Tuesday May 17, 2011

PITTSFIELD - Amid heavy opposition from hundreds of city residents, Mayor James M. Ruberto has dropped his plan to change Columbus Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Ruberto was seeking City Council approval for the name change, but Monday night he submitted a brief letter to the Committee on Public Works and Utilities asking the council subcommittee to send the matter back to him "for further community discussion and consideration." The five-member panel unanimously agreed with his request.

"The petition ... has elicited an unfortunate amount of controversy, something which is not befitting this great man of social change," wrote Ruberto.

The proposal came as a surprise to many councilors and residents when Ruberto formally presented the name change to the City Council three weeks ago. The 11- member panel referred the matter to the public works committee for debate and a recommendation. Opposition quickly arose as nearly 75 residents of Berkshiretown apartments, an elderly housing project on Columbus Avenue, petitioned the council at its April 26 meeting to reject the mayor's proposal. Since then, 400 more people signed petitions objecting to the name change, citing Ruberto's lack of community input. The strong opposition was still evident during Tuesday night's meeting.

"He came in here [with the attitude], ' My way or no way,' " Mary Lou Robinson said during Tuesday's public works meeting "I think it was just pure arrogance.


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The name change seemed to come out of the blue, according to Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

"It came pretty quick and with little discussion beforehand from the mayor's office," Krol said.

Ruberto's rationale for the proposal is that Pittsfield has been "remiss" about honoring the slain civil rights leader with a street or park in his name.

The mayor believed Columbus Avenue is an appropriate choice because it connects the West Side neighborhood to North Street.

While many city residents have no qualms about recognizing King and his accomplishments, some are concerned about the financial burden posed by renaming a street. Opponents cited the cost associated with changing addresses on driver's licenses, checking accounts, letterhead and other items.

Other residents opposed the name change because they are unwilling to give up the Columbus Avenue designation because it honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo suggested a special committee be formed to recommend how best Pittsfield can honor King and others in the future.