Mayor Bianchi seeks change to preliminary election date that he approved

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PITTSFIELD >> Suggesting the city clerk is guilty of an "oversight," Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has made a formal request that she change the date of the preliminary election, which falls on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.

But City Clerk Linda Tyer, who is one of two candidates vying to unseat the mayor, said Thursday she already has adjusted the election calendar in deference to the Rosh Hashanah holiday — a move that the mayor and City Council signed off on six months ago.

Bianchi sought the change in a two-sentence letter addressed to Tyer in the clerk's office.

"It has come to my attention that you scheduled the primary election on Yom Kippur," the letter states. "I respectfully request that you move the date of the primary election."

In an accompanying email forwarded to members of the media, Bianchi said he was "sure" the scheduling conflict was "an unfortunate oversight."

When contacted by The Eagle, Tyer said the matter was addressed and resolved in January when she submitted the election calendar for council approval.

The city charter calls for the preliminary election to be held on the third Tuesday in September. This year that would be Sept. 15, which is the second full day of Rosh Hashanah — an all-day religious observance for many in the Jewish community.

After consulting two local rabbis, Tyer proposed the date be moved back a week to Sept. 22, which is a regular work day; Yom Kippur observances begin a few minutes before sundown, roughly two hours before the polls close.

Tyer submitted the proposed scheduling change to the City Council on Jan 5.

The City Council unanimously approved the change on Jan. 13; Bianchi signed off on the measure two days later.

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Tyer provided to the mayor and the media copies of the January documents.

Rabbi David Weiner of Congregation Knesset Israel confirmed in an email on Thursday that he and Rabbi Josh Breindel from Temple Anshe Amunim advised Tyer that Sept. 22 was the best option.

"Religious practice would not prevent even the most observant Jewish resident of Pittsfield from voting sometime before 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22," Weiner wrote. "Some Jewish poll workers might seek an accommodation for their holiday observance."

In response to an email request from The Eagle about whether he still wanted the date changed, the mayor said a concerned citizen Thursday morning informed him of the potential conflict.

"Once learning of the conflict I did some research and discovered that this was an issue in many communities," he stated. "I immediately contacted Ms. Tyer as well as the press to let the public know that we would hopefully be able to make accommodations.

"It is important that we are inclusive of all of our residents and respectful of their observances," he stated.

Bianchi, Tyer and resident Craig Gaetani are the three mayoral candidates on the preliminary election ballot; the top two finishers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election.

Tyer said Jewish voters who are concerned they won't make it to the polls before sundown can vote by absentee ballot, one of three reasons registered voters can cast ballots in absentia. She noted North Adams, Holyoke and Fitchburg also have scheduled their preliminary elections on Sept. 22.

"My office stands ready, willing and able to make voting accessible to everyone, which is why I had conversations with the rabbis in our community, early on," Tyer said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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