Our Opinion: Pittsfield politics must move on from 2019 election

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A Pittsfield political fight that should have died with a 2019 mayoral election remains alive and kicking.

Barry Clairmont, husband of Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, has brought a defamation lawsuit against Melissa Mazzeo, who challenged the mayor for her seat. The contest between Ms. Mazzeo, a former City Council president, and the incumbent Mayor Tyer was a heated showdown not just for the two rivals but for the competing factions of Pittsfield politics.

It was a bitter race, and unfortunately crossing the finish line did nothing to dilute that bitterness. Shortly after her defeat, Ms. Mazzeo publicly insinuated that Mr. Clairmont, a certified public accountant who acted as the Tyer campaign's treasurer, potentially tampered with votes by obtaining "unauthorized direct access to ballots inside City Hall." She reported this allegation to the state Elections Division, which investigated her claims and found them baseless.

Now, Mr. Clairmont is suing Ms. Mazzeo for "significant and substantial damages," claiming that the accusations wounded his professional reputation as an accountant.

If one ever needed an example of just how unproductive factional rivalries in local politics can get, look no further. Both sides have shown they're content with dragging out this fight long past its electoral expiration date.

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Ms. Mazzeo should have heeded voters' voices and accepted the tough loss without undermining the election results with specious allegations of skullduggery.

Mr. Clairmont should have resisted the urge to reheat the conflict via legal retaliation that will probably struggle to prove in court the requisites for defamation, given that his experience as a former city councilor and a member of the mayor's campaign team arguably constitutes that of a public figure. As such, Mr. Clairmont's burden of proof for defamation is high, requiring him to show that Ms. Mazzeo's allegations were not only false but also made with actual malice or with reckless disregard for the truth, and that he suffered a resultant financial loss.

All of this jousting just means that a city with challenges to face in the here and now will have its attention diverted to the drama of an election that concluded nearly a year ago. In the aftermath, a sore winner is just as bad as a sore loser. The only thing worse than either is both.

Mr. Clairmont's suit says that he requested an apology from Ms. Mazzeo to clear the air after the state's Elections Division found no evidence of wrongdoing on his part, but she did not respond, which has apparently brought the matter to this juncture. Ms. Mazzeo should indeed apologize for her unwarranted attack on the Tyer campaign and the election's legitimacy. And Mr. Clairmont should drop the frivolous suit against his wife's unsuccessful mayoral rival.

It is past time to move on. It might only take one party to be the adult in the room and defuse the matter instead of escalating it. Hopefully both sides will realize that Pittsfield deserves better than having its political sphere rented out as an arena for these skirmishes.


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