Pittsfield Mayoral Candidates Spar Week Before Preliminary Election
The four candidates vying for Pittsfield’s first ever four-year mayoral term met in a forum at Berkshire Community College Monday night.Two years after running unopposed, Mayor Dan Bianchi is facing three challengers in his bid for a third term. City Clerk Linda Tyer, Donna Walto and Craig Gaetani joined Bianchi in fielding questions inside a packed auditorium at BCC. A bulk of the discussion focused on economic development. Tyer noted the difficulty of bringing new businesses to town, and said her focus would be on supporting existing companies that may be looking to expand.
“We don’t have the transportation infrastructure to support manufacturing on a large scale or even distribution centers, but where we could excel is in the global economy if we had access to broadband,” Tyer said. “That is something that we really need to get busy establishing in all of our business parks.”
Donna Walto, who operates a sightseeing company and has run unsuccessfully for city council and mayor numerous times over the past dozen years, says she has the connections and business savvy to spur economic development — unlike Bianchi and Tyer.
“On either side of me we have officials who been in the city of Pittsfield and serving the public for the last 15 years,” Walto said. “And in the last 15 years I have seen no economic development. I have seen no changes in the city of Pittsfield. So all the rhetoric that I hear, I see none of what they have been saying.”
Bianchi says the city is on the verge of something great, pointing to the expected groundbreaking of the Berkshire Innovation Center at the former GE site in the fall and a new Taconic High School specializing in vocational education. Bianchi, a city councilor before becoming mayor in 2012, says jobs and economic vitality will combat crime and poverty.
“Poverty is a function of lack of education,” Bianchi said. “That’s why we have to create an educational dynamic that is going to help our children move from middle school to be involved in vocational education that will allow them entry into one of the 1,700 jobs that are currently going unfilled because of the skills gap here in Berkshire County.”
Craig Gaetani, who has criticized Pittsfield’s government at city council meetings and elsewhere, says he will return the city to the taxpayers.
“In my administration whatever the taxpayer would want they’re going to get and what they don’t want they’re not going to get,” said Gaetani.
Gaetani says he will reduce the city’s budget by seven percent each year and kill the new Taconic High School plan. Gaetani, who was involved with the implementation of the city’s water filtration system, is facing charges for allegedly threatening to shoot a city employee. He says those are trumped up claims made by Bianchi and Pittsfield’s police chief.
Tyer says she wants to develop a program to recruit young professionals to fill what she says are 100 openings at General Dynamics’ Pittsfield location. She doesn’t think the mayor should serve on the board of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority which is tasked with redeveloping the William Stanley Business Park. Tyer says it adds politics to business decisions.
“We simply can’t go it alone,” Tyer said. “We need to go out for a competitive process where we could attract a business park developer who has experience and a proven track record in building out a park. It’s going to have to be mixed use if we’re going to succeed.”
Bianchi says it’s imperative the mayor continue to serve on the board, saying the best plan the group had when he started serving was a box store. Now the innovation center is in development.
“I think it’s important that the person that leads the city of Pittsfield, that has a vision for the people of Pittsfield, that has the best interest of the future of the city of Pittsfield and the generation, I think it is important that that mayor sits on that board and directs the involvement in the development of the William Stanley Business Park,” said Bianchi.
A preliminary election Sept. 22nd will decide which two candidates will face off in November’s general election.