Our Opinion: A notable but complicated career

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Possessing a bulldog's tenacity, Carmen C. Massimiano Jr. was accustomed to getting what he wanted — most significantly a new Berkshire House of Correction. Blunt and at times abrasive, friends and political allies also remember a man with a sharp wit and a dedication to rehabilitation that put him ahead of the curve among his contemporaries.

Mr. Massimiano, who died last week at the age of 75, was Berkshire County's longest-serving sheriff, holding office for 32 years before choosing not to run again in 2010. He also served for many years on the city's Licensing Board and on the School Committee and was seen as a power-broker with political savvy and a ruthless tactician. ("Massimiano leaves legacy both lasting and complex," Larry Parnass, Eagle, July 2.)

He needed all of that political savvy and his characteristic tenacity to fulfill his goal of replacing the decrepit county jail on Second Street, which was built in 1870 and not designed to encourage rehabilitation, with a new state-of-the-art facility in Cheshire. Working with legislative allies in the Berkshires, and plowing his way through red tape, the sheriff pushed the project to the finish line in 2001, when the $34 million, 160,000-square-foot facility opened. State Rep. John Barrett III, the long-time former mayor of North Adams, is among those who credited Sheriff Massimiano with helping inmates address problems of drug and alcohol addiction so they would be better able to rejoin society upon their release and not end up beyond bars.

Mr. Massimiano's dozen years on the School Committee, during the course of which he sat on the panel that planned the new Taconic High School, testified to his dedication to education. His tenure on the school board ended when he finished seventh and last in the vote to fill six seats on the board, a result he told The Eagle he found "curious." Mr. Massimiano's blunt, intimidating manner and impatience with those who got in the way of his goals, like some Morningside residents who differed with him about the future of the old jail building, may have triggered a backlash that manifested itself in that School Committee election in 2010. That loss came a few months before his decision not to run for another term as sheriff, which he appeared poised to do.

Mr. Massimiano had an uneasy relationship with the press, including the Berkshire Eagle, which in the latter case essentially came to an end in 2010 when The Eagle reported that Pittsfield police had interviewed a man who claimed that as a child roughly three decades earlier Mr. Massimiano had sexually assaulted him. Mr. Massimiano vigorously denied the allegations and no charges were filed. He accused The Eagle of one-sided reporting and purchased a full-page ad in the newspaper in which he said the accuser had "a history of mental health issues." The man continued to stand by his allegations, while Mr. Massimiano's family remains angry with The Eagle to this day.

Mr. Massimiano will be remembered for his accomplishments, and perhaps his strong-arming manner was necessary to achieve them. But there were those who felt bullied by Mr. Massimiano and believed they were disregarded if their interests conflicted with his own. The legacy he leaves is complicated and may be viewed differently in ways positive and negative as the years go by.

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