion machine of media coverage from pretty close to inside the belly of the beast.

If you vote, and have usually voted in most elections, and see it as an uncomplicated civic duty to perform ... well, that's great. You and I probably have less in common, though, with the people who this editorial is actually directed to. I'm speaking now primarily to the other 50-75 percent of over-18 adults in America, in particular to those who, as opposed to just being lazy or unaware, are just a bit jaded about the whole thing. It is you who are my most natural constituency, and I'm going to tell you now why I vote anyway, and why you probably should too.

A wise man once told me that "To run for office you need to believe, or pretend you believe, that the fundamental nature of your government is good, valid, and basically works. To be involved in politics, you only need to realize it's the only game in town."

This is the crux of it to me, this prosaic fact that whatever you or I think about it, this is what we have. This is the hand we we were dealt, the game we walked in on. This is the game which ends up deciding how much of our earnings we get to keep, how many hours our boss can make us work, the roads we drive to work on, the circumstances under which we can be suddenly arrested and detained on those roads. I vote because all this is and a lot more is at stake every time names are put on a ballot before us.

I will vote this Tuesday because in a country where, as you read this, so many feel so alienated and unheard by their elected officials that they risk injury and arrest in the streets, local elections are in some ways the most important to vote in. These are people who live in or near your town, people who will return your emails or phone calls, people who have offices you can visit if they don't. These are the people who decide the issues which effect you the most, on a daily basis. Supporting the candidates you think most represent your views and are most accessible to your needs when they’re right there in your own town is the most obvious thing you could ever do to take some control over the events that effect your daily life.

I'll do it because on Oct. 14 I went to Zuccotti Park in New York City on the day that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were to be evicted from the square by the city. What I saw there that day was thousands of people that included auto workers, garbage men, teachers, librarians, among people of many other professions and lifestyles, who had been arriving in droves since midnight the night before. 

They came to stand with, and potentially be arrested with, demonstrators who for the past month had occupied the area and marched throughout the financial district for redress of economic grievances. What I saw was an assortment of people who sincerely had hope for real change in our time, a hope that seemed to grow contagious as the city of New York stood down and over the next 24 hours 50,000 marched there, along with millions more in another 1,000 cities worldwide.

Whatever you or I think of their politics or way the movement has been conducted, I believe that most of those people are there because they believe that drastic action, and sometimes shocking commitment, is needed to draw sufficient attention to entrenched problems in our country and government. I believe it is a mistake to conclude, as some have, that all these protestors are people who are complaining but do not vote. In one memorable instance, I spoke with a woman named Lorraine, who told me cheerfully she had voted in every single election for which she'd been eligible since 1960, and on top of that participated in "hundreds and hundreds" of demonstrations and peaceful resistance actions.

I will vote Tuesday in tribute to Lorraine.

More importantly, I'll do it because over the past decade I watched a cross section of friends and former schoolmates return from two brutal overseas wars, their lives inevitably altered forever ... or, in a couple of cases, not return at all. Whatever you or I think about the political decisions that lead those men and women into those situations, the unalterable fact is that they went to those places and they did those things because they took an oath that they would. They committed to the defense of the political decisions of the United States, all knowing that the possibility existed that it might eventually cost them everything.

I'll vote because the fact that they went into those conflicts on the decisions of leaders that a quarter or less of the citizenry put into power is a dark stain on the history of this nation that future generations will now inherit along with all the others.

I will do it because the time and "hassle" of voting is utterly insignificant when measured alongside those kinds of sacrifices.

I will vote because history has this oft-mentioned tendency to repeat itself.

YOU should vote because having spot checked dozens of residential areas in both Pittsfield and North Adams, I've concluded that on average the time it takes to get from most homes to your polling place, vote, and be back home in your slippers is between 20 and 25 minutes.

You should vote because it really shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to basically familiarize yourself with the candidates you're choosing between and have some sentiment one way or the other. Refer to our coverage here on iBerkshires https://www.iberkshires.com/blogs/election2011 and the debates archived online by your local access television for help in brushing up.

You should vote because we both know that no two candidates in any election are really identical, and that that's just one more silly excuse not to just suck it up and do it.

You should vote because it makes us look less like jerks in front of all these other countries.

You should vote because, at the end of the day, all of the excuses not to are sort of cop-outs.

You should vote because if you don't, someday you may come to wish you did. 

Joe Durwin writes about Pittsfield, politics and unusual events.

