Persip lays out case for third term on Pittsfield city council
43-year-old Earl Persip is running for re-election to the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council. The two-term at-large councilor is the Director of Facilities at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox. When Persip first ran in 2017, he received around 4,300 votes to win one of four at-large seats on the 11-member body — just over a fifth of the ballots cast. Two years later, his vote share increased to over 7,000, almost 60% of the total. Persip spoke with WAMC about why he’s running for a third term, and what it has been like to be one of the few elected African Americans in Berkshire County during the country’s latest racial reckoning.
PERSIP: I look at the at-large race as an overall view of all the wards combined together. I resided in a lot of the wards, and I've seen different parts of the city in different parts of my life. So I think I get a good view of the different needs in each ward, and the overall city needs in each ward, and I’m there to assist whenever any resident needs any kind of help with any kind of issue.
WAMC: Looking back over your tenure, do you feel like there are specific examples of work you've done on the council that you can point to to say, I have accomplished things for the citizens?
Yeah, I think one of the biggest things is bringing reasoning to the debate at the council meetings, having people look at the overview of any issue, and also getting people to work together and understand both sides. So things can actually get accomplished for the residents of Pittsfield.
What do you feel like are the big topics of this election? What are you hearing from folks when you go out to campaign?
There’s a lot of topics going on. First of all, the federal funds, that's one of the number one things people are talking about, and it's getting people to understand what the money can be used for, what the money can't be used for. And then, listening to what they think the money should be used for. I think schools are a big issue. I hear some things about public safety. Those are kind of the top ones you hear now. Sometimes, North Street’s brought up at different times. It just depends on when you're going out. Week to week’s a lot different.
Generally speaking, when there's a municipal election, it gives some candidates running for office the opportunity to decry the current state of the city. I've heard from some folks running for office that they feel the city is stagnant, or that a lot of things are being misappropriated or not addressed in the city. What do you say to criticisms of how the city is being managed to this point?
I think it's always easy to criticize people. The work is hard. There's a lot of things going on at once. You can narrow it down to five, to six issues. But there's so many things going on. And I think those people need to understand the role of actually a city councilor and what a city councilor can actually do. We can be a voice for people, and a voice on certain issues. But there's things that we don't have control over. So it's understanding the role of the city councilor, and what can be accomplished, and how to get those things done. And I think I've done that. I think I work well with the staff within the city of the Pittsfield, and the staff that work together. I can get things done. So I think it's hard for people. You know, I can pick apart ten things right now. But that doesn't get that doesn't help us move forward. There's always going to be things to work on. So we just continue to do the work so we can get things done. There's always going to be something to do.
You're one of the few elected African American leaders in Berkshire County, and you served last year during a very widespread conversation in the country about race and equality and equity. And I'm interested- At the end of all of that, going into a new political cycle with new conversations ahead of us in Pittsfield, what were your takeaways from that experience?
It was a unique experience on my end. I am one of the few people of color that serve and I'm white-passing, I have light skin, so it's easy for people to kind of look beyond that and not understand that there are issues. It was a tough year. It was a year of conversation, which I think is good. I just don't think we can stop there. I think we need to continue the conversations. I think we have equity issues within the city, and we need to address those.
Lastly Earl, what's your sort of takeaway, elevator pitch to folks about why a Persip vote is the right vote in this coming election?
I think it's important for people to understand that the council needs to be diverse, we need to have different voices, because that's what gets things done. There's 11 people up there, and we all need to work together, and I work together with everybody one way or the other to get the job done. So I think that people are happy. When they call me, they get results. And I will continue to do that kind of service for the residents of Pittsfield.