Pittsfield, North Adams Voters Choose Political Insiders In Mayoral Races

Sep 28, 2015

After preliminary elections dwindled down the number of candidates, voters in Pittsfield and North Adams will head to the polls in five weeks to choose their respective mayors.

Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi took home 39 percent of the vote in last week’s preliminary election as 55 percent went to City Clerk Linda Tyer. Donna Walto and Craig Gaetani were eliminated from the race in a count that saw less than 19 percent of the city’s 27,000 registered voters turn out. Thanks to a recent charter change, November’s winner will serve Pittsfield’s first four-year mayoral term.

Three days after the preliminary, Bianchi challenged Tyer to five debates focusing on public safety, education, economic development and city management. Bianchi says experience is what sets him apart from Tyer on these issues.

“Plain and simple…training and experience,” Bianchi said. “At some point people are going to have to take a look at the qualifications of the candidates and determine who they want to manage a $150 million operation.”

Bianchi suggested the fifth and final debate be all-encompassing or feature a topic suggested by Tyer. In a statement released hours after Bianchi’s call, Tyer said “Bring it on.”

“I have I believe a stronger ability to develop a shared vision, to set priorities, to assess systems and to hold people accountable for their work,” Tyer said. “It’s what’s expected of us and it’s what the people of Pittsfield deserve when they give us the privilege of leading the city.”

The debates are yet to be scheduled. Tyer says she feels inclined to let the final debate feature multiple topics.

On Sept. 28, Gaetani told WAMC News he is seeking a write-in candidacy.

Meanwhile in North Adams, voters are seeing a repeat of 2009’s race when Richard Alcombright ousted 25-year mayor John Barrett. This time Alcombright is the incumbent and Barrett is trying to regain the corner office for a two-year term. Barrett finished with 51 percent of the preliminary vote as Alcombright received 40 percent. Political newcomer Eric Rudd was eliminated. Barrett says he never thought he would take more than half of the votes and wants to talk about issues like the affordability of living in North Adams.

“I think the other important issue that we all feel in the city of North Adams is that we just feel as though we have to start moving our community forward,” Barrett said. “We have to address the economic development problem that we’re facing here which means jobs. We have to have a clear strategy in so many ways whether it’s dealing with our downtown or creating more light manufacturing jobs. We can’t just be a one industry community which we’re starting to go to right now.”

Roughly 28 percent of North Adams’ 8,500 voters turned out for the preliminary. Barrett says he’d like to debate twice weekly from now until Election Day. So far debates are scheduled for Oct. 19th at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Oct. 27th at WNAW Radio, according to Barrett.

Alcombright did not return a call seeking comment in time for broadcast.

MCLA political science professor Ben Taylor is teaching a local politics course with the North Adams race the primary focus. He says the enormous amount of name recognition for Barrett and Alcombright makes this nonpartisan race unique.

“This is a very candidate-centered election,” Taylor said. “So candidates have their own brand, if you will. I think that Mr. Barrett and Mr. Alcombright have two very clearly defined brands for the people of North Adams. We can talk about issues, but really this comes down to a turnout election. Who can get their people to turn out the best? I think that is going to be a fascinating aspect to this race.”

For both races, Taylor says the major issues are economic development and how it impacts taxes, crime and other areas like healthcare. With Tyer and Barrett the top vote getters, Taylor says their supporters were more excited to vote in the preliminaries.

“Now whether or not that carries through to the general election, that is the question,” Taylor said. “I think you can say they have the momentum right now, but if think about it from a pre-preliminary standpoint of whose voters were going to be the most engaged to begin with? It’s going to be challenger’s voters because they’re going to go out and vote for their guy or lady and show everybody that they’ve got something going on.”