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Saying vision isn’t being met, Serre making bid to unseat Maffuccio in Pittsfield’s Ward 7

Rhonda Serre.
Josh Landes
Rhonda Serre.

Rhonda Serre is one of three candidates running for the Ward 7 seat on the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council. Alongside Jonathan Morey, Serre is challenging incumbent Anthony Maffuccio to represent the sprawling northwestern quadrant of the city on the 11-member body. Only two will proceed past the September 19th preliminary before November’s general election. The now-retired Serre’s resume includes stints working as an Economic Development Specialist for former Western Massachusetts Congressman John Olver, Vice President of Business Development for MassDevelopment, Marketing and Fundraising Supervisor for Elder Services of Berkshire County, and most recently, Corporate Communications Director of Greylock Federal Credit Union. She unsuccessfully ran for State Representative in 2004, and decisively lost her bid for the Ward 7 seat in 2017. Serre sat down with WAMC.

SERRE: Honestly, I'm not running against Mr. Maffuccio. I am running for the city council seat because I have a vision that I feel is not being met. Many of the constituents, or, I should say, most of the constituents I have spoken to seem to embrace this idea. I'm not going to disparage somebody else's abilities or track record, because honestly, anybody that's running for public office is a blessing to this community and we all deserve an opportunity to run if that's what we want. And the dialogue around the issues is important part of the process, and I'm looking forward to it.

WAMC: So, let's dial in on those issues. From your perspective, what are the top things on your punch list, so to speak, for Ward 7?

Okay, oh, that's potholes. I know, it's New England. We all have to worry about potholes. Potholes, our roads- and that's a euphemism for everything involved in roadway infrastructure. The issues are so much deeper. They are unaccepted roads, they are roadways that are out of compliance with new state standards for roadways, they are roads that lack sidewalks for our children. They're far, far many- I say potholes, you mean this very complicated world of DPW services to the residents of Ward 7. That is probably the most critical thing that a Ward 7 councilor can do, is help mediate those problems, and fight for city services for Ward 7.

Beyond those, what are some other issues that you're advocating for?

My two big issues is, we have two major investments coming up in Ward 7. That is the redesign of the Wahconah baseball park, the stadium. That is a major opportunity for Ward 7 to reinvigorate an area of the community and an entire neighborhood that has not seen a lot of investment of late, and I think our city councilor needs to be at the table on all those discussions, and going back to the voters and listening to what they have to say, and making sure that this major investment meets the needs of the immediate community, not just the city at large. I think it has an opportunity to be a major cornerstone of the Ward 7 economy.

And the second issue?

The second issue is Pontoosuc Lake. That’s the same thing- If you've ever like looked on eBay and researched the good old days, you see these old postcards of Pontoosuc Lake and the boats and the casino and the dancehall and the beaches and the trolleys taking everybody up there. It was always a major part of the quality of life of Pittsfield, and I would love to see that come back. I don't think Burbank Park in its current configuration works. It works for boaters to a point. It could use a much better ramp, and all of those are understood. And we could use marinas, but marinas are something we need to go gently forward with, because we don't want to destroy our life by making it overpopulated. So, it's somebody that needs to pay attention, recognize that the city wants to enhance this asset that we have, and making sure that it's enhanced in a way that works with those of us who live next to it, those of us who recognize that it is a natural resource and it is an ecological resource that is important to feeding the entire river system in the city. So, it needs to be moved forward on gently, but at the same time, it's a wonderful asset and we need to celebrate it.

Now, this year marks a major changing of the guard for municipal leadership in Pittsfield. It's the end of Linda Tyer’s era as mayor, with Peter Marchetti, the city council president, pursuing the mayoral office, there's going to be changed up at the higher echelon of leaders on the council. What is your current assessment of the city and its municipal governance? Are you critical? Are you optimistic? Is it more complicated?

I'm optimistic. I always try to be optimistic, I always try to look forward and not look back. I'm not thrilled with some of the positions that the city council has taken. I'm going to generalize and not call out individual councilors. The city council is the legislative body of this city, and I think we've lost sight of that. The city council is responsible for setting the rules that govern the behavior of the administrative and executive. So, if we want to see certain change in our new mayor, the city council has an incredible amount of power in setting the standards on how the mayor operates and how city hall operates. We are not micromanagers. We don't go line by line and personnel by personnel, judging managers. That's not our job. Our job is to set the rules, to set the boundaries, and to dictate how the residents of this city get the most out of their government and how their government works for them. That's something that I think our city council really needs. We need somebody who understands ordinances, knows how ordinances impact your everyday life, and how to change those ordinances when they need to be changed. I've been sitting on the ordinance review committee for over a year, almost a year now, and it's amazing how many ordinances still reference horse and buggy. I mean, these things need to be paid attention to and we need to find somebody who's going to actually make them work for the residents’ favor and not just be status quo.

Now, at this time, are you making any endorsements in the mayoral campaign as you pursue the Ward 7 seat?

I am not. I personally have my personal choice. I've known for a long time who I'm going to support in the ballot box. I don't think it's necessary for me to get involved in that game, because it's a different branch. The executive branch of the government and the legislative branch of your local government are two different things, and honestly, I think they need to act independently.

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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