Our Opinion: Thomas Bernard for North Adams mayor
North Adams is a small city with big city problems like crime and abandoned storefronts. It has been a struggle to recover from the departure of Sprague Electric but progress has been made in recent years, progress that continued the last two years under first term mayor Thomas Bernard.
North Adams has been reinventing itself as an arts and cultural center, which has been a focus for the mayor. Mass MoCA, now firmly established in its 20th year, has joined Berkshire County's list of renowned cultural draws and led directly to other ventures such as the renovated Tourists, a hotel with roots in the Solid Sound Festival at MoCA. The Norad Mill, the former Excelsior Mill, hosts art space and small manufacturing, combining elements of the old North Adams and the new. The Bernard administration has been encouraging to businesses both local and based outside the Berkshires seeking to invest in the city and its future.
Progress has been made on the crime front, and in Jason Wood, the mayor has brought in a new police chief who is building stronger connections with social service agencies, schools and neighborhoods. North Adams has been hit hard by the opioid addiction epidemic that plagues much of the state and the mayor has been working with the recovery community in the city to address it, as well as with agencies and government bodies throughout the Berkshires and state.
Revitalizing downtown is an ongoing challenge for the mayor, as it is for mayors in small municipalities throughout New England. Finding a new use for the Mohawk Theater on Main Street has been a particular challenge for a series of mayors. It can be said, however, that North Adams' quaint downtown is looking better, making it appealing to visitors and ideally more businesses.
Mayor Bernard is opposed by Rachel Branch, whose family roots extend deep into North Adams' soil. Her career has taken her as far away as Libya, giving her a worldly perspective that manifests itself in many ways, including a dedication to fighting climate change. Since returning to North Adams in 2000 she has been active in community issues, among them the difficult struggle to curb domestic violence, and provided a home for respite care foster children.
Her vision for the city, however, does not differ dramatically from that of the incumbent. Like many residents, Ms. Branch continues to rue the loss of North Adams Hospital and faults the mayor for being accepting of it. That ship has sailed, however, and North Adams must focus instead on making the best possible use of the medical offices and facilities Berkshire Health Systems has established in the city.
Ms. Branch says she is running in part because no mayor should regain office without opposition. She is right, and her presence has given the city a mayoral campaign. In the course of that campaign, Mr. Branch has not made a strong case for turning out the incumbent and Mayor Bernard has been a strong case for voters to return him to office. The Eagle endorses Thomas Bernard for re-election as mayor of North Adams.
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