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Lamb Will Not Seek Re-Election To North Adams City Council

Three men sit at at a desk in a carpeted, wood-lined meeting room.
Josh Landes
North Adams, Massachusetts City Councilor Ben Lamb, center, at a September 2018 meeting in city hall.

North Adams, Massachusetts city councilor Benjamin Lamb says he won’t seek a fifth two-year term this fall. The former city council president says he’s stepping aside to encourage more diverse candidates to seek office. Lamb spoke with WAMC about his decision, and what he’s most proud of after almost a decade in office.

LAMB: For the last four terms, whenever I've run, one of the big conversations has been about how do we increase the diversity and the conversation with members of a diverse community on the council. And, you know, my personal challenge was when I'm trying to support individuals of underrepresented backgrounds and the BIPOC community and the LGBT community. And now I'm simultaneously running against them. It just feels kind of ingenuous for me. And so what I noted, and in conversations with my family and others, was that a way for me to really move forward with helping the council is to step back, myself, and to support others from those diverse communities in becoming a public servant as a city councilor. And so that that is really a core reason as to why I'm not running: I want to spend my energy supporting others that haven't necessarily had the same opportunity and privilege to achieve those roles in our communities, so that instead of the council trying to speak for those voices, they're speaking with those voices, because they're actually at the table.

Now, at this point, are there specific candidates you intend to support making a bid for the council this fall?

There's several individuals who I've been having conversations with, who have either shown interest prior or very recently have shown interest. I'm not going to disclose who they are, because I believe that that's their right and privilege to share that when they feel ready to do so. But there's absolutely been a handful of folks that are interested in seeking a role as a city councillor, and I think it's really exciting to see that happening.

Do you foresee yourself running for any other positions in the city?

You know, I'm not really sure what's going to come next or down the road. I'm not going anywhere. I want to make that crystal clear. But I'm assessing what opportunities might exist for me to still have a robust role and make a positive impact in the community of North Berkshire and North Adams. But no formal decisions as of yet.

What stands out to you as the biggest things you accomplished while serving the people of North Adams on the city council?

You know, when I was council president, I brought forward a paper, kind of a first step in our process of really looking at increasing equity, which is around identifying ourselves as a safe and inclusive community, which sort of sets that trigger that we then need to begin the act of actually pursuing that title in earnest. So that was certainly something that I really saw value in. The work around domestic violence prevention and awareness. That's been another big part of my role, and especially in the last three years now. I've really appreciated being able to play a part in that and advance that conversation. And then I would say, you know, most recently is the work that we're doing around diversity, inclusion, equity and access with the working group that we founded, that started back in February with a paper we brought forward. We're getting to a point where we're almost ready to present a training to our council to start getting people on equal footing, so that we are working through a more equitable lens in the work that we're doing as municipal officials. And so that's going to be something that could have, and will hopefully have, a long-term impact on the council, even though I won't be there. I think that that's a legacy piece that I look forward to seeing propagated through future iterations of councillors and the conversations and the work that they do. And so in the long run, that's probably going to be the things that I appreciate most during the time that I've been able to have on council.

What were some of the biggest frustrations?

You know, I think one of the biggest frustrations, which I realized early on, and fortunately, I had great mentors, both former councilors and former elected officials in the community that kind of educated me on this. There’s the formal role of the city council, which is pretty straightforward in terms of the legislation and you might walk in with a vision and a kind of – pet projects probably isn't the right word – but these things that you really aspire to be able to do as major highlights. Those can only really take off about 2 percent of the work. Ninety-nine, 98 percent of the work there is really the municipal function that we have as the legislative body. Fortunately, I learned that early on, so it didn't stress me out too much. But that can be something of a stressor for folks – when you enter into a role and you don't necessarily realize the time, the demands of it, just to do the normal functions that don't necessarily hit on the things that you aspire to achieve down the road. The other piece is that municipalities and government in general are built on a bureaucratic framework, so there is a slowness to things. You can try to push it as far as possible. But there's always going to be some level of softness in terms of not necessarily being able to go full speed ahead at all times. And that's always been something that – as someone who really likes to get things done and do things and target a vision, and then take action to achieve it – that's always been a challenge, but not something that I saw as a detriment to the role. It's part of the position.

What do you think the major subjects a new council will have to tackle going into next year? Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on municipal planning. Do you foresee anything coming up for the next round of legislators for North Adams?

Yes, I mean, you can say that there's definitely going to be a series of challenging economic cycles – you know, not necessarily knowing what a rebound and a resurgence is going to look like for any of the communities in the Berkshires. But in particular, in North Adams, the predictability has changed quite a bit. That’s going to be where our finance committee and the finance process is going to be an interesting one at the very least, but potentially a quite a challenging one. In ongoing manners, the infrastructure challenges that we face. We just adopted our Municipal Hazard Plan that was put together. That outlines a lot of things that are going to, absolutely 100 percent, need to be addressed in the near future. And so that's going to be coming in those future cycles. But when we start to talk more about the human perspective of this work, I think really embracing the need for us to be more equitable and be more accessible – not just in terms of being able to be contacted, but making our community more accessible to anybody and everybody that wishes to be here. And finding ways to be the community that we talked that we want to be, but actually making that happen. I think that that's going to be something that will always be the case and will always be part of the work, but based on the current climate of the world and the climate in our communities, it is a major highlight right now that needs to continue to be addressed and can't just be addressed in a one-off form, but needs to be an ongoing path to learning and action.

Lamb added he has given “no real thought” to running for mayor in the fall.

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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