North Adams Mayoral Debate VideoNORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The following mayoral debate between incumbent Richard Alcombright and challenger Ronald Boucher, council president, was filmed at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Church Street Center by Northern Berkshire Community Television.
It was hosted by the North Adams Transcript and moderated by Transcript Editor Michael Foster and Senior Reporter Jennifer Huberdeau.
NBCTV posted the video on YouTube.
Ward 3 Candidates Split on GE Fund, Grossman's DemoPITTSFIELD, Mass. — Challenger Jeffrey Ferrin did his best to pummel Paul Capitanio on the issues in Monday's Ward 3 debate, while the incumbent took the former mayoral candidate to task for acting like he's already been elected.
The candidates took the stage in the first of four debates on Monday night sponsored by the Pittsfield Gazette and Berkshire Community College, and aired on Pittsfield Community Television. The moderator was Shawn Serre of PCTV.
The two had little in common and split immediately on the thorny subject of taking down the 35,000-square-foot former Grossman's Outlet on East Street. Capitanio said it would cost $190,000; Ferrin, $2 million or more.
Capitanio said the vacant eyesore "should be demolished; it's blight ... it's certainly not an asset."
The current councilor has asked the city to foot some of the bill for tearing down the condemned structure. "If anybody else has a plan we'd certainly listen to it but they've been trying to sell it for five years."
"Councilor Capitanio voted against that, which concerned me because his question was where'd I get my information and how did we know it was true I spoke to them," said Ferrin. "That would have been the perfect opportunity to ask those very questions. ... I'm kind of concerned he wanted to approve the money to raze it but didn't want anybody to answer any questions."
They also disagreed on problems at Deming Park, with the Capitanio saying flooding had been an issue but he worked with Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to alleviate the problem. "We took care of the four or five properties that were affected," he said. "I don't know of any flooding issues."
Ferrin said the flooding hasn't been completely dealt with and may have been affected by unpermitted changes to the infield and other areas. He vowed if elected to ensure that any future work was properly permitted.
The two generally agreed on the continuance of curbside trash pickup, with Capitanio considering further exploration of using the toter system and Ferrin saying "education, education, education," was the key to increasing recycling.
Capitanio defended the use of up to $275,000 in GE Economic Development Funds to reimburse Ice River Springs for moving its cooling tower because of neighborhood noise complaints and tied in increments to adding jobs. "I'm absolutely for that," he responded to a question on personal standards for release of the funds.
"I'm unsure about the Shaker Village, I did vote for that," Capitanio continued, referring to funds to aid the living history museum in launching a historical architectural program with Amherst College. "I don't know if I regret that or not but, hopefully, it will work out."
Ferrin took a harsher view, saying he was "absolutely against Ice River Springs" getting fund money because the company "lied about their employment status — they employed part-time and temporary workers from agencies instead of full-time workers under their TIF agreement."
He said he was leery of giving economic development money to nonprofits such as Shaker Village, but thought he could have supported the Colonial Theatre, "but it still hasn't produced livable wage jobs for the community."
Both were against borrowing to replace the school bus fleet at this point, with Ferrin saying a comprehensive plan needs to be laid out first and Capitanio that other options should be considered, particularly privatization. Both also agreed the dissolution of the Parks Department had some benefits but has also affected the other departments' abilities to get the work done.
Ferrin stressed the research he does on issues and vowed to be the voice of the taxpayers. "I have no connection to the good old boy network."
Capitanio briefly chastised Ferrin for failing to pass on an email from a constituent, leading her to believe Ferrin was her councilor. He then talked of the projects in Ward 3 he helped bring to fruition, and said he would continue to work hard for his ward. "If we work together and help each other we can maintain the quality of life Ward 3 deserves."
Candidates Clash on Voting Records, Visions for PittsfieldPITTSFIELD, Mass. — Heated disagreement and barbed comments characterized the debate between mayoral hopefuls Daniel Bianchi and Peter Marchetti on Monday night at Berkshire Community College.
