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Bianchi And Tyer Trade Jabs In Pittsfield Mayoral Debate

The mayoral candidates in Pittsfield met for another primetime debate at Berkshire Community College last night. November’s winner will serve the city’s first four-year mayoral term.City Clerk Linda Tyer came out swinging during her opening statement, saying Mayor Dan Bianchi has difficulty embracing new ideas.

“During Mayor Bianchi’s tenure the city’s budget has budget has increased by $18 million and taxes have gone up by more than twice the rate of inflation,” Tyer said. “In my opinion, wasteful spending and wrong priorities have been a hallmark of his administration.”

Tyer’s shot came after a debate earlier this month during which Bianchi questioned how she intended to pay for policies she is pushing. In defending his back-to-back two-year terms, Bianchi cited a laundry list of initiatives.

“We have a pavement management program which has worked on 57 streets in the city of Pittsfield,” Bianchi said. “More work has been done in the last two years than in the last two administrations. We have a multi-year teacher’s contract – a three-year contract that eliminates the work-to-rule pain that teachers, parents and students had to put up with. We will be breaking ground on a 21st century new Taconic High School.”

The candidates were asked why development at the William Stanley Business Park, part of General Electric’s legacy in the city, has been slow. Bianchi pointed out the restrictions that come with cleaning a brownfield site. As a board member of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which is tasked with developing the site, Bianchi stuck by his opposition to a big-box store opening at the business park. He says the Berkshire Innovation Center, expected to break ground this year, is the right move.

“I want to have opportunities for the young kids that are going through the Conte and Morningside schools,” Bianchi said. “I want them to have opportunities not to stock shelves, but to be the scientists and engineers of the future working in those companies.”

Tyer says the city needs to rethink the volunteer PEDA board and consider hiring experienced commercial developers. She also says the mayor shouldn’t be on the board.

“The concern that I have about this is that the innovation center isn’t creating any new jobs at the Berkshire Innovation Center,” Tyer said. “There’s no new tax revenue being generated by the Berkshire Innovation Center. It is going to be located on the PEDA property which has been our prime location for any sort of new business that we hope to create here in the city of Pittsfield. We want the William Stanley Business Park to be a job-creating, revenue-generating property.”

Crime has been a consistent topic throughout the mayoral campaign with two deadly summer shootings grabbing headlines locally. Tyer says the city should increase its police force, create a traffic bureau and review the structure of an anti-gang unit. She also questioned the crime analyst position that Bianchi has touted.

“Seems like it isn’t exactly working because we continue to have violence, shootings, death and young men and women at high-risk,” Tyer said. “So how is the crime analyst being effective in targeting these most high-risk neighborhoods?”

Bianchi says the analyst has helped direct more patrols to hotspots in the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods. The mayor insists social efforts, like the Community Connection program, are the answers for crime.

“The Community Connection program is the best model,” Bianchi said. “We cannot arrest our way out of a societal issue. When you have young men who are going down the wrong path, you have to change that path. You have to give them options.” 

Asked about transparency, Tyer said Bianchi is reluctant to work with the city council, citing a health insurance change for city employees largely done behind closed doors.

“So let’s say for example I begin to take serious strides in an initiative to hire more police officers,” Tyer said. “I would include the chair of the public health and safety subcommittee to be a part of those conversations from the beginning and part of the strategy and planning. So that the members of the city council would be represented and, by the way, the people of Pittsfield represented when their councilor is there.”

Bianchi says the negotiations involved union representatives of city employees since that is how the process is set up. He says the health insurance change saved the city $2.2 million. He added that he meets regularly with the city council president and vice president.

“I was elected to get things done,” Bianchi said. “I wasn’t elected to have my shoelaces tied by certain city councilors who’d just as soon pave the way for another candidate.”

The candidates are meeting at a mayoral forum at 12:15 today at Berkshire Community College.

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
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