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Rachel Branch says her years of management experience and problem-solving make her a good candidate for mayor.

Branch Sees North Adams' Potential as Welcoming, Safe Community

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Rachel Branch has a vision for the city of North Adams as a healthy and welcoming community. 
The self-described problem-solver and "street fighter" is making a second run for mayor this election season. As only the second woman to run in the general election for city mayor, she says it's all about the children. 
"It's about empowering women and hoping to break patriarchal systems and women that support it," Branch said. "And most of all, it's about the children. What are we doing for a child today?"
Branch's "2020 Vision — One to One Together" is about inclusivity and it may seem a idealistic when it comes to a community embracing togetherness. But she says having that vision is important if the city wants to reach its potential and serve its citizens. 
"We have to make this a healthy, warm and welcoming community and a safe and protective community for our residents," she said. "Those are the public services that an administration has to take care of first."
Branch has deep family roots in the community coming from the Gallup and Flood family. She once worked in the offices of Mayor Louis Diamond in between studies at Katharine Gibbs College in Boston and later had upper-level administrative positions with the city of Bridgeport, Conn., the University of Bridgeport School of Law, and in Denver. She also spent two years as a secretary at a U.S. air base in Tripoli, Libya, until a forced evacuation during 1967 Arab/Israeli War.
One of her most indelible memories was coordinating disaster volunteers when the partially constructed L'Ambiance Plaza collapsed in Bridgeport in 1987 killing 28 and injuring 22.
Since returning to the city in 2000 to take care of her late mother, Branch has continued her community service as a foster parent for abused children, fighting the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and advocating for housing, equality, education and the rights of the disabled. Her public television show, "Solutions Rising," showcases community leaders, programs and topical issues affecting children and families. She's also served on the McCann School Committee and the North Adams Housing Authority.
Branch ran for mayor two years ago but was lost in the preliminary election.
Global issues like climate change are local problems, she says, so you have to take a multi-pronged approach with public services and infrastructure.
"You can't keep kicking the can down the road, you got to start someplace," Branch said. "Federal money, state money — that doesn't belong to the government or the state government, that's our tax money. You've got a fine-tooth comb your budget, and you've got to find every single possible grant you can, and you've got to advocate on the state and federal level for money that belongs to the people."
She thinks one solution for the decrepit police station would be to put it in the Armory on Ashland Street. 
"I know there's people around the neighborhood that would disagree, but look at the money that's been put into that," she said of the multimillion-dollar renovation project. "Maybe that [Public Safety] building can be rehabilitated, the police and the fire department. It would be nice to have them together but is it essential to have a police and fire department in the same place?"
One obstacle in addressing housing and infrastructure is the lack of funding, she said. "We have money to build new schools, but not money to rehabilitate."
She's a big believer in strong downtowns but not in what she calls "urban removal." Legislation should be focused on solutions, not knocking down historic buildings that are part of the character of the city, Branch said. "That's what makes it charming and full of character. The Eagle Street strategy is trying to do that."
Branch wants to brainstorm and crowdsource issues affecting the city. She'd meet with every City Hall employee and said she'd hold community forums to gather residents' input. 
"Let people be part of the process. Citizen participation is very important if you're going to have an effect as mayor of your city," she said. "And I believe that, I really believe that."
She won't give up hope of the resurrection of the North Adams Regional Hospital, at least in some form. She was an early member of the North County Cares Coalition that fought for years to convince Berkshire Medical Center and the state to revive in-patient beds at the health-care campus. Branch said she'd also advocate for larger cultural and educational institutions to be more involved in the city's welfare.
"I get concerned about [Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art] and [Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts] being villages unto themselves," she said. "We have to go and talk to them and say, we don't want you separated. Where were they when we were fighting for our hospital? And Williams College. Where were they? You have to be part of the community and participate."
She'd also look for energy efficiencies and investigate the zoning potential for new affordable housing sources, such as tiny houses.
But, she says, she's not running against the incumbent, Thomas Bernard, but for the office and how it can be used to solve problems.
"You can't sit in that office, you have to be among the people, of the people, by the people, for the people," Branch said. "I believe that. And that's not idealism ... I'm very concerned about what's happening in our country. That might be part of what, for me, is standing up and speaking up. I do it more and more and more, the more seasoned I get."

Tags: city election,   election 2019,   mayor,   

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MCLA Welcomes Four New Faculty Members

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — MCLA welcomes four new faculty members to campus for the fall 2021 semester: Andrew Best, Assistant Professor of Biology; Rebecca Relyea, Assistant Professor of Radiologic Sciences; Yavuz Ceylan, Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry; and Sean Scanlon: Visiting Assistant Professor of History. 
"I look forward to welcoming these new faculty to the already outstanding group of educators I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the summer," said Richard Glejzer, MCLA's Vice President of Academic Affairs. "They will be joining a community of dedicated and talented teachers, scholars, and artists who have persevered and guided our students with great care through an unprecedented pandemic over the past year and a half." 
Andrew Best, Assistant Professor of Biology 
Andrew (Drew) joins the MCLA Biology Department as Assistant Professor after 15 years of teaching high school biology.  He recently earned a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from UMass, emerging as an expert in the evolution of human sweating. Currently Drew is collaborating on a project exploring evolved energetic limits to human endurance. Undergraduate students will have opportunities to participate in these projects as researchers. Drew lives with his partner Michaela and their dog and cat, and spends much of his free time trail running and mountain biking.   
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