NORTH ADAMS — North Adams resident Rachel Branch has launched her third campaign for the mayor’s office, turning the spotlight on equality, with a platform that emphasizes the well-being of women, children and the environment.
“Mostly, I say, I’m fighting for the vulnerable,” she said. “It’s a constant fight. A thread of my life is standing up for the vulnerable.”
Branch, just the second woman in North Adams history to run for the office, has seen an “incredible” level of sexism in local and national politics. She hopes this run, like her earlier attempts, will empower other women to run for office.
“I think sexism is pervasive, in this country, and absolutely pervasive in North Adams,” she said. “Sexism and misogyny towards women who are entering politics. I have had people talk with disdain when I run. … That’s one of the reasons why it’s important for women to run.”
Branch announced her campaign on Earth Day, citing her work fighting for the environment, opposing polluters and standing up to the Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline.
In 2019, Bernard was reelected with 1,738 votes. Branch, his challenger, drew 387 votes. After the vote, Branch said at the time that she was glad she ran.
"It was a wonderful experience, but apparently the city is not ready for a woman as mayor. Still, I have no regrets," she said.
Branch, long an advocate against environmental racism, also fought the introduction of an asphalt plant near the Long Island Sound, and says she would bring her environmental advocacy to the office. Small local changes, like encouraging reductions in energy use, can have a global effect, she said, and solutions should come through community participation.
“Where do you start? Every place you can, all at once,” she said.
For her, one of the key components of running an aging city will be preparing for the future, including encouraging the construction of more in-law units, and attracting back high-paying jobs that can support small business.
With the North County Cares Coalition, she has advocated for the return of a full-service hospital since the North Adams Regional Hospital closed in 2014.
“American history shows the biggest innovation comes from small businesses,” she said. “When you see what happened with the loss of our hospital, not just the loss of employees, but what the loss of that income from those employees did to the downtown of North Adams, to the businesses. It was a devastating loss.”
Like others in the city, Branch has pointed to the need for better infrastructure, and she cited grants as a crucial source for funding those projects.
Branch also supports moving away from police militarization and toward community policing. And she advocates transparency in the budgeting process, including more readily available information on every city expenditure.
“Every campaign I've heard someone say, 'transparency,'" she said. “When you have a line item that says, ‘Costs for such and such,’ but doesn't tell you what it is, that's not informing the public. They need to know what it is. You can’t make thoughtful, considered decisions when you don't have the information.”
Branch, a North Adams native, has served as a mayoral appointee in the city, as well as in Denver and Bridgeport, Conn.
In North Adams, she served as Fair Housing commissioner for six years and filled out a term as the Housing Authority commissioner. She also served on the board of directors for Berkshire Family & Individual Resources and on the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School Committee.
Her professional experience includes work as an executive assistant, legal secretary, volunteer coordinator for nonprofits, law school administrator and secretary in the media office of a U.S. Air Force base. She also worked as a foster care parent, and she hosts the community television show "Solutions Rising" and community radio program "Jazz Oasis."