There's a hunger to be Pittsfield's mayor, and the table is set for four
PITTSFIELD — The race is on for City Hall's corner office.
Incumbent Mayor Linda Tyer faces three challengers — Scott Graves, Karen Kalinowsky and Melissa Mazzeo. During sit-down interviews with The Eagle, the candidates trained a spotlight on economic development, public safety and on Pittsfield's future.
The four-candidate field heads to a preliminary election Sept. 17. Voters must register by 8 p.m. Wednesday in order to cast a preliminary ballot. After that, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election Nov. 4.
The mayoral candidates are scheduled to participate in a forum at 7 p.m. Monday in Berkshire Community College's Koussevitzky Arts Center.
Graves, 49, of Cascade Street, owns the Rusty Anchor Marina on Pontoosuc Lake. He also runs a construction business by his name and is a longtime real estate developer in the city.
Though he's still registered as a Democrat, Graves said he has "zero" loyalty to any party.
He attended Pittsfield Public Schools and, as a teenager, started work as a general laborer for his sister's construction company. He attended the police academy, but ultimately he decided to buy real estate instead of becoming a police officer.
Since then, he said, he has rehabilitated and sold dozens of deteriorating Pittsfield properties. He said he also did work in modular homes, building 22 new properties in Pittsfield.
He opened the Rusty Anchor at the former YMCA property in 2012.
"It was almost touching the water, it was leaning so much," he said of the property.
Now, he said, he'd like to rebuild the house of Pittsfield. Rather than demolishing buildings, he said the city should be encouraging more developers to rehabilitate them.That would build the city's tax base, which he described as Pittsfield's foundation.
He said he will work seven day weeks toward that end, if need be.
"I'd like to work, so to speak, from the ground up," he said.
Like the family he has built at the marina, Graves said he'd like to bring the city's residents together.
"That's kind of my crazy idea," he said. "To be mayor and make all of us more of a family."
He said he'd like to build a community center in each quadrant of the city — places that empower residents like himself to be involved.
"I felt like I was on the outside looking in," he said. "I want to make sure everyone is inside and can contribute to their area."
He said it has felt like the permitting process is excessively difficult and the city should be doing more to spur development instead of hinder it. Breaking through these roadblocks helped inspire his mayoral run, he said.
"I still pushed on and said maybe I should just try this from the other side," he said.
Graves said he extends a hand to anyone in the city who, like him, had lost faith in the process.
"If they want a politician, I'm not a politician," he said. "I'm someone who actually stopped voting, myself, because I was feeling like I was closing my eyes and doing eeny meeny miney moe."
Kalinowsky, 57, of Shaker Lane, is a retired Pittsfield police officer who long has made children her focus. Her party affiliation is unenrolled.
She worked for the city's Police Department for nearly 32 years. She taught DARE for 28 years, and worked as a school resource officer for 13 years. Her primary assignment was Reid Middle School. She retired last year.
Now, she's trying her hand at foster parenting. As she spoke, her 7-year-old raced toy vehicles up and down the hallway.
She said she and her husband took classes over the winter and recently got licensed to take in foster children. Kids are the future, she said, and it's important to be there for those in need.
"Not everybody has the advantages that other people have," she said.
Kalinowsky was one of the department's first community police officers, in the 1990s, she said. She would walk up and down North Street during a time when there were pay phones and open drug deals. "They asked us to clean it up, and we did," she said.
Kalinowsky said poorly maintained streets pitted with potholes initially inspired her mayoral run. The city needs to keep better track of its streets, she said.
"Instead of complaining, I could do something," she said.
She said she's also displeased with the way some of the schools are run.
"As the officer in the building, I shouldn't be the one that the kids run to," she said. "I thought I'd be the last one the kids would run to."
She said that illustrates a problem.
"Some of them are totally out of control," she said of the schools. "And some kids can learn in that type of environment, and some kids cannot."
She said she watched with concern as more students entered middle school without the ability to read at a fifth grade level. "I think that needs to be kept a closer eye on," she said.
