|Pittsfield Ward Candidates Make Their Pitch to Voters|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff |
05:21AM / Saturday, October 16, 2021
|Dina Guiel Lampiasi was the only incumbent at Thursday's debate defending her seat. That debate for Ward 6, the last of the evening, was also the most confrontational as challenger Edward Carmel attacked her record.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Eight City Council candidates running for the contested wards — Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 6 — debated for the first time on Thursday.
The forum was held at the Berkshire Athenaum as a partnership between iBerkshires.com and Pittsfield Community Television. It was moderated by iBerkshires Executive Editor Tammy Daniels and Pittsfield Bureau Chief Brittany Polito.
Candidate conversations had overlapping themes of addressing homelessness, violence in the community, various aspects of housing, and funding infrastructure improvements. Each debate was 25 minutes with time for opening and closing statements, and Daniels and Polito took turns moderating.
The debate was mostly civil but candidates didn't agree on all topics. The panelists expressed different views on how the city should handle trash, the Springside Park pump track proposal, and Student Resource Officers in the schools.
All candidates were asked how they believe the city should allocate nearly $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, which generated a variety of responses.
There are no races in Wards 3, 5, and 7. The candidates for School Committee will debate live on Monday evening beginning at 7 in the library auditorium; the councilors at large debate will be Tuesday at 7 p.m., also in the library auditorium. Both can also be watched on PCTV's Select, Citylink Channel 1303 and on the station's Facebook page.
Kenneth Warren, a former councilor, is hoping to return as the Ward 1 representative; Andrea Wilson, a newcomer, has experience serving on volunteer boards and councils.
Attorney Kenneth Warren, who served on the School Committee and as Ward 2 councilor in the 1980s, and newcomer Andrea Wilson are running to represent Ward 1. Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon is not be seeking re-election.
Warren ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 1 seat in 2019. He has lived in the ward for 37 years.
Wilson said she is a mother, wife, and an active member of the community. She has been on the PTO board of her children's elementary schools for the past 11 years and has been on an animal shelter board for the last four years.
She and Warren both expressed a need to address the roads when asked what their top priorities for the ward are.
Wilson said speeding through the neighborhoods is a big issue and hopes that the roundabout being constructed at the intersection of Tyler Street, Woodlawn Avenue, and Tyler Street Extension will remedy that.
She also expressed a need for bringing the community back into neighborhoods and finding things for the youth to do.
Warren suggested aggressive road repair using ARPA funds, claiming that there is a creative way of doing that.
He said affordable housing is especially a Ward 1 issue because there are unhoused people camped out in Springside Park.
"It was worse last year but they're still there and this year," he added. "We need to work on getting affordable housing, low-income housing, and shelter for people to live in, especially as the winter comes up."
To provide affordable housing, he later said the city should take money from the sources that are already available to provide to different agencies or contractors in the field.
Wilson added that the lack of affordable housing is citywide.
"I would say that it's not just a Ward 1 issue I do think that it is in every ward issue," she said.
If the city is able to build up Tyler Street, Wilson believes that having affordable housing in that area with nearby resources would be ideal.
Both candidates agreed on the driving force behind tackling crimes and violence is first addressing substance abuse and mental health.
"Being somebody that actually works on North Street, I think the biggest issue is substance abuse and mental health and it's really finding adequate services, and with mental health and substance abuse, that's where you find the rise in crime and homelessness," Wilson said.
"I think tackling those issues, finding adequate services, appropriate places for people to be able to find, being more proactive rather than reactive to those situations is, I think, going to, you'll find, it will be a big difference in our community."
Warren agreed in regards to mental health and drug abuse programs. He also advocated for more police visibility in the downtown area.
The candidates were specifically asked how the city should solve its problem with homelessness, to which both highlighted the importance of shelters to house those in urgent situations.
When asked if they believe the current Homelessness Advisory Committee is effective in a lightning round, Wilson said "yes" and Warren ultimately said "no."
In regard to the Springside Park pump track proposal that has caused controversy over the past year, Wilson said she thinks it is a positive addition to the community and Warren seconded that, adding that he has spoken to people involved with the park who support it.
Warren believes that the council should have a say in how the ARPA funds are spent and reiterated his own statement that there are creative ways that the monies.
"That money can be spent on anything that the city is intended to spend it on," he added.
Wilson agreed with using the money for road repairs but also advocated for using it throughout the city where it is necessary.
Matthew Kudlate, left, and Charles Kronick are vying for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council.
Newcomers Matthew Kudlate and Charles Kronick are running to represent Ward 2, as Councilor Kevin Morandi will not be seeking re-election.
Kudlate was raised in Pittsfield and has been in Ward 2 for more than 15 years. An Army veteran and a former Pittsfield firefighter, he runs a small business in the city and has three children who attend Pittsfield Public Schools.
