Pittsfield City Council hopefuls talk jobs, crime, addiction and more
Editor's note: This article was updated on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, to correct the ward of candidate Bill Wright. He is a candidate in Ward 4.
PITTSFIELD — Nearly all of the Pittsfield City Council candidates showed for a forum hosted Wednesday by the Berkshire branch of the NAACP, making for a long, jam-packed evening at the Silvio O. Conte Community School.
The 17 candidates sounded off about everything from spikes in crime to parking problems and economic development. Will Singleton moderated the forum, attended by all candidates except Ward 1 candidate Michael Cirullo Jr.
To a question about what candidates would do to address diversity within municipal staffing, Ward 4 candidate Chris Connell argued that "you hire the best person for the job." He said diversity comes in ensuring you're advertising to a wide pool of candidates, and he wasn't alone in saying it has a lot to do with who applies.
Ward 1 candidate Helen Moon asserted that diversity "takes more than allowing it to happen based on who applies."
"We have to be more strategic than that," she said.
At-large candidate Earl Persip III, who said he works with children at the Berkshire YMCA, said diversifying city ranks is what inspired him to run.
"Children want to see people that look like them," he said of municipal jobs, adding that retention rates are also an issue among people of color. "The people I talk to feel a lack of support."
Incumbent Councilor At-Large Peter White said he'd like to address the $250 civil service fee, which he said serves as a barrier for those looking to serve in police and fire departments. The lack of tenure for teachers, he said, also deters more diverse candidates from moving to the city.
Asked for thoughts about what councilors can do to attract and keep businesses, incumbent Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said quality of life is the biggest issue. People need to want to live here, he said, in order to attract businesses.
Incumbent Council President Peter Marchetti said the city hit a "grand slam" in recent weeks with allocating about $1.5 million to support manufacturing businesses in the city, as well as making a new business development position within City Hall.
Incumbent Councilor At-Large Melissa Mazzeo argued that the city needs to make the permitting and inspection processes easier on business owners, thereby combating the perception that Pittsfield is unfriendly to business. Tax rates are on the high end, she said, and so the city should meet business owners on the other points.
Incumbent Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli said the key to driving the city's economy is addressing current issues with crime.
"This is not the Pittsfield that I grew up with," he said. "The perception out there is that it's not safe in some of our neighborhoods."
Singleton asked what candidates thought should be done about a rash of violent crime that appears to be driven by the illegal drug trade, and they weighed in on issues of addiction and law enforcement.
Connell said it's important to keep funding the traffic division of the Police Department as a means to catch drugs coming into the city.
Ward 2 candidate Dina Guiel said addiction issues underlie drug crimes.
"We need to begin by looking at this from a human perspective," she said, adding that programs and recovery services are the path forward.
At-large candidate Edward Carmel said establishing a process to verify that those living in public housing units match the names on the leases could help. He said he was homeless in this city, and so he knows what goes on.
Incumbent Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said sweeps and raids are what's necessary to rid the city of violence. That, he said, would "send a message."
"We're going to get drugs, gangs and guns in one sweep," he said.
Ward 4 candidate Bill Wright said it's important that residents feel supported enough to say something if they see something, so that crimes can be solved more quickly.
"People are nervous," he said. "We need to let them know that it's a safe place."
Incumbent Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said "we need to have more opportunities in our community — more choices, so that crime is not one of them."
White said it's also important to address the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction.
At-large candidate Craig Gaetani said he long has advocated for more boots on the ground and body cameras for police officers.
"When they have trust in the police, you'll see the crime come down," he said.
Ward 3 candidate James Gleason said the Police Department would do better to have leaders who have lived the lives of the people they're dealing with, and "not read about it in a book."
Incumbent Ward 3 candidate Nicholas Caccamo said the introduction of legal marijuana into the city is a positive step, given early indicators that it reduces the presence of opioids in communities.
Most councilors agreed that the roll-out of the paid parking system was flawed, and many contended that the kiosks are not user-friendly. Sitting councilors argued that it was the only choice in order to secure funding for garage repairs from the state. Ward 7 candidate Rhonda Serre called the ordeal a "hot mess" that could have been mitigated with better planning.
"There is no way we should have been forced into this situation," she said.
Reach Amanda Drane at 413-496-6296, or @amandadrane on Twitter.
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