Thanks for checking out our elections coverage. We try to cover at least one race a year in an in-depth, meaningful way, and 2019 finds us at it again. The only difference is that James Kennedy, artist and founder of the much-loved “Unsung Eats” column here at the Glass, has wrested control of the interview-ometer away from the editors this time around. In an act of tremendous ambition (or lunacy) he committed to interviewing ALL the candidates for North Adams City Council (assuming they all got back to him). We hope you enjoy this campaign season series, brought to you as a service to the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power.
Editor’s Note: This conversation has been abridged for space and clarity. No information provided by the candidate has been checked for accuracy.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m 63 years old and I’ve been married to my wife Bonny for 38 years. I have two children; a son and a daughter, Jess and Bobby. One lives in town. One lives out of town. I’ve been in a family owned business — a three generation business for all of my adult life. I’ve been in Bennington, started a business up there — I’ve been up there 40 years ago this October. The family business has been around for about 90 years. I’ve always had a great love for North Adams.
I’ve been involved in many civic groups over the last 40 to 45 years, basically all my adult life. I have been on the city council before. I’ve served five terms. I had two times where I ran for mayor, but didn’t make it. I took a couple years off and laid low, and now I’m going to give it a shot again on the city council, and this year I am also running for school committee. I like to be involved. In my time on the council I have served many committees and I’ve chaired several committees. I just like to give back and truly enjoy what I do.
2019 Elections — North Adams City Council,
Why did you decide to run for North Adams City Council and what is it that you think separates you from the other candidates?
I’m pretty much a practical guy and I’m a business guy. Like I said, I have quite a bit of experience on the council, serving ten years, and I’ve always, always got the concerns of the taxpayer and the people of North Adams at heart. I have no other agenda. I enjoy working with people, talking with people and interacting with people. I like to find the best solution, and over the years I think I’ve come up with several innovative solutions to the problem’s we’ve had.
I told my wife last time that I wouldn’t do it again and I took two years off and here I am again. I haven’t seen a council meeting or been to a council meeting in two years, and now I’m kind of reinvigorated. I’ve got the time now and I enjoy it, so I’m back. I’ve always been involved in a multitude of things besides being a business person, I am also on the board of directors of North Adams Ambulance where I’ve been the president for about the past 13 years. I’m on our parish council. I just have to be involved and I enjoy being involved.
What do you regard as the most important issue facing North Adams today and do you have a particular issue that you will be running on?
I don’t have a particular issue I’m running on. There’s always something going on. What I see happens, and as I talk to people, is everyone gets caught up with the big national issues and of course every issue that comes up is a huge news item that’s all over the place but I kind of stay out of that fray. I do enjoy talking about it and being involved, but that’s not what being a city councilor is all about. I’ve always felt, and this goes back to many times before when the council presidents have made rulings on what you can say as a constituent; someone who comes into the meetings. I’ve always said the city council is not my meeting as a councilor and it’s not the mayor’s meeting. It is the people’s meeting so I’ve always enjoyed and loved it when people actually came and spoke. Sometimes it’s gotten a little bit restrictive and sometimes things get a little out of hand but that’s basic bread and butter local politics.
I do have a little problem sometimes with some of the apathy. I’d like to see more involvement from the people. I’d like to see people be able to speak. It’s worked out in the past where people have come up with issues that I’ve thought council should be involved in and people ask me to bring things forward. If I agree with it, and sometimes if I don’t agree with it, and they’ve asked me, I put something on the agenda and talk about it. What I tell the people is, “Where are ya?” Nothing makes more of an impact at a council meeting than when an issue comes up and 40 or 50 people, or even a hundred people, walk into that council chamber. That gets every councilor’s attention. So, basically we are there for the people. We can bring something up. We can put an agenda forward. What really would make a difference is people getting involved and that’s kind of what I mark myself as; a councilor for the people of North Adams.
What is your opinion about the pros and cons of gentrification and what role do you see it playing today and in the future of North Adams?
I don’t see it as that big of a deal. Again, the more opinions you see of what’s going on I try to stay out of that. I’m kind of a local issue person; sidewalks, snow plowing and city government. I like to see everyone get along. I’d like to see there not be an issue.