"The kids who are behind tend to be the ones who act out," she said.
Students need to be bolstered so they don't start using drugs, she said.
As mayor, she said, she would take an open-door, hands-on approach to fixing issues.
"When I see a problem, I go right out and try to solve it," she said. "I've been like that my whole career, and I will continue it if I make mayor."
Mazzeo, 54, of Gravesleigh Terrace, is a longtime city councilor at large who has eyes on an even larger role.
She is a Democrat and a dental hygienist by trade, though she hasn't worked for the past couple of years because of back problems developed over decades of hunching over people's mouths.
She has served on the City Council for 10 years. She is president of the board of directors for the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center, and has been a member of the service organization Zonta International for more than a decade, both of which focus on female empowerment.
Mazzeo grew up in a single-parent household, went right into dental hygiene school at 18 and started her career at 21. Working in the profession taught her how to quickly build a rapport with people who might be anxious or nervous.
In 2003, Mazzeo got involved with the group WHEN. With the group, she worked alongside other firebrand women like Tyer and Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who now represents Pittsfield in the state House, to diversify the all-male City Council of the time.
Now, she's hungry for the city's top job.
She said she has come to realize how little control the council has to shape initiatives.
And the city's approach to issues like crime has to change, she said. The current administration has worked to beef up the police ranks, but she said those efforts have not borne fruit.
"They're working as hard as they can, but we're not getting the results that we wanted," she said.
As mayor, she would work to proactively address emerging issues rather than react to them as they crop up. As an example, she said Reid Middle School went without a school resource officer during the last school year, and by the end of it, its students were wielding BB guns in Springside Park.
"I get very frustrated at the reaction that we do, and not the pro-action," she said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't have had a resource officer for two years. And now there's one there. It's a reaction to an incident."
Mazzeo also feels that the city must be more business-friendly. She said she'd like to attract new shops into vacant storefronts and try to move the juvenile court facility to the second floor so that it wouldn't occupy prime first-floor real estate on North Street.
"We need consistency along the way while you're walking," she said.
Tyer, 53, of Pheasant Way, is the city's current mayor and a longtime elected official in Pittsfield.
She is a lifelong Democrat, and she previously served as city clerk and as the Ward 3 city councilor, to which she first was elected in 2003. She has been mayor since January 2016.
Before taking office for the first time, she worked in special education and in the superintendent's office at the Lenox Public Schools. That work stoked her passion for public service and education, she said.
"Those were formative professional experiences for me," she said.
Tyer's dad was in the Air Force, so she moved around a lot while growing up. Still, her family lived in Pittsfield, and so she always considered it her home base.
She said Pittsfield has the attractions of a larger city, yet it has a small-town sense of community. It's why she moved back here after living all over the world, she said, and it's something she aims to keep building on.
I'm running because I love my hometown," she said. "Through very specific and deliberate action, our city is making a comeback."
Looking ahead at the next four years, she said job creation is her No 1 priority.
"Expanding that economy into the area of outdoor recreation is the next natural evolution and intersects nicely with art and culture," she said.
She is proud of the team she has assembled, and of the roughly $17 million in grants, awards and donations that her administration has ushered in. She has built a statewide network of support, she said, and has nurtured an ecosystem that attracted the likes of Wayfair, which is poised to bring 300 jobs to the city in the coming months.
The city's housing market is blossoming as a result, she said, and Pittsfield is on the move.
"Change for the sake of change will stall our forward momentum," she said.
A new mayor would have to learn the ropes, she said.
"I'm ready today; I'm going to be ready tomorrow; and I'll be ready in January 2020," she said.
Over the next four year, Tyer said, she'd also like to do more to support people living in poverty.
"When I took the oath of office in 2016, I dedicated myself to building a stronger city — our hometown, a place where there's promise and possibility for every citizen," she said. "That is the dream that I carry with me every single day as I work tirelessly for our city."
Amanda Drane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.
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