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At-large candidates in Pittsfield city council race talk ARPA funds, panhandling, mosquito spraying at debate

Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall.
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall.

Seven candidates for four open at-large seats on the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council debated at Berkshire Community College Monday night.

Incumbents Pete White and Earl Persip are competing with challengers Lucas Marion, Kathy Amuso, Alicia Costa, Craig Benoit, and Daniel Miraglia for spots on the 11-member council.

Candidates were asked if they had any concerns about how Pittsfield spent the over $40 million it received for pandemic relief through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

“The ARPA funds, in my opinion, from the beginning should have been more structured, as far as who is applying for the funds and the allocation of the funds," answered Miraglia. "And the city council not having a say in administration that funds I think was a huge mistake.”

“For the most part, I agree with how the money was spent," said Costa. "There's a lot of strings attached to federal dollars. It was very prescriptive about how we could spend it. I wish we could have focused on more long-term investments that would pay off in the city, but we had a lot of huge needs at the time that this came out around social services, and people were really struggling. So, we had to balance the way that we allocated that money to make sure we were meeting urgent needs whilst still planning for the future, and I think we did a decent job at that.”

“The city council was not responsible for where the money went," said Persip. "When the ARPA funds came into Pittsfield, I was a supporter of some control by the city council, but the federal government chose otherwise. They chose it could have been the administration that doled out the ARPA funds. So, that's what we were dealt. So, let's be honest. How they were allocated- some things I agree with some things I don't. It's $44 million. I'm never going to agree with everything. I would have spent it differently. I'm a different person. I think everybody up here would have spent it differently and had different priorities.”

The candidates were asked about their thoughts on an ordinance before the current council that would ban standing in traffic medians in an effort to limit panhandling.

“Why is it more lucrative to ask for money in Park Square than it is to get a job somewhere else?" asked Marion. "This is a systemic issue that's forcing panhandling to happen. Do I support or oppose an ordinance to remove panhandlers from the median on the grounds of what we're going to call safety? I can't say I do support that, because if you read the news about panhandling all over the country and the state, the ACLU is all over it. Anytime an ordinance is passed about panhandling, the ACLU will come town, they will sue the city of Pittsfield, we will be tied up, our city solicitor will be tied up, it will be bad PR for us. So, there has to be another way to take care of this.”

“The legislation that was put before us with the petition was for public safety to not have anyone in the median strips," said White. "That goes for politicians holding signs, that goes for firefighters doing a boot drive, that goes for Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, it goes for anyone doing a carwash. It's a public safety hazard to have people in the median strip while we're driving past them, could be at higher speeds because we know we have speeding issues.”

The candidates also fielded a question about mosquito spraying, which Pittsfield has opted out of in recent years over environmental concerns.

“Hindsight is helpful, but the people that I have spoken to would have wanted the mosquito spraying to be done," answered Amuso. "And I believe I would have voted that way. Sometimes you have to make a difficult choice, and sometimes, this is not so good, this is not so good. But people, you know, when we say we want a thriving Pittsfield and a place where we can enjoy our homes, people were not enjoying their homes because of the mosquitoes, and many people were already paying privately to get their homes sprayed. So, I would have voted to spray.”

“I do support mosquito spraying," said Benoit. "I think that it's a better, a more health risk for the humans than the other part. And I'm sure in this day and age, that the pesticides that they're doing, they do take an account for the animal in the bee population and all that kind of stuff. But again, one of my biggest thing is public safety in the city, and I think that the mosquito spraying would be a good thing to keep our children, our pets, and ourselves from getting sick.”

You can hear the full debate here:


Election Day is November 7th.

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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