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Former Pittsfield city council vice president John Krol hopes “to reignite that passion in the city” with mayoral run

John Krol.
Josh Landes
John Krol.

John Krol spent a decade on the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council as the Ward 6 representative between 2010 and 2019. For two of his five terms, he was the body’s vice president. Now, after a break from Pittsfield municipal politics, Krol is running for mayor. With Linda Tyer not seeking a third four-year term, the 45-year-old says he wants to bring a business friendly, enthusiastic form of leadership to Berkshire County’s largest community. Current city council president Peter Marchetti – who served with Krol – is also in the race to replace Tyer. Krol sat down with WAMC to talk about his mayoral campaign, as well as his work with the administration of former Mayor James Ruberto.

KROL: You know, what's really interesting is that I was in the chair that you're sitting in. Before I came to the city of Pittsfield, I was the Berkshire Bureau Chief for WAMC, Northeast Public Radio, and I was covering Pittsfield at the time and over time, realized that there were some amazing things happening. And at the time, the mayor had an opening and asked me to come work for him. And to be honest, I really didn't think that was going to be my path. I was doing anchoring in Albany and Joe Donahue really thought my stories were fantastic and I really loved the team at WAMC. But then I got quiet, and I thought about it, and I realized that wow, I can do something truly special for my hometown. And at that time, it was amazing. The revitalization of downtown Pittsfield, Barrington Stage Company coming to our downtown and to our city, the Beacon Cinema, the building where we're sitting right now, that actually coming to fruition and coming to the downtown and the millions of dollars of investment that happened in downtown living and more. It was an amazing time, and I was a part of that team working in the mayor's office. And that's where the fire in my heart started, and it's the fire that still burns today. So, I did run for council a little bit later on in 2009 and was elected and I served for a decade. And during that time as the Ward 6 city councilor and council vice president, we did some fantastic work, was able to get the Taconic High School project off the ground and build a new high school and provide really great services for my section of the city and being really responsive to our residents. But ultimately, I feel as though now is the time to be able to reignite the progress that we made in the early and mid-2000s. Because I think that that was our first revitalization of our downtown, revitalization, I think, of our public schools, and of our neighborhoods. And I think we can really work to get a new round of that today.

WAMC: So, break down your platform for us. What are you campaigning on as you seek the corner office in city hall?

When I look at the mayor's office, I look at it as an expansive position. The mayor isn't just the operator of the city. Sure, you have to operate and you have to oversee departments and oversee a budget and put that forward. But the mayor is more than that. It's truly a position where you are leading a full community, and it is your vision that is able to truly lead, and when it comes to some of the issues that we're facing today- I look at our downtown and there are a lot of empty storefronts and there are a lot of challenges that we have. It's up to the mayor to be able to galvanize our social service agencies together, working with our downtown community, and with resources to the city to be able to address these issues with empathy, with compassion, but with consistency, to be able to set the stage for economic growth. You know, Pittsfield is at the heart of the Berkshires. Think about it. You know, we have Lenox to our south that has just tens of thousands of people who go to Tanglewood every year and various other amenities and attractions, and even North Adams has massive concerts now. And Pittsfield has the opportunity to tap in to that economy. And I'll tell you, with that- As you know, your listenership, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, they appreciate culture and the arts. And for me, Pittsfield needs to up our game once again as far as that goes, because the opportunity to have music outdoors in our downtown, music venues and other art coming into our city- We have to re-up on that. And I think that will filter through the rest of the city. So, the mayor has the opportunity to galvanize that energy and we need to reignite that passion in the city.

Now, you used to work alongside Mayor Linda Tyer, the incumbent who's not seeking reelection this year, in different capacities. Towards the end of your time on the council, it seemed like there was more of a strain in your relationship and that you disagreed on some topics. When you look back over her time in office, what's your assessment of her leadership?

Yeah, I mean, I listen, I respect Linda tremendously. Certainly, I've worked with her closely over the years, particularly when she was a city clerk and in those early days in the mayor's office. And sure, we didn't always see eye to eye throughout the entire tenure, but I think she is a good manager. I think she's a good administrator. I think right now what we need is the ability to sell the city. We need to elevate, really, the vibration of the city. I think people need to get excited about Pittsfield again. Because at this point, the light has dimmed a little bit. And so, for me that energy and passion that a mayor can bring- Look, you know, I worked with Mayor Ruberto, Jim Ruberto, back some years ago. And he was in office for eight years, and I think people recognize and look at that time and see that Pittsfield finally did take its mantle to be the centerpiece of the Berkshires. And I think that is where we need to go again. So, we need to network and be able to work with other communities surrounding us and be able to tap in to the cultural economy that the Berkshires has to offer. So that's, that's part of my vision. You know, again, downtown revitalization is a key component. I am very focused on our schools. Gosh, I have three kids in the Pittsfield Public Schools, soon I'll have four because my daughter Sophia will be a General next year at Pittsfield High School. And I believe that we can make Pittsfield schools the schools of choice in Berkshire County, and that is a high threshold. But I believe we can do it and we have a path to get there.

