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Competitive Mayor's Race In Pittsfield Focuses On Crime

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, at left, and City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo at right.
Tyer: Rosanne Frieri
Tyer for Mayor Facebook / Melissa Mazzeo for Mayor Facebook
From left, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and challenger Melissa Mazzeo.

Two established politicians — both women — are vying for the mayor’s office in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. 

Melissa Mazzeo has spent a decade on the city council. Now she’s running against incumbent mayor Linda Tyer, who took office in 2016.

Tyer has called the local struggling economy “energized,” pointing to the arrival of Wayfair with its promise of 300 new jobs, and the development of market-rate housing.

But Tyer has also acknowledged an element that continues to dog Berkshire County’s largest city.

“We all accept that crime is a challenge in the city of Pittsfield,” she said, speaking at a debate early this month at WGBY.

From 2015 — the year before Tyer became mayor — to 2018, the number of violent crimes in Pittsfield went up by about 23%, continuing a trend that started before she took office.

Tyer said that under her watch, the city has grown the police department. There are three more officers today than when she was sworn in. She said the city works closely with the state police, the Berkshire County sheriff’s office and drug task force.

“We have strong relationships that we put in place every day to keep the city of Pittsfield, the people of Pittsfield and our neighborhoods safe,” Tyer said.

But Tyer’s challenger, Melissa Mazzeo, has said gun violence in the city is becoming a crisis. Her solution: concentrate police in areas where crimes occur.

“We need to rethink how we are allocating our patrol officers,” Mazzeo said. “We have over the years given more money, more technology and put more officers out there, but the crime is still continuing.”

That’s something Sheila Christiana, a retired nurse, is well aware of. She’s a Mazzeo supporter.

“You don’t walk the streets, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Christian said. “And I’m not talking about tripping and falling. I’m talking about guns going off. I can hear them in my bedroom at night. It’s scarier than anything.”

The issue of safety came up at an October 15 forum on education in Pittsfield.

Mazzeo said teachers are leaving the city to work in other districts, in part because of school security.

“Crime in our community is literally infiltrating into our schools,” Mazzeo said. “We really have to take our head out of the sand, and address these issues, if we ever want to recruit teachers and retain them.”

Tyer said part of the problem for recruiting and retention is fair compensation for teachers.

“We’ve got to work together with our union groups to insure that we are raising the salaries to at least the mid-range of what the other Berkshire community towns are paying their teachers,” Tyer said. “We have to be more competitive with salaries.”

Retired businessman Alan Rubin mentors students in Pittsfield, and is a Tyer supporter.

“I think she’s trying to do the right things,” he said. “Whenever I read about what she’s trying to do, it tends to go along with what I think should be done.”

If the upcoming election is anything like September’s preliminary contest, it will be a tight one.

Mazzeo, the challenger in that election, won by less than 5 percentage points.

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