Our Opinion: Linda Tyer for Pittsfield mayor
There is nothing like a mayoral election to focus a city on its present and its future. The vigorous campaign by Mayor Linda Tyer and challenger Melissa Mazzeo has provided that service for Pittsfield, casting a light on crime, education, the economy and other current issues, and exploring how the city will address them going forward. On Tuesday, voters will decide which candidate they will go forward with as mayor.
In the campaign, Mayor Tyer has drawn attention to her accomplishments and ideas to address unfinished business. Ms. Mazzeo, an at large city councilor, has focused on what she regards as the mayor's failed promises and her plans to do better for the city. The campaign comes in the context of a city that appears to have belatedly recovered from its GE withdrawal symptoms and is ready to explore alternatives by building on strengths and realistically taking on weaknesses.
Violence and shootings on Pittsfield's West Side have put the spotlight on the crime issue, with the mayor citing better technology and increased cooperation among the city's police department and other law enforcement agencies as key to her efforts to combat crime. If elected, Ms. Mazzeo promises to hire more police, but she would likely run into the same obstacles as the mayor has, among them civil service requirements. Ms. Mazzeo's plans for attacking crime in general differ from the mayor's more in degree than in substance, attesting to the difficulty of confronting a problem that is hardly unique to Pittsfield and is linked to complex economic and social factors.
In terms of jobs and the economy, Ms. Tyer points to successes like the arrival of Wayfair, which Ms. Mazzeo would argue fell in the mayor's lap. We'll give credit to the mayor's red carpet team for doing the groundwork for these businesses. Ms. Mazzeo maintains that the mayor's office is unfriendly to established business, but Ms. Mazzeo opposed forgiving the debt burden that allowed the Beacon Cinema to remain in operation on North Street to the benefit of other businesses on the street. The parking kiosks have been a subject of debate since the day they were installed, but downtown parking is a method of generating revenue common to cities and it keeps employees and others from hogging valuable parking spots. Ms. Mazzeo's proposal to suspend the kiosk payment system at least temporarily would cost the city money it needs.
Mayor Tyer has opened herself up to criticism on issues of infrastructure, most notably a $2 million overrun in the salt and sand budget from last winter. She is too dismissive of the importance of repainting lines on roads and filling potholes quickly. These matter to residents, as do cracked and hazardous public sidewalks. A Mayor Mazzeo would likely be strong on these issues. A Mayor Tyer in her second term would have to do better.
By the same token, Ms. Mazzeo's 10 years on the City Council open her to criticism, and it isn't because she is not hard-working or responsive to constituents. Councilor Mazzeo is both, and she is diligent about researching the issues that come before the City Council. She asks questions of city officials, although those questions can be redundant and her good points become lost in a circular discussion.
Ms. Mazzeo's predicament is that in her 10 years in government she has made it clear what she is against but not what she is for. For example, while she has positioned herself as an advocate for teachers in the campaign, she has not been a consistent advocate for education as a city councilor. It's not that the school department is above criticism but she has not offered much beyond it. That has been the case with too many issues.
A mayor must come forward with programs to better the city, which Ms. Tyer has done. Within the last two years, as the 2019 election emerged on the horizon, too many of those proposals were blocked or stalled without merit. Ms. Mazzeo and allies on the council blocked the mayor's proposal to introduce a toter system that would have addressed the city's unseemly garbage problem. Mayor Tyer's fine proposal to make low- or no-interest loans to homeowners in low-income areas to make exterior improvements to their homes met the same fate. The mayor has shown a willingness to compromise on these and other proposals, but Ms. Mazzeo and her allies have not. Mayor Tyer succeeded in addressing the city's wastewater treatment issues, a can that had been kicked down the road for years, but Ms. Mazzeo advocated kicking it further down the road while the plant continued to emit pollution.
Pittsfield has its problems and challenges, many of them common to other New England cities. It also has its strengths, among them an emerging cannabis business with surprising potential. We've recently seen the creation of market-rate housing that will benefit current residents and ideally attract others to the city. Pittsfield will need progressive leadership going forward to take advantage of a momentum that could stall easily. There is little in Ms. Mazzeo's tenure as a city councilor or in her campaign that suggests she is that kind of leader. Pittsfield cannot afford to stall or regress at this point, to find reasons not to do things rather than to do them. We fear that might be the city's fate under Mayor Mazzeo over the next four years.
Mayor Tyer has not always succeeded in articulating her vision for the city. If reelected, she needs to do that to win over skeptics, and we urge her to be more willing to listen to allies and foes alike. But she has shown a determination to put forward ideas and programs that will benefit the city and to fight for them.
Whether Linda Tyer or Melissa Mazzeo is elected on Nov. 5, we hope the rival political camps dominating Pittsfield for so many years can call a truce long enough to allow the mayor a little breathing room. If Mayor Tyer is reelected, we believe that she will work with an appropriately diligent but not obstructionist City Council to move Pittsfield forward, to the benefit of its residents and businesses and even to Berkshire County as a whole. The Eagle endorses Linda Tyer for a second term as mayor of Pittsfield.
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