Alan Chartock | I Publius: Small-town politics an endless cycle of selfless service


GREAT BARRINGTON >> Every Berkshire community develops politically. Each has a maturation process that may seem separate and distinct from those around it.

Some develop political aristocracies, some of which are better than others. For years, the fabulous Pignatelli family devoted itself to guiding the town of Lenox. Lenox lucked out.

In Alford, where the Chartocks first settled in 1971, a small cadre of people ran the town. Then an outsider, Gus Berkel, took over things and since then another group has taken charge and has been running their town admirably ever since.

John Barrett gave North Adams his all and was there so long that folks thought he would be in his office forever. Then he lost his power. He tried to get it back but I guess you can't go home again.

For a while, Stockbridge was run by John Beacco and then he was out and others took his place. In Great Barrington, there were a series of bosses, some of whom were a little short in the ethics department. But then a young man, Sean Stanton, took the reins, assisted by the best citizen in the town, Steve Bannon, who also runs the Berkshire Hills Regional School Board. These are just a few examples.

Sooner or later a new group takes over. Sometimes these folks forget how and why they arrived in their leadership positions and make the same mistakes as previous, often failed, political regimes. Arrogance becomes a big part of the formula for gaining and then assuredly losing power.

How does it happen? Well, politics is not for everyone. It means endless meetings. It means taking huge amounts of garbage from townspeople, some of whom are out and out crazy. You need thick skin and the required time to do these often thankless jobs.

If you have one, you need a spouse who is willing to go along and put up with your absences. Sometimes that's a blessing, other times it's the road to marital ruination.

The meetings just keep happening. They keep coming around. Vacations are difficult. Sometimes the others with you on the board are clueless. Watching some of these meetings on public service television stations is like watching paint dry or waiting for water to boil.

You have to put up with people like me who are constantly complaining about the underpass that brings you into Great Barrington where you are met with either an unintentional ice skating rink or an artificial lake and where your life is put in danger regularly.

Or how about that traffic light at the northern end of the main street that leads to Route 41? That's a light that takes about six minutes to change but you don't do a damned thing about making it right because you are not interested enough or because you have lost interest in doing the right thing.

Frankly, everyone ought to try it. If you're like I was in Alford and you want a life, you will not stay with it for long. If you are someone who craves respect and power you might find it rewarding.

If you want to advance politically to the Massachusetts Senate or the state House of Representatives, a seat on the Selectboard might be a good place to begin. You might really be devoted to your town and your fellow citizens. We are lucky to have people like the aforementioned Steve Bannon, who really seems to care.

Of course, you'll have to develop the ability to say no to a pushy town manager who begins to think that you are a bunch of sheep.

One thing you can be sure of — time will pass, others will come along and even though you or some of your followers may think the towns and cities can't do without you, someone else will try their hand and you will be an asterisk. It really doesn't take that long.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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