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 am currently the Parts Manager at KM Toyota up here in North Adams and have been with the company for about 13 years. Prior to this, I was an instrument and control technician at Yankee Atomic in Rowe, Massachusetts. It was a nuclear power station, one of the oldest in the nation, and it operated for pretty close to 20 or 25 years. We had an excellent safety record and a good crew to work with. It was a great place to work, and one of the best operated nuclear power plants in the country, and I’m sorry to have seen it go. When the plant closed in 1992, I found myself back with the decommissioning crew, so I did a lot of the decommission projects; the technical projects, security camera work, and things like that; basically taking the plant from an operating plant into a storage facility.
I have brothers and sisters — my sister is local and she is married and has kids, so I enjoy being Uncle Brian to them. I started school here in North Adams. I am originally from North Adams. I was born and raised here and we lived here until about the time I was in the eighth grade, and then my father lost his job and we travelled around the country and we saw about 25–26 different states in one summer trying to find a new place to live and we ended up in Daytona beach, specifically in a town called Port Orange in Florida.
I also had the opportunity to go to high school there and met a lot of good friends down there. While I was there I was always known as the kid from North Adams, because I was always talking about my hometown, what we had here and what we had to offer and even today I go to my reunions and say, oh yeah, North Adams has got this, or North Adams is doing that, so even now I am still known as the kid from North Adams.
2019 Elections — North Adams City Council,
Be sure to read all the interviews that James Kennedy conducted with the candidates as they’re published:
Lisa Blackmer • Keith Bona • Robert Cardimino • Roger Eurbin • Marie Harpin • Paul Hopkins • Jason LaForest • Benjamin Lamb • Robert Moulton, Jr. • Pete Oleskiewicz • Bryan Sapienza • Ronald Sheldon • Jessica Sweeney
Why did you decide to run for North Adams City Council and what is it that you think separates you from the other candidates?
My decision to run for the city council is based on the fact that I would like to serve our city. I am a long time resident and a native. I felt I wanted to get involved with the city and be more a part of what’s happening instead of just sitting by the sidelines and letting it happen around me. I’ve always been one to want to take action and jump in and see if I could be of any help.
The reason that I feel that I would stand out from the other candidates is I think I would bring a different voice to the council and would like to offer new ideas. I’ve lived outside of the area for a short period of time and I hope that some of that experience would benefit the city of North Adams and the culture and the activities that are going on here in the city. This is my second run for city council, and I’ve never served in public office before that point, so this is my first foray into politics. I believe it’s my voice, being a new voice to the city council, with new ideas.
Sometimes a technical background is a big help, if you have a lot of people that have non-technical backgrounds. I can understand things more, like infrastructure in the city. I was an instrument and control technician for Yankee Atomic, and I was also an electronics technician for over 20 years, off and on. I can offer my business experience. I’m a parts manager here at a local Toyota dealership. I think I can offer my business experience, my business knowledge, and my technical knowledge. I feel I have a good package that I can wrap up and present myself at the city council. I am a logical thinker, and I like to think through things before opening my mouth — I like to think about what I need to say.
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 think we need to address the issue of domestic violence. I think that’s a big thing. We have a lot of family disputes that may not always end up in violence, but it does take a lot of time for law enforcement. I think we need to develop methods of being able to help these people. Help them solve their problems and help them live peacefully together. I think that’s one of the problems.
Another problem that we need to address is infrastructure, which is a problem in all Northeastern cities. We see a lot of bad weather in this part of the country, in the winter especially, and I think we need to address infrastructure.One of the things that I am looking at is hoping to be able to move forward with a new public safety office for our police and fire departments. Our current building is suffering. As they exist right now, the police and fire are in a single complex, and I think we could continue to operate that way, but I think they need better quarters and more modern facilities; something they can operate out of more efficiently and more effectively and help the city try to site a new location if they’re going to build a new police / fire station. I’ve had minor talks with certain officials about this. I’ve had a chat with the mayor about this where I’ve offered my ideas on possible locations and situations. The public safety issue is one of the main issues that I am running on, that our public safety personnel, both police and fire, have what they need to be able to operate.
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 gentrification occurring at this present time. We have a lot of properties that are in disrepair. I would like to see those properties rehabilitated, but I would also like to see them rehabilitated with some into affordable housing and some into upper scale housing, and I would hope that the developers that choose to purchase these properties and rehabilitate them realize that we still need affordable housing in the city of North Adams. We have a large working class here, and I consider myself working class. I do own a home, but I am working class and I’ve worked for everything I have. I think we need to balance it between working class and upper scale housing. We have to attract both types of people into the area, and I believe in a good balance between the two. To have a good working class that has a comfortable life and an upper class, or more well-to-do folks, that wants to live in the community and contribute to the community.
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?
I believe there was a problem at one time. We have since installed a water filtration plant. I believe there was a problem with the former control system up there, and being a control technician I understand the issues of water treatment, and I’ve also had courses in water treatment and water quality through my work at Yankee Atomic, and I believe at one time there were water quality issues but this was a while ago, maybe ten or fifteen years ago. We have since upgraded the water plant, and from what I understand, they have installed new control equipment there. They were upgrading the computer system. Basically, we had a system that was 20 years old and functionally obsolete and couldn’t get parts for it anymore and now they’ve changed that. As far as water quality, from other places I’ve lived or other places I’ve been, I think we have some of the best tasting water that a municipality can offer.
I think we need to look at the infrastructure as we tear up streets. We can’t afford to do everything all at once. And I don’t think that the flushing of the pipes, where we might get some rusty water, is a sign of deterioration. I think if anything, it is to help the existing infrastructure to perform better. I know it’s an inconvenience, as it is to me. You can’t do laundry when the water coming in is brown. Typically after the flushing is completed, it the water runs clear again in a short period of time. I think that the water seems to be fit to drink and it’s nice and clear. It’s probably more of an inconvenience. I think the flushing is a necessary option. I think it’s something that helps our infrastructure function, as old as it is.
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?
I believe that you can’t burden the citizens of any municipality by a large infrastructure project. I believe that if you can perform the upgrades in sections and have an ongoing program, where you start with the oldest sections, or the oldest parts of the infrastructure, and work your way forward. To say that this was installed in 1900 and gets the first priority, whereas these pipes were installed in 1950 and they would get less of a priority, but then work on a sliding schedule to rotate through from oldest to the newest. I am in favor of infrastructure projects as long as it doesn’t burden the taxpayer. If there are ways of the city obtaining funding for these projects, such as state or federal funding, I would think that would be the first way to go.
In some cases, there is emergency funding or grants available. For instance, the traffic lights were all replaced under a federal grant, and if the money is out there, and we are aware of avenues of being able to fund the infrastructure improvements without having to tax the citizens, that would be the way to go. Of course I’m a taxpayer myself, and not only is it in the interest of the city of North Adams, it is in my personal interest as well.
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