The post-Barrett era


When John Barrett III began his 26-year career as mayor of North Adams, Ronald Reagan was president, Michael Dukakis was beginning his second term as governor of Massachusetts and Carl Yastrzemski was wrapping up his Hall of Fame career with the mayor's beloved Boston Red Sox. That provides context for how long Mr. Barrett has been the city's dominant figure, and a sense of the dramatically new era North Adams will embark upon next January with a new mayor.

Every mayor gets to set a city's agenda, but Mr. Barrett's sharp-edged personality and uncompromising management style enabled him to dominate his city's agenda. Whether it was wrestling with skeptics to make Mass MoCA a reality, leaning on Beacon Hill to get funding for city projects or taking on Yankee Magazine and any others who dared mock his beloved community, John Barrett hit the opposition head on. To return to baseball, the bunt wasn't in the mayor's arsenal. He swung for the fences, and from the heels.

That style enabled him to accomplish a great deal for his city economically, culturally and educationally. The big successes, like the museum of modern art and its spin-off businesses, drew headlines, but the mayor sweated the small stuff too, as if he were a councilman. The challenges of a small city tucked in the Berkshire hills are many and Mayor Barrett has met them.

The mayor's style, however, was guaranteed to make him enemies, and he made plenty over the years. Many would never forgive slights real or perceived no matter his accomplishments.

The nature of Dick Alcombright's decisive victory Tuesday, however, indicates that North Adams voters didn't just vote against Mr. Barrett, they voted for his opponent. Unlike many of the mayor's past opponents, he gave voters someone to vote for rather than simply target Mr. Barrett as someone to vote against. Mr. Alcombright's credentials are solid, his popularity among residents well-earned.

Mr. Alcombright's management style will be dramatically different from Mr. Barrett's, which is not to say it is either right or wrong. In fact, his conciliatory nature should enable him to ease the transition from a long-dominant predecessor, and while loyal Barrett supporters will not be easily appeased, we are confident the new mayor will reach out to them.

North Adams will be losing Mr. Barrett's statewide political savvy and years of experience, but he entered office in North Adams with neither and Mr. Alcombright has the potential to gain both. The new mayor also has the opportunity to build a legacy in North Adams. Mr. Barrett has already built us, and it provides a platform for Mr. Alcombright and North Adams to build a bright future upon.



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