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Peter Oleskiewicz, left, Marie T. Harpin and Bryan Sapienza are seeking seat on the North Adams City Council.

North Adams Council Candidates: Sapienza, Harpin & Oleskiewicz

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The second in a series of five candidate articles profiling the 14 City Council candidates running for the nine at-large seats on the North Adams City Council. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. All wards vote at St. Elizabeth's Parish Hall. 

Bryan Sapienza

Sapienza is a city native who has spent most of his life in North Adams. He is making his second run at City Council and is a member of Public Arts Commission. He holds a bachelor of science of business in from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and an associate  science degree from Berkshire Community College. He currently is the parts manager for K-M Toyota. 

Bryan Sapienza
"I hope to be able to accomplish some great things for the city," he said. "I think my my primary interests would be Public Safety and Finance committees. Those would be my two main interests, to make sure the city's budget is viable, and we have enough."
He also wants to make sure the city's public safety personnel have the proper resources, saying his brother is a paramedic in Arizona and there's nothing more comforting in an emergency than a first-responder telling you you're going to be OK. 
"These guys need need the best equipment they need the best facilities to work out of," Sapienza said. "As far as the Fire Department, I would like to see a new public safety building at some point in the future whether we have to go through federal or state grants to get it."
He also supports moving on needed capital projects, saying debt is "inevitable" but necessary as long the financial plan is well thought out and grants are aggressively pursued to help offset costs. 
"The local network of streets is about 72 miles and what I understand it's about a million dollars a mile to refurbish the streets. So you simple math, you got $72 million in upgrades for local streets," he said. "We also need to look at our water infrastructure. And if we could get that when we were replacing and redoing these roads, if we could get the water pipes replaced as well." 
However, he said his main purpose is to listen to the people -- to represent the citizens of North Adams. Sapienza said he's spent a lot of time knocking on doors and what he's hearing is that people have a lot of traffic concerns about speeding and running lights. He's supportive of the council's recent adoption of a state law that will allow it to set 20 mph speed limits in certain areas. 
"We have a lot of problems in small neighborhoods," he said, noting his own street is "a shortcut between two major places and we see traffic going through there, a lot of traffic, you get a lot of volume, and then you get people that decide that's the quickest way to go. And they, you know, 25 mph zone and they're going 40 mph."
He said he has no specific complaint about the actions of the current council, saying "they're doing a decent job,  an excellent job." However, as a regular meeting attendee he thinks that there could be better communication between the City Council and the boards and comittees. 
"I have seen gaps in communication from time to time. And one of the things I would like to stress is making sure that the council and the boards and the commissions have an open line of communication with one another -- what happens in the board meetings eventually ends up at the council meeting -- and to ... have a fairly direct line of communication to get from one to another," he said.  "I think it's important as a councilor, I would want to know what's going on with the boards.  ... And I think people need to talk to one another and work as a team."
Communication can also help relieve tensions within disparate groups within the city, he said, describing North Adams as a small community that has to learn to get along. He said if elected, he would continue to listen to his constituents and work to make the city better.
"I think that one of the things I want to stress to people is that my dedication of going to the council meetings to learn how the council operates to learn how government functions occur -- it's a desire to be involved," Sapienza said. "It really disturbs me when I see a young person saying, 'I gotta leave. I can't be in this place.' 
"Why can't you be here? I think we need to get rid of a lot of the stigma of being and staying in North Adams."

Marie T. Harpin

Harpin is seeking a second term on the City Council. During her first term, she was chairman of the Finance Committee and a member of the Public Safety and Public Service committees. She is also involved in GreeNA, a new group seeking to building sustainability in the city, and is a member of the district attorney's Domestic Violence Task Force. 

Marie T. Harpin
She holds a bachelor's degree in accounting and marketing and a master of business administration from MCLA and has worked in accounting for more than 25 years, including for the former K-B Toys and a finance committee. She currently works for renewable energy firm. 
Harpin thinks No. 1 issue for incoming government will be infrastructure spending. The city has an estimated $60 million in outstanding infrastructure needs, including some $20 million in the water system. 
"Some of these things might not be something that we can afford to do right away, but we can at least have a plan for it down the road because like you said, I think you know, the plan that we had in the past is really kind of expired," she said. That would be something I would I would advocate for."
She pointed out that a million dollars dropped off the city's annual debt load last year as other projects have been paid off. 
"I just think it's time to sit down and kind of take inventory of what we need and and see what we need in order to be able to get there," Harpin said. "There could be some room in there to get some debt and try to maybe repair some roads or sidewalks."
When knocking on doors in Greylock, one of the top concerns of residents was the condition of the sidewalks, she said. 
"That whole neighborhood -- you go down Barber Street and Green and Fisher -- their sidewalks on both sides of the streets, they're just really old ... some of them are they're falling apart," she said. "There's holes and it seems that there's cracks and bumps and you know it's just really easy to fall. there are some elderly people in that area so that is an issue that I hear down there quite often and so I am really trying to bring that to the forefront and try to get some infrastructure completed in that area."
Harpin had brought the issue of domestic violence to the council, along with Councilor Benjamin Lamb, after the murder of a local woman two years ago and since became involved in the task force to bring awareness to the issue locally. She's encouraging residents to read "No Visible Bruises," a book on domestic violence that will be the subject of a community conversation at the public library Nov. 14. 
She agreed with Sapienza that the council may be a little lackadaisical when it comes to communicating on issues, particularly those brought up at other boards and committees. 
"I think there are sometimes there are times that we do go to these meetings, but we don't report on them," she said. "So maybe we could do that a little more often. And I just think like, even with the Finance Committee, we maybe have a meeting every other month or meeting every month."
The Finance Committee does the bulk of its work during budget season, but it wouldn't hurt to be abreast of the administration's activities, she said. "If you spread it out throughout the year and you know what's going on, you just you get your answers a lot quicker and people are more informed, I think."
One thing she'd also like to do in this next term is focus on green initiatives, particularly renewable energy sources. 
"I would like to do more renewable energy. I think that that's something that I didn't really get a chance to do in my first term is kind of get some awareness out there of green energy and sustainability within the community," Harpin said. 

