The seven candidates, three incumbents and four challengers, who are running for four at large positions on the Pittsfield City Council, all have strengths and selling points to offer voters. There is no mayoral race to galvanize voters this year, but that does not make the race for City Council positions any less important.
Incumbent Barry Clairmont promised two years ago that he would be a fiscal watchdog for voters and he has been. A certified public accountant, he has used what he describes as his "unique skill set" to make sure that city expenditures are justified and well-spent. In that regard, we don't see him as anti-education, as he has been described because of his questioning of the school budget, but as a councilor who wants to assure that school funds are spent wisely. The Eagle doesn't always agree with Mr. Clairmont's conclusions and votes -- neither does Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi -- but we believe he is motivated by financial concerns not political ones.
Incumbent Churchill Cotton is as quiet as some of his colleagues are boisterous, but listening carefully to his hushed and brief remarks reveal him as someone who brings the wisdom of experience to the council. Mr. Cotton is a conciliatory voice on a council that often needs one and a consistent progressive vote for the city. As an African-American, he also represents a growing constituency in the city. Ideally, more members of Pittsfield's various minority communities will participate in city elections two years from now.
In her first run for elective office, Donna Todd Rivers has brought a wealth of relevant experience to the campaign. The owner of a North Street business, she is an attorney who has worked in City Hall and served on a wide variety of community groups. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and if elected she promises to be a vocal advocate for the city who will embrace and initiate new ideas and concepts.
Kathleen Amuso has long been involved in city activities and would bring 10 years of hard-earned experience to the City Council. As a member of the School Committee and as co-chair of the School Building Needs Commission, she has been in the middle of the Taconic High School project and could help bring it to fruition. Also in her favor is her work four years ago with City Councilor Peter Marchetti in improving the contentious relationship between the council and School Committee.
James Conant, another member of the School Committee and the chairman of the Conservation Commission, brings a similar skill set to the table as Ms. Amuso. He is involved in a variety of Pittsfield groups and causes and should be an advocate of progressive measures to advance the city. Councilors Clairmont and Cotton earn a slight edge through experience, and candidates Rivers and Amuso get an edge because of their forceful campaigns.
Melissa Mazzeo has established herself as a hard worker who digs deeply into council issues. Her exploration of the city charter in pursuit of answers to knotty questions was instrumental in revealing the need for a new charter. A vocal opponent of former Mayor James Ruberto, Ms. Mazzeo is a vocal supporter of Mayor Bianchi, which is fine. What isn't, however, is her criticism of councilors who challenge the current mayor in the same manner she challenged the former mayor. Councilor Mazzeo challenged that contention in an interview at The Eagle, asserting that she was up-front in her criticism of Mayor Ruberto while Mayor Bianchi's critics have tried to undermine him behind the scenes. What goes on in private can't be judged, but councilors have as much right to challenge Mr. Bianchi at City Council meetings as she did Mr. Ruberto.
Regardless of who is elected to the City Council, the board must move beyond the Bianchi-Ruberto dynamic. That election was two years ago.
Mark Miller, who campaigned recently for state representative, has deep roots and great affection for the city. He is a dedicated progressive with bold ideas, such as his proposal to make agriculture a larger part of the city and county economy. Mr. Miller is well-versed in the large issues facing the nation and world, but his opponents have come across as stronger on specific city issues.
The Eagle endorses incumbents Barry Clairmont and Churchill Cotton and challengers Donna Todd Rivers and Kathleen Amuso for election to the four City Council at large positions.