Alcombright Runs on Growth, Partnerships
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright tells the crowd to squeeze into the Eagle Street Pocket Park on Friday to hear his campaign kickoff speech.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The scene Friday night was in stark contrast to Richard Alcombright's announcement almost exactly two years ago that he would run for mayor.
Then it was three brave supporters and two reporters — and an impromptu lectern in his Williams Street living room.
How things have changed. On Friday, more than 75 people including community and business leaders crowded into the little Eagle Street Pocket Park and spilled onto the sidewalk to hear Alcombright sum up two years in office and plans for two more.
It's been a tough 16 months, he acknowledged.
"Upon taking office this country was still reeling from the first economic crisis since the Great Depression," Alcombright said. "During my debates with former Mayor [John] Barrett, he said that the next two years in the city of North Adams would be the most difficult since the 1930s — unquestionably, he was right."
The popular five-term city councilor knocked the state's longest-serving mayor out of the Corner Office in 2009; but victory has been tempered by the city's budgetary struggles. But it's a challenge the former banker said he loves.
Alcombright has been upfront on the fiscal shortfalls facing the state's smallest city. Rising costs and significant reductions in state aid over the past four years — some $2.2 million — has officials scrambling to close a $1 million budget gap and maintain services. Fisal 2012, he warned, "will be a turbulent ride."
Last year, Alcombright increased property taxes 10 percent, hiked water rates and instituted a sewer fee. He alluded to those efforts in his speech, saying citizens acknowledge the need to raise revenue.
"This city has accepted and understood the need to maintain services, and in order to do so, we needed to pay for those services," he said. "Until the state can fund communities again at a higher level, we need to take care of ourselves, we need to weather the storm."
He said he'd worked "tirelessly" to institute sound fiscal practices and pointed to partnerships with citizens and businesses, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and groups like the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Partnership for North Adams, Develop North Adams and the local chambers of commerce.
He mentioned his efforts to create regional partnerships — a success that could be determined by the appearances at the rally of Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin and Town Administrators Jonathan Butler of Adams and Michael Canales of Clarksburg. Also at the kickoff were Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Michael Supranowicz and state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, along with City Councilors Keith Bona, Lisa Blackmer, David Lamarre, David Bond, Michael Bloom and Michael Boland.
Despite the fiscal difficulties, he said, "2010 was a year of the revitalization of the democratic process in North Adams with openness and participation in many levels."
From answering questions on Facebook (3,500 friends and counting) to reinvigorating subcommittees and boards, and engaging citizens, Alcombright said these efforts have "instilled a new and vibrant sense of commuity spirit and volunteerism." Citizens also felt free, he said, to vigorously oppose (if unsuccessfully) the proposed Super Walmart.
Looking forward, he pointed to continuing and beginning work on the armory, Windsor Lake, Historic Valley Park Campground, using events such as the upcoming Solid Sound Festival for future growth, and the pursuit of Green Community status and installations of cost-saving solar arrays at Drury High Scholl and the landfill and, of course, the development of Walmart on Curran Highway that is expected to spark development on the south end.
"Growth is the only catalyst that will ensure a healthy future for those that follow us," he said, and took a swipe at critics who have called the master plan proposal "useless." "I am very much commited to following through with our work toward a community master plan ... through public opinion, and strong governement and private partnership."
Alcombright was applauded several times before concluding his remarks. He hosted a reception next door at Desperados.
"Your support is what put me here, your support is what brings me back," he said, summing up his campaign. "And although we don't agree on all things, we have agreed on most things. And that's what brought me to this day."