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Gloves Come Off At Latest Pittsfield Mayoral Debate

A man stands behind a podium, and two women sit behind a table in a room with yellow walls.
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
The two candidates in the Conte Community School gym.

The two candidates for mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts squared off in a testy debate Wednesday night.

In their third head to head debate, first-term Mayor Linda Tyer and At-Large City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo met in the Conte Community School gym for a forum held by the Berkshire Branch of the NAACP. They are seeking a four-year term.

The candidates defended some controversial stances from their past. Tyer doubled down on her support of the Berkshire Museum art sale, a move that brought international condemnation on the Pittsfield institution.

“I endorsed the sale of the museum art, and I stand by that decision today, because I trusted and believed in the trustees of the Berkshire Museum who assessed their situation, their financial challenges, their future, and made the decision that they needed to sell a part of their collection in order for the museum to remain open and relevant to the people of our city,” she told the audience.

Mazzeo explained why she opposed a request from the city’s Human Rights Commission for the council to back Question 3 on the 2018 state ballot, a measure to maintain civil rights for transgender people that ultimately passed.

“When you have a conversation about something so specific where you’re saying to people, I want you to tell everybody else out there how to vote, OK, and people feel uncomfortable doing that – so if you say, well no, I’m not going to support that you asked me to tell everybody how to vote, then you look like you’re anti all of, for everything that’s out there. I wholeheartedly said at that meeting that I support everyone and everyone’s right to be who they are and do what they want to do. And I always have and I always will.”

The tension between the candidates, who have faced off on countless issues in the city council chambers over the past four years, came to the surface for the first time in the hotly contested race during the closing segment. Tyer, given the opportunity to pose a question to Mazzeo by moderator Will Singleton, acknowledged the heavy criticism her opponent has leveled at her over the city’s crime rates.

“Now, about a year ago, right here in this neighborhood, there was a violent crime. And right here in this school, we came together as a community at the request of the residents to have a conversation about what are we going to do to make our neighborhood safer, how can you help us. Councilor Mazzeo was not at that meeting, and I want to know, where was your outrage a year ago?” asked Tyer to cheers from the crowd.

"That's your question?" asked Mazzeo.

"That's the question," responded Tyer.

"So the fact that I may not have been in a building at a meeting, that's your question?" asked Mazzeo again.

"That is my question," repeated Tyer.

“Well I was not able to attend that meeting, but I’ll tell you though, there was also when we had a child who brought a gun to Herberg back under the previous administration, I was at those meetings, I was meeting with those families," said Mazzeo. "I’ve been a 10-year city councilor, every time there’s something that goes on in this city that there’s a major issue to, I’m meeting with residents, I’m talking with them on the phone, I’m going to these things. Because you’re not physically sitting in the audience so the camera can look at you and you’re there for a photo op or a ribbon cutting or something doesn’t mean…”

Boos and cheers drowned out Mazzeo as Singleton asked for order.

“No, no, let’s go there – just because you’re not sitting at the meeting doesn’t mean… how do you know what I was doing?" asked Mazzeo. "There could have been something going on!”

“Councilor, you are a leader!" responded Tyer. "You are one of the leaders of our community, and this was a crisis situation. And so I’m just saying – now that you are so outraged about crime in our city but you weren’t there for us a year ago!” she said to cheers.

Mazzeo brought up Tyer’s run against then-Mayor Dan Bianchi in 2015.

“Where were YOU four years ago when you were screaming at the previous administration about every crime that was out there. There was a shooting on the Fourth of July. You threw out press releases, and you were going on in every one of your debates that this is unacceptable. Crime is out of control, no one’s going to come to the Berkshire Innovation Center because we can’t retain jobs because of our conditions. No one’s going to be coming to our schools if we’re not getting rid of the crime, and you went crime, crime, crime. Every answer that was asked of you, you went back to crime. And so now it’s four years later and you’re getting it right back at you, and now you’re not sure how to – so you deflect that I didn’t come to one meeting," said Mazzeo, getting cheered on by her supporters. "Well, I’m pretty insulted by that.”

You can hear the full debate here:

tyer_mazzeo_conte_debate_10-23-19_for_web.mp3

The election is November 5th.

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.
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