This final debate of the evening at the college interspersed questions from moderator Brandon Walker of YNN with opportunities for the candidates to pose them to each other. The debates were sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and the college, and broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television.
Several of the questions were hauntingly familiar to those sparred over in the 2009 mayoral debates between Bianchi and James Ruberto, among them PEDA, cultural development, and school buildings.
Bianchi, who also expressed impatience with the progress of PEDA during his unsuccessful 2009 campaign, has repeatedly stated that he would appoint himself to its board, as Ruberto had. "We have not operated with a sense of urgency when it comes to new jobs and new job creation," he said.
Marchetti repeated his view that the mayor's role was to link the PEDA board with that of Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp., the state Office of Economic Development, and other relevant agencies "to set clear goals and objectives ... and if that board cannot meet those goals and objectives, then it's the mayor's responsibility to replace them with those that can.”"
In one of Marchetti's open questions to Bianchi, he challenged the former city councilor on his votes against the creation of the Office of Cultural Development, as well as the $1 million allocation to the Colonial Theatre from the GE Economic Development Fund.
Bianchi said he had supported the Colonial, previously voting in favor of $460,000 in funding, but felt that the million-dollar "gift" was not necessary because of the Colonial's other fundraising efforts.
As for the Office of Cultural Development, Bianchi said he had voted for Megan Whilden's appointment twice, acknowledging he had voted against the post initially. "I was frustrated the first time the appointment came around. That frustration was a result of the mayor getting rid of a longtime employee," he said, referring to Daniel O'Connell, who previously developed and coordinated public arts and activities from the Lichtenstein Center from the 1970s to 2005, when he was let go to make way for Whilden to take the helm of the newly created office.]
"I guess we both like to rewrite history in our own ways, because I have the minutes from the City Council meetings where you voted twice against the Office of Cultural Development," Marchetti responded.
In one his questions, Bianchi took issue with his opponent's record on what he depicted as favoritism in Ruberto's hiring practices, including a 40 percent raise for Tricia Farley-Bouvier when she worked at City Hall.
Marchetti suggested Bianchi was being misleading, that in fact the vote had been to create a new position, director of administration, not just increase a salary.
"I never took a vote to give the mayor's ally a raise, I took a vote to create a job position," Marchetti said. He also vowed that in his administration, there would be none of the "acting appointments" that have become controversial during Ruberto's tenure.
On a related subject to those appointments, Bianchi spoke in support of a suggested charter review commission to retool the city's governing rules, "and I believe, Pete, that you've suggested you would not do that."
At this, Marchetti once again accused his opponent of "rewriting history."
"Any chance I've had the ability to vote for the establishment of a charter commission, I voted in favor, so let's just make sure we keep our facts straight in this debate."
It was on the thorny issue of school building needs that the sparring between the two candidates became most heated. Both men said they have always supported major overhauls of both Taconic and Pittsfield high schools as opposed to a "one high school plan."
Marchetti was asked by his opponent why he had opposed a recent petition brought forth by Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Joseph Nichols to place a question on the ballot asking voters to weigh in on the school building decision process. When Marchetti began to answer that the question as phrased was flawed and did not address any of the issues both candidates had just discussed, Bianchi interrupted him several times to interject that it could have, if it had been referred to the Committee on Ordinances and Rules for retooling.
"You asked me a question, please be respectful enough to let me answer it," Marchetti said, raising his voice. Moderator Brandon Walker interjected, asking Bianchi to allow Marchetti to answer the question.
"I made comment that night that there is not enough information at this stage of the game to craft a question. It wasn't that I wasn't looking for the people's input ... the question was premature."
The question, as presented to the council at its July 12 meeting, read "Do you support the School Building Needs Commission's decision to build a new high school in Pittsfield?" It was voted down 9-2, with only Mazzeo and Nichols in support. The majority opinion was that the question proposed would be confusing and misleading to voters, as the commission has reached no such decision.
