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More Names In Pittsfield Mayor's Race, Council President Pushing Public Comment Petition

Jim Levulis

Roughly a week after nominating papers became available, four names are already being kicked around in the race for mayor of Pittsfield. Meanwhile, the city council president is aiming to clarify public comment rules following recent disruptions during meetings.In 2013, Mayor Dan Bianchi ran unopposed and breezed into a second term. The 2015 race is shaping up quite differently. Surrounded by roughly 100 people, City Clerk Linda Tyer announced her candidacy March 31st on the steps of City Hall. Frequent local political critic Craig Gaetani has thrown his hat in the ring after hinting at a bid during public comment periods at the start of city council meetings.

“Whatever the taxpayer and the ratepayer wants to pay for under a Gaetani administration it will go through,” Gaetani said. “Whatever the taxpayer and ratepayer doesn’t want to go through, it won’t go through. I’m only going to be the gatekeeper for the taxpayer and the taxpayer hasn’t been heard from in a long time.”

A Pittsfield Public Schools graduate, Gaetani says he served in the Army from 1967 to 1969 including time in Vietnam. The 67-year-old launched a failed campaign for city council in 1981. The company he worked for, Krofta, designed Pittsfield’s water filtration system, which Gaetani says saved the city millions of dollars. He’s clashed with the current administration over attempts to access the water treatment plant and efforts to get the city to use further Krofta technology. Gaetani says he will reduce school administration, adding that firing Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce Collingwood will be his first act as mayor.

Political newcomer Eric Bassett also took out nominating papers for the mayoral race. In the process of gathering the 350 necessary signatures, the 47-year-old Bassett says he’s had a chance to listen to community members.

A recent incident involving Gaetani has led City Council President Melissa Mazzeo to ask fellow councilors to specifically adopt portions of Massachusetts open meeting laws into council rules. Each person signed up is given three minutes to speak. Claiming he was speaking for himself and five other people, Gaetani said he should be allotted 18 minutes at a March 24th meeting.

“Five friends of mine are not good speakers,” Gaetani said.

“Mr. Gaetani, if you speak for three minutes and then I am going to stop you,” said Mazzeo while Gaetani continued until Mazzeo pounded the gavel.

“Mr. Gaetani, I’m still speaking,” Mazzeo said.

“What?” Gaetani said.

“I’m still in control of this meeting,” Mazzeo said. “You have to follow the rules. I’m telling you you’re going to speak for three minutes and then I am going to stop you.”

“No,” answered Gaetani.

“Then the next person’s name is going to get called,” Mazzeo said. “That’s how it’s going to work.”

“You call the name, they come up and defer to me,” Gaetani said. “OK, we’ll see what happens. My time starts now. I’ll go quickly.”

Gaetani spoke for three minutes and then said he was representing another person, but continued to talk about his own plans to run for mayor when President Mazzeo interjected.

“I will hold a press conference,” said Gaetani before Mazzeo interjected.

“Mr. Gaetani, you’re not speaking for Melissa. You’re talking about yourself. You cannot use somebody else’s time to speak for yourself. If you’re reading something for someone else.”

“That’s what I read for her,” said Gaetani.

“No,” Mazzeo answered. “You’re reading ‘you’re running for mayor.’ So I’m going to say you’re done now. You’re going to sit down and I’m going to go to other people. Then we’re going to come back to you when you’re ready to speak for you.”

“Sure, whose next?” answered Gaetani.

“Bill Mulholland,” called Mazzeo.

“Wait a second,” Gaetani said.

“No, Bill Mulholland,” Mazzeo said to Gaetani. “Sit down please. Mr. Gaetani I’m losing my patience.”

“You are?” answered Gaetani.

“We have a roomful of people who all want to speak and they each get their three minutes,” Mazzeo said.

“I understand that,” said Gaetani.

“ You’re three minutes are going to be coming at the end so sit down please,” Mazzeo said as Gaetani continued to speak. “I call for a recess,” Mazzeo said pounding the gavel.

“It’s your rules,” Gaetani said as the councilors exited to an adjoining room.

The meeting continued after the recess without Gaetani approaching the microphone again. The council sets its own rules, which are superseded by state laws, but isn’t required to offer a public comment period. Mazzeo says she wants everyone in the city to be able to readily access public comment period rules.

“People nine times out of 10 stop talking and they go sit down,” Mazzeo said. “But sometimes there are people who want to continue to talk and don’t want to yield the floor. Under the open meeting law it says that when the chairman asks you to stop talking that’s what you’re supposed to do. If you don’t and they give you a warning and say if you don’t sit down and yield the floor, I’m going to ask to have you leave. If they continue, then you can ask someone that is in the room to have them removed.”

Mazzeo says she will present her petition at the April 14th council meeting. She added that Police Chief Michael Wynn has said an officer will be on hand during upcoming open comment periods in case anyone is asked to be removed.

“They can say they like what we’re doing or not like what we’re doing,” Mazzeo said. “They can say really anything that they want along those lines as long as it’s done in a basically respectful manner. But when their time is up they need to yield the floor and that’s where we’re having the trouble.”

Saying he’s submitted some 40 petitions to the council in the last year, Gaetani says every taxpayer needs to be heard. Mazzeo, an at-large councilor, says she is running for a fourth term this year. She’s supporting Mayor Bianchi’s reelection bid, which under new charter rules will be a four-year term. Pittsfield elections are not run along party lines. If there are more than two mayoral candidates at the time, a primary will be held September 22nd. Barring a tie, the top two will go to the November 3rd election.

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