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Alcombright Topples Barrett, State's Dean of Mayors

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Richard Alcombright greets Howard D'Amico at his election party on Tuesday at the Eagles Hall. Top, supporters line up to shake the victor's hand.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The state's longest serving mayor was toppled on Tuesday as voters swung decisively for a challenger who promised an inclusive and transparent government.

City Councilor and local banker Richard Alcombright's victory was apparent minutes after the returns of the city's five wards were posted. Ousted was John Barrett III, the "dean of mayors" and an institution in not only North Adams but the state, by a nearly a 1,000 votes.

The final, unofficial tally was Alcombright 3,046 and Barrett, 2,166. (All the vote totals and election day coverage here; for general election news, here.)

For many residents, this marks the end of an era as Barrett served a record 26 years in the corner office. For others, it's the beginning of a new vision for the city that is encapsulated in their candidate.

"I think, clearly, tonight said this is a community that's looking for a different way, a different way of leadership, a different way of direction," said Alcombright, in between congratulations from friends and supporters who crowded into the Eagles Hall.

The hall was decked in the campaign's green and white theme and a DJ was spinning away as the jubilant crowd danced and cheered. People lined up to shake Alcombright's hand or give him a hug, but there was one person he wished was there: His late father, Daniel Alcombright, whose seat he took on the council. "I wish more than ever he could be here. He's my inspiration. He's been my inspiration since I was a little kid."

The atmosphere was far more somber at Barrett's postelection gathering at the American Legion. There was no music or dancing but it was filled with supporters trying to make sense of their candidate's defeat. There were more than a few tear-filled eyes.

Mayor John Barrett III had plenty of supporters still at the American Legion. Barrett was running for a record 14th term.
"The city's going to lose him," said Carol Fields, who's backed Barrett in every election. "He lost, but we've lost more without him."

The city councilor's message of more aggressive economic development and promises of a more open and welcoming administration touched chords in longtime residents and especially in the members of the city's growing arts community alike.

The artists might appreciate the infrastructure built by Barrett but saw his quarter-century control over so many aspects of city life as stifling. Alcombright, in essence, offered them a seat at the table and an open mind.

"This is a great day for North Adams," said Eric Rudd, an artist and real estate developer who's crossed swords with Barrett in the past.

The artists' rejection cut deep, said Barrett.

"I think my biggest disappointment in this election was seeing the artists' community come out so strong for Dick Alcombright," said a subdued mayor at the American Legion. "Everything that we did, we built an arts-based economy here, to bring people here, to include them, to make sure the people of this city understood how important it was — yet they turned on us. I'm just amazed by it. ... I'll never understand their rationale or their thinking but I'll accept it."

Alcombright said Barrett "did what needed to be done" when the former Sprague Electric walked away from its commitments more than 20 years ago. "He said the hard things, he did the hard things and truly made a difference," but now, he said, it was time for a new direction.

The DJ thought it was Halloween.
"We're going to work really, really hard with economic development with Northern Berkshire [towns] and other organizations," he said. "I will be accessible and available and processes will happen in a very open way."

He also envisions a new role for the City Council, which has little authority under the city charter.

"I really hope to have the councilors involved in their areas of expertise and I think we can use them in a lot of ways that will make them more productive as city councilors," he said. "I'm looking forward to working with them."

That council will include three new faces, David Bond and Michael Boland for sure and likely David Lamarre. Lamarre polled only three votes more than Keith Bona according to unofficial results. Bona, however, had seen a different tally that put him slightly ahead so the status of the two candidates is not set yet.

Robert Moulton Jr. had publicly backed Alcombright from day one but lost his bid for a fourth term, indicating the mayor's race may not have had a major effect on the council race. Bond and Boland, while also Alcombright supporters, had such name recognition that they were expected to take the seats vacated by Alcombright and the retired Clark H. Billings.

Billings retired in August and it was decided by the council to immediately seat the nonincumbent with the highest vote total rather than appoint someone for three months. Bond was not only the top nonincumbent, he had the second-highest tally of the 15 candidates with 2,982.

Carol Fields stands by her man.
"It feels great knowing that as of next Tuesday I get to fill the seat vacated by Clark Billings," said Bond. That will give him time to "get his feet wet" and prepare for the new administration. "I'm so excited for the city of North Adams to be able turn the page, say thank you to John Barrett for the great service he has given to this city, but to move it forward and to just bring a lot of great ideas and energy to this city and move it into the next decade."

The energy was apparent throughout the day as a steady stream of voters headed to the city's three polling stations. The turnout was an estimated 58 percent, the highest for a city election in years.

"I had a bad feeling today," said Barrett. "I just saw so many new people."

In polls done earlier this spring showed he had a favorability rating of 70 percent, he said, and negatives of 22. What did him in was change. "You can't fight change ... [and] 65 percent wanted change."

Longtime friend Rep. Daniel Bosley sadly agreed. "Everybody wanted a change. There's a certain fatigue after you've been office for awhile." 

David Bond can't wait to shake up the City Council.
Barrett said he would take some time off and figured setting the tax rate would be his last official act. Issues with the school teachers and unions he'd leave the new mayor along with $15 million in projects for next year.

For now, Alcombright and his wife, Michelle, plan on celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary on Wednesday and chilling out from the long, hard campaign. Next week, Alcombright will be back to work at Hoosac Bank and preparing for the transition into his new job come Jan. 1, 2010.

How does it feel to be mayor?

"I'll tell you that at the inaugural," said Alcombright. "Tonight is just overwhelming, I'm kind of taking this all in ... We'll see what tomorrow brings."
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