It’s a busy week for North Adams, Massachusetts municipal politics. On Monday, Mayor Tom Bernard delivered his State of the City address. The next morning, he told WAMC he won’t run for a third two-year term this year. Soon after, City Council Vice President Jason LaForest confirmed what he described as “an open secret,” telling WAMC that he will pull papers for the mayoral race in April.
LAFOREST: Certainly I have the background as a city councilor, I have been involved in municipal government at the state level through the Massachusetts Municipal Association. I'm on the – up until COVID – was on the local government advisory board and the board of directors for the MMA, engaged in legislative policy analysis through the legislative policy vommittee on personnel and labor relations, also in Boston. I've been active across the community. I know and love North Adams. As a nurse manager, I am able to take critical information and condense it into an immediate action plan and keep many balls rolling in the air bouncing in the air to get best case results for my patients – and there are a lot of correlations between that and municipal government. And we certainly have seen the community safety concerns over the last few weeks.
WAMC: What do you see as the paramount issues North Adams is going to face in 2022?
Well, North Adams will have to balance a budget against the backdrop of diminishing resources. The caveat will be that North Adams will be required to actively and effectively work together with our state legislators, with our congressional delegation and with our state and federal agencies to expand our revenue base through grants and new funding resources that the city has not actively sought to obtain in the last decade.
Looking back over your time in office so far, what do you see as the most indicative legislation that you've been a part of getting actual policy into effect in North Adams?
Well, actually, I think the legislation that I am proposing this evening at tonight's city council meeting to codify a system of inspection, maintenance and reporting for our fire hydrants will probably be the most critical thing I've done in the last few years. But I have worked actively in hiring our new police chief, working with our public safety departments, writing and developing, assisting and writing and developing the legislation to put ordinances in place for legalized marijuana in the community. And working with, you know, through my role as the former executive director of Hoosic River Revival, working with Senators Markey, Warren and Congressman Neal to get the Army Corps of Engineers to repair our aging and failing flood control system and look at new solutions for flooding, you know, a changing climate.
What initiatives or projects have you wanted to see come to fruition during your time in office that you have differed with the administration about, that maybe you as mayor, should you be elected, would be able to bring through into reality?
Every administration has its strengths and weaknesses. And, you know, we certainly have to respect Mayor Bernard’s tenure. He is a good guy, and he's done an admirable job as mayor, but certainly we've disagreed mostly on process rather than end results. However, you know, we have disagreed on things like the recent initiative to put low income housing at Sullivan School rather than expanding mixed income housing across the city. We've disagreed on things like the Mohawk Theater, we have disagreed on the need for an urgent response to a police and fire station that should have been replaced decades ago. So I think, you know, while thanking Mayor Bernard for his service, I think I offer a different path that North Adams is ready for.
In a nutshell, in the campaign sign, in the soundbite, Jason, what is the pitch for LaForest for Mayor?
I think we need strong transparent leadership that does not forget who we are, where we have been and where we need to go together as one community. And as somebody whose family has been here for generations, I certainly know and am part of a community in a way where I want everyone to feel safe and be successful.