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A threat or words of advice? Fight between North Adams mayor and state rep. goes public

The outgoing mayor of North Adams, Massachusetts, said a state representative spoke to him in a threatening manner.

Mayor Tom Bernard and Massachusetts state Rep. John Barrett III — himself a former mayor — talked on the phone last week about the long-shuttered Mohawk Theatre.

North Adams bought the theater in 1996, when Barrett was mayor.

The city is now considering selling the property for $21,000, far less than the assessed value. This was the only bid in a recent request for proposals for the sale of the property.

Bernard supports the deal and wants to wrap up a purchase and sale agreement before the end of his term. But Bernard said Barrett wants him to let the next mayor decide, and threatened him during the recent phone call. 

"In the course of the conversation the representation was that the proposed action that I plan to take would be bad — a word that was used several times — for my job, my career and my family," Bernard said. "And I really felt that that last word in that conversation was over the line."

Bernard asked the speaker of the House to refer the matter to the ethics committee. On a separate email he sent to Barrett — copied to staff at the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, as well as the state inspector general — Bernard said he considered Barrett's comments "a clear, if nonspecific, threat." 

Barrett denied he made any threats. He said he told Bernard the Mohawk Theatre sale was "a bad deal for the city," and later told Bernard he wanted to talk to him "as a friend."

"I said, you know, 'When you open yourself up basically for criticism, it not only will hurt you professionally as you seek other jobs, but it also ends up, unfortunately — as I've experienced in my long career in politics — it comes back to hurt the family in things that are being said about you,'" Barrett said he told Bernard.

Incoming mayor Jennifer Macksey declined to comment.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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