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Candidates Differ on Economic Vision in North Adams Mayoral Race

Jim Levulis

Here's what the candidates had to say about plans for Western Gateway Heritage State Park.

Candidates for mayor in North Adams, Massachusetts faced off in a debate Wednesday night.

Two-term Democratic Mayor Richard Alcombright and Republican challenger Robert Moulton laid out their plans for the city, focusing on crime and economic development. Moulton, a former city councilor, says people in North Adams don’t feel safe anymore and that safety had been a big draw for the area.

“The Attorney General states ‘I commend Mayor Alcombright for his decisive action to increase police action over the last three months,” Moulton said. “What happened to the last 42 months?”

Moulton passionately pushed for more police officers as the department currently has 24. Alcombright agrees violent crimes have recently spiked and says since April the city has engaged with the District Attorney and state police, leading to many more arrests. He adds increasing police staffing is not the only solution as crime is driven by social ills on the rise in the area.

“Heroin is the dirtiest drug there is,” Alcombright said. “We’ve been working on that and dealing with the social ills of mental health and addiction.”

Moulton says people don’t go to the city’s downtown because there are no retail stores and overall the city is home to vacant housing eyesores.

“What I’d like to do when I’m mayor is take the building inspector, fire director and board of health, walk the streets,” Moulton said. “Find violations and see what you see.”

Alcombright says there are already restaurants, cafes, and small stores that bring people downtown. He adds partnering with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to renovate the Mohawk Theater into an off-campus site holds potential to bring students to the business area. Both candidates agree the recently completed science center at MCLA is a major draw for businesses and individuals to move to the region and stay. Moulton says the city needs a strategic economic development plan that involves making North Adams the “fall foliage capitol of the world.”

“Let’s raise the hotel tax, the room tax,” Moulton said. “I travel a fair amount of time. What’s the room rate? $85. I get my bill, its $109. Most people don’t care. They’re traveling, having fun, spending money. There’s no better dollar than the tourist dollar and we miss it.”

Alcombright touted his history over his two terms, saying he dropped the city’s deficit from $2.6 million to $300,000, added more than 100 jobs and a second shift at the Crane & Co. factory, all while state funding has decreased. He says the city still remains the cheapest place to live in the county, as the average resident pays $2,600 in taxes a year compared to the county norm of $3,700. The mayor says the city’s plans should not be focused on just one specific area.

“We need a master plan,” Alcombright said. “A plan that talks about economic growth in our corridors, historic preservation, open space and recreation, and our downtown. One that talks about health and wellness. One that really brings in all the components of a healthy community.”

Moulton says the city is missing out on supplementing its spending by investing in green initiatives. Alcombright says while opportunities have been missed in the past, solar projects are in the works, with one at the city’s landfill expected to be operational sometime in 2014.

“Three sites still identified; the landfill, airport, and wastewater treatment plant,” Alcombright said. “Some 4.3 megawatts.”

The two agreed on the topic of a medical marijuana dispensary potentially coming to the city. Moulton says he would need to  do more research before making a decision, while Alcombright says he plans to propose a six-month moratorium on dispensaries to the city council in November. Support from the crowd of nearly 200 was divided as each candidate received applause throughout the 90-minute debate. Resident Kurt Kollok praises Alcombright’s tight budget over the past four years and criticizes Moulton for a lack of a comprehensive economic plan.

“I think we are on track,” Kollok said. “We’re headed in the right direction. We need to keep going there.”

Resident Paul Gagliotti says Alcombright has had a shot at running the city and believes the people are ready to give Moulton a chance.

“We’ve been stagnant for four years,” Gagliotti said. “I really believe that.”

The candidates will also debate live on October 30 from 9 to 10 A-M on WNAW radio.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org