John Seven: In wake of divisive election, uniting North Adams is Job One

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NORTH ADAMS >> The North Adams mayoral election is something many citizens want to wash off themselves, but there were a few lessons best addressed not during the heat of an election, but in the calmer aftermath.

When, in his concession speech, John Barrett pointed the finger at social media as a source of his campaign woes, it revealed how much things had changed in politics even on a local level. This is a playing field where no candidate alone controls the dialogue, where the old filters and censors are disposed of, and access to the ears of other voters is easier than ever in history. You don't have to wait for candidates to co-opt your stories in their speeches; you can tell your own now.

And people did, many for the first time ever. That's called real power. I'm sure Barrett would argue that with this freedom comes responsibility — I would only respond that when people told their own stories, they were being responsible — for themselves and their own well-being.

Immediate access to information also does not allow candidates to have it both ways. You cannot run on your past experience and then call foul when that past experience is fact-checked. There are decades of old newspaper articles, blog entries, official documents etc., archived online. Misrepresenting yourself has become harder than ever before, and that's a tough lesson for an old-style politician.

Not a mandate

But none of this means that Mayor Alcombright should embrace his victory as a mandate — a 376 vote difference is certainly not that. I'd say it's a wake-up call that he does preside over a very divided community and it's likely to remain so during this transitionary period that has the city moving forward from its past, but with a future that has not quite arrived and sitting in front of all our faces. Some of our neighbors face such very serious and destructive obstacles that it's hard to see and appreciate that specific future anyhow.

That makes this election a challenge to Mayor Alcombright. He needs to somehow communicate to the other half of North Adams better. And he needs to listen to what they have to say. Maybe he already does, but to them, it doesn't appear that way, and that's the important part.

It's a challenge to Barrett supporters also. I understand their frustration and I get that they want something different than Alcombright. I get that they want dynamic leadership with new ideas.

I applaud anyone who wants to bring change to the table, and most of the people I know around here are excited by the prospect of alternate ideas to move North Adams forward, fresh ones that differ from the normal and current way of business.

But to do that, you've got to bring someone new to the table. John Barrett was inarguably divisive because of his long history, and his platform for the future looked back to his "tested leadership" and original vision for the city. It was old news. You can't sell old news as new ideas.

A real vision

But you don't actually need John Barrett to oppose Dick Alcombright. If you want a different face of change, you've got to work to find it. It's your challenge now to spend the next two years finding a real opponent with fresh ideas we've never heard, with a real vision that excites people, that is not bogged down by baggage and can speak across the stark line that was created in this election.

It is possible for you to find that person, but it will take work. An election should be an debate of ideas, not a battle of grudges. The right challenger can make it exactly that.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at mister.j.seven@gmail.com or at vknid.com.


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