Pittsfield officials concerned about possible low voter turnout for elections

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PITTSFIELD — The citywide election is almost here, and officials are concerned about what is shaping up to be low voter turnout.

City Clerk Jody Phillips said that as of Thursday afternoon, the office had about half the number of absentee ballots — they are typically an early indicator of voter participation — than it had two years ago.

Candidates say they hope numbers pick up at the polls, which are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voters are asked to elect their city clerk, city councilors and school committee members.

Contested council races include the bid for four citywide seats — there are six candidates running — as well as the race for Ward 2, Ward 3, Ward 4 and Ward 7. Michele M. Cetti is running unopposed for city clerk. She joined the clerk's office in 2010 and has been the assistant clerk for registration and elections since 2011. The School Committee races are uncontested, as six candidates are running for six seats.

Here's a breakdown of the candidates:

At large

Incumbent Council President Peter M. Marchetti holds a citywide seat and is running for re-election. Marchetti, a senior vice president at Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, was the top vote-getter in the last election and was first elected to the City Council in 2001. Marchetti bills himself as the experienced leader our city needs, and prides himself on his ability to unite the council against problems and streamline council meetings to make them more productive.

Council newcomer Earl G. Persip III is also seeking an at large seat on the council. He is director of operations for the Berkshire Family YMCA, where he has worked for 22 years, and is a member of the city's Animal Control Commission and Downtown Pittsfield Inc. The city native and Taconic High School graduate says he'd bring diversity and a business-friendly attitude to the council.

Candidate Craig C. Gaetani touts his engineering background and his status as a veteran in his bid for an at large seat. He is an advocate for police body cameras and says his experience designing wastewater treatment plants could save the city money.

This year, Gaetani was found guilty of threatening to shoot a city employee in 2015, during his unsuccessful bid for mayor of Pittsfield. In July, Gaetani was found guilty of breaking and entering into a motor vehicle and of witness intimidation. He is suing The Berkshire Eagle for defamation of character.

Edward James Carmel is running for an at large seat, lauding his experience in city streets and his commitment to residents. He said he was homeless for about two years until 2011, an experience that, he says, affords him a unique perspective on fighting the city's drug issues, and he asserts he's willing to show up on the doorstep of anyone in need.

Incumbent Councilor At Large Peter White works as an employment services specialist for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and serves on Pittsfield's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, the steering committee for Morningside Neighborhood Initiative, and has served the city's neighborhood watch initiatives for 14 years. In recent years, he won a Young Professional Making a Difference award from 1Berkshires, a 40 Under Forty Award from Berkshire Community College and Best Town Official award in The Berkshire Eagle's Best of the Berkshires contest.

Incumbent Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo has served the council for eight years, including two years as council president. She's on the board of directors at Girls Inc., and a member of Zonta International. Mazzeo is known as an outspoken councilor who's passionate about economic development and likes the council to carefully research measures before approving them.

Ward 1

In the race for Ward 1, Helen Moon is the only active candidate in her ward race. The critical care nurse at Fairview Hospital wants to fold more young people into city planning, and would like to work on collaborative and creative solutions to boost population and quality of life in the Berkshires.

Michael Cirullo Jr., will appear on the ballot but is no longer actively seeking the Ward 1 seat.

Ward 2

Incumbent Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi was first elected to the council in 2011. He would like to see more resources go to the Police Department and for it to conduct more sweeps and raids to deter crime. He says this would also help in the city's fight against absentee landlords. Morandi owns Clin N Snip in Lee.

Dina M. Guiel is challenging Morandi. The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts graduate, who also has a masters in public administration and policy analysis, successfully created a youth mentoring program in Springfield and Holyoke, as well as helped create a master plan review for Dedham. Guiel is working to establish a drug addiction program intent on helping addicts get their lives back together.

Ward 3

In the race for the Ward 3 seat, challenger James F. Gleason is running against incumbent Nicholas J. Caccamo. Gleason is a retired school custodian who also worked at Eaton Paper. He wants to work on issues that constituents bring forward and reduce the city's emphasis on the arts. Caccamo, who says the arts serve as a draw to the area, works as a guidance counselor at BART, a charter school in Adams. He looks to streamline and modernize city proceedings and the services it provides.

Ward 4

In the race for Ward 4, William E. Wright is challenging incumbent Christopher J. Connell. Wright, a veteran campaigning on efficiency and community engagement, is a photographer and works at Blue Q. He'd like to address hoops that businesses have to jump through, traffic safety issues and bring back monthly ward meetings.

Connell, a property owner and former building contractor first elected in 2009, said he has worked hard to approve traffic improvements, attributing delays in implementation to management issues in City Hall. Connell says his private-sector experience makes him uniquely equipped to review financial documents for impracticalities.

Ward 5

Downtown business owner and incumbent Councilor Donna Todd Rivers is running unopposed for the Ward 5 seat. William Keane, formerly seeking the same seat, will appear on the ballot, despite having dropped out of the race.

Ward 6

Incumbent Council Vice President John M. Krol Jr. is running unopposed for the Ward 6 seat.

Ward 7

In the race for Ward 7, Rhonda L. Serre is challenging incumbent Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli. Simonelli, a retired schoolteacher, says the city needs to do a better job of communicating when there's a perceived threat to public safety. And with school budget woes weighing down the city, he argues that his 38 years of teaching equip him to identify inefficiencies. Serre, outreach and advancement supervisor for Elder Services of Berkshire County, says more needs to be done to address the ward's many unaccepted roadways, which are a burden for taxpayers. She aims bridge gaps in the community and to help the ward, which she says is full of assets, be a bigger part of the city's solution instead of a transient participant.

School Committee

Six candidates for the city's School Committee will appear as follows: Dennis L. Powell; Cynthia A. Taylor; William Joseph Cameron; Daniel C. Elias; Katherine L. Yon; and Joshua M. Cutler.

Reach Amanda Drane at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.


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