The race for mayor in North Adams just got a whole lot more interesting. John Barrett, who led the city from 1984 until 2009, is looking to unseat his successor Richard Alcombright.
John Barrett took out mayoral nominating papers earlier this week and intends to file the necessary 50 signatures by August 20th to be a certified candidate. As of Thursday, artist and real estate developer Eric Rudd was the only person certified. Mayor Alcombright did deliver his papers to the city clerk’s office Thursday morning, but they were not yet certified. Barrett, who would not speak on tape, says he is running because of an effort by people asking him to consider a bid. He says he will detail his campaign after submitting his papers. Rudd, originally an Alcombright supporter, admits a run by Barrett hurts his chances.
“Now Dick [Alcombright] can say to supporters ‘If you don’t vote for me, if drift and maybe vote for Rudd, you’re going to be helping John Barrett,’” Rudd explained. “And John Barrett is going to say the same thing to his people so we’ll get back to the same two camps and people will be afraid of breaking out and doing something different.”
Mayor Alcombright is seeking a fourth two-year term. On Wednesday he had no comment on Barrett’s move to take out papers. Alcombright says his primary focus is to get back in the chair.
“It goes back to the roots of why I ran in 2009,” Alcombright said. “Fiscal integrity, transparency and really opening up government for folks in the community.”
Rudd says city leadership has not taken advantage of assets like MASS MoCA since it opened in 1999, when Barrett was mayor. Rudd sees a desolate downtown as economic failure and looks toward adjusting where people park their cars and spend their time to change that.
“My proposal initially to have a VIP parking lot with in and out privileges at MASS MoCA for $5 for the day,” Rudd said. “The whole downtown should be absolutely free. There are three main access points to North Adams going east and west on Route 2 and north on Route 8, we should have big banners and they should say ‘Welcome to North Adams, home of MASS MoCA and MCLA, free downtown parking.’ During the summer and fall months we should have shuttles going back and forth….trolleys, golf carts and bicycle rickshaws.”
Rudd has not reached out to the museum about his idea. It costs 25 cents an hour to park on Main Street.
Alcombright says he’d like to see more people living downtown and is hopeful a new Colegrove Park Elementary School, a developing signage program and improving pedestrian access can assist that. The mayor says he will consider seeking a request for proposals for the shuttered Mohawk Theater if the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts doesn’t see an equation that could make the space work as a campus building in the next year and a half. He says the biggest issue the city is facing is growth, or lack thereof, which could soften tax increases and allow North Adams to complete infrastructure projects, which it hasn’t done in six years in the face of 70-plus water breaks in 2015 alone.
“The answer is stabilization of our budget and growth,” Alcombright said. “I think we’ve kind of done both. I’ve built six budgets that on average have not exceeded 1.1 percent increases. That’s virtually flat line. Now what we need to do is grow our base. We’ve seen a new Cumberland Farms, we’ve had Walmart come online, we’ve got another Cumberland Farms on Route 2 that’s being built, CVS is talking to us and we’ve got this great development going on right now on the west end on the Greylock Mill.”
Rudd touts his redevelopment of the Eclipse Mill into apartments as an example of his ability to think creatively and add tax dollars to the city’s coffers. He says bringing in more people by offering them a desirable live-work lifestyle will ease the tax burden on the city’s residents. Rudd adds that the city needs a full-service hospital following last year’s closure of North Adams Regional.
“Not having a hospital – that’s the economic kiss of death,” Rudd said. “If you’re a young couple would you want to come here and go 40 minutes or so to get to the hospital?”
Alcombright has said he wouldn’t want to see a healthcare facility open only to close again. Adding that he doesn’t intend to run for higher office or remain mayor for 10 more years, Alcombright says he’s motivated to make North Adams a better place for the people who live there.
“I loathe politics,” Alcombright said. “I’m not a politician. I’m not good at it. People who support me almost beat me up over that.”
Richard David Greene and Nik Lareau have also taken out mayoral nominating papers. A message for Greene was not returned. A LinkedIn profile for Lareau describes her as an information services professional. If there are more than two certified candidates, a preliminary election will be held September 22nd.
Update: Richard David Greene, who describes himself as a writer and social activist, says he is running a message campaign that he doesn’t expect will garner many votes.