Kronick is a Williams College graduate with experience in the fields of business, finance, and the arts.
Both candidates expressed a need for an increase in police officers to address crime and violence in the community.
Kronick believes police salaries need to be raised to attract more officers, as it is a dangerous job.
Kudlate said the Pittsfield Police Department currently has 89 officers when it was budgeted for 97. He added that Pittsfield should have 120 officers for the number of people that are in the city and the size of it geographically.
"I just met with the police chief just two days ago to discuss a lot of these same issues, and have an extensive tour of the station, I believe we need to look at getting them a new station or a new headquarters, even if it's just in an older building so that they can update, what they need, they don't have enough space where they are right now," he added.
"And I believe we need to look at the hiring process for the police and see if that is efficient as it could be. I'm told right now that it takes over a year to get a new officer on the street, and then there's a probationary period and they don't all make it, so I think getting more officers on the street and re-evaluating that hiring process is a good start."
Kronick believes that people on a fixed income are not going to be helped by affordable housing because they need steady units with rent that is not affected by the market. He also expressed a need for the city to encourage homeownership to build capital and wealth.
Kudlate said the city needs more housing of all types, adding that the city needs to continue working with companies like CT Management, which renovated St. Mary's Church into the Morningstar Apartments and will soon convert the Tyler Street firehouse into units, and Mill Town Capital, which is building and renovating apartment buildings on Tyler Street.
The candidates also spoke about trash, which has become a regular topic on City Council agendas. Kronick said research has been done that proves a pay-as-you-throw trash system is most efficient but does not support it for Pittsfield.
He also stressed the need for plastic recycling and monetizing cardboard for high-value recycling.
Kudlate said every part of the trash system needs to be re-evaluated because the cost has gone up significantly over the past couple of years.
The candidates were also asked if they believe the city has too many cannabis cultivation sites and dispensaries and if there is an odor associated with them that affects residents.
Kudlate said there is certainly an odor at times when driving down Dalton Avenue, referring to Berkshire Roots' facility, and that the city should evaluate if there should be a limit on commercial cultivation.
He added that he would not support outdoor cultivation.
Kronick said it was a big mistake to open the doors to all of the dispensaries the city has. He added that the city is coming to be known for its amount of dispensaries and there needs to be a discussion about bringing the number down.
He finds it "outrageous" that cannabis can be advertised on billboards where youth can see them and thinks the city needs to be more transparent about cannabis tax revenue spending.
In terms of ARPA spending, both candidates would like to see ARPA funds spend on broadband and public infrastructure.
Kronick added he would also like to see it invested into the Morningside area and Kudlate said he would like the ward councilors to at least be consulted in the spending of the funds along with constituents.
Andrew Wrinn, left, and James Conant say they have the experience to represent Ward 4.
Newcomer Andrew Wrinn and former School Committee member James Conant are running to represent Ward 4, as Councilor Chris Connell will not be seeking re-election.
Wrinn was born and raised in Pittsfield. He is a retired Pittsfield firefighter and a former director of the American Red Cross emergency services.
Conant is also a Pittsfield native and has lived in Ward 4 for 25 years. He has served on the city's Parks Commission, chaired the Community Preservation Committee, and is currently chairman of the Conservation Commission.
Both candidates identified infrastructure improvements as top priorities within the ward.
Conant would like to see road and sidewalk improvement. He said he has spoken to many residents who are disillusioned with city services in these areas.
He also finds advocating for the schools important.
Wrinn would like to see flooding within the ward addressed, especially in the areas of Mountain Drive.
"This issue is being looked at, but nothing has been done for a number of years now," he added. "And then it's getting worse as time goes on."
He also expressed concern for the Holmes Road bridge that has been under construction and reduced to one lane since 2018.
The Verizon cell tower at 877 South St. has made headlines over the last year because of neighbors saying they have been negatively affected by it.
Wrinn and Conant both said the permitting process that led to the tower's placement needs to be evaluated and Conant said it appropriate to have it taken down.
The candidates both agreed that the Homelessness Advisory Committee is a good start to addressing the issue but recognized the underlying factors that lead to homelessness.
Wrinn said that as a member of the American Red Cross, he saw it was a very complex issue. Conant said it is mostly brought on by addiction and mental illness, which increases the need for getting homeless individuals services to get them help.
In terms of crime and violence within the city, Conant believes that the Pittsfield Police Department is understaffed and should have walking patrols and Wrinn believes that the community should work with the police to address the issue.
The candidates were also asked if they are concerned with outside investment driving up housing prices in the ward and city and if there should be more affordable housing.
"No I'm not concerned anytime anyone wants to invest in our community, it's a positive issue to have," Conant said.