So, you're talking about economic revitalization, tapping into the regional economy- What are the other challenges that you see Pittsfield facing that you would want to address as mayor?

Boy, there are a lot of challenges. People really appreciate and love great public services. There was a time in Pittsfield, a little bit more than a decade ago, that we did bring in a consultant, a former mayor, who came in to the city of Pittsfield because we recognized that we needed to up our game on public services. So, when John Barrett III came in, he changed the operation pretty dramatically, and I was a city councilor at the time, and boy, it was controversial at the time, I can tell you, but the results were amazing. So, I think people really appreciate great public services, filling the potholes, having a great plan to do our roads and to plow our roads and our parks. And I think that we have an opportunity to enhance that get ‘er done attitude, and I think that's something that people appreciate. And so, we're going to focus on that. I think there are ways of looking at the Public Services Department, maybe some restructuring. That is something that is definitely going to be one of the focuses. Another one of those focuses is making Pittsfield more friendly for growing business. So, if you're a business owner or you're an entrepreneur, it is frankly not easy to do business in Pittsfield. It's not easy to start a business, it's not easy to expand a business, it's not easy to move forward with developments, either in the commercial or in the residential sector. So, what I'm hoping to do is shift the culture in our permitting and building process to make it so that we are working with those who are trying to invest in Pittsfield and not put up roadblocks. And I think that's a really key thing, because there is reality, which we see, but there's also perception from those who are considering investing in Pittsfield. And that perception is so powerful, that it turns people away even before they come here. So, I think that's a really key thing to focus on and make sure that those who are looking to invest in the Berkshires are making sure that Pittsfield is on the top of their list.

So, we're speaking just a few weeks after the one-year anniversary of the death of Miguel Estrella, who died at the hands of the Pittsfield Police Department in March 2022. The event provided a lot of conversation among the community and city government about policing, about mental health services, about what oversight and reform might look like for the police department. I'm interested- What are your thoughts on that conversation? And a year out from the death itself, how do you see that event influencing this election?

You know, I'll tell you, I've had some in-depth conversations. I had an in-depth conversation with Chief [Michael] Wynn about this. I certainly feel as though more can be done. I feel as though there are some good ideas out there. But we need to implement them. I think, you know, when it comes down to it, it's not a closed case issue that if you do X, Y would happen. It's complex. You know, these issues are complex. But as we look forward- Now, we're going to have a new police chief. But I think that needs to be a core component of what the police department looks like and overall public safety looks like, saying how do we provide the tools for officers? And how do we reimagine public safety in Pittsfield to be able to respond better in these types of situations? Look, it wasn't just Miguel Estrella. It was Daniel Gillis before that. And I look at those two situations- They were very, very similar in a lot of ways. So, there has been time to make some of those changes. I don't believe it has been done fully yet. And I think that's a conversation we need to have and make sure we address it very soon come January.

Linda Tyer has talked about a plan to find a new permanent chief being set in motion by her with the winner of the election and to be ultimately led by the next mayor. Is that a system that you feel like you're comfortable with and something that you think will provide the best option for the next permanent chief?

Yeah, I mean, I think everything is a conversation. I mean, again, there is going to be a new, I guess the right term is interim chief. And certainly, that individual will have time before the election and will evaluate it. You know, as far as the conversation about civil service versus not civil service, that's a whole additional process that also can be discussed during the election. I'm not convinced one way or the other, but I look forward to having that conversation.

What's your read on your main opponent in the race so far, Peter Marchetti? Obviously, you guys have worked closely on the city council for many years prior to you departing for a few years. On the campaign trail, what kind of distinction you trying to draw between you and current Council President Peter Marchetti?

Yeah. You know, honestly, I don't really focus on who the opponent is. What I want to put forward is a vision for what Pittsfield can be. When it comes down to it, the potential that this city has is immense. In the heart of the Berkshires, a thriving cultural economy, it's something that we need to tap into. There are so many people working so hard as business owners, our families and in our community. There is honestly a lot of low hanging fruit that we can pull from as far as this Berkshire economy. So, I'm focused on growing a business in downtown on North Street. I'm focused on making the Pittsfield Public Schools the schools of choice in the Berkshires, and I think some of that is by implementing some of the changes and some of the ideas and some of the great solutions, I think, that are already in the hearts and minds of our teachers and paraprofessionals and parents. I think the schools need to do a better job of implementing those ideas, and ultimately, in city services and making sure people feel good about our parks and our roads and our city infrastructure. So that's really what I'm focused on. I really want to reignite the passion in the city. People love this city. I was born and raised here, and I love the people of this community and that's why I'm running for mayor. And I think I have the background to be able to bring that expertise to the table both on an operations standpoint and on a high vision standpoint. I think I do believe in the idea that the mayor is the moral leader of this community, and I have the heart and the passion for that. And that's really what I want to bring to the table.

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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