Melissa Mazzeo to head City Council

PITTSFIELD - Melissa Mazzeo was selected as City Council president, but not before she had to fend off a challenge from Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop.

Councilor at large Churchill Cotton nominated Mazzeo following morning swearing- in ceremonies for councilors and other officials at council chambers. Ward 6 Councilor John Krol then nominated Lothrop for the post.

Krol said he favored " transparency" in initiating a contest for the presidency over the council tradition in recent years of 11- 0 votes for the choice after the result had become evident.

"I want to nominate the most veteran of our city councilors, Jonathan Lothrop," Krol said.

The nomination was seconded by Councilor at large Barry Clairmont and also supported in the council vote by Lothrop and newly elected Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo.

Councilors Cotton, Mazzeo, Kevin Morandi, Kathleen Amuso, Lisa Tully, Christopher Connell and Anthony Simonelli voted for Mazzeo, who was the top vote-getter in the Nov. 5 election while seeking her third council term.

Lothrop, now a six-term councilor, was vice president under former President Kevin Sherman, who did not run for re-election.

Krol said afterward that he considered the matter of the presidency closed with the outcome of the vote and plans to work cooperatively on issues before the council. "I think of this as a celebration of the democratic process," he said. "Electing the president is part of the process."

He added, "I think some of us just felt Councilor Lothrop is the best qualified and has an incredible amount of institutional experience."

Neither Clairmont nor Lothrop could be reached Monday afternoon for further comment. Lothrop had said previously that he was interested in the presidency but would not engage in a divisive campaign for the post.

Caccamo said that his vote for Lothrop "was purely a vote based on seniority. He has been around a long time and has a lot to offer in terms of experience."

The ceremonies also saw the inaugural address by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, elected unopposed in November to a second term. During Bianchi's first two years, Krol, Clairmont and Lothrop were sometimes identified by the mayor's supporters as anti-administration on most issues, while Mazzeo was seen as a Bianchi partisan.

Asked how she will preside over the council in light of a tradition of the president taking a limited role in debates, Mazzeo said that historically that has been the role assumed. However, she added, "I don't plan to be a very silent chair."

On most issues, Mazzeo said she'll work to merely explain or clarify what is being acted upon, but if the issue is important to her she'll step down from the president's chair to take part.

In those cases, Ward 4 Councilor Connell, who Mazzeo named Monday as vice president, will take over the post, she said. That situation recently occurred when Sherman stepped down to take part in a debate over an ordinance study committee to review city code in regard to the new charter approved in November.

Mazzeo, 48, said that having worked with Connell on subcommittees and as council representatives on other committees or groups, " I found we work well together, and I feel comfortable with Chris as vice president."

Both said their goal is to work in the interests of city residents. "Each of us [on the council] is elected independently," Mazzeo said. "But we come together collectively and are bound to decide issues on their merits."

"If you don't vote on what is best for the community, but on your own agenda, you put yourself in a bad light," Connell said. "You can't undermine what is best for the city."

Mazzeo said she and Connell will meet soon to determine council subcommittee assignments for the coming term.

She is the second woman to lead the council. The late Imelda C. LaMountain was elected president in 1990.


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