Former Mayors Gerald S. Doyle Jr., left, and Charlie Smith and former Council President Joseph Ryan at James Ruberto's swearing-in in 2010.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Former Mayor Gerald S. Doyle Jr., who forced GE to live up to its obligations to the city of Pittsfield, reportedly died Sunday night at age 62.
His two terms were beset by fiscal woes and a divisive vote on a new baseball stadium but it also saw millions in investment into the downtown and the signing of the consent decree with General Electric that guaranteed $10 million to the city and the cleanup of PCBs.
Doyle had been a city councilor and former president when he won the corner office in a landslide in 1997; two years later, he ran unopposed.
But by 2001, the "emotional and physical wear and tear" had proven too much and he declined a run for a third term. In his statement at the time, published in The Berkshire Eagle, Doyle wrote, "I would hope the the landmark of my work on the cititzens' behalf will be our victory over GE and the EPA in reclaiming Pittsfield's identity."
"First and foremost, I would extend my sincere condolences to his family for this loss," said Mayor Linda Tyer. "Mayor Doyle led our city through some very difficult days when we were negotiating with General Electric with how we would part company .... He put us in a better place because of his commitment."
Doyle was only a few days into his first term when he began the treks to Boston to go toe to toe with GE's fabled Jack Welch. He fought for Pittsfield to have a voice in the negotiations between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and GE about the clean up of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls used extensively in the company's transformer division.
"That battle lasted two years because I refused to give up and Pittsfield came out the winner," Doyle had written in 2001. "We fought for and won the first ever agreement between a major industry player and the EPA. In the end, we forced GE to admit its responsibility to this community and we forced the EPA to recognize that Pittsfield is able to stand up for itself and not only fight, but also win."
The decree included 52 acres of what had been the sprawling GE complex be transferred to the city for redevelopment under the newly created Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. In 2003, Doyle would be one of those swinging a sledgehammer inscribed with "striking a blow for the future" at Building 34 to the mark the demolition phase.
"This is probably one of the finest opportunities I've had in my lifetime," he said then
, adding that the redeveloped site will be "a showpiece for America.
"He was perhaps one of the most popular and well-loved political figures of my life anyway," said state Rep. John Barrett III, former longtime mayor of North Adams. "In the city of Pittsfield, perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the negotiations he had with GE some 20-plus years ago and if he hadn't been in office at that time, they would have never gotten the cleanup effort that they got in the city of Pittsfield.
"He was tenacious in his dealings with it and that would have to be one of his greatest legacies."
But while focused on GE, Doyle had admitted he wasn't paying enough attention to what was happening at home. "Bad decisions were made," he wrote. The city incurred an $8 million deficit and losses in the millions through its insurance broker that resulted in the state Department of Revenue installing an oversight board in 2001 to control expenses.
And the controversial proposal for a new downtown stadium to keep professional baseball in Pittsfield was defeated at the ballot box that June.
Barrett had tried to talk Doyle into running for a third term back in 2001, but the Pittsfield mayor had had enough.
"He was very popular and a well-liked mayor and he will be missed. He was a good friend, he was well-respected by the mayors in the state," Barrett said. "He was just a very well-liked individual and certainly had great leadership qualities but as a person, he will be greatly missed by thousands of people."
There were other successes during his term, particularly the investments that were being made in the downtown. The Central Block was redeveloped and the old England Brothers building demolished, making way for what is now Berkshire Bank. Then first lady Hillary Clinton came to tour the Colonial Theatre and name it a National Historic Treasure.
But Doyle wrote in his announcement he was done with the mayor's office in part because "skepticism and cynicism have overtaken the positive spirit that our administration created in Pittsfield. I urge the people of this city to turn this trend around because it will produce nothing but decay and economic decline."
Doyle at a standout event for Mayor Linda Tyer last year.
He blamed much of that cynicism on the editorial pages and "inaccurate reporting" of The Eagle.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier posted on Facebook that Doyle had touched many lives. "He gave much to this community," she wrote. "He was at his very best in the hundreds of acts of kindness that occurred well outside the spotlight."
State Sen. Adam Hinds posted that he remembered sitting in Doyle's office back when he was working for former Congressman John Olver. "He made forthright demands and fought hard for the city he loved. You will be missed Gerry."
Tyer said she was honored to have Doyle's support during both her campaigns for mayor. She remembered him as having a "gregarious persona," a sense of humor and a being a good friend.
"I admired him for trying to bring the baseball stadium to our downtown ... it was quite visionary and it was hard for him to accept that defeat," she said. "Mayor Doyle is loved by so many people in Pittsfield and he is going to be missed ... he always, always loved this city."
"When I leave here, I'll leave with my head held high," Doyle said back in 2001. "You must have the desire to fight the fight. I just don't have the desire."