Peter Oleskiewicz

Oleskiewicz is a longtime resident of North Adams but spent most of 25 years on the road as a commercial truck driver. The Drury High School graduate purchased Desperados Fresh Mexican Grille nearly two years ago, which he says has afforded him more time to be active within the community. He ran for mayor in 2017 but was eliminated in the preliminary election. 

Peter Oleskiewicz
He said he had initially decided to run after seeing several councilors had decided not to stand for re-election and that this would open up the council to new faces. 
"At one time I considered pulling back out because there were some really strong candidates that would have landed more diversity to our council, but they had since dropped out so I continue to push forward," he said. 
As a business owner used to working with budget restraints, he wouldn't mind getting a seat on the Finance Committee but would really like Public Safety. 
"I think the time's come. We can't keep dragging our feet anymore," Oleskiewicz said about the public safety building, remembering the blue tarps strung up through the building even when he was a kid. "I mean, our local Fire Department, Police Department, they're working in a pretty terrible building. ... I think it should be gone and find a way to relocate them. I mean, they don't deserve the conditions that they work in."
The main issue he's been hearing about is the condition of a lot of the roads. 
"I mean, I know Chapter 90 funds come in and they don't go very far. I mean, you can get $90,000 and you can probably do Eagle Street -- the money doesn't stretch," he said, adding that he's also concerned about sidewalks. "The use of salt and chemicals to remove the ice takes its toll on the concrete. I eat at Empire [Cafe] every morning ... I mean holes in the sidewalks, some are pretty large. I would hate to see somebody twist an ankle or break an ankle or someone whose elderly even."
He's also concerned about the water system and the plethora of breaks in the pipes that are requiring 
Oleskiewicz has been involved in a number of emergency fundraisers to benefit people in need, and has become concerned over the level of racism in the community. He had his own troubles in the past over racist posts on his social media that he's deleted and apologized for, saying last year that his full-time involvement in the community had done a lot to change his outlook. He said he spent some time recently speaking with a representative from the NAACP about the issue, and in particular the incident of vandalism against a family of color. He said he spoke to the representative about forming a committee of people "who live this."
"Maybe we could meet weekly, monthly, wherever, in a different location every week, and that way, the people who are affected by this can they can tell their stories," he said. "People can actually see that it's happening, and we will never understand what they're feeling. But it's something that definitely definitely needs to be addressed."
Since he lives upstairs from his Eagle Street business, he spends a lot of time in the downtown and in the parklet he helped  create on Eagle Street. 
"I consider that my back yard and I mean, I sit out there all the time. I do notice that we do have a deep problem with mental health," he said. Oleskiewicz says he's glad they can talk with him but he's not a licensed therapist. "I can lend my heart and my ear but I believe that that's something that needs to be addressed."
He doesn't have a particular take on what the council should or should not be doing, calling the current council a strong one. 
"They're doing everything that they're supposed to be doing," he said. "I know the every one of them faces every criticism. You're going to make decisions every day that people aren't going to like, but everything you're doing is for the betterment of the city. I mean, you want a safe environment for everybody that lives here."
If elected, he promised a willingness to listen. "It sounds like more and more people that you talk to, it's not that their voices are silenced," he said. "It seems like they're sometimes flipped over. So that's the one good quality that I have is, I'm a good listener."

The full Conversations with the Candidates can be found here. 

Tags: candidate interviews,   city election,   election 2019,   North Adams City Council,   

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McCann Class of 2020 Urged to Highlight the Positive

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

Valedictorian Vanessa Harrington urges her classmates not to define their high school experience by the pandemic. See more photos here.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — McCann Technical School's class of 2020 did not want to make its graduation about COVID-19.
Valedictorian Vanessa Harrington told the 117 members of the class that she scratched her original speech that had been about the effects of COVID-19 and switched to talk about the some of the more positive things in the world 
"It has taken over our lives and has become the topic of every conversation," she told the hundred or so attendees gathered on the football field on Thursday night. "So rather than dwelling over events that unfortunately will not change I figured I would take this time to highlight the good and remind us of everything positive that is happening."
Instead of talking about the challenges the global pandemic has created for the class, the country, and the world, Harrington talked about some of the class's successes and thanked all those who helped along the way. 
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