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Pittsfield at-large city council candidates talk policing, climate change, more at NAACP debate

Eight people in a Zoom meeting
Josh Landes

The six candidates for four open at-large Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council seats met for a debate sponsored by the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP Wednesday.

Incumbents Peter Marchetti, Pete White, Earl Persip and Yuki Cohen and challengers Craig Benoit and Karen Kalinowsky answered questions from former chapter president Will Singleton in the virtual forum.

Council President Marchetti was asked how he thinks Pittsfield should spend the tens of millions of federal relief dollars the city is receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“If we do anything with the ARPA funds, we need to find a solution for our homeless population," said Marchetti. "And it means trying to develop some form of housing and Pittsfield for that, then that's where we need to start. We talk about it all the time. And sometimes, issues like this are not just Pittsfield based, they're national issues, something that's happening all over the place, but maybe we should dig our heels in and be the people to find the cure first for some of these issues.”

Council Vice President White, running for his fourth two-year term as an at-large councilor, was asked to articulate his thoughts on what role police should play in the community.

“Over the years, they've had to step into more and more situations," he said. "And they've been asked to do more and more that sometimes they haven't been properly trained on, or they haven't had enough training on, we need to make sure that all citizens in our community feel safe around our police officers. So they need to be in a role of respect and authority. But also they have to earn that role of respect and authority by being good members of the community and also following rules and regulations themselves so all of our community feel safe when they're around.”

He said the onus is on the police department to reach out to communities with negative impressions of law enforcement.

“I support our police department," said White. "I don't support how things have happened across the country. And at times here, where many people of color feel targeted. I think traffic stops have to be really legitimate, which I think typically here, you know, we've had better interactions, but we always need to be improving. And we need to make sure that the rules of our police department are those of all people who can be respected and show respect.”

Persip, running for his third term as an at-large councilor, gave the most substantive response to a question posed to the candidates about how Pittsfield can better address climate change.

“Number one, our recycling rate is 11%," he said.
"The state average is 35%. Let's get that bumped up. That's an easy one. We've been talking about that for years. Let's improve our recycling. I think we can encourage, which we have been doing, is buying electric vehicles. For the city departments. We've been working on that, the parking people have electric vehicles, electric vehicles in some of the inspection services department, just encouraging more of that. I think one of the bigger issues for climate change in kind of energy efficient is our building, our infrastructure. We have buildings that have boilers and HVAC systems that are 30, 40, 50, 60 years old, those are not energy efficient.”

Cohen, who is seeking her second term, was asked about what she wants to see the council accomplish over the next two years.

“We want to grow and want new businesses to come in, but also look around and see that there's a tremendous amount of existing businesses that I feel that we can cultivate more and get more out of," she said. "For example, if there's a company out there that is making barbecue sauce, for example- I think there is one- is there any way that we can expand their business? Or if there's a restaurant that's doing well, is there any way that maybe we can franchise them.”

Political newcomer and hot dog restaurant owner Benoit shared his views on improving public safety in Pittsfield.

“If our roads are terrible, and you can't get a police, if you can't get a fire or you can't get an ambulance down there, that's an issue," he said. "So these are the kinds of things that I think we need to work out for our public safety. I have a very strong opinion about the panhandlers that we have. I don't believe they should be there. I'm more concerned why – I'm concerned about everybody. I mean, if one of them falls on the road, especially right down by the library, and if someone gets hurt, what if that's your daughter, or your grandson or whatever who's in the car that were driving?”

In response to a question about retaining students in the Pittsfield public school system, former police officer Kalinowsky said the city can do more to work with regional employers.

“General Dynamics is a big one, they're looking for employees," she said. "We should, like we're doing with Haddad’s, with the car dealership working with the Taconic students, we should be asking General Dynamics, what are you looking for in employees, and we should work together, the school works together with General Dynamics to educate these kids, maybe do internships with them to get them moving into that field so they'll work with them. To keep kids here, you need to combine their education with a job that will they know that they can go into. I think that it's also a way to retain some students, whether it's in a vocation, or in a job like General Dynamics.”

Pittsfielders will choose four of the six candidates to serve a two-year at-large city councilor term on November 2nd.

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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