In closing statements, candidates continued to outline differences in their visions for Pittsfield. Marchetti highlighted his five priorities for moving Pittsfield forward: job creation, continued improvement in education, neighborhood improvements, continued support of the arts community, and improved communication. "I believe that my record supported many of the positive changes that have taken place in Pittsfield over the last eight years."
Bianchi said the election offers "a clear choice" for voters. "I'm the candidate with an ambitious, comprehensive plan to create an atmosphere within City Hall that welcomes public opinion and embraces our differences, and sets a reasonable pace for moving Pittsfield in a new direction."
Alcombright, Boucher Talk Budget, Basics at Debate
Incumbent Richard Alcombright, left, and challenger Ronald Boucher take questions on stage at the MCLA Church Street Center on Friday night. The debate can be heard here.
Challenger Ronald Boucher said the city is not as attractive or lean as it could be and was failing to grow under a visionless leader with poor management. The incumbent, Richard Alcombright, ribbed Boucher for failing to see downtown improvements and thriving businesses or acknowledge the budgets cuts and savings made during his tenure.
The event at Massachusetts College of Liberal Art's Church Street Center was well attended, if not filling quite as many seats as last election's face-off that saw Alcombright elected. This time Boucher, the City Council president, is hoping to topple the incumbent.
The two took turns answering questions posed by North Adams Transcript Editor Michael Foster and Senior Reporter Jennifer Huberdeau. The debate was sponsored by the newspaper and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
Boucher has taken issue in particular with Alcombright's description of the city's finances as "a little less than horrible" as quoted to a Boston Sunday Globe reporter in a story earlier this year.
"The image of a community, I think that plays a very big part in everything. It's how you sell your community outside this area," he said, chastising the mayor for not putting a more positive spin on the city and allowing it to be described as the poorest in the state. "I think that businesss and people outside the area reading that article would get the impression that, hey, 'why would I want to come to North Adams to start a business?' "
Alcombright said he wouldn't apologize for stating facts for describing the city's finances: "We are in horrible financial shape but we're getting better, we're getting better despite many things."
He said the structural deficit he inherited has been reduced through a combination of cuts and savings. "In the FY2010 budget it went $3.2 million to just about $422,000 in two short cycles, so we're getting better," he said, continuing that he'd saved thousands by restructuring debt, cleaning up the health insurance, taking over the city water treatment plant.
Boucher said he didn't believe there was any significant saving from taking over the plant because it hadn't taken into account the pensions and benefits of the workers; Alcombright said those had indeed been part of the savings analysis.
Alcombright said he would continue to look at ways for savings and raising revenue to balance the budget.
"I do not think we can do one without the other, that doesn't mean I'm a tax mogul," he said. "Last year was an anomaly [when the city taxed to the levy and instituted a sewer fee]. This year, we may see taxes go up 3-3 1/2 percent."
While Alcombright said he'd look at raising fees, Boucher responded that he'd already forced the Board of Health to back off a fee hike claiming it would be "political suicide."
"If you're going to empower boards to do their job, let them do their job," retorted Boucher.
Boucher also claimed there was "a lot of fat still there" in city governement and "we need to do more with less." Alcombright got a laugh when he claimed the only fat left in City Hall "is in the mayor's office."
The candidates agreed on a number of items, including supporting the arts, getting tourists downtown from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts, community policing, and not quite knowing how to capitalize on the new MCLA science building yet.
They continued to differ on long-vacant Mohawk Theater, with Boucher insisting it should be sold to a for-profit venture as a way to generate tax revenue and bring people to the city for concerts, live-streamed events and plays. A for-profit would be able to tap into the $2.5 million historic tax credits available, he said.
Alcombright said he is working on a plan for MCLA to take over management of the theater to use it as a learning lab for its fine and performing arts department as a way to bring students and other into the downtown. His proposal, he said, would cut the estimated $12 million development in half, making the tax credits insignificant.
In a back and forth about the Fire Department, Boucher indicated he'd be open to changing the department's structure from full-time staff to a core staff with paid volunteers.
