Voters want next mayor of North Adams to address the basics
Three western Massachusetts cities are holding open mayoral elections next week, including in North Adams, where incumbent Tom Bernard is not seeking re-election. This is the first year both candidates for mayor are women: Lynette Bond and Jennifer Macksey. But voters aren’t focusing on gender.
On a recent afternoon, a handful of visitors to the city’s contemporary art museum, MASS MoCA, checked out stores on Main Street. But for the most part, the sidewalks were empty with just a few passersby — like Ann Leonesio, who has lived here for six decades.
“For years it seems North Adams has become less important in the minds of the people that run the city,” Leonesio said, “And MASS MoCA has become more important.”
She said that divide has contributed to the aging sewer system and the fire hydrants that didn’t function during fires last winter.
“The infrastructure is falling apart,” she said. “Buildings are falling apart.”
Leonesio was sporting a red hoodie that says “Jennifer Macksey for Mayor.”
“I believe my candidate has the knowledge, the push, the drive, the heart to bring back what was North Adams,” Leonesio said.
Madison Longley, a 21-year-old junior at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said she supports Bond. Longley said she has experienced the city’s aging infrastructure firsthand.
“One time last year, a water main broke and no one in either of the dorms could be able to wash their clothes or use the bathroom,” Longley said.
Besides being an English major, Longley is a registered North Adams voter.
Peggy Ciepiela, a retired office manager and lifelong North Adams resident, wants the next mayor to make things better for school kids.
“I want the children to feel safe like they used to,” Ciepiela said. “I just feel there’s a lot of bullying. A lot of dysfunction.”
Ciepiela said she is leaning towards voting for Bond, and noted that Macksey worked in city hall years ago.
“I think it’s time for a whole new focus on this city, a whole new set of ideas. I just don’t want it to be the old boy network like it used to be,” she said.
Macksey previously served as North Adams’ director of finance and chief procurement officer, treasurer/tax collector and chief financial officer. She has also held top administrative positions at area colleges, and is now at the Northern Berkshire School Union.
Bond is a director of development for grants and research at MCLA. Previously, she oversaw a federal grants program for the town of Adams that included housing rehab and infrastructure projects.
The two candidates recently got a chance to discuss their ideas at a debate hosted by iBerkshires.com and MCLA.
They talked about improving schools, sewer and water infrastructure, getting a new public safety building, and hiring additional city staff to enforce building codes – especially in old housing.
The candidates had different takes on how the city should address substance abuse disorder.
Macksey said she would have a no tolerance policy on drugs.
“I know I can’t stop it completely, but I’m going to work very hard to slow it down,” Macksey said. “We are not going to tolerate people dealing on the playgrounds or to our students. It’s going to require more work for the police department. But I’m going to support those efforts.”
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. More police officers are not going to solve the issue of substance abuse in our community,” Bond said.
Bond described visiting a residential program for people with mental illness and addiction.
“People are actively trying to help themselves,” she said. “And we need to provide the resources to do that. As mayor I plan to work with the Brein Center, with Berkshire Health Systems, with all of those experts in the field who are addressing this problem head on.”
Macksey countered that those are great programs for people “who don’t need to be incarcerated.”
Outside the Big Y in North Adams, Raymond Felix and his daughter Brittany Pilling waited with a full shopping cart.
“Cat Litter,” Pilling said. “I’ve got five cats!”
Pilling, who is 31 and has lived here her whole life, said the next mayor’s priorities should be the drug problem and other things.
“Affordable housing and things for children to do around here,” she said, “so they don’t have to end up becoming dependent on drugs and fooling around doing bad things.”
Pilling said Macksey will get her vote. Her father, Raymond Felix, hasn’t settled on a candidate. He wants someone who can bring back the economy.
“There’s a lot of art here, but it’s not really bringing in jobs here. That’s what the economy here needs: jobs. More jobs,” said Felix, a retired Marine. “They’re all down in Pittsfield and it’s hard to get to if you don’t have a car.”
Whoever is elected North Adams’ next mayor, voters are asking her to address the basics: water, housing, safety, jobs.