"Affordable housing is a very large community and statewide issue, I don't know where the affordable housing location would fit in Ward 4, Ward 4 is a very traditional neighborhood-based area and it's really a citywide issue."
Wrinn recognized that Ward 4 is mostly single-family homes with some multi-family, but not many. He said that since there is no industry in the ward and not many businesses, the area is limited to what they have for space and the type of buildings they can have.
Both candidates see an issue in a pay-as-you-throw trash system possibly costing families more than they would be comfortable paying for the service. Conant said that at this time, he would support Mayor Linda Tyer's toter system that was discarded in 2018.
Conant and Wrinn both expressed that they have gotten complaints during their campaign outreach about the new configuration of North Street that turns it into one lane to make way for bike paths.
Conant said he would support eliminating them as soon as possible.
In a quick answer round, they were asked about the Springside pump track proposal and both candidates said they like the concept of the idea but just need more information on details such as the size and the security plan.
When asked how the ARPA funds should be allocated, Conant said 50 percent of the fund should go to municipal buildings, especially the schools, and the remaining should be divided up for nonprofit organizations and broadband expansion.
Wrinn believes the money should go to economic development for job training, workforce development, or broadband expansion.
"Public safety is another issue that we should use some of that money for, housing, health, and human services, we should have a consortium of business people and the public to sit down and decide what they want to do with it at this point," he added. "I think it's smarter to see I just hired somebody to be an administrator because we only have two years to use it, so the plan should be community-based planning."
Dina Guiel Lampiasi is being challenged by Ed Carmel, who she beat two years ago to take the Ward 6 seat.
Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi is being challenged for re-election by former Homelessness Prevention Committee Chair Edward Carmel.
Lampiasi is seeking her second term on the council. She was voted into office for the first time in 2019 over Craig Gaetani and Carmel.
Carmel has especially focused his advocacy on the unhoused population since a boom in homelessness happened in the city shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the third time that he will be running for a seat on the City Council. Four years ago, Carmel ran at-large and, two years ago, he ran for Ward 6 but didn't make it past the preliminary election.
Throughout the debate, the two clashed the most as compared to the other ward contenders. Carmel addressed Lampiasi directly a couple of times, and she took the opportunity for rebuttal.
Because Ward 6 is located within the West Side and largely has had more issues of crime and violence over the other wards, these were central topics of discussion along with homelessness.
The candidates both agreed that to address homelessness, the city needs to embrace a housing first model and needs to address the underlying factors of homelessness such as substance abuse and mental illness.
Carmel has previously stated that he does not believe the Homelessness Advisory Panel is effective and should be rescinded.
When asked if there are gaps in the city's response to the opioid crisis and mental health, both agreed that there are gaps but not on how to address them.
Lampiasi said that without a doubt, the city does not have enough service providers and clinicians. She recognized it is a state and federal problem and that programming needs to instituted to attract more professionals that can help people battling with substance issues and mental illness.
Carmel said that it is a Pittsfield problem and has nothing to do with the state.
"This has to do with Pittsfield, and Pittsfield needs to take this problem under control," he said. "[Mayor Linda Tyer] needs to step up and take this situation [under] control, the councilors need to step up and take this [under] control."
Lampiasi was offered a rebuttal.
"I would just like to highlight the reality of the opioid epidemic that we are enduring right now, and the impact that it has had on drug addiction in our communities and the increased need that we have for clinicians addiction facilities and along with mental health treatment," she said.
"We are in a crisis, but it is not unique to history, we have real problems here in this field that we need to address."
To address crime and violence in the city, Carmel called for an increase in police presence in problem areas with substations. He called out Lampiasi as being in support of "defunding" the Police Department's budget by $205,000 during budget season.
Lampiasi pointed out that the number was largely influenced by a $190,000 error in the spreadsheet.
She added that the city has to be honest with itself about the underlying conditions that lead to violence and crime in the city. In order to address those, she said the city needs to invest in its youth and community by providing healthy alternatives.
The two also disagreed when asked how the school district should address recent outbreaks of violence at Taconic High School.
Carmel believes that the answer is to have Student Resource Officers or police officers at every school while Lampiasi said SROs are not the answer because they won't fix the underlying problems that contribute to the violence.
The candidates were also asked two "yes or no" questions relating to a pay-as-you-throw trash system and the Springside Park pump track proposal.
Carmel does not support the trash system or the pump track and Lampiasi supports both.
Lampiasi would love to see an investment in municipal broadband structure with the ARPA funds. She thinks this can be used as a revenue source and to attract young professionals who work remotely.
She would also like to see investments in housing infrastructure, both low income and market rate, in the neighborhoods, and in the city's water and sewer.
Carmel believes that at least $15 million of the monies should be spent on the renovation of Pittsfield Public Schools. Other areas of ARPA investment he advocates for are in the city's roads and sidewalks and bringing in more police.