I do see this going on in North Adams today and I think it’s good, and as far as that issue, there are always people that are going to be hurt, but again, you’ve got to move forward and keep evolving. I know several houses and several projects and I was talking to a religious person the other day and he asked me how I thought North Adams was doing. I said I thought North Adams was going phenomenal. You can’t find a contractor and you can’t find a piece of heavy equipment, and he said, “Well, there’s so many still disadvantaged poor people having a hard time struggling.” I told him, “you go to Palm Beach and you’re going to find homeless people and you’re going to find people that are priced out.” It’s part of North Adams evolving and growing for the whole economy of Northern Berkshire.
Whether real or imagined, there is a perception that there is a water quality issue in North Adams. Do you believe there is a water quality problem, and if so, what solutions do you offer?
Is there a water quality problem? In the past, the last two terms on the council, they found some lead in the water but I believe they’ve been resolved. The state does keep a tab on it. We have good people in charge of that. I do not believe it’s a problem. You know you read the stuff in Detroit and here and there and it could happen but there was testing done in the schools when they found stuff in the schools. As long as you keep up with the people that are in charge and responsible for that and they follow through. I have no problem going up to a bubbler or a fountain and taking a glass of water. I think the people like Tim Lescarbeau or Paul Markland and his crew and the health department are doing a good job. We put those people in charge to take care of those problems.
In order for many municipalities to balance their budgets, oftentimes larger infrastructure projects and investments get kicked down the road rather than raise property taxes. What is your plan for a balanced budget?
Spending is always a big issue. I do have some issues, but I think for the most part I think North Adams is great. I live in the West end over by Greylock School, and it’s a very nice section over there by the airport. I live on Mass Ave and I’ve walked that area and many people walk it. I’d like to see something done over there with sidewalks and streets and things like that. We’ve spent a lot of money, Chapter 90 money I believe, that we get from the state for roads and highways. We can blacktop roads and we can buy equipment. We’ve been a little bit heavy on the equipment side and I do realize to run a municipality you need equipment, and I’d like to see some money put back into that.
I’d like to see a little bit more money, if we can afford it, spent on Historic Valley Campground. It is an asset for the city. We have a lot of people who come from out of the area. I’ve had family members camp up there and I’m not a camper, but I’ve gone to other campsites visiting family and what they offer at these other campsites is really a couple of notches above what we have. I think that could be expanded and it’s a revenue source for the city. People will stay for a season and they’re spending their dime here so you want to make that as attractive as possible. I know we got grants for the Noel Field with the splash park and that’s absolutely awesome. I was not a skateboard person when that was going through, and I was proven wrong. I drive by and see all the kids there now and that was absolutely an asset to the city. So those kinds of things are great. It draws people.
I would like to see a little bit more money spent on the nuts and bolts things. I’m not opposed to raising taxes because everything goes up. With infrastructure, a lot of that is state money that comes back. I’ve always said what I believe in is that what people want they can get whatever you want to pay for. If 5,000 people came out and they said we want to do this, and they’re for it, then we obviously have to spend money and do it. Some of the money that’s coming in, people don’t realize that when these new people and places come in, people like Hi-Lo and people that come in and fix up properties, that’s like raising the tax base without costing the residents a dime.
We have had TIFs before for when companies come in and we give them five years. I was always a big one for accountability on those TIFs. I believe we have at least one going on now. The last time I was on council in the Alcombright administration, I thought some things were slipping and I asked for a yearly report to the councilors with an update on the TIFs and how they’re doing and making sure they’re doing what they said they we’re going to do. That’s something I’d probably look forward to being done again if it’s not, and I don’t believe it is. If they’ve got the benefit of the five year TIF, we’re accountable I believe to the people, because they’re getting a break, and the people deserve to know. If they’re bringing jobs and doing their part then I am more than happy.
I think people have watched me over the years, and some haven’t agreed. We’ve had some contentious issues. I’ve had agreements and disagreements with all the past mayors and it’s always been in a very respectful way and never on a personal agenda. I will always do what’s in the best interest of the taxpayer of North Adams.
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