NORTH ADAMS — Mayor Tom Bernard has announced that he will not seek reelection to a third term this year.
Bernard, who first was elected in 2017, said Tuesday he wants to focus on running the city and managing the pandemic rather than conducting a reelection campaign.
“It’s become clear for me we have really big, important work to do in the city over the next few months,” he told The Eagle. “Things I had really wanted to be at the top of my agenda in 2020, I can point to reasons why they didn’t get done, but the fact is, they didn’t get done.”
He said the coronavirus pandemic pushed issues such as infrastructure to the bottom of his priority list and forced the city to respond in a reactive way after crises emerged, including nonfunctioning hydrants that delayed firefighter response times and broken heating in the public safety building.
“I feel like the responsible thing to do is to focus my time and energy on working, and handing over to the next mayor a city and administration that’s in as good a shape as I can make it,” he said. “I don’t see that being something I can do in the context of an ongoing pandemic recovery, a budget season, the big challenges we all need to be working on, and a campaign.”
Framing the issue as a choice between focusing on his election and working on his priorities, Bernard said that, a year ago, he had planned to run for reelection but since had changed his mind.
His remarks come after a hot mic comment at a city council meeting suggesting that one or more city councilors might run for mayor.
After a heated discussion on a potential affordable housing complex in the former Sullivan School, where Councilor Jason LaForest pushed successfully for a motion to dismiss, Councilor Wayne Wilkinson left himself unmuted and commented that somebody “knew this was going to happen.”
Then Wilkinson added: “The two guys running for mayor. ...”
Later on Tuesday, LaForest confirmed that he was exploring a run for mayor. Bernard told The Eagle that the comment at the meeting did not influence his choice.
“I had made this decision a few weeks ago,” he said. “By the time that matter was out there, I knew what direction I was moving in.”
He encouraged people who might not think of running for the mayor’s office to consider a campaign this fall. The general election will be held in November, with a preliminary election in September if more than two candidates are certified.
Mayoral terms are two years long.
“I hope it’s a surprising campaign,” he said. “I hope someone runs that we think, ‘Wow, that’s an unexpected candidacy, but that would be great.’ I hope people look at this seriously, because it’s a great job. It’s a hard job, it’s a fun job, and you gotta really love the city. That’s one of the key qualifications.”
Bernard first won election against Robert Moulton Jr. in 2017, with about 70 percent of the vote, after he secured an endorsement from the previous mayor, Richard Alcombright.
He won again handily in 2019, after a challenge from resident Rachel Branch kept him from running unopposed.
During his 2019 campaign, he said he wanted to see progress on the sale of unneeded city properties and a reworking of the city zoning codes. Sales of major city properties, including the Sullivan School and the Mohawk Theater, have progressed sluggishly over the past two years, though the city appears to be close to closing on the former Notre Dame Church and School.
Bernard’s priorities for the rest of his term include: passing a budget, updating the city’s capital outlay plan, addressing issues with the water system, planning for a new public safety building and “moving the needle” on smart growth zoning, also known under the state designation 40R.
“And then really seeing the work of getting the vaccination process completed,” he added. “I’d like to get a summer season in North Adams so that people getting back to routines are able to enjoy the quality of life that makes living here so valuable.”
Bernard, who was born and raised in North Adams, previously had served as director of special projects at Smith College; in various administrative roles at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, including executive assistant to the president and clerk to the MCLA board of trustees; and as a development officer at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
He is a graduate of Drury High School, Williams College and Westfield State University.