The City I Love: Changing political hats not so easy
You're a member in good standing of the band. But you decide to switch from oboe to flute. Is that a problem? I guess it all comes down to how well you play the flute. The instruments are similar but you don't really play them the same way. And, they don't make the same sound.
The city's political history is rich with personalities and moments in time when twists and turns resulted in significant changes. But the history of the once town and now city has little on its resume showing School Committee members ascending to seats on the City Council.
It's an interesting segue that has rarely happened. Yet, Churchill Cotton did it two years ago, when he succeeded in running for councilor-at-large after a two-year stint on the School Committee.
And here we go again. School Committee members Kathleen Amuso and James Conant are each aspiring to councilor-at-large seats on Nov. 5, following terms on the School Committee.
"It will be switching gears," said Amuso, a 10-year member of the school board. "But I expect to keep my educational hat on my head."
Conant took the same tact. "I'm still motivated to support the school system," he said. "I'm just seeking to do it at a higher level."
But that "higher level" can pull and tug on both the city's seven ward councilors and the quartet who occupy at-large seats. Everything from crime to cracks in the sidewalks to the speed of traffic on residential streets to the future of the William Stanley Business Park are usually menu items served on the daily plate. For School Committee members who are used to wearing educational blinders, it can be a stunning shift of duties.
Cotton, though, said it's all in a day's work. "I don't know that the two roles aren't similar. It still comes down to constituents asking you for different things."
Nancy Maloney is a little more savvy about all this. The West Bridgewater native and resident served for 10 years on that town's School Committee before winning a seat on the Select Board, where she currently serves as chairman of the three-member panel.
"I supported our schools the best way I could," said Maloney, who earned the state's prestigious Superintendents' Award during her time on the board. "But my job has broadened now and I need at times to look at the bigger picture."
The town of about 6,400 citizens has a budget of $24 million. But it's no surprise that like Pittsfield, or any town and city, the school budget makes up the biggest percentage of the overall budget. While Pittsfield government has yet to decide whether to renovate Taconic High or build a new high school on Valentine Road, West Bridgewater recently had its formal groundbreaking on a new high school.
It was a process that Maloney had a hand in from start to finish. She did acknowledge, however, that her switch from School Committee to Select Board did slightly reshape her overall outlook.
"Maybe not on specific initiatives," she said. "But on budgetary concerns."
Maloney, a former teacher who now works in the private sector, said negotiating teacher salaries from her position on the Select Board differed emotionally from her former days on the School Committee.
"I was a teacher, my mother was a teacher," she said. "I know how hard they work. I struggled with those negotiations."
With a new high school on West Bridgewater's horizon, Maloney had this advice to offer Pittsfield.
"We did a feasibility study," she said, "and some people were upset about just funding that. But we found asbestos under the school and our science lab was deemed to be obsolete. What happens when you think about renovating is that the more you explore the school the more things you find wrong and need to fix.
"In the end, the cost for renovation can be pretty near the cost of building something new."
Maloney said that the big picture must always be considered and that a conclusive decision must be rendered when the discussions are over. Whether you sit on the School Committee or Select Board (City Council), it's what the voting public demands no matter what instrument you play.
So, did Churchill Cotton begin a trend that will continue? I told him if it works out, then he will get all the credit. But if it turns out to be a bad idea, then he can accept all the blame. The Pittsburgh native who grew up in Chicago laughed about his trend-setting status, and then we both agreed that good people end up in good places sooner than later.
Cotton has been a strong voice in the West Side Initiative, while Amuso is a mayoral appointment to the School Building Needs Committee. Conant is invested into the youth of the city and a key cog within Babe Ruth baseball.
But the switch from School Committee to City Council is an interesting one to ponder nonetheless. Both Conant and Amuso are Ward 4 residents, and that adds intrigue to the race.
"This isn't anything Kathleen and I orchestrated," Conant said. "I think we were both surprised the other was running."
Said Amuso, "It's something I've been thinking about long and hard, even going back to two years ago."
There is no mayoral race this year, but the talk on the street suggests that it will be a lengthy list of candidates in two years, when the new city charter -- if passed -- goes into effect and the term shifts from two years to four.
We'll see, and we'll see if other School Committee members care to seek higher ground. In the meantime, it's your duty to vote on Tuesday, so please do.
These words have been penned prior to the outcome of Wednesday night's Game 6, so I don't know if we have a World Series winner or not.
I do know that Brent Ashby and Dick Del Gallo were watching. They were the subjects of a column story I wrote and was printed in this past Sunday's Eagle. Ashby, from Memphis, Tenn., now living in Pittsfield, and Del Gallo, a Pittsfield native now residing in the St. Louis suburbs, are St. Louis and New York Yankee fans, respectively.,
Ashby, however, very much enjoys his new home and when he's not rooting for his childhood hero Cardinals, he's pulling for the Red Sox, his adopted team. Del Gallo, meanwhile, remains true to his Yankees, but after 17 years, he surely must have been pulled even a little bit into the Cardinals' think tank.
Ashby said earlier this week that after Games 3 and 4 -- battles that ended with an obstruction call and a pick-off play -- he wondered if a game might end up being decided by a balk.
Ouch, now that would hurt. I don't know at this point who won on Wednesday night and if there is a Game 7 tonight. What I do know is that Ashby and Del Gallo will probably come out of this with an enhanced and continued love for the game. It's been (or was?) a great Series.
I'd like one day to introduce Ashby to Del Gallo. I bet it would be a great conversation. Passions aside, the respect is mutual.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.
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