"There's a presumption out there I'm out to cut the Fire Department," he said. "That's not the truth."
However, he said the city's population had significantly dropped and it was worth looking at options that could be instituted "5 or 7 years down the road."
Alcombright said he remained committed to a fully staffed department because even if the population dropped, the aged buildings, and college, hospital and high-rise remained. He also objected that because the population had shrunk, it didn't mean it wouldn't rise again.
While Alcombright touted the relationships he's built with the local communities and regional organizations like the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Boucher said he'd keep the BRPC at arm's length, claiming it had sunk the Lowe's deal on Curran Highway with onerous environmental demands (a claim also made by the former mayor John Barrett III in a radio interview the day before).
"Lowe's might have been here if they hadn't gotten in the way," said Boucher, adding that recent news the home improvement chain has once again scaled back its store openings means the city will never see one.
Alcombright said he was more convinced it was the low traffic volume and economy that induced Lowe's to step back, not the BRPC. With the Super Walmart coming in, that may change, he said.
"What I'm hearing with a statement like that is 'back to basics' really means back to past practices," said Alcombright, taking a shot at the challenger's campaign motto.
"Again you're a fan of them, I'm not," said Boucher.
The 75-minute debate will be aired on Northern Berkshire Community Television, Channel 17, on Saturday at 5 and 9 p.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Check listings for further airings.
Pittsfield City Council Hopefuls Outline Positions
Incumbents Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin Sherman, former councilors Anthony Maffucio and Richard Scapin, 2009 mayoral candidate Nicholas Caccamo and local accountant Barry J. Clairmont appeared out of the total eight candidates seeking election to the four at-large council seats voters will decide on Nov. 8.
Churchill Cotton, who is also on the ballot, was not able to be present at the debate for medical reasons. According to PCTV debate moderator Shawn Serre, Cotton was admitted to Berkshire Medical Center on Monday for "precautionary tests."
Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols, who is mounting a write-in campaign for one of the at-large seats was not included in the debate because only candidates appearing on the ballot were invited.
Nichols, who placed third in the preliminary election for mayor on Sept. 27, is one of two councilors seeking to remain on the council through write-in campaigns. Peter White, who was edged out of the Democratic nomination for 3rd Berkshire District representative, is campaigning as a write-in candidate against Kevin Morandi for the Ward 2 seat.
Candidates also leaned in favor of advancing a review process to look at updating the city charter, an idea which has gained interest over the last year. Mazzeo said she believes a city charter commission should be comprised of volunteers who come forward from the community, not chosen by the mayor.
"I definitely think we need an overhaul," she said. "It's going to take a few years, we have plenty of other communities [going through charter reviews] to watch."
Sherman, who has advanced the petition to begin a charter review commission, envisioned something based on the model of Northampton, which has moved forward rapidly with the process. He described a scenario involve a drafting commission with one citizen from each of the city's seven wards appointed by the City Council, along with two mayoral appointees.
The six contenders differed on the question of whether there should be a shift in tax burden off the commercial tax base onto residents. Sherman, Clairmont and Caccamo said yes, that they supported at least some shift off local business. Maffucio and Scapin said no, and Mazzeo described herself as "in the middle," and that while she doesn't want to put more burden on residents, nonetheless echoed Scapin's contention that higher taxes on businesses cost residents anyway in the form of higher prices for goods and services.
Though unable to attend the debate for health reasons, Cotton spoke to iBerkshires last week, at which time he indicated that educational issues, such as the high school problem, were a major factor in his choice to run for council this term. The current School Committee member said he'd been pleased with Superintendent Jake Eberwein's presentation on the progress of the School Building Needs Commission.
"It's important for residents to understand that no decisions have made yet, they're not going to be made without them," Cotton told iBerkshires.
Voters may choose to cast a vote (or write-in) for up to four of the eight candidates at the general election on Nov. 8. The four top vote recipients will become the four at large city councilors for the upcoming term.