Pittsfield City Council politics a top issue in races


PITTSFIELD -- Daniel L. Bianchi may not have an opponent on the Nov. 5 city ballot, but the mayor's relationship with the City Council has emerged as an overriding issue in the contested races.

Another universal topic is whether an overhaul of the city's 80-year-old charter should be approved by voters. That debate, in turn, has focused tightly on whether mayors should have a four-year term.

In a recent letter to The Eagle, resident Phyllis Smith bluntly expressed the comments of many Bianchi supporters when she said: "I sincerely urge the people of Pittsfield to think twice about casting ballots for Councilors [Barry] Clairmont, [John] Krol and [Christine] Yon."

Her letter cited their opposition to a request from the mayor to contract with five towns during negotiations with GE and federal regulators. The communities are likely to seek compensation for expected economic losses during an environmental cleanup along 10 miles of the Housatonic River.

The council voted 6-5 to approve the agreement, but only after a lengthy debate.

Smith asserted: "The opposition party did not care about Pittsfield; it only cared to shoot down a popular initiative proposed by the mayor."

All of the councilors have vigorously denied voting in knee-jerk reaction against proposals from the administration. They said they believe they've acted as councilors should -- by questioning the administration when they think it is mistaken or proposals are lacking.

"I am not against the mayor," Clairmont said Friday, adding that he only recalls five instances in two years of his voting against a mayoral initiative.

Clairmont, an at large councilor elected -- like the mayor -- to a first term in 2011, is often cited as the mayor's most persistent opponent on the council. "I think that is just in my approach," Clairmont said.

As a certified public accountant, Clairmont said he is used to simply pointing out what he sees as a problem or flaw, rather than circling toward a consensus. "Do I have an adversarial approach? Maybe, but that is not because I am against the mayor," he said. "I get right to the point; that's my approach in my professional life."

Concerning the disputed six-town agreement, Clairmont said he and others thought the contract was poorly drawn up and they sought to table the issue.

"I am always open to working with the administration on any issue," Krol said. "I am always open to hearing from the mayor. And I work well with the department heads."

The Ward 6 councilor, who faces a challenge from former Councilor Joseph Nichols, added, "I really think it's unfair to say there is an opposition party."

Nichols and Lisa Tully, who is challenging the incumbent Yon in Ward 1, both are being supported by Bianchi in the election.

"It is also hard when the mayor is publicly supporting my opponent," Krol said. "That's disappointing."

In supporting council candidates, Bianchi said he is backing residents who have supported him in his runs for mayor. "I know them as hard-working, good people," he said.

"We also have received many calls from people who feel they have not been served by the council," Bianchi said, adding, "I have known a lot of active, engaged supporters, and if I have encouraged them to run for office, I'm pleased."

For her part, Yon said Friday: "I have always voted with the greater good in mind. I evaluate all the information. I have to live with my vote."

The two-term Ward 1 councilor said she acted the same during former Mayor James M. Ruberto's last term. She said that is to "be respectful and to take a professional approach" during council debates.

To her, Yon said, "It is not personal; I have never made it personal, ever. I don't hold grudges."

Tully said of recent council opposition: "I think people are sick of big city politics," referring to the gridlock in Washington. She added: "I think the mayor is working hard; I'd like to give him a chance."

Nichols said that while Ruberto had a council usually working with him on issues, "now, it's basically stacked against [Bianchi]."

"I'm sure there hasn't been a mayor in the history of Pittsfield" who did not favor certain council candidates, Bianchi said. "I don't mind opposition for the right reasons, but too often it is just because we put something forward."

Votes have to be cast based on what's good for the city, he said, not for political reasons or to make a political statement, which he said he believes has sometimes occurred.

Expressing opposition to the charter revision because it provides a four-year term for mayor, as Clairmont and Yon have, does not take into consideration the hard work of the charter study group this year and doesn't "look at the [revised charter] in total," Bianchi said.

The two councilors said their opposition to the charter is based mainly on the fact council terms would remain two years. They said councilors should serve terms equal to the mayor.

Clairmont also said it is hypocritical of some councilors, such as at large Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, to argue for a more pro-Bianchi council, since she was in the forefront of opposition under Mayor Ruberto. "She can't have it both ways," he said.

Mazzeo, who denied always opposing initiatives from Ruberto, has said a central issue in the 2013 campaign is whether the Bianchi administration gains more support in the council. The four-term Ruberto administration, she said, had that kind of support after its first couple of years.

City voters will have their chance to weigh in on these and other issues during the election on Tuesday. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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