North Adams mayoral candidates stake out positions: Forum offers last glimpse before preliminary election
Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect that Peter Oleskiewicz is indeed still running for mayor though he has not been actively campaigning, he says, due to time constraints.
NORTH ADAMS — There are five people on the ballot for the city's next mayor, but only four are actively campaigning. Three candidates were allowed to participate in a mayoral forum on Thursday night, ahead of Tuesday preliminary's election that will whittle the race down to two candidates, in the first mayoral race without an incumbent in more than 30 years.
The candidates who filed papers include: Tom Bernard, Rachel Branch, Robert Martelle, Robert Moulton Jr. and Peter Oleskiewicz.
Oleskiewicz, whose name will still appear on Tuesday's ballot, though time constraints due to work travel, he says, have prevented him from actively campaigning. He was not present at the forum.
The other four candidates were invited a few weeks ago to participate in a forum in the newly renovated Greylock WORKS building, in an event co-organized with Greylock WORKS, the North Adams Chamber of Commerce, and the "State and Local Politics" class of Assistant Professor Samantha Pettey at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
But, only three completed the RSVP on time, she said. So while he attended last night's forum, Martelle did not participate in answering the questions put forth by the students that were instead fielded by candidates Bernard, Branch and Moulton Jr. in an approximately 90-minute event.
Martelle, prior to the start of the forum, told a reporter, "I'm not here for this, I'm here for the community," understanding that he would not be participating in the panel. He then sat quietly alongside his fellow candidates, listening intently for the duration of the event.
In addition to opening and closing remarks, the student panel asked candidates to address the issues of population decline in the city; how to generate more jobs and find employment for residents; how they would potentially address a pending nurses strike at Berkshire Health Systems' facilities, which includes a North Adams satellite facility; the crisis of opioid and heroin abuse and addiction; how to improve public transportation; how to address the concerns of expanding the county's bike trail into the city with minimal impact on residential properties; how to improve relationships with MCLA, and finally, how to improve and better monitor the city's water quality.
For the most part, the three candidates were in accord with the need for city government to actively address these issues and to establish as much consensus as possible with residents about how to address the issues and how much taxpayers are willing to invest in coming up with solutions.
While the three candidates, in their initial remarks, all agreed that the city has enough natural and cultural attractions, strong enough schools and affordable real estate to attract people to move to and live in North Adams, they varied on key areas that could make the city more viable to live in. While Bernard emphasized the need to build and tout a strong health care system, Moulton Jr. said it's the developments in the project pipeline that need more attention and support, starting at planning board meetings.
Branch, on the other hand, said that while, "we need to be warm and welcoming to keep those who make their home here," the city also needs concrete plans to address the "real human problems" that also exist, such as the need of drug and alcohol treatments centers, centers to help victims of domestic violence and rape, and ways to address issues of racism.
On the jobs front, Bernard uniquely proposed the need to create a city position to actively recruit employers to come to the area, while Moulton Jr. said there needs to be more support for entrepreneurship. Branch called for more pathways to full-time employment, including minimum wage-paid apprenticeships.
All three candidates said communication would be key in the wake of a nurses' strike, and that patients and care must come first.
Bernard said the opioid issue needs to be addressed from "both sides," which includes "treatment for those living the disease and enforcement for those who prey on that illness."
Moulton Jr. said the lagging results in the war against this crisis come from a lack of outreach and enough public outrage. He said he wants to see the county's police chiefs all come together to address enforcement more proactively, and go after dealers right away instead of staking them out for six months.
Branch, on the matter, called for a "block by block" approach to weeding out dealers.
All three also called for more education on addiction and its effects on families, starting at the elementary school level.
The three forum participants also agreed that alternatives to existing public transportation options needed to be explored more, including private van services and ride-sharing programs, and more bus routes. Moulton Jr., however, cautioned that this should be done within a budget and that officials should go to residents to find out what they really want to invest in. "How many need rides? Is it 50 or 500? You've got to get the best bang for your buck," he said.
Again, the candidates all came out in support of the bike path, though said that more needed to be heard from residents whose yards may be affected by the currently proposed plans. And when it came to maintaining relationships with MCLA, there was no debate on the need for more collaborations.
On the final question of water quality, it became apparent that the candidates wanted to see more accountability in the city to maintaining healthy standards for municipal buildings and residences.
"We need to do more than basic compliance," said Bernard, calling for an in-depth review of infrastructure and quality at "every level" and thorough documentation.
Moulton Jr. said citizens should have been better notified with more urgency when water quality came into question earlier this year. He also suggested that the city look into fixing its own problems and perhaps contracting with a private water station to keep matters under control.
Said Branch, "We need specific, transparent information available at all times. That is a necessity and the responsibility of the mayor and administration."
It wasn't until closing remarks that mayoral candidate Robert Martelle got to say his piece. He emphasized the need to not only address the issues of drugs in the city, but also to support families who are becoming fractured due to lack of employment and interventions from the state Department of Children and Families.
"Something has got to be done," he said.
At the conclusion of the forum, North Adams couple Paul and Ann Moriarty said they felt better informed after attending the event with about 60 other residents.
"I feel like I got some good information tonight and I learned more about the candidates too," said Paul.
If you go:
What: North Adams Preliminary Election.
When: Tuesday, Sept. 19. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Absentee ballots: Ballots must be returned by noon on Monday, Sept. 18.
Info: Contact City Hall at 413-662-3000.
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