1st Berkshire District hopeful John Barrett lays out vision on economy, education
The Democratic candidate for the 1st Berkshire District state representative and former Mayor of North Adams for 26 years sat with Berkshire Eagle editors and reporters on Tuesday to discuss his vision for the Northern Berkshires and the upcoming special election to replace former state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi.
Barrett will face Republican candidate Christine Canning in the Nov. 7 election.
Barrett has made public education funding a cornerstone of his campaign, arguing that revisions are needed to the state's Chapter 70 funding formula in order to adequately support local schools.
As for further regionalizing school systems, Barrett said parochialism is alive and well in the Berkshires, but added that sharing some services between the districts "has to be worked into the equation, somehow, some way."
He also spoke on economic development, advocating for the return of small business and diversifying the economy instead of relying solely on the tourism and arts for growth.
Barrett stressed the importance of the "image of the community."
"When you create that aura that this community is on the move, that's important," Barrett said, noting that North Adams was recently designated as having the highest violent crime rate in the state.
The candidate also expressed his continued support for the Greylock Glen project in Adams, which looks to become a recreational hub that draws tourists to Adams and promotes economic growth.
Barrett, who served for more than two years at the helm of the BerkshireWorks career center in Pittsfield, also highlighted the importance of job training.
What worked in Berkshire County, Barrett said, is having 90 percent of a trainee's salary paid for a six-month stint at a local company.
"They'd be trained for those jobs that are there," Barrett said. "Right now, Berkshire County is the only county in Massachusetts that has to import people to fill the jobs that are open, which says something is wrong."
Businesses also need improved broadband access, Barrett argued.
"Broadband is here, but we're falling further and further behind [in internet speeds] every day," Barrett said.
Barrett clarified that, should he win in November, he would seek reelection next year.
Barrett acknowledged it takes years to gain clout as a state legislator, but said as a State Representative his greatest impact will be in aiding local leaders with their issues and initiatives.
"There's not a lot a state representative can do, but I view my role as state representative as far different than what the traditional state representative is," Barrett said.
Barrett said he has visited the the Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School in Adams recently and said the school is "doing excellent things."
"I'm not opposed to the charter school, but to the funding. I've always made that very clear," Barrett said, noting that a student leaving a district to attend a charter school is more financially damaging to a the district that a student that utilizes school choice to leave.
Barrett believes those who supported Stephanie Bosley, Kevin Towle and Lisa Blackmer in the primary should support him in the November special election.
"There wasn't one bad word by any candidate about the other; we stuck to the issues," Barrett said of the primary race. "I don't think there's a disagreement on the issues at all."
The former mayor also addressed comments that he made in the immediate aftermath of his primary victory, which many on social media derided as divisive.
But Barrett said he believed the intention of his comments was "very clear."
"Outsiders were influencing the decisions that were being made in North Adams," Barrett said. "The outside investors that were coming in there determining what was best for the city and shutting out the people that lived there."
As an example, Barrett said investors and the city "destroyed" Western Gateway Heritage Park in an effort to create the Greylock Market, a proposal to revitalize the park that ultimately failed despite the use of an $880,000 MassWorks Grant to improve its infrastructure.
"Go look at it today. It didn't produce one job," Barrett said.
When he refers to "outsiders," Barrett said he is not referring to those who move to the city.
"But that's just the critics that will say `look, there he goes dividing the city,'" Barrett said. "I didn't have a divided city — that's one thing I was proud of as mayor."
As for Mass MoCA, Barrett said he maintains that it has to not only be in North Adams, but be a part of North Adams.
"The people that are living in the city are not benefiting from the success of Mass MoCA," Barrett said.
Barrett noted that local residents have seen their taxes skyrocket.
Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter
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