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Karen Kalinowsky, Peter Marchetti and John Krol prepare to debate on Tuesday night at the Berkshire Athenaeum. The candidates are running in the preliminary mayoral election on Sept. 19.

Pittsfield Mayoral Candidates Debate Policing, Mental Health, Infrastructure

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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The debate was the third on Tuesday night held live at the Berkshire Athenaeum. The preliminary debates for Wards 2 and 6 were held earlier in the evening. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayoral candidates told voters how they believe Pittsfield can be its best self during a debate hosted by Pittsfield Community Television and iBerkshires on Tuesday.
Peter Marchetti, John Krol and Karen Kalinowsky weighed in on policing, mental health, and infrastructure to a packed crowd at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
The debate, which was carried live on PCTV, followed debates for Ward 2 and Ward 7. Those ward elections, along with the mayoral, each have three candidates who will be narrowed down to two in the Sept. 19 preliminary election. 
Marchetti and Kalinowsky both hold at-large seats on the City Council; Marchetti is the current president. Krol formerly represented Ward 6 on the council.
Kalinowsky has lived in the city her whole life and served on its police force for more than 30 years. She made the decision to run for mayor out of her love for Pittsfield.
"Our city needs change," she said. "What has been going on is not working and I think it needs fresh people here running the city."
Marchetti has served the city in various capacities for nearly three decades and is proud of the 16 years that he has spent on the council under three different mayors. He also served as the vice chair of the city's charter commission under former Mayor Daniel Bianchi.
He said a vote for him is a vote for "leadership you can trust, experience you can count on, and dedication that's already been proven."
"My business background in the last 35 years at Pittsfield Cooperative Bank combined with my government experience is a solid foundation of what needs to lead the city forward," he said.
"On Sept. 19, I ask you to go to the polls and cast the ballot for people who make your decisions on your behalf. Pittsfield is turning the corner and experienced leaders are needed to charge that course. We need leaders who will compromise and work towards public solutions not personal agendas. Let's work together towards the dawning of a brand new day."
Krol touted his 10 years on the council and work for former Mayor James Ruberto. He said people are clamoring for new leadership that will elevate this community.
He wants to create a more reasonable tax policy, make the city more business-friendly, revitalize the downtown,  enhance public services and make Pittsfield Public Schools the schools of choice in the county.
"It all begins with a very basic premise and mission which has been fueling this campaign from the very beginning. That is making our mayor's office the most accessible mayor's office in the history of Pittsfield and the most transparent because together with truth and honesty, we can get so much further," he said.
"I look forward to sharing with you my history of unparalleled commitment to this community and to my family whether it is raising my children and instilling values in them that I've learned from my parents and my teachers and coaches and mentors growing up in this city, coaching little league baseball teams, and serving on the Stearns School Council, or my decade on the City Council providing true leadership on countless issues fighting for our schools, improving our infrastructure dramatically in Ward 6 and so much more."
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. 
The candidates were given a minute each to answer questions and 30 seconds to rebut during the nearly hourlong debate. 
In the case of possible criminal offenses by officers, Kalinowsky said there are two sides to every story.  
"I think them showing that they are disciplining officers is good," she said, adding that 17 officers being disciplined over nearly 20 years is not bad.
She also said oftentimes, the mayor's office is aware when an officer is disciplined.
Krol and Marchetti called for accountability in the Police Department.
"I think the bottom line is under Marchetti administration, the buck stops in the corner office," Marchetti said.
"The mayor can say, 'Well, that was the chief's fault or that was the commissioner's fault,' but at the end of the day, the mayor is the chief executive officer of their city. The mayor is the person that appointed these individuals and the mayor needs to take the responsibility to rectify the situation when possible and hold folks accountable."
Krol said the officers need to be held to a higher standard because they have a great deal of power.
"Ultimately, yes, there needs to be sensible accountability for these types of things," he said. "And ultimately, if there was wrongdoing then it has to be addressed, especially because our police officers have to be held to a high standard in our community."
After an outcry from the public following Estrella's death, the police's emergency co-responder program was expanded. All three candidates spoke in support of the effort.
The department also began using body cameras with support from the state.
Krol cited the police killing of Daniel Gillis in 2017 following a 911 call for a domestic incident.
"I looked at that and said, 'Why did we wait that long in order to make those changes,' whether it's body cameras or other initiatives," he said.
"Now with the co-responder model, we've taken that in-house and at one point, we were working with the Brien Center with social workers of the Brien Center. That relationship ended with the city of Pittsfield. I believe we should re-enter and have that conversation because ultimately, if we're dealing with mental health crises in the city of Pittsfield, it's important to work with agencies that ultimately do get that intervention and then ultimately, you can have the referral to continue care with that individual over time."
Kalinowsky is happy to see consistent co-responder coverage.
"Most officers will tell you they would love to have a co-responder all ride with them because police officers are not mental health professionals. We're not," she said.
