Pittsfield's three mayoral candidates vie for a place on the November ballot
Voters will cast ballots for mayor in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, next week.
With incumbent Linda Tyer stepping down after two terms, three candidates are vying to take her place in Tuesday’s preliminary election.
Peter Marchetti, a banker, has served 16 years on the Pittsfield City Council, half of that as council president.
"When we hit March of 2020 and the world was shutting down, there were some members of the City Council that said we can’t have a meeting until we can meet in person," he recalled at a recent debate broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television.
Marchetti pointed to his experience and initiative.
"Thank God I stepped up to the plate and found a way to have City Council meetings, so that we could pass budgets and keep the city moving," he said. "Thank God we brought new businesses into the city even when the world was falling apart."
This isn’t Marchetti’s first race for mayor. Both he and candidate Karen Kalinowsky ran before and lost.
Kalinowsky has also served as a city councilor — for more than a year and a half. A retired police officer, she touted her political outsider status as a plus.
"I am not part of this old machine. I am not part of this old City Council," she said at the debate, which was held at the Berkshire Athenaeum. "We can change things around and make this city a lot better than it is right now. I think I'm the one for it because I don’t have that machine behind me. I can have you, as the residents, behind me."
Candidate John Krol also called for change.
Krol worked for former Mayor James Ruberto and served for a decade on the City Council. Today he runs a marketing firm and said his focus is to make the mayor’s office "the most accessible mayor’s office in the history of this city because ultimately when we bring more people together, we can get so much more accomplished."
At the beginning of this month, both Krol’s and Marchetti’s campaigns had about the same amount of cash. Krol's had $9,156 and Marchetti's had $8,303, according to state filings. Kalinowsky had $1,626.
Like the other candidates, Kalinowsky claims deep roots in Pittsfield. She grew up in the city as one of 16 kids and says she understands the challenges of limited resources. Asked whether she supports the city’s office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, she said it makes financial sense to combine it with Human Resources.
"Our diversity director — what he does is good," she said. "It should be the HR's job to make sure that people are being treated equally. I think if we can combine them into one office we might be able to save the taxpayers a little bit of money."
Kalinowsky added that HR failed her around diversity when she first became a police officer.
"I will tell you as a female coming on in 1986, HR did nothing to help me. And let me tell you, it wasn't so easy the first 15, 20 years — but that is their job," she said.
When it comes to DEI, Marchetti made a rare disclosure for a politician — that he has more to learn.
"I went to that DEI training going [thinking] 'I don't need that. I don't have a racist idea in my head,'" he said. "I went through about 15 minutes worth of training and I went, 'Uh oh. It's back there somewhere.' And all of us have our own implicit biases. And so, I don't agree that our HR person and our DEI person do the same thing."
Krol said he supports the DEI office.
"Just like every department, we have to evaluate its effectiveness," Krol said. "How are we doing? What is the diversity of the workforce in our city?"
Like many cities, Pittsfield has been dealing with drug addiction and overdose deaths. To address this, Krol pointed to the need for more funding.
"We are completely under-resourced as it relates to mental health and substance abuse," he said. "Our social workers and those people at the front line are not paid high enough so there is an extraordinarily high turnover for that."
Marchetti — who has the support of outgoing Mayor Tyer — said the city has already hired more mental health workers. And he would ask state and federal lawmakers for help securing funds to increase pay.
Marchetti said part of addressing the drug crisis should start with the district attorney. He said the Berkshire County House of Correction is already set up to provide excellent drug treatment.
"So instead of tapping someone on the hand and saying, 'Bad boy, don't do it again,' we put them into a system where they can get help. Now, I'm not saying I want to make them a criminal. I'm not saying that I want to take their rights away, but we already have a program in place," Marchetti said.
Kalinowsky disagreed with Marchetti’s focus on the criminal justice system.
"Not everybody that has a drug or alcohol addiction commits crimes," she said. "If it's just somebody that’s using, you can't get them treatment that way."
Besides drug addiction and mental health, the city’s economy comes up often in this race.
Krol said in order for businesses to attract workers, Pittsfield’s downtown needs to be revitalized. At times, he said, people who work downtown are being targeted by aggressive panhandlers.
"They go to their cars and they're followed. People are being harassed. That is not fertile ground for our second round of revitalization of downtown Pittsfield," Krol said.
Whoever becomes Pittsfield's next mayor could have a big impact on public safety — they'll help choose the next police chief.
The top two candidates in Tuesday’s preliminary will advance to the general election in November.