Voters in North Adams, Massachusetts head to the polls today to determine who will be the city’s mayor for the next two years.
Through a couple of debates, crime and economic development have become the two main topics in the race. Two-term Democratic Mayor Richard Alcombright is facing Republican challenger Robert Moulton Jr., a former city councilor, in the city’s mayoral race. Moulton has attacked Alcombright bringing attention to an uptick in area crime since April.
“It’s not like we are going to go out and hire four or five new cops,” Moulton said. “I think it can be done within the department. More neighborhood policing, more neighborhood watch groups, bike patrols in the summertime when you need them, go back to the substations we used to have.”
Alcombright agrees there has been an increase in crime, specifically breaking and entering. He says the city has been addressing social ills like drug and alcohol use that lead to violent crimes.
“We’ve worked with the state police, crime task force, and the sheriff’s department with significant extra policing here since June,” Alcombright said. “That’s been extremely effective and we’re going to keep that pressure up for as long as it takes. So we’re seeing some good things. We think we’ve been very effective with the drug and alcohol piece, trying to work on education and eradication of those problems.”
The candidates have also disagreed on an economic plan for the city, which has sometimes struggled to transition from its industrial roots. Alcombright is touting an all-encompassing master plan two-and-a-half years in the making.
“As we look for grants down the road, whether that be state or federal, as we even look at private investment,” the mayor said. “How will private investors look at us without some sort of direction that will be created through this master plan? It should be unveiled the first quarter of next year. It’s totally comprehensive. It talks about everything from development to healthy living to education to blight. The whole nine yards.”
Moulton says an economic plan involves the city battening down the hatches when it comes to spending. He says money Alcombright has spent on raises and a new school superintendent’s office could be used in the police department or other areas.
“Can’t spend money you don’t have,” Moulton said. “You got to hold the line on taxes. Things like that. You can’t tax people to the max. We are just in a very, very tough situation. The mayor’s already told me if I get elected, I said ‘What are we going to have in reserves?’ We’re going to have nothing. He came in with about $7 million, spent it all and I don’t see any tangible difference in North Adams or any real improvements.”
Moulton says the city should use the 1995 HyettPalma development report. Alcombright says it’s outdated and only focuses on the downtown area with the Mohawk Theater being the sole remaining piece still relevant in the report. The mayor says he wants the city to partner with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to make the theater sustainable.
“The college becomes in a sense a tenant of the building and does programming there year round,” Alcombright said. “It would also provide for a significant amount of time for community theater, community events, high school plays, the whole nine yards. We are very confident the model is great, it’s like everything else, it’s coming up with the funding.”
Moulton agrees the theater is vital to the city’s development, but is unsure of plans for it.
“He’s been working with the college on a plan,” Moulton said. “That right now is probably third or fourth thing down on my list. But, I definitely believe that’s an economic stimulus. I believe that’s the centerpiece for downtown. Much like a mall has the big department stores to get people down there if you get the Mohawk Theater going that’s going to rejuvenate the downtown. But, there’s a lot of tax credits out there. Who knows? Everything is going to be looked at, I can tell you that, and that will be one of my priorities for the downtown.”
Another focus has been the privatization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park. Alcombright says the city will leverage $6 million in investments once it finalizes a deal with Greylock Marketplace to acquire the park. He says this will go along with nearly $1 million in state grants to revamp the property and make it a tourist destination by inviting rail service through the Mass DOT.
“Cities are not here to run businesses," Alcombright said. "We’re here to permit them.”
Moulton is hesitant about the deal.
“Unless that plan is really solid, backed by the state with some funding and some money, goes through all our planning process, our boards, and redevelopment, I got to take a real good look at that,” Moulton said. “We’ve been kept in the dark about that. I don’t believe we know everything going on.”