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North Adams Mayoral Challenger Runs On Principle Against First-Term Incumbent

Rachel Branch, at left, is challenging incumbent Tom Bernard, at right, for the mayoral seat in North Adams, Massachusetts.
Adam Frenier
Rachel Branch, at left, is challenging incumbent Tom Bernard, at right, for the mayoral seat in North Adams, Massachusetts.

Mayor Tom Bernard in North Adams, Massachusetts, is running for re-election for the first time since taking office in 2018. He's opposed by Rachel Branch, who sits on a vocational school committee. And the challenger is trying to keep the campaign trail clean.

There won't be a repeat of a bruising 2015 debate between then-Mayor Dick Alcombright and challenger, former mayor John Barrett. The pair went after each other before a large, charged-up crowd, consistently talking over each other, tossing barbs and often ignoring the moderator and panelists.

And that's because, unlike most political challengers, Branch said she's not interested in debating the incumbent.

"I'm not running against Tom Bernard," Branch said. "I'm running for the office. I've seen some pretty sleazy debates, and I'm not going to be part of that."

Branch is back at it after finishing a distant third in the 2017 preliminary. She said she's running because more women are needed in politics, and because she believes nobody should run unopposed.

Branch said that when it comes to dealing with the opioid epidemic, community policing is key.

"One of the things I know about drug dealers, is you make them so uncomfortable, they move from another neighborhood, so you just keep moving them, and moving them, and moving them, and move them right out of town," Branch said.

Bernard said that while law enforcement is part of dealing with the drug problem, the city needs to continue to deal with its impact on North Adams families — and students.

"And what that means for their learning readiness," Bernard said. "For their ability to come in to school ready to learn, ready to succeed, and the work that puts on our educators, our administrators and our staff."

Bernard said some of the biggest accomplishments from his first term include a tax deal with a manufacturing company to help it expand, hiring a new police chief, and beginning to update North Adams's zoning laws — something he said hasn't happened in 60 years.

If he's re-elected, Bernard said he wants to attract more residents to the city center.

"If you get the housing in downtown in the upper levels, then the commercial and the retail follows," he said.

North Adams residents head to the polls November 5. This is one of six contested mayoral races across western Massachusetts.

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