The North Adams, Massachusetts city council has selected Bryan Sapienza to fill the seat vacated by former council President Paul Hopkins last month. The 58-year-old parts manager of K-M Toyota on West Main Street finished 11th in the 2019 race for the nine-member body. Sapienza is now running for a full two-year term in this year’s municipal election. Vice President Jason LaForest has assumed the council presidency with Hopkins’ departure. WAMC spoke with Sapienza about his plans for the rest of the term, and which mayoral candidate he’s backing this fall.
SAPIENZA: Right now we got to get a budget passed. That's our top priority right now. There are other things we've got to work on. There are issues with the airport commission we need to work on. And that I would say would be the probably the priority of all the things, and then getting the city back opened up to people after the pandemic.
WAMC: Last year between the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement and questions about infrastructure, there was a lot of conversation in North Adams about where the city is headed. From your vantage point, what happens after a year with so much debate and so much struggle and frustration?
I think now that everybody can get together in person, I think that things will come down. I mean, not that there was anything really major going on. I think people need to reacquaint themselves with each other. I believe that we've been a very solid community all through the pandemic. And most people have been pretty kind to each other. And actually, I found that in some cases, people were a lot kinder to each other than before the pandemic.
Now, you're in the strange position of being both a candidate for the coming election and now, somewhat abruptly, actually on the body you're also running for. In your campaign pitch to folks in North Adams, what should they know about you politically when it comes to financial issues, social issues- What's the Brian Sapienza promise?
Most likely it’s the financial issues, make sure that our schools are well funded, make sure we have a balanced budget, make sure that we have, we take care of infrastructure issues promptly. And just make sure that the city is running at top notch efficiency is basically what I'm looking at.
We're coming to the close of the Tom Bernard era in North Adams as the two-term mayor will not be seeking a third term in this year's election. What are your thoughts on Mr. Bernard’s leadership? And when you look forward, what do you think you'd want to see different? What do you want to hold on to from his years in office?
Well, that's hard to say. I like Tom as a person, and I think he was a decent administrator. He tried, but again, you know, you throw the pandemic in the works, and I think it kind of put everything, threw everything out of whack. And, you know, I think he got maybe shortchanged a little bit, things didn't go according to plan. I mean, nobody planned this thing happening. And I think he got a little bit frustrated about everything. But then again, you know, he might feel that it's time to move on, let somebody else have the position. But I think his ability to work with the people of the city and North Adams, I admired that greatly in Mr. Bernard, Mayor Bernard, and I think that he's done a good job so far. I'd like to see somebody with that qualities. And I also see somebody that's a little stronger in financial and maybe a little quicker in handling certain things, although I'm speaking more as an outsider before being elected into the council.
Looking at the current slate of candidates for mayor of North Adams, is anyone standing out to you as a good successor to Tom Bernard?
Yes, Lynette Bond. I've had the chance to meet her the last couple of weeks, and I think she's a very good candidate. She's certainly used to working with the state, and she works with the college for grant writing. So she has the experience with money. I think she would be an excellent candidate.
Last year, there were also a lot of conversations about housing in North Adams. What are your thoughts on the current housing marketplace in the city and what areas you think it could improve on?
Well, right now, we have a lot of people moving into the area that are buying houses that we wouldn't even give a second look to and they are rehabilitating these houses. They are coming in, they're making them homes again, like they were in their glory days. And I think it's a great thing. There are areas I think that we could improve in rental housing, especially affordable rental housing, in the area. I think that is something that we have to look at. There's a lot of rental housing, but it's not that- Some of it's not that great quality. And I think that we need to look at something that's, you know, market value and affordable.
Bryan, anything else we should know about you and your new role on the North Adams City Council?
Well, it's going to be a learning experience for me. Obviously, I've never served on the city council. I do have experience with the Public Arts Commission. So I think the first two or three months is going to be a learning experience. And you know, I hope to learn- I've had a lot of good guidance from fellow counselors and you know, I hope to learn from their trials and tribulations and move forward and work to be the best that I can be and be the best for the city of North Adams.
In conversations with Ben Lamb, who is not running for reelection, and Paul Hopkins who of course you have replaced on the council, they both talked about their interest in seeing more diversity on the body. Now, you are a white guy from North Adams in a long tradition of white guys from North Adams to serve on the council. I’m interested, what are your thoughts on that as a stated goal from other electeds this year?
I think diversity comes in all forms. Diversity goes beyond just what the person is, but what they believe, what their thoughts are, what their ideas are. And I think that diversity can be a broad spectrum of anything. I mean, any two people in the same room are going to have different ideas. I think that's diversity as well. You know, I don't think that just because a person is a different gender or race or whatever, I don't think that, you know, that should matter in anything, you know. It should be what they are, what they think.
With that in mind, what do you think you uniquely bring to the council as Bryan Sapienza?
I have a good technical background, I think that can help in a lot of infrastructure issues. Some financial background, I have a decent understanding. I also work for a local business, and I know the ins and outs of what local businesses need to survive. So I think that can help me in a big way. And I'm also here with the people, you know. I'm a common guy, I'm not anyone special. I'm a resident of North Adams like everybody else here and, I know a lot of people and I just, I listen to what the people have to say. So I think that's probably with some of my best qualities.