The candidates vying for open seats on the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council have debated for the first time.
With incumbent councilors Donna Todd Rivers and John Krol not running for their Ward 5 and 6 seats, respectively, a handful of Pittsfielders are making their case to replace them. Six of the seven gathered at Berkshire Community College Monday night for the conversation broadcast by Pittsfield Community Television.
In Ward 5, Jonathan Lothrop – who held the seat for over a decade before stepping down in 2015 – said he supported the recently approved plan for outdoor marijuana cultivation on Barker Road agricultural land.
“I think it’s the kind of thing, frankly, that bring jobs and money back into the economy of Berkshire County," said Lothrop. "It makes farmland more valuable, it gives jobs for people who need them, and it is a high-growth, high-margin industry, which is exactly the kind of thing, frankly, that we need to help our economy.”
Fellow Ward 5 candidate Eugene Maselli said marijuana is not the way to bring the city forward.
“Why? I worked for Berkshire Medical for over 30 years, and I saw, when it came time to retire, these kids were coming in all out of it," said the candidate. "Ambulances, everything. What I’m seeing now is a repeat of what’s been going on, except it’s getting worse. I’m sorry. North Street is nice, it’s beautiful, but it’s not the North Street I knew. You should be up there in the morning, you should be up there in the afternoon, you should be up there in the evening, and see what’s going on. It’s not good. And it’s not good, these young kids are getting tied up with this marijuana.”
The third candidate going for Ward 5 – easily the youngest person on the stage – is Patrick Kavey, who said the city needs new voices and new perspectives. The former manager of the South Street Ben & Jerry’s – who says he was internationally recognized by the company for his work in Pittsfield – said he supports developing the city’s marijuana industry.
“Taxes from marijuana would go specifically to substance abuse, would go towards our youth, go to public education, education based on drugs, rehabilitation – I would probably have voted similarly and approved marijuana going in on Barker Road,” said Kavey.
In Ward 6, candidates fielded a question about community-police relations.
“I would say the whole city in itself is on edge," said Edward Carmel. “The police are not trained enough. Why I do know this? Because I watch scenarios unfold. I’ve seen like 10 or 12 in the last two years unfold right when I was right near a scenario. It’s grab and it’s cuff and stuff. Serious stuff. They just grab them and ram them against the car. That has to stop, because this makes other residents worry what if something happened in their neighborhood.”
Perennial candidate Craig Gaetani – a ubiquitous figure at city council meetings, often railing against municipal leaders – disagreed with Carmel’s assessment that more cops are needed, saying that the issue was one of strategy, particularly involving the city’s struggle with drugs.
“Knowing that these are the areas that have caused the greatest amount of problems for the police, you would think that there would be a policeman stationed at Zenner’s and A-Mart on North Street during the nighttime hours," said Gaetani. "But it’s not. Over at Cumberland Farms is another area where there’s big problems with drugs.”
Reiterating his demand that the city outfit police with body cameras, Gaetani claimed West Side and Morningside residents don’t trust the police.
“The only time the police are being seen there is after the crime has occurred," he said. "If you put the police there before the crime occurs, you start to have relationships with the police and the community.”
Regarding the much discussed use of metered parking in the city’s core, Gaetani argued the current system is prohibitively difficult for the elderly, saying it keeps them from visiting downtown.
“Maybe we should go all free parking on North Street, all free parking, and where will we make up the money from going all free parking?" asked Gaetani. "Well, cut one useless assistant superintendent in the school department and there’s all your money.”
Candidate Dina Guiel Lampiasi – who ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 2 seat in 2017 – rebutted the remark, prompting a response from Gaetani in one of the evening’s only major back-and-forths.
“It’s imperative to our success as a city that we have a multigenerational city, a place where anywhere from childhood to our later years in life we can thrive, and that includes making parking in our downtown area accessible," she said. "But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we have a contractual obligation, we’ve gotten ourselves into the situation where we have the meters, so now we have to make it work – otherwise the garage would never have been remediated. But we don’t make it work for our residents by cutting out the superintendent of schools which is there to help insure that we have quality education.”
“I think it’s very acceptable,” said Gaetani.
“That’s absurd!” remarked Guiel Lampiasi.
“That’s your opinion,” Gaetani responded.
“That’s absurd," laughed Guiel Lampiasi. "That is my opinion.”
Guiel Lampiasi also directly responded to repeated insinuations from Carmel that her position in the Berkshire District Attorney’s office as director of operations amounted to her working for a special interest group in the election.
“Those who have worked with me on the boards and committees and other areas of the city know my character," said the candidate. "They know that I come from three generations of small business owners, and I’m not owned by anybody. I’m an independent thinker, and I wouldn’t be up here tonight if I didn’t want to work for the voters, so thank you Mr. Carmel for that.”
You can hear the full Ward 5 debate below. Due to a technical issue, it begins in the middle of candidate Jonathan Lothrop's introduction.
You can hear the full Ward 6 debate below.