Pittsfield Ward Candidates Talk Police, Blight, Charter Objections
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidates for Ward 2 and 7 weighed in on topics ranging from policing to charter objections on Tuesday during a series of debates hosted by Pittsfield Community Television and iBerkshires.
The Ward 2 debate featured Brittany Bandani and Alexander Blumin and the Ward 7 debate incumbent Anthony Maffuccio and challenger Rhonda Serre. Soncere Williams is also running for Ward 2 and Jonathan Morey is running for Ward 7 but neither was able to attend Tuesday's debates at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
These races will be trimmed in the Sept. 19 preliminary in preparation for the general election on Nov. 7.
Bandani, an attorney who moved to the area in 2021, wants to help "reinvigorate and revitalize Pittsfield" and believes that having a fresh face on the council is essential.
Blumin, a landlord who came to the United States from Ukraine in 1994, wants to represent homeowners, business owners, and taxpayers in addressing "extreme" city taxes and budgets.
The police killing of Miguel Estrella in 2022 and the recent release of the Peace Officer Training Standards Commission's misconduct database that includes 17 Pittsfield Police Officers were among the questions posed by panelists Brittany Polito of iBerkshires, Shaw Israel Izikson of the Berkshire Edge and Josh Landes of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
Bandani feels that the key to avoiding 911 calls for mental health crises becoming fatal is alternative emergency services. After an outcry from the public following Estrella's death, the police’s emergency co-responder program was expanded.
"I think that Pittsfield is wrought with mental health issues and substance use disorder and we can't rely only on the police to handle someone who is in a mental health crisis," she said.
"We are desperately in need of more social workers, people who have training and a background in social services and can provide alternate emergency services."
Blumin wants to ensure that state laws are followed and spoke against alternative emergency responses.
"I can tell everybody my opinion, however, my opinion is irrelevant. We must comply to Massachusetts General law completely without any feelings and we must comply to be up to Pittsfield Police rules and regulations," he said.
"This is very simple. We should not make excuses and on the top of that, health issues and mental health issues are regulated by the state of Massachusetts. We should not invent something separate. I'm against it."
In response to the misconduct database, he said the police in general work well but there is always a need for improvement and that more training is necessary.
Charter objections have delayed votes and created a stir in council chambers over the last term and Councilor at Large Peter White has submitted a petition to the Charter Review Committee that asks "Should the charter objection be eliminated or otherwise amended?"
"I think having procedural safeguards can be productive provided that they're used when necessary and not abused in the process of city council members," Bandani said.
Blumin feels that the issue should be brought to the public, adding that there is a "very serious issue" in the council chambers and councilors should not be fighting one another.
Blumin said he would speak for the voters against the city's high property taxes and would fight corruption and to change the mayor's term back to two years. Bandani said her focus was on reinvigorating North Street, making Pittsfield more business friendly and supporting affordable housing.
Maffuccio has "spoken the voices of Ward 7" for a total of 10 years and said it has been an honor and a privilege that he would like to continue.
Serre has lived in the ward since 1991 and now, as an empty nester of two children who succeeded in the Pittsfield School system, wants the best for her city and Ward 7.
Both candidates support Mayor Linda Tyer’s At Home in Pittsfield exterior home renovation loan program and prioritize addressing blight.
Maffuccio pointed out that there are a lot of disrepair structures in Ward 7's Precinct A and called on the Health Department to enforce insufficient living conditions.
"Right now all these buildings are boarded up or people are living in them and are not living up to health standards," he said.
"I believe that lies with the Board of Health in trying to get it regulated and using our resources we have there."
Serre said 83 percent of the city's housing stock was built before 1983 and 43 percent before 1939.
"That leads us to very old, very dilapidated, and out-of-code housing stock which in turn leads to blight. Homeownership is the way out. I strongly, strongly believe that homeownership and generational wealth are what will pull people out of this cycle and allow them to take ownership in their place of Pittsfield and to take ownership in the direction that their lives and their neighborhoods are going," she said.
"We have some great landlords in the city we have some not-so-great landlords in the city but if we continue with programs like At Home Pittsfield, like the West Side Legends programs, like Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, we will get to a point where home ownership can become the solution."
The candidates agree that the City Council has the power to hold landlords accountable for properties that are not up to par.
"The city council writes the ordinances that guide how the inspectors and the commissioners enforce the rules," Serre said.
"If there is a loophole that is allowing irresponsible homeowners and landlords to circumvent the city and play games with the city inspectors then it is incumbent on the city council to stand up take the lead and fix those ordinances and give the city administration, whoever it may be, the power they need to make a difference."
Maffuccio pointed out that in the last budget cycle, the city added another building inspector to address the issue.
"We are behind years and years and years of inspections of properties because we have always been short-staffed," he said.
"We have finally just come up to that level so now we can start working through that process and identifying those properties that need to be addressed."
Both agreed that charter objections should not be eliminated but recognized the distress they can cause.
Maffuccio said the current body has been dysfunctional and that the motion has been abused several times.
"I am embarrassed that it has been used in the way that it has been used over this term in such a short period of time," he said, referencing the time that a charter objection was used to defer a vote to a special meeting.
Serre said it is "certainly not playing out the way it was designed." She feels that it is an important procedural tool but is not to be used to end debate when a person doesn’t like where it is going.
"Certainly not in the budget area," she said.
"There should absolutely be legislation if we do keep the charter objection as a tool, which I do see how it could possibly be used responsibly. It should not be used during budget season. Absolutely should not."
The preliminary election is on Tuesday, Sept. 19, with voting from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Correction: the captions in this article have been corrected to list the wards in which the absent candidates were running in. These had been in error in the original posting.
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