Outgoing Pittsfield city councilor's 12-year run built on compromise
PITTSFIELD >> Jonathan Lothrop's political career took off long before landing a seat on the City Council.
Prior to becoming the Ward 5 Councilor in 2003, Lothrop spent his first five years helping neighbors oppose the controversial expansion of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport because they felt it didn't take their concerns into consideration.
As a member of Citizens for a Sensible Airport Plan, Lothrop and Thomas Sakshaug — both homeowners within a mile of the airstrip — led the grass-roots organization in crafting a compromise plan that would become the blueprint for the current $22.5 million expansion.
After Lothrop was first elected to the City Council, he, Sakshaug and the citizens group successfully pitched the compromise to then Mayor-elect James M. Ruberto. Ruberto was sold on the compromise and a decade later, in November 2013, the project was complete — resembling the more the middle ground achieved than the original proposal, according to Lothrop.
"We weren't just saying no to the project, but rather there was a better way to do this," he said in an Eagle interview this week.
"At the end of the day, how can we move an issue forward — that's what it's all about."
The pragmatic approach to resolving disputed, sometimes highly emotional, city government issues, endeared himself to councilors who served with Lothrop during his 12 years in office.
"He was a pacifier when all others were losing their heads and he wasn't," said former Ward 1 Councilor Lewis Markham Jr. "He never doesn't know the topic at hand and that amazes me."
Lothrop's art of the compromise will be missing when the new City Council is seated on Monday. This past spring, the most senior council member opted against a re-election bid in the fall, replaced by Donna Todd Rivers who narrowly defeated Richard Scapin in Pittsfield's Nov. 3 general election.
The 49-year-old felt the time was right to step down, especially given the incoming leadership at City Hall.
"I feel really good leaving [Pittsfield] in the hands of Peter Marchetti and Linda Tyer," he said. "They are both steeped in the community ... not afraid to lead."
Marchetti is the odds-on favorite to succeed Melissa Mazzeo as council president when the 11-member panel votes on Monday after being sworn into office. Tyer officially becomes the city's first, four-year term mayor on Jan. 4, having defeated Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, two months ago.
Lothrop was born in Brunswick, Maine, but primarily grew up in Northborough, before enrolling at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, graduating in 1986. Three years later he landed a job at the Pittsfield office of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, where today he is supervisor over the placement of children in foster care for Berkshire County. Married to Katy Miller for 25 years with two daughters, Lily, 16, and Christine, 20, Lothrop first sought an at large council seat in 2001, finishing fifth in an eight-candidate field vying for the four seats up for grabs.
The campaign put a strain on his family life, but Miller urged him to challenge Scapin in 2003, ousting the Ward 5 councilor who was also council president.
"I thank my wife profusely for letting me serve," he said.
During his 12-year council stint, Lothrop has managed to balance family life with the hours each week he spent on Ward 5 and council matters. He often provided the necessary insight to resolving issues before Pittsfield's legislative body, one reason former council President Kevin Sherman says he chose Lothrop as his vice president from 2012-14.
"His intellectual and institutional knowledge was invaluable," Sherman said. "Knowing I had someone who knew the council rules, knew the city and state made him a good person to lean on for the details."
As Lothrop leaves City Council life behind, he will continue to serve on the Pittsfield Conservation Commission and in the future, seek an appointed position on another city board. The outgoing councilor is proud of a track record that includes supporting the airport expansion, Colonial Theatre revival, improved fiscal management of the city budget and understanding the needs of municipal employees.
Lothrop feels credibility was key to his longevity on the council.
"I told you exactly what I stood for and did exactly what I said I would do," he said. "But if the facts of an issue changed ... then you have to change your mind."