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Ward 6 candidates Craig Gaetani and Dina Lampiasi were first up at the Pittsfield municipal debates on Wednesday at BCC.
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Ward 7 candidates Rhonda Serre and Tony Maffuccio debate second at BCC.

Pittsfield Candidates in Wards 6 & 7 Debate the Issues

By Brittany Polito & Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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iBerkshires Pittsfield Bureau Chief Brittany Polito moderates the ward debates. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The candidates for Ward 6 and 7 .... on Wednesday night at Berkshire Community College. 
 
The debates were a partnership of Pittsfield Community Television and iBerkshires and moderated by Brittany Polito, iBerkshires' Pittsfield bureau chief.
 
The candidates were allowed opening and closing statements, and given one minute to answer a question with a 30 second rebuttal during the 30-minute debates. 
 
In Ward 6, Craig Gaetani is challenging incumbent Dina Lampiasi. Gaetani is a veteran and an engineer, and one of the inventors of the processes used in the city's water treatment plants. Lampiasi, elected in 2019, has worked in state and municipal government and public service nonprofit agencies.
 
In Ward 7, Anthony Maffuccio is seeking a sixth (and third consecutive) term representing the ward against opponent Rhonda Serre. Maffuccio said he would to be a strong voice for his constituents; newcomer Serre has worked in finance and for state and federal representatives.  
 
In response to questions about the needs of Ward 6, Lampiasi said she'd heard a few unifying topics from constituents: taxes and infrastructure. 
 
"We need to focus on attracting revenue sources," she said. "We need to focus on things that will bring families like mine to Pittsfield, we need to attract business, we need to clean up downtown, and we can't stop focusing on our historically neglected neighborhoods."
 
Gaetani pointed to the 9 percent rise in the city budget this year, which he claimed was the highest in the city's history. Another thing he's concerned about is the conditions of the roads.
 
"If you remember what the roads look like, in the past winter, no matter where you go, you would hit a pothole," he said. "If I'm elected to be a councilor for Ward 6, I want to do my best to make sure that the roads are in good shape, both in the upper West Side and lower West Side of the city of Pittsfield."
 
Both agreed that safety was important but differed on the calls to reconfigure West Street after last winter's fatal pedestrian accident. 
 
Gaetani said one accident on the street in 100 years didn't mean the city should be spending $8 million or $10 million to narrow the road. He would push for good signage, such as blinking lights. 
 
 "The narrowing of the road is definitely not the right thing to do," Gaetani said. "Because by narrowing the road, what you're going to do is you're going to increase the number of head-on collisions during those narrow areas that you're trying to pass through."
 
But Lampiasi said she's been getting calls and emails from residents "to start taking speeding seriously and to address some of the safety concerns."
 
"Residents have been asking for this for a very long time. It doesn't matter to me how frequently we have a death," she said. "What matters is that people don't feel safe driving on West Street or walking on the street."
 
Both agreed there was a problem with panhandling in the community. 
  
Lampiasi thought the proposed ban on being in medians in a number of high traffic areas had potential. But she noted that similar ordinances are being challenged in court so it had to worded carefully. Gaetani thought there should be a ban on panhandling throughout the city. 
 
Gaetani supports low price or low-interest loans for people to clean up and invest in their blighted properties to build equity. Lampiasi said a lot of the problem is absentee landlords and that enforcement combined with public-private partnership and projects like the city's rehabilitation program should be looked at.
 
They differed greatly on the proposed Wahconah Park project  with Lampiasi supporting if funding is available and Gaetani saying he's "dead set against" unless flooding concerns are addressed. 
 
They also disagreed on the North Street bike lanes: Lampiasi supports them but Gaetani thought they created a dangerous situation and could be engineered better. 
 
"What we have to do is we have to take a look at the line items in the city budget and every line item that we take a look at and feel that some cuts can be made will happen," Gaetani said, adding that consolidating schools could be one way. 
 
Lampiasi agreed that the budget was concerning and that looking at shared services between the school and city side would be a start. 
 
 "And I think we need to really take a hard look at what buildings we need and what buildings we could potentially unload or properties that we can unload. This includes schools," she said. 
 
Both agreed that the charter objection was a useful tool. Lampiasi thought it had been misused several times in cutting off discussion and Gaetani saw it as essential for giving councilors time to cool off and come back with a different perspective, adding there are "six rubber stamps" on the council. 
 
Maffuccio said Ward 7 is unique in that it has two lakes that are a big draw in the city and projects including several bridges and Wahconah Park that need to be addressed or completed. Serre agreed that the ward has some unique opportunities and challenges, pointing to a "food desert" on Wahconah Street along with the park.   
 
Serre called the $30 million for Wahconah a "dream number" but, in her experience, believed it could be cut significantly thorugh private, corporate and government funding to reduce the tax burden. 
 
