|Pittsfield Mayoral Candidates Spar in First Debate |
|By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff|
04:03AM / Tuesday, August 27, 2019
|The four candidates for Pittsfield mayor running in the preliminary election faced off at Berkshire Community College on Monday. |
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With the September preliminary election nearing, the four mayoral candidates debated Monday night at Berkshire Community College.
The four candidates, Rusty Anchor owner Scott Graves, retired Pittsfield Police Officer Karen Kalinowsky, Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo, and incumbent Mayor Linda Tyer fielded questions from local radio personality Larry Kratka and made their pitch to potential voters.
The debate was held by the Pittsfield Gazette and aired by Pittsfield Community Television. The candidates were seated in the order of their appearance on the ballot.
With more than two candidates running for mayor, the city must hold a preliminary election. Voters will decide Sept. 17 which two candidates will secure spots in the Nov. 5 city election.
Each candidate gave a brief opening statement and Graves took some time to go over his own history and his climb from poverty to becoming a successful business and property owner.
"Through hard work and dedication, you can be who you want to be. I am a successful business owner with multiple businesses started from scratch," he said. "I have been here all of my life. I love this place ... and I have invested in our city quite a lot."
Tyer hit on some of her own achievements as mayor and noted she thought Pittsfield was making a come back through "specific and dedicated action." She specifically cited her creation of the Red Carpet Team to welcome business and the capturing of more than $17 million in grants and donations.
"When I took the oath of office in 2016, I dedicated myself to building a stronger city," she said. "This is our hometown and there ought to be promise and opportunity for every citizen."
Kalinowsky spoke of growing up in Pittsfield in a large family and cited her more than 30 years on the police force.
"I loved my job working for the police department I did community policing ... I believe the whole job is community policing if you are doing it right," she said. "I believe I can make a change with the crime and in the schools and on our streets."
Mazzeo told her own story and said she was raised by a single mother and learned the importance of service. She added that she has become frustrated with the current leadership over the past four years.
"I am very frustrated after being on the council for so long with our lack of leadership and let me say clearly that if elected I will be a four-year mayor," she said. "For years I have heard the residents' frustration and we can't keep doing things the way we have always done them."
Kratka first asked the candidates what have they heard the most from constituents when campaigning and Graves said the people he talked to told him they had concerns about increasing taxes. He suggested combating this by making the city more business-friendly through zoning changes and getting properties back on the tax roll.
Tyer said she heard a lot of positive things from people who enjoyed city events, amenities, and employment opportunities. She did note that people were not happy with the condition of the roads.
Kalinowsky said she heard the same things Tyer did but added that people were concerned with the school system and crime in the city.
Mazzeo said people told her that they wanted a change.
"They are disappointed because they were promised change. They were promised blight would be cleaned up and crime was going to be addressed," she said. "Each person that lives in their homes and pays their taxes they expect certain things to be taken care of ... they are starting to feel a bit disillusioned."
The conversation then moved to the police and community links to law enforcement and Tyer said the city has increased its focus on community policing under her administration as well as formed the Citizen Review and Advisory Board.
Kalinowsky did applaud the city's efforts to increase community policing and said she did not see a deficiency in the department’s relationship with the community. She did say the issue was with crime and people are not being held accountable for their actions.
"I am hearing that people aren't being charged because they have a drug problem. What about the victim?" she said. "Yes I feel bad for people but you have to hold them accountable ... from what I hear and see somehow the politics of the district attorney and the court is infiltrating itself in the Police Department. Police officers need to be able to do their job."
Mazzeo and Graves both agreed.
Kratka then asked the candidates what they would do if faced with a natural or manmade disaster that left the city without power for an extended period of time and Kalinowsky said the answer would be to stick to the emergency management plan.
Mazzeo said the city should continue to work with partners, departments and other communities to improve this plan. Graves added that he thought the most important thing when facing an emergency was clear communication.
Tyer said that under her administration, the city secured a $75,000 grant to fund a feasibility study to build a microgrid in the downtown area to power vital services in the case of a power outage. She said they are now in the planning stages of design for this microgrid.
Marijuana was the next topic and Kratka asked the candidates what their reaction was to the proposed outdoor marijuana cultivation on Barker Road.