Alcombright Questions Proposed Sewer Fee Cuts

Alcombright Campaign
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Candidate Richard Alcombright, who is running for a second term as mayor, responds to his opponent's pledge to cut the sewer fee:

In his most recent communication, Councilor Boucher states that he will reduce the sewer fee by 50 percent. He further stated that I promised at the time of the adoption of the fee that it would be placed in an enterprise fund to be used for infrastructure improvements. For the record, that was not what was presented nor was it what the Council voted on. But that aside, let me state the hard reality of Mr. Boucher's last-minute campaign promise.

While the sewer fee was controversial and one of the most difficult decisions I had to make, it has been used to offset the approximately $1 million assessment that the city receives each year from the Hoosac Water Quality District. This years' budget reflects a sewer fee revenue line item of $745,000 which is approximately 42 percent of our water revenue. Should Mr. Boucher cut this revenue line item by 50 percent as stated, $372,500 will be slashed from our local receipts.

Mr. Boucher's promise to cut the sewer fee with absolutely no plan as to how to replace the revenue or cut the budget seems very irresponsible. The reality here is that the FY2012 budget has been set and expenses have been allotted based on anticipated revenues (to include the sewer fee). Does this mean mid-cycle cuts in the school and municipal budget and what will those cuts be? Additionally, if Councilor Boucher is that adamantly opposed to the sewer fee, why not remove it entirely? How far back will this take us?

I have stated time after time that I have not made any of my fiscal decisions in a vacuum. They have been made in consultation with city finance department heads, the City Council Finance Committee, our external auditors and the Department of Revenue.  I have made significant strides in reducing our deficits through a combination of cuts coupled with increases in revenue and the institution of efficiencies. Please believe me when I tell you....cutting the sewer fee will only add to further cuts in the budget and further reduction in services. And while no one likes a sewer fee, it plays a vital role in the funding of services in our city.

Barbalunga Asks for 2 More Years on School Committee

Barbalunga Campaign
PITTSFIELD, Mass. —  Statement from Alf Barbalunga, candidate for School Committee.

It has been two years, and I continue to be excited about my work on the city of Pittsfield School Committee. If you believe I have served competently, please support me for re-election. 

The school department spends 45 cents of every dollar the city takes from you in taxes. My highest priorities are to ensure your hard earned money is spent wisely, and our community is kept safe. Public safety and reduced crime rates go hand-in-hand with a quality education. As some of you know it took me a long time to get back to the Berkshires, and I’m not going anywhere. I am committed to doing my part to promote Pittsfield's future growth. If you believe merited and award me your vote, I will be honored to give you another two years of service.

Thirty-one year resident of Pittsfield and the only candidate under the age of 40
Attended Pittsfield Public Schools, K-12
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Total Quality Management
Community Development (Planning) Board Clerk, 12-plus years

Massachusetts Trial Court, Probation Service Chief
20-plus years Public Safety career
Previously employed as a Juvenile Probation Officer working in the Pittsfield schools
Chairman of the Safety & Transportation subcommittee

Only School Committee member who voted against across the board management pay raises
Only subcommittee member who voted against the outright spending of more than $3 million dollars on the purchase of a new citywide fleet of school busses
Berkshire Brigades Democratic Organization committee member
Continues to not accept campaign donations

AFL-CIO / Local 1134
AFL-CIO / Local 285
SEIU / Local 254 - Shop Steward
SEIU-NAGE / Locals 229 & 118 - Regional Steward

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Where to vote in Berkshire County

State Election
Tuesday, Nov. 4

Voting is from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Deadline to register or change party affiliation was Oct.15.

Candidates on the ballot in races for state office; all others on the ballot are unopposed. Links will take you to their campaign websites.

U.S. Senator
Edward J. Markey, Democrat
Brian J. Herr, Republican

Governor/Lieutenant Governor
Charlie Baker & Karyn Polito, Republican
Martha Coakley & Stephen Kerrigan, Democrat
Evan Falchuk & Angus Jennings, United Independent Party
Scott Lively & Shelly Saunders, Independent
Jeff McCormick & Tracy Post, Independent 

Attorney General
Maura Healey, Democratic
John B. Miller, Republican

Secretary of State
William Francis Galvin, Democratic
David D'Arcangelo, Republican
Daniel L. Factor, Green-Rainbow

Deborah B. Goldberg, Democratic
Michael James Heffernan, Republican
Ian T. Jackson, Green-Rainbow

Suzanne M. Bump, Democratic
Patricia S. Saint Aubin, Republican
MK Merelice, Green-Rainbow

Municipal Elections

The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams will hold municipal elections for mayor, city council and school committee in 2015

You may vote absentee: if you will be absent from your town or city on election day, have a physical disability that prevents you from voting at the polls or cannot vote at the polls because to religious beliefs.

2010 Special Senate Election Results

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