2013 was a busy year in local politics in the Berkshires, but many key leaders are remaining in place come the new year.
The year’s most heated race occurred in North Adams. Two-term Democratic Mayor Richard Alcombright was challenged by Republican Robert Moulton, Jr., a former city councilor. In the city of about 13,000, roughly 3,600 people headed to the polls. In the end, Alcombright was reelected to a third term, garnering 59 percent of the vote. During his victory speech on election night, Alcombright said unity was the most important political issue in the city. But he then referenced John Barrett, who served as mayor for 26 years before being defeated by Alcombright in 2009.
“If I thought in 2009 even for one second when I decided to run that it would be this politically ugly in this city I would never have run for mayor,” Alcombright said. “It is very evident that in 2009, 2011 and now in 2013 despite different faces, I have run each time against John Barrett and I have now beat him three times.”
During the campaign period, Moulton, who received 41 percent of the vote, challenged Alcombright on crime and an economic plan for the city, which he still questioned after the election results came in.
“Barrett was one of my advisors,” Moulton said. “To say he beat John Barrett, I don’t think that’s true, I’m kind of surprised he said that. That was my campaign. I decided to run this. He was one of many advisors and he is a very helpful person. 26 years as mayor, the experience he has is tremendous. I have no regrets for using him as an advisor, but Dick Alcombright beat Bob Moulton this time.”
Alcombright later explained his comments regarding Barrett.
“Let’s give him credit where credit is due,” the mayor said. “He’s a 26-year mayor, longest serving mayor in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. But, there’s just a tension between John Barrett and I ever since I won that first election. He ran for council, he’s been on for two years. That tension carried through. The last two years were, quite honestly, the most miserable of my life. So I think that has to go away. We can’t have these negative influences constantly pulling down a positive administration trying to do positive things. Yes we can disagree. Let’s disagree on whatever we need to. God bless America, that’s democracy, but let’s just keep it from getting ugly.”
Alcombright may enjoy some more of that political unity he talked about as Barrett did not seek reelection to the city council in 2013. Here’s Barrett.
“Did I oppose him on policy? Did I oppose him on some of the things that he was doing? Yes,” Barrett said. “I felt as though he was doing things that weren’t in the best interest of the city, but that’s a difference of opinion. It’s almost like being amateur in dealing with this. He has to understand in politics, you have a difference of opinion, you want to do things different, you have different philosophies and you fight for your opinion, but you don’t take it personal. Unfortunately he’s done that. That’s too bad because that’s not in the best interest of the city.”
Alcombright plans to release the city’s highly touted, all-encompassing Vision 2030 economic plan in the first quarter of 2014. He says he is considering running again in 2015 if he continues to see progress in North Adams.
“The low hanging fruit right now is the [Western Gateway] Heritage State Park project because we’ve been working on it for so long,” Alcombright explained. “But there are other things in the plan. For instance, making the city more bike-able, more livable, more walk-able and healthy options that we’re looking at. We are even talking about agriculture. It’s wide-ranging. It looks at every sector.”
Meanwhile in Pittsfield, a city of roughly 44,000, Mayor Dan Bianchi ran unopposed after defeating Pete Marchetti by around 100 votes in 2011. Two years earlier, Bianchi lost by more than 200 votes to incumbent Jim Ruberto, who was the city’s second-longest serving mayor, having been elected in 2003.
“Gee, what’s wrong with this job?” Bianchi said chuckling. “Nobody wants this job? The best explanation I had, and I guess it’s been a long, long time since a mayor has run unopposed, but a businessman congratulated me. I said ‘Well, I don’t know if I deserve congratulations or not.” He said ‘You know what? I think people are just comfortable with you. They’re comfortable knowing that you’ll always try to do the right thing. They’re comfortable knowing that you’ll treat people fairly and what more would you want?’ So that’s the explanation I’ve accepted.”
Bianchi did see voters approve a new city charter that extends the mayoral term from two to four years.
“I’m committed to making sure that we achieve economic development, public safety and educational initiatives,” Bianchi said. “I’m committed to making sure that those happen. I’m looking beyond the next two years, at probably either two or four more years as mayor to make sure that that happens.”