Our Opinion: Getting on same page in North Adams

In some ways, a mayor's job — especially the mayor of a small city — is tougher than being the president of the United States. While an entrenched federal bureaucracy insulates a president from blame for the daily mishaps and failures of government, a mayor is singularly responsible for the proper delivery of municipal services as well as the preservation of quality of civic life. He or she must also ensure that the city remains economically viable, since Congress won't come to the rescue by raising the national debt to bail it out. As if that weren't enough, the best mayors also take it upon themselves to adopt and promote a vision for their city — by galvanizing citizens to embrace a coherent philosophy that takes into account their heritage as well as current realities on the ground.

Accordingly, North Adams should celebrate the swearing-in on Monday of its third mayor in 34 years, Thomas Bernard. In Mayor Bernard's case, never having previously held public office in North Adams is not a shortcoming, since he has been an administrator at both Mass MoCA and MCLA. He knows his city and its problems, and he possesses the nuts-and-bolts qualifications for the job. What is more important is that he understands that a sustainable and desirable future lies in the individual will and talents of its residents.

The municipality is struggling to reinvent itself from being a centuries-old center for skilled manufacturing jobs. When global economics and offshoring resulted in the shuttering of its storied mills, North Adams began its painstaking transition into a cultural and tourism magnet with Mass MoCA — itself housed in a former electric mill — as the crown jewel. That process must continue.

In his inaugural speech, Mayor Bernard laid out the three legs of the stool upon which he plans to realize his vision: education, infrastructure and public health. In other words, develop a city with a welcoming business climate, and business will come. We applaud his desire to scrap one-year moratorium on marijuana sales in favor of an expedited look at zoning regulations. Communities can levy a 3 percent tax on such sales, and the benefits of the new law going into effect this summer will go to the swift, not to those that dawdle on the sidelines.

The new mayor made a point of declaring his impartiality regarding those who have lived in the Western Gateway for generations versus those who only recently arrived. It was a veiled comment acknowledging North County resentments of outside elements supposedly exploiting the town and its inhabitants. The fact is that without "outsiders" — who obviously take into account the city's attributes when deciding where to locate — North Adams would be in far more dire straits today, and newcomers will continue to figure significantly in the city's survival.

The Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, the brainchild of Thomas Krens, is, like MoCA, though on a smaller scale, an imaginative idea that should boost the Western Gateway Heritage State Park nearby. New projects can provide a boost to existing ones, and the building of a critical mass will recharge downtown and maybe provide the key to unlocking the dormant potential of the Mohawk Theatre. If all of North Adams benefits from these efforts, it won't matter who — "insiders" or "outsiders" — laid down the groundwork.


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