© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Retired Pittsfield Cop Makes Mayoral Run In First Political Foray

Josh Landes
Karen Kalinowsky

A political newcomer is hoping to pull an upset in the Pittsfield, Massachusetts mayoral election this fall.

Pittsfield native Karen Kalinowsky is running as a proud outsider.

“I am not politically connected," she told WAMC. "I have no backers. I am not asking anyone for money, because I don’t want to as they say ‘owe somebody.’ Not even for family. I had family offer, and I just said no, I’m just going to say no to everybody, and just do this on my own, so that when I walk in I’m working for the people of Pittsfield. I’m not working for this agenda or that agenda, which I see as a problem here. And that’s what I consider part of the politics, which I am not a part of.”

Kalinowsky retired in 2018 after over 30 years with the Pittsfield police. She says her foray into politics was inspired by the street she lives on – Shaker Lane. According to the city, the street is considered “unaccepted,” a roadway that Pittsfield doesn’t have property ownership over and thus cannot use state Chapter 90 funds for.

“It’s in horrible condition, and I went to city hall to see what could get done and I got sent from the mayor’s office – which, she wasn’t there – and I got sent to the engineer’s office, and basically, I got the run around," she said. "It got me upset, I was complaining, and I decided I could do something about it instead of just complain. So I put in my papers.”

Kalinowsky criticized Mayor Linda Tyer as inaccessible, and describes her vision of the office as open and available to the public.

“We need to focus on our streets and infrastructure," said the former cop. "I did research, because I didn’t really pay much attention to politics with being an officer and bringing up my family, so I started researching it. The problem with unaccepted streets has been going on for years. The history on the computer through the city – I looked into it, I talked to a selectman up in Lanesborough, and in the last year or so they just started accepting the unaccepted streets, even though they haven’t fixed them yet, they just started putting them on the rolls, one, so they could get more Chapter 90 money. I asked him what did it entail, he goes, well, they put it up to their voters there. Because you’re from Pittsfield, you could have put it in front of the city councilors or the voters whether to accept these unaccepted streets, just to get them up to code. My street’s not the only bad one out there, there’s lots of them. They’re neglected.”

She also has concerns about the city’s schools. Kalinowsky described Reid Middle School – where she says worked as a community resource officer for 13 years – as “getting out of control” due to “lack of follow through by the administration.” Describing the Restorative Justice method as a failure, she wants to see a firmer hand used with students.

“I feel bad for these kids, but they still need to be held accountable for what they’re doing," said Kalinowsky. "You can’t just sympathize with them and not hold them accountable, because then, to me, you’re disrespecting them because you believe that they’re not capable of doing what the other kids are doing, so I held all the kids to a high standard. And the kids liked me – when the kids found out I was leaving, they were coming to my office asking me to stay, telling me that I was the only one who was doing anything. The police officer shouldn’t be the one in the building that the kids are saying is the only one that’s doing anything.”

She says the problem is coming from the top down.

“I need to sit down with the superintendent of schools," said the candidate. "He’s the boss of each principal and how they run the buildings. I mean, accountability – I think he has to hold them accountable. And if they’re not up to doing the job, maybe replace them.”

When it comes to another hot topic in the city – crime – Kalinowsky draws on her own experience from years on the force.

“Back in the early ‘90s I was placed on North Street for downtown patrol community policing and our job was to clean up North Street, which was having heavy drug dealing, because they used the pay phones back then, open drinking and drunkness, and a lot more stores were open on North Street, so a lot of shoplifting,” she explained.

In her battle against the dealers, she says the first move was to have the pay phones removed from the street.

“The second thing is, I followed the drug dealers around. Where they walked, I walked. They would ask me, what are you doing? Standing next to you, because if I see you deal drugs, I’m going to lock you up. Nobody’s going to come near you seeing a cop standing 3 feet from you. So they shifted off North Street," said Kalinowsky. "The people that were drinking on North Street? We would just wait until they drank, then we’d lock them up because you can’t drink alcohol on North Street, or out in the public. People that were drunk on North Street, we put them under protective custody.”

She says she asked Police Chief Michael Wynn at a public meeting why the department doesn’t still use those tactics.

“Don’t we still have open drunkness as a law? He said yeah, you can’t arrest. I said, I know, we can put them under protective custody, get them off of North Street. People are complaining about people passed out on the benches in the bus stop – get them out of there. If they’re drunk the police can do something about it. They say they can’t.  Now, he also said that they did wait until one of them drank alcohol and they arrested him, and he said well, the judge just let him go, saying the police were harassing him. But that’s a judge’s opinion," said Kalinowsky. "The law says if you drink from an open container in an open place, it’s arrestable. I think the police should just do their job and arrest them.”

Kalinowsky is hoping that her inexperience with politics will look like a fresh start for city voters.

“I want people to just see me for me, and I think I can make a difference," she told WAMC. "I am willing. I know it’s not going to be easy, and I might not know as much as some of the other candidates, but I’m willing to learn.”

The preliminary municipal election is September 17th.

You can hear interviews with other Pittsfield mayoral candidates here and here.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
Related Content