Newcomers now outnumber the incumbents on the city council in North Adams, Massachusetts.
Five members of the nine-member group are freshman councilors. Eric Buddington, Ben Lamb, Joshua Moran, Wayne Wilkinson and Kate Merrigan make up the freshman class. The five outgoing councilors did not seek reelection in 2013. The five outgoing councilors did not seek reelection in 2013. Mayor Richard Alcombright, who was sworn in to a third term along with the other elected officials New Year’s Day, sees it as an opportunity.
“We’ve totally closed the gap on gender equity,” Alcombright said. “We’ll have four women on the council this year, which is great. You have youth, but you have experienced youth, educated youth. You have folks who have been around a little bit longer who bring the savvy and the understanding of the system.”
Lisa Blackmer is entering her fourth term and was unanimously elected to replace Michael Bloom as the council’s new president.
“I’m going to miss the senior councilors that have been on,” Blackmer admitted. “Al Marden has been on for 26 years, Michael Bloom for 24 and Marie Harpin has been on for 16. We are going to miss their guidance, process and wisdom.”
Blackmer adds the council is relatively young even beyond the five new members.
“What’s different about this time is not only do we have five new members, we have two members who have only been on for one term,” she said. “So we’ve got a relatively new council overall. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, I’ll be able to give you a better idea at the end of the year and see how it works. I’m looking forward to working with everybody.”
Merrigan, one of the newly elected councilors, is a native of North Adams and is involved with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. She says she wants to use the relationships she’s developed to make people more connected and engaged with what’s going on in the city. She says she is looking for unity in the city following what Alcombright has called the worst time of his life with former 26-year mayor John Barrett serving on the city council for the past two years.
“I think we’ve had a difficult fall and a lot of strong feelings in this election season,” Merrigan said. “I think that we are a city with a lot of heart, but we are also in a moment with a lot of hurt. I’d like to see what we can do as city leaders to help heal some of that. I don’t know what that will be. I really don’t, but it’s a question I want to keep asking. I want to get into conversation with as many people as I can to ask them how they see that.”
Merrigan thinks the new councilors will bring some fresh ideas. She mentioned a string of dance parties she helped start in 2006 that draw more than 500 people in the city of 13,000.
“It’s just a party to get people together and realize that you can have a wonderful time in a rural community,” she said. “You don’t need to be in Brooklyn to go to an amazing nighttime event. So that’s kind of silly in some ways, but to me it’s a really meaningful part of my participation in the community.”
Merrigan says she has a lot to learn in her new role and hopes to make the city more financially stable and improve the downtown’s walk-ability and bike-ability. Alcombright says the city is setting up orientation workshops for all the councilors as the budgeting process in the early part of the year is typically the first daunting task. Blackmer is joined by newly elected vice president Nancy Bullet as well as Keith Bona and Jennifer Breen as the incumbent members.