John Barrett III sets sights on 1st Berkshire District seat

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NORTH ADAMS — John Barrett III isn't ready to retire from politics: He's launching a campaign to represent the 1st Berkshire District in the state House of Representatives.

"I'm confident that I can provide the leadership, but most importantly the voice that's needed to carry on the work" that the late Rep. Gailanne Cariddi started, said the former North Adams mayor.

Barrett, 70, joins three other Democratic candidates in the race to fill the seat formerly held by Cariddi, who died of cancer in June.

At one time the longest-serving mayor in Massachusetts with 13 consecutive two-year terms, Barrett is credited for drawing North Adams out of the doldrums of the post-Sprague Electric era, a major employer that closed soon after he was first elected in 1983.

Barrett would later become an early supporter of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which took root in the Sprague campus.

After leaving the corner office in 2010 following a loss to North Adams' current mayor, Dick Alcombright, Barrett went to work as the executive director of the BerkshireWorks workforce development program in Pittsfield, where he spent three years. He was elected to a two-year term on the City Council in 2011 and lost a bid for mayor in 2015.

Barrett serves presently on the board of trustees at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and teaches a winter study course on politics as an adjunct professor at Williams College.

Barrett said he began to consider a run for the seat in the weeks after Cariddi's death.

"I felt as though it would be an opportunity for me to be of service to the Northern Berkshire area and the 1st Berkshire District, mainly because of the experience that I've gained over the years in not only politics but also in government service," Barrett said.

The 1st Berkshire District needs a representative that is prepared to step in and knows stakeholders on both sides of the aisle, he said.

If elected, Barrett said he would focus on adjusting the Chapter 70 education funding formula, which he argues does not account for communities' relative wealth and disproportionately harms rural communities like those in the Northern Berkshires.

"It's going to continue to get far worse than what I had first assumed," Barrett said, adding that programs have been cut while communities and taxpayers pay a larger share of educational costs.

If elected, Barrett said he would put together a coalition to address the education funding formula. Citing his experience at BerkshireWorks, Barrett said he would champion workforce development, saying that the way it has been addressed has been "pass ."

"We have to develop new ways, new programs, to make sure that we're training our employees," Barrett said.

Improvements in education funding and workforce training will help spur economic development, said Barrett. He acknowledged the benefits of a creative economy but warned of becoming a one-industry region.

The other candidates in the Democratic race are Stephanie Bosley, a 1Berkshire employee; Lisa Blackmer, a North Adams city councilor and former president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association; and Kevin Towle, a legislative aide to Cariddi.

The 1st Berkshire District includes the towns of Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, Lanesborough, New Ashford, Williamstown and the city of North Adams.

A primary is scheduled for Oct. 10. The general election is Nov. 7.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.

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