"It's tragic. We deal with a lot of mental health issues even when I was on the job and from talking to fellow officers, it seems to be at an increase. I think it's great that we hired some mental health professionals here in the city and there are some still working with the officers. Even the one from the Health Department that's going around to the different organizations and speaking with our homeless out in different areas of the city. That does help also."
The former officer said people have to realize that when weapons are involved, most of the agencies won't respond.
"If they're with an officer, riding with an officer, they might help to assist you to a point," she said. "And it's very unfortunate. A couple of times in my career, I got put in that situation and I was lucky it didn't happen. That I did not have to use lethal force. Because nobody wants that."
Marchetti added that he wants to create a mental health task force to connect service providers and that the state and federal delegations need to be called on for resources.
"The mental health crisis is not just a Pittsfield thing, it's a nationwide thing," he said.
Krol added that the Brien Center needs to be engaged at this level and people need to be brought together on this issue.
"I don't know if there's an issue between the city and the Brien Center. I do know that the Brien Center is understaffed. Getting people for mental health is hard," she said.
"I do agree with President Marchetti to the fact that we need our state legislators to get together, we need to pay more, we need to attract more people here. It's a high-stress job and when you deal with people's mental health issues day in and day out, it's high stress, people getting burnout very, very fast but we need more professionals here in the city."
When asked about road infrastructure, Krol said, in his experience of knocking on doors, there is nothing more unanimous than the opposition to the bike lanes.
Personally, he has no problem with them.
He pointed to a "compromise" for a diagonal parking and a smaller bike lane that is being put forward.
"That's something that I think is palatable and something that we're working forward to," Krol said. "Yes, it was taken off the ballot. There were some political backflips at the City Council level in order to make sure that that didn't happen."
Krol's mention of a "political backflip" referred to Kalinowsky's attempt to place a bike lane question on the ballot earlier this year.
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III put a screeching halt to an unclear conversation about the ballot question proposal with a charter objection. The next month, councilors rescinded a former vote taken on the question that supporters argued placed it on the ballot.
Marchetti said constituents have spoken against diagonal parking.
"You want to talk about political backflips? Let's just start talking about our records," he rebutted.
He pointed out that the council advocated for monies towards roads and sidewalks after learning that it ended the prior year with $17 million in free cash.
"As we all know, every year when we do sidewalks at $2 [million] to $3 million a year, we borrow that money and we pay debt service on those projects for 20 years. So in this year cycle, the city of Pittsfield is getting $7.5 million with the roadwork and side work done without the baggage of 20 years of service so that impacts your tax bills for the next 20 years," Marchetti said.
"With the bike lanes, Karen and I have talked so much about bike lanes. We're in agreement that it is sidewalk, bike lane, curb, and one lane of traffic, or at least for me it's one lane of traffic, and that's exactly what I would instruct our public service commissioner to do once inaugurated. I think the conversation needs to be a little bit broader because as we start taking Chapter 90 money, bike lanes are going to be a different conversation with state money for roads."
Kalinowsky said there are areas where the bike lanes work and areas where they don't. She supports a protected bike lane.
"And that would have been safer for everybody all the way around whether you're biking on it, whether you're riding a motorized scooter," she said.
"I think it would have kept people off the sidewalk so that the walkers could walk on the sidewalk and it would protect them from traffic so anybody who wants to park would have to back in because they'd be hitting the curb. So if they had done that way, I probably would not have had a problem with North Street."
The original bike lane configuration included a bike lane next to the sidewalk that was guarded from the road by parking.
The preliminary election is on Tuesday, Sept. 19, with voting from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Tags: election 2023,   municipal election,   

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Pittsfield Native Killed In Air Force Crash

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The body of Staff Sgt. Jacob Galliher was recovered off the coast of Japan after the military aircraft he was on crashed Wednesday.
The Pittsfield Police Department released a statement noting that Galliher was a 2017 graduate of Taconic High School. 
The statement included that Galliher leaves behind his wife and 2-year-old and 6-week-old sons.
The Associated Press reported that on Nov. 29, an Air Force Osprey based in Japan crashed during a training mission off the country's southern coast. It was reported that the crash killed at least one of the eight crew members.
At this time, the status of the seven other airmen is unknown. The cause of the crash is also unknown. 
Taconic High School Principal Matthew Bishop said the school is in mourning after learning of Galliher's death.
"Jake was a proud member of the Class of 2017 and was known for his exemplary character, leadership qualities, and commitment to Taconic High School. He was an outstanding student, an integral member of our football program, and an active participant in our school community. Many staff members remember his kind, fun-loving spirit and how much he positively impacted our school," he wrote in a statement released Friday afternoon. "After graduation, Jake chose to serve our country with valor and dedication, joining the Air Force. The news of his tragic and untimely passing has left Taconic in mourning, as we reflect on the loss of a bright and promising individual who embodied the values that we hope to instill in all of our students."
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