Mazzeo said she was part of working with these new state regulations and setting the city’s own parameters to protect abuttors.
Graves said he did not have an issue with marijuana cultivation but thought abuttors should have a voice if an operation is proposed in their neighborhood.
Kalinowsky echoed Grave's comments and said she doesn't like the idea of marijuana cultivation within the city but understands it is a reality.
Tyer said when the state was rolling out these regulations she thought it was important for Pittsfield to quantify possible impacts. Before the city had its hands on these regulations, she was working on drafting an ordinance that would protect the city while supporting the new industry.
All four candidates thought green components should implemented in city projects if applicable.
In response to questions about city streets, Tyer agreed that there is a lot of work to do, citing the paving management plan that prioritizes projects with the resources the city has. She said more than 41 miles of road have been paved during her tenure and that the city is optimizing its resources.
Graves thinks the roads are bad and that potholes aren't being patched properly. He said he sustained damage to his own vehicle and after no response from the city, took it upon himself to patch his own road.
Kalinowsky also believes that most of the streets are in poor condition, specifically pointing out unaccepted streets that she thinks the city should look at accepting. She added that she did not think the city was properly addressing potholes and many of them simply do not last.
However, there has been more road work in the the last year, she said, attributing this to the fact that it is an election year.
Mazzeo said she thought there may be other reasons for the potholes and noted that piles of salt left from plowing does not help the situation She said the current leadership was making excuses for the city’s poor infrastructure.
She is also concerned about line painting and said that even in August, some roads are without lines. This does not create a friendly atmosphere for visitors and tourists, Mazzeo said, adding that in general, she thought there were a lot of public work issues that come down to poor leadership.
All the candidates agreed that the city should continue to push tourist and city information physically in public and on social media.
Tyer took time out of her response to tourism to address Kalinowsky’s comment that more roads were only being paved because it was an election year. She said she has been active throughout her tenure citing the creation of the Red Carpet Team, hiring a business development manager, and the development of the Berkshire Innovation Center.
"It is just baloney," she said. "I am going to promise you one thing: I am going to work hard in year one, year two, year three, and in year four, even though it is an election year."
Kratka’s last question of the night was what can the city do to become more age-friendly.
Tyer said the city has worked to become more accessible in all ways but felt it has to continue a push to develop a pickleball court.
Mazzeo said she thought seniors are a wealth of knowledge that the city should continue to tap. They, too, are frustrated about infrastructure and accessibility, she said, and many elderly do not feel safe on North Street.
Kalinowsky echoed Mazzeo’s comments on crime on North Street and said seniors do not feel safe with theft and drinking out in the open. She said this could be taken care of by putting an officer on the street. She added that she did not think it was fair to keep raising taxes with many elderly living on a fixed income.
Graves said he had heard from older citizens that they do not feel as though they have a voice at City Hall.
"We have to let people in and I can't reiterate that enough," he said. "If you call the mayor's office and you can't get through and there is not a chance of ever having a meeting — that will never happen with me. I will be there and available like I am with all of my successful businesses"
The debate wound down after about an hour and a half and Kratka opened up the floor for closing remarks.
"I am not a politician, I am not business as usual, I'm very neat and tidy, and everything I start I finish," Graves said. "I never going to say something that I'm not going to come through with and I want to listen to the people and be available to the people."
"Under my leadership, we have been at all of these tables asking how can we improve our shared responsibility to one another digging in and solving problems," Tyer said. "Pittsfield needs four more years of proven leadership. Pittsfield needs four more years of thoughtful yet decisive action. I will be ready tomorrow morning and I will be ready in January 2020."
"I am hands-on and when I worked in law enforcement anything that was put in front of me I went right in and did," Kalinowsky said. "If you vote for me for mayor that's what I will do, I am not going to sit behind a desk. If I have to be out there in the streets I will be out there. If I have to be in a DPW truck, I will be. You have to hold people accountable you are the boss."
"We have some serious issues ... and having 10 years experience on the City Council ... I am frustrated," Mazzeo said. "I can't create the policy. I have to sit there and when it comes across the desk fund it. I want to be in that seat and for four years I will be a very active mayor."