Saying she’s fed up with business as usual, Pittsfield, Massachusetts city councilor Melissa Mazzeo is running for mayor in this fall’s municipal election.
Mazzeo is attempting to unseat incumbent Linda Tyer, the city’s first mayor to serve a four-year term. The veteran councilor at-large says the tone of her campaign after watching three administrations from the council rostrum is frustration.
“I’ve been listening for 10 years, and it’s the same stories," she told WAMC. "So I’m thinking, if we haven’t figured that out in 10 years, why? And as I look back, a lot of it is, well, this is what we do, we’ve always done this this way, we always do this this way – and that to me, is what frustrates a lot of people. And every year they have this new hope. We went with this four-year mayor and everybody a lot of hope that things were going to really get done because we gave more time, and we didn’t see it.”
Often a critic of the administration in the council chambers, Mazzeo says Tyer dragged her feet during her historic first term.
“And all of a sudden, now we’re in our fourth year, it’s an election year, and now we’re seeing all these initiatives come out," said the councilor. "And I’m just sitting there thinking, some of these initiatives – that could have been done two years ago, or three years ago. Why are we waiting? So that frustrates me. If you’re hanging on to things that could really help the city of Pittsfield, why are you waiting?”
Broadly, she wants the city to reassess how it’s been operating on many levels from the top down. One example is her recent efforts in the city council is to examine the use of parking meters, which she has pushed to remove from Pittsfield’s streets.
“Since I was on the council and we started this, it wasn’t supposed to be a revenue generator," claimed Mazzeo. "It was supposed to generate revenue so that it could cover the maintenance of our garages. And that was clearly spelled out back when we started all of this. And now all of a sudden it’s – we want to increase our revenue, we’re seeing all this money come in and now we can buy cars and we can buy readers and we can buy this and buy that, and it’s like, wait a minute, the businesses are all screaming, saying you’re hurting my business and all that – so why would we take so long to take a look at this, because people have been complaining for two years.”
Another example is the city’s police department and its response to rising crime rates, with Mazzeo questioning the leadership of Chief Michael Wynn.
“We can throw all the money in the world at a department, but if the initiatives or what you’re using is not working, then you need a sitdown and you need to figure out why," said the candidate. "So for the last few years, we’ve increased the number of patrol officers. And you can only get so many officers if people aren’t signing up. There’s only so much you can do. They have to go through all the courses and all that. But the chief is the leader, and the chief is the one that makes all the decisions on what protocols, how do we look at the city, how do we put our patrols out, how do we bring in our detectives, how do we bring in this that and the other thing, and how they set up their staff. And I’m feeling like it’s not working. Something has to change. So I would love to have that sit down with all the departments, with the unions, with everybody that’s there, and say, OK, this is how you’ve been doing it. Tell me why you do it this way, what things do you think we can do differently.”
Mazzeo, who says she voted for Republican Governor Charlie Baker in 2018, says she’s a registered Democrat – but thinks of herself as a centrist.
“Whoever comes out with the better idea, that’s where I’m going," she told WAMC. "I don’t strictly stick to party lines because there are times where you really should be looking at the other side. But at the same time, being super progressive and going so hard in one direction, I don’t think that that’s a great thing. You’re not opening your eyes to everything.”
She’s clashed with progressive voices in Pittsfield politics on a number of issues, like a September 2018 debate over explicitly endorsing transgender rights before a question on the November ballot concerning rolling back state laws about discrimination.
“I know personally how I feel about things – I like everyone, and I think everyone is entitled to do whatever they want to do, however they want to do it," said Mazzeo. "Religion, sexual orientation, all of it. But I’m not going to sit there and tell everyone else who they should be voting.”
Mazzeo also fought back against a school committee decision to rename Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day at a council meeting in June 2018. She described the conversation – which saw emotional testimony by residents with indigenous and Italian heritage alike – as “a waste of so much energy.”
“We’re trying to judge things that happened in 1492 to now, 2019, and you can’t rewrite history," said the candidate. "And I understand that maybe he didn’t do exactly what everybody said, but there was things that he did do. The fact that you can sail from place to place in the 1400s, that’s amazing to me.”
On both issues, Mazzeo’s oppositional votes failed to prevent the council from approving the measure.
Mazzeo says supporting the city’s business community and developing its economy are high on her list of priorities. She dug at Tyer’s much touted attraction of online retailer Wayfair to the city.
“When Wayfair was in Boston, and talking to the governor about their expansion and what they wanted and their incentives, one of the things was, you need to open a call center, because they needed a few, you had to pick a Gateway City, choose something," said Mazzeo. "Well, it was a no brainer – he went to Pittsfield High School, he graduated from here, and we’re a Gateway City. So that’s why Wayfair came.”
She says the jobs statistic related to the call center is misleading, and says the city can’t be satisfied with Wayfair alone.
“My concern when Wayfair comes is that they’re not bringing 300 new jobs, they have 300 jobs they need to fill, so that means that they’re going to pull people from other places over there, and I think we’re going to find other retail places – CNAs, and things like that – I think we’re going to find a gap there,” she told WAMC.
Mazzeo’s ultimate message to Pittsfield is that she can stand alone from what she frames as business as usual politics to offer the city a fresh take on governance.
“You know, people are out there – there’s a lot of conversation linking me to, you’re just going to be another [Mayor Dan] Bianchi, and stuff like that, and it’s like, absolutely not – I’m Melissa Mazzeo, and I’m me. And probably it’s a good thing that there isn’t another me,” she laughed.