Our Opinion: Barrett for state rep. in 1st Berkshire District

The untimely death of state Representative Gailanne Cariddi in June necessitated a special election to fill her seat in the 1st Berkshire District. John Barrett III, who won a four-way Democratic preliminary, will take on Republican Christine Canning this coming Tuesday.

The former 26-year mayor of North Adams, Mr. Barrett is certainly a familiar figure in North Berkshire. While he did serve on the North Adams City Council, Mr. Barrett's political experience is largely in the executive branch, where the skill set required is different from that of a legislator.

In an interview with The Eagle's editorial board, Mr. Barrett said he saw an opportunity to fill what he sees as a leadership vacuum in Northern Berkshire. This is certainly a region that could use a strong voice, which Mr. Barrett would provide. He will also be required to work with the rest of the Berkshire legislative delegation on common interests, and as a junior representative, work with House leadership. That may prove to be a test for Mr. Barrett, one he says he is up to.

Mr. Barrett made the valid point that as a former mayor he would bring with him first-hand knowledge of the local impact of budget cuts made on Beacon Hill. A focal point of his campaign has been the need to revise the antiquated formula for Chapter 70 education funding so more funding is directed to struggling school districts. He said that while parochialism continues to burden the Berkshires, increased shared services among school districts "has to be worked into the equation."

Mr. Barrett criticized "outside investors" for dominating North Adams to the exclusion of long-time residents struggling with high taxes. Investment from outside is critical to the economic development of the city, and the struggles of residents are largely the result of a shortage of jobs and the need to train local workers for the jobs that are available. Mr. Barrett's two years at the helm of the BerkshireWorks career center in Pittsfield undoubtedly provided him with first-hand insights into what the state must do so North County residents can fill high-tech jobs that are unfilled or going to residents from outside the legislative district.

If elected, of course, Mr. Barrett will be representing eight communities other than North Adams, including small towns like Florida and Hancock, which will pose a new challenge for the long-time urban mayor. Mr. Barrett did not fare well in the preliminary election against candidates perceived as more liberal. He noted that the Democratic preliminary was free of negativity, which should made it easier to bring the towns of the district together in addressing issues of education and jobs that are similar even though the makeup of the individual communities often differ dramatically.

The campaign of Ms. Canning has provided an opportunity to debate the issues, which happens rarely in Berkshire legislative races where incumbents are often unopposed. She describes herself as a political moderate who will be an aggressive, independent voice for the district in Boston.

While she has touched on many of the same issues as Mr. Barrett, such as inadequate school funding, the need to consolidate school services, and increased job training, her positions and solutions are not as viable or well-defined. And while Ms. Canning promises to be bipartisan, the reality is that as one of a relative handful of Republicans in the House, the isolated 1st Berkshire District would have even less political clout that it does now.

Mr. Barrett is attempting to embark upon another chapter in his long political career that no one would have anticipated. It will require a different mindset and approach than that of a mayor, but his record as mayor has given him broad experience in dealing with state government, and there is no denying his passion for government that should serve all the communities in the district well. The Eagle endorses John Barrett III for state representative from the 1st Berkshire District.


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