BY DAN VALENTI
This is the second in a two-part profile of Joe Nichols, Pittsfield city councilor and candidate for mayor in 2011.
Joe Nichols says he’s a candidate for mayor because of what he has witnessed as “an insider” of city government in 2010. Nichols is Ward 7 city councilor. The Planet has family in Ward 7. As such, we have had the opportunity throughout the year to check up with them on how Nichols is doing. The report card shows a grade of A-, after the F turned in by the non-existent Anthony Maffuccio. Maffuccio, especially in his final term, did not take care of his constituents. Nichols has done just that, according to Ward 7 residents interviewed for this story.
“People who get in touch with me do it because they need help,” says Nichols. He says there are two forms of help: the day-to-day problem solving that is the lot of a ward councilor, and the help from residents and non-ward residents who feel city government isn’t listening to them.
“People call me from all over the city,” Nichols says. “They see me as someone who will listen, who will take them seriously.” The Planets asks Nichols why that is so: “I think it’s because I’m one of them.”
A MAN BEING ‘HIMSELF’
It is a moment of candor, Nichols being himself: an ordinary guy who wants to do extraordinary things. He chief political obstacle is his inexperience combined with his credulity. As one person replied to part one of this series, the “experts” think Nichols doesn’t have a chance to win the corner office. They see him as a dreamer who won’t be able to play hardball.
Nichols isn’t concerned, saying that he focuses on just one thing: being “a man who represents people honestly and to the best of my abilities.” He states his goal as a public servant with a charming directness: “I want to give people the gift of hope.”
He says that until Pittsfield grows its tax base, it will not create jobs and therefore get more business. He sees high taxes as the top problem in the city, and he pledges a campaign to deliver authentic tax relief to homeowners and businesses.
Nichols says that as a small businessman (he owns and operates The Cove bakery and deli in Johnnie’s Plaza on Pecks Road on Highland Avenue), he knows the impact of punishing taxes. He says his first budget as mayor will reflect the need for tax relief. Nichols says he will pay for this by trimming unnecessary expenses and making an “all-out effort to bend over backwards to invite new business here.”
Will that include tax breaks? Nichols doesn’t know. He shies away from hypotheticals.
“My perspective this first year [as a city councilor] is that the city doesn’t do enough to take the concerns of ordinary citizens seriously. There’s a lot of attention paid to the rich and powerful but not to much else.” Nichols lays the blame for that at the feet of Jimmy Ruberto.
“The mayor controls the council agenda,” Noichols says, adding that while council president Gerry Lee runs a decent meeting, Lee is all-too-amenable to “do the mayor’s bidding. I can’t count thenumber of times that [Lee] has stifled debate among councilors and tried to discourage any questioning of anything the mayor wants.” One gets the feeling that Nichols is running as much against Gerry Lee as he will be against Jimmy Ruberto.
Nichols faults Lee for not