"If we have a facility that can earn money throughout the year through multi uses, we are offsetting that debt service and again, making this terrifying $30 million actually quite manageable," she said. 
 
Maffuccio agreed that a lot of private and public investment would offset costs and that the park would boost the now slow revitalization of area. 
 
"This is a big economic draw for us, especially in Ward 7 to get the businesses, people down there to go to the businesses, to help redevelop that area of Wahconah Street," he said. 
 
Both candidates pointed to their finanical acumen when it comes to the city budget,  with Maffuccio explaining how he has looked for savings and cuts to certain departments during his tenure. Serre said her work on Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill and City Hall has prepared her for leveraging opportunities, such as her work on the Gateway Communities initiative with MassDevelopment. 
 
"But I think the most important thing I bring is a level of compassion and civility and emotional intellect to make sure that what we do is what the voters need," she said. 
 
Maffuccio said the current process for reviewing the administration's budget works, however, "I think that more debate and more effort should be put in to considering cuts by all members of the council."
 
"The first thing I would have happen for budget process improvement is to stop the charter objection during the budget budget process," said Serre.  "Charter objections during the budget process destroyed everything that everybody had worked for in the months leading up to it and I was embarrassed for our City Council."
 
Serre was referring to a charter objection in 2022 that nearly derailed the $188 million budget. 
 
Maffuccio supported the use of the charter objection "if it's used properly."
 
In terms of affordable housing, Serre said it's a multi-faceted problem that can't be solved by just building more affordable housing. 
 
"Lenders and financial institutions need to change the way they look at prospective mortgage borrowers and understand how to make a mortgage work for the family," she said. "It is a combination of the residents, the financial institutions, the contractors and builders and the city coming together to bring solutions that will meet the needs of everybody at the table."
 
It's not a simple solution, said Maffuccio, who thought it was more citywide than a Ward 7 problem. The ward is "locked tight," he said, with few vacant structures. 
 
"So those vacant lots or vacant buildings could be refurbished and put back on the tax rolls," he said. "I believe that this is a bigger, bigger problem throughout the city and not just design within Ward 7."
 
Both strongly supported the At-Home in Pittsfield Program that provides loans for facade and exterior renovations. 
 
Serre said she didn't want to critique decisions were made regarding how law enforcement resources were used, as she wasn't a police officer. 
 
"But I do know what people hear and what people feel. And to me that's what's important. I feel like Ward 7 is a very stable, good place to raise your family. But at the same time, we need law enforcement and peacekeepers as much as anybody else," she said. "I would love to see a greater, stronger relationship between individual officers and the neighborhoods they serve."
 
Maffuccio said he "wholeheartedly" supported the Police Department and that there are a number of areas in Ward 7 that need more police patrols. He said the police chief has been responsive when he's called about issues. 
 
"Here are the grim realities. We don't have enough police officers for the city Pittsfield," he said. "And any given shift, there's six officers who drive around. They have to maintain the city on that shift ... So we don't have enough officers that we can ask for more law enforcement. I think we get our fair share."
 
In terms of traffic calming measures and pedestrian safety, both supported some of the measures being used by the public services commissioner with Maffuccio describing Ricardo Morales as "phenomenal" with his proposals and Serrre that he is a using science to come with the best solutions. 
 
Maffuccio thought there could be more enforcement on speeders and Serre that "we need to embrace the fact that we need to slow down."
 
They both supported bike lanes but agreed that North Street's configuration needed to be "tweaked."
 
The city election is Tuesday, Nov. 7, and polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The debates will be available on PCTV. 
 

Tags: debate,   election 2023,   


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Pittsfield Starbucks Closed Temporarily

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff

A sign outside the coffee shop assures customers the closure is only temporary. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Your alarm goes off, you get ready, and you leave for school, work, or whatever your appointment a little bit early to get a cup of coffee to start your day, only to find that the Pittsfield Starbucks, located at  555 Hubbard Ave., is closed. 
 
The sign has been removed, and the drive-through is blocked, but Starbucks coffee addicts need not worry — this closure is only temporary. 
 
The coffee shop closed its doors temporarily on July 7 to undergo a standard renovation with the chain's new Siren System, a Starbucks spokesperson said. 
 
According to the signage, the reopening date is projected to be Aug. 21. 
 
According to its website, the Siren System is part of the chain's Starbucks Reinvention plan, which aims to improve the experience for partners and staff by responding to changing needs and increasing demands. 
 
"As a standard course of business, we continually evaluate our store portfolio using various criteria to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers," the spokesperson said. 
 
The chain's article on unveiling its innovations said, "Over the past few years, the number of cold beverages ordered has surpassed the number of hot drinks year-round. And, two in three drinks ordered have requested customizations such as extra espresso shots and flavorings."
 
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