PITTSFIELD -- Seven candidates, including three incumbents, are competing for four at large City Council seats in Tuesday's election.
Council President Kevin Sherman is not seeking re-election, but incumbents Barry Clairmont, Melissa Mazzeo and Churchill Cotton are on the city ballot.
The challengers are Mark Miller, Donna Todd Rivers, Kathleen Amuso and James Conant. Candidate profiles are listed below in alphabetical order.
Kathleen Amuso, of Leona Drive, a member of the School Committee, said, "I want to use the knowledge and expertise I have obtained over the last 10 years and use it as a city councilor."
Amuso, 56, said she could work in a manner that might defuse recent disputes among councilors and the administration.
"I think it's OK to have 6-5 votes," Amuso added, "but it's the way you do it. You have to work on the issues, not on personal issues. Respectfully do the work and a lot of that goes away."
As co-chairwoman of the city Building Needs Study Commission, which is considering a major building project at Taconic High School, Amuso said she acknowledges the slow progress toward that goal. But she said the state, which is supplying an estimated 78 to 80 percent of the project funding, has had a role in slowing the process, such as by at one point asking the city to consider a regional school.
Now, it appears a consultant to conduct a feasibility study and produce designs for a new or refurbished school will be chosen soon, she said.
Amuso said "It is too early in the process" to give up on the chance for industrial uses at the William Stanley Business Park, where a large retail project has been proposed. "We have to make sure we market this to its full potential [for industry]," she said.
On the revised city charter, which also is going before voters on Tuesday, she said she will vote for it and supports the four-year term for mayor and allowing pay for School Committee members, which is not allowed in the current charter.
Amuso said she would like to see streetscape improvements on North Street extended toward Wahconah Street.
Amuso is director of physician relations at Berkshire Health Systems and a former teacher.
Barry Clairmont, of Lillybrook Road, an incumbent seeking a second term, said: "I would like to stay on the council because I believe the city needs someone with a financial background and the skill sets that I have."
Clairmont, 50, has worked as a certified
The councilor has become known as a persistent questioner on funding and other issues, often criticizing proposals submitted by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi or his administration.
"It is nice if everybody gets along," Clairmont said, "but I'm not sure that is happening." He added that having a respectful debate on issues is key, and he said he's tried to take that approach while raising important points.
Concerning a $200,000 cut the council made at Clairmont's suggestion from the $55.7 million School Department request at the last meeting on the budget plan in June, he said that should not be construed as anti-education spending.
"I think it's a misconception that I'm against school funding," he said. Clairmont said his analysis of the school budget showed large amounts being maintained in rollover accounts and in the fuel account, and the $200,000 cut he proposed was only a fraction of that amount.
"I am saying, if they [the School Committee] need more staff, then go get it," Clairmont said. "Go hire math teachers. Don't keep the money in a piggy bank."
School officials argued that they have to be conservative in budgeting because state aid or other factors could suddenly change, leaving the schools short during the school year. Clairmont contended that he and other councilors would vote to raise more funding if shortfalls resulted, if the increase was seen as justified.
Clairmont said he will vote against the proposed charter revision because it would give mayors a four-year term while leaving council terms at two years.
James Conant, of Lucia Drive, currently is a member of the School Committee and is chairman of the city Conservation Commission and is a past member of the Park Commission.
"I have the knowledge of how city government works from the experience of having served on boards and committees over the years," Conant said, adding that he wants to "encourage our community to be the best we can be, as so many have before us."
In seeking a council post, Conant, 57, has proposed consideration of a charter school in Pittsfield in an effort to bring back students now choosing to attend schools elsewhere.
He also said he favors the charter revision proposal as "long overdue" in Pittsfield, and greater efforts to defuse pro- and anti-administration sentiment on the council.
"Unless there is an overwhelming reason, I think you have to go with it," he said of most initiatives from the mayor. In general, he said, "I can get along with anybody, and I am familiar with the people in city government."
Concerning a retail proposal for the William Stanley Business Park, Conant said, "I think retail should be the last option. Do I think we have given [industrial uses] our best shot? Absolutely not."
Conant said he favors continuing streetscape improvements on North Street, extending toward the Wahconah Street area.
And he said priorities should be construction of a new Taconic High School and obtaining funding for a new police headquarters building.
In advocating a charter school, Conant said forming a committee to study the feasibility of a Horace Mann-style school "would be a proactive idea" to deal with the loss of students and funding to school choice transfers outside Pittsfield.
He works as course superintendent at the Country Club of Pittsfield and is past president of the city Babe Ruth Baseball League, and has been active with other organizations overseeing programs for youth.
Churchill Cotton, of Donovan Street, is seeking his second council term after serving two terms on the School Committee.
He said he believes "there are Pittsfield residents that are not represented in City Hall, and I want all residents to feel represented."
He added that his life experiences "would add a perspective to issues that can help in making the best possible decisions for the city."
Concerning divisions on the council, Cotton said he believes that sometimes debates are more about "process than the issues," meaning councilors feel they haven't had a larger role in shaping initiatives.
"I think this means a lot to some councilors," he said. "Sometimes that's good, sometimes bad."
Of the Stanley Business Park, Cotton said, "I think retail should be an option, should be explored," especially in light of a $10 million investment that might be required for environmental cleanup before a company could locate on the largest parcel.
"We also need help now [with the tax base]," he said. "Advanced manufacturing takes time."
Cotton said the city must push the Taconic High School building project forward. He said that unlike some, he doesn't have the emotional attachment to Pittsfield High School and would consider building one new high school at the Taconic site, because he believes more money could be put into programming.
His second choice, he said, is for a "state of the art vocational school" at a new Taconic High.
Cotton said he favors completion of the streetscape improvements on North Street to the area of Berkshire Medical Center. He said that during a recent Third Thursday event there, he realized, "It's dark down here."
He would also like to see merchants staying open later in the evenings.
Cotton is a senior cash analyst at Guardian Life Insurance Co. and formerly worked for KB Toys and for 25 years at GE. He is president of the Samuel Harrison Society and a former Westside Initiative Steering Committee president.
Melissa Mazzeo, 48, of Winesap Road, said she will vote for the city charter overhaul and is hoping for a new City Council more amenable to proposals from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, whom she has generally supported.
"I'm absolutely hoping for change in this election," Mazzeo said.
She said some councilors seem to be questioning Bianchi initiatives with "ulterior motives" that are more political than related to the issues. "This is not working," she added. "This is bogging us down."
Bianchi, unopposed for a second term, thus far has lacked the type of solid majority former Mayor James M. Ruberto had in his final terms, Mazzeo said. "In the prior administration, it was always ‘yes,' ‘yes,' ‘yes,' ‘yes' in the council," she said.
"You hear he's [Bianchi] is not getting things done," she said, adding that Mayor Ruberto likely started slowly as well.
"It's a hard job," she said.
Mazzeo said she favors industrial uses over retail at the Stanley Business Park and believes a proposed life sciences building there, if it becomes a reality, would spur other development.
She also advocates "hammering" on the issue of why all contaminated structures on the largest park parcel were not removed during a more than decade-long environmental cleanup of the site off East Street. The cost for further remidiation has been estimated at $10 million.
Mazzeo strongly supports the proposed charter changes, saying "It's so readable now, and it was so unreadable. That alone is worth it. You should never go 80 years without a [revised] charter."
She trained and has worked as a dental hygienist and has been a delegate to the Democratic State Convention and a coach in the Pittsfield Girls Softball League.
Mark Miller, of Williams Street, said he wants to do both the committee work required of a council and take time to step back and consider new approaches to long-standing problems.
Miller, 66, who is retired, said promoting the local economy is a key issue. Toward that end, he "definately is opposed to retail" use as the Stanley Business Park, favoring industrial employment as having a greater positive impact on the economy.
To help promote the park off East Street and to familiarize residents with the reasoning behind waiting for manufacturing firms to locate there, Miller suggests monthly, guided tours of the park. The tours could be similar in theme to the recent tours of arts venues in the down, he said.
Miller also proposes looking into the idea of a municipal electric power company, which he said might save the city and spur economic development. There are about 40 such public utilities in the state, he said.
Miller also proposes a concerted effort to make agriculture a central feature of the Berkshire economy. "It could be a local business builder," he said, adding that the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission already has done some preliminary planning and organization, and the city might "put this back on the burner."
"I would encourage the city to form a task force on each one," Miller said, adding that being retired, he would have the time to participate.
Concerning schools, he said he favors retaining two high schools but would like to see the cost figures for the construction options in light of the need for city sewer and water system upgrades and a new police department headquarters.
Miller also suggested school uniforms, such as at Catholic schools, as a possible aid in getting students to focus on their studies and to promote a feeling of equality.
Miller twice ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat from Pittsfield. He has served on the city Green Commission, Historical Commission and Noise Commission, and is a member of the NAACP's Berkshire chapter.
He is a former journalist and was editor of The Berkshire Eagle.
Donna Todd Rivers
Donna Todd Rivers, of Jason Street, is running for the council after a number of years of participation with community, business and civic groups and having served as assistant city solicitor and director of personnel in Pittfield.
Rivers, 52, said she has a "10 percent philosophy," meaning that she always tries to think of how to do "the last 10 percent" to make something better.
During a recent council debate over the city's participation in a six-community agreement to negotiate with GE during an environmental cleanup along 10 miles of the Housatonic River, she said she would have voted to delay approval until the contract could be make as precise as possible.
Her campaign, she added, reflects her leadership style. "It was as independent as I could make it," she said, especially in what she termed "a politically charged city."
By holding issue-oriented public discussions and in other ways, Rivers said, "I brought new people into the conversation."
Currently, "there seems less and less confidence in government," she said. "People are leaving the fold. We need to bring new blood in -- new energy."
The owner of Bisque, Beads & Beyond on North Street, Rivers said a focus for her would be improving the climate for small businesses. She would be willing to act a liaison between city government and small business to explain the financial and technical assistance that might be available.
The city also "has to change the perception that there is no parking" downtown, and she hopes the ongoing consultant study of that issue will result in a comprehensive parking plan.
Rivers favors industry over retail uses for the Stanley Business Park but says the city has to do a better job of explaining to working class residents why it would be better to wait for higher-paying industrial jobs.
She said she'd also like to learn how the $10 million environmental cleanup cost for the parcel under discussion was developed and whether the city might be able to mediate that before the land is sold.
Rivers, an attorney, served on the Downtown Inc. board and was active in several other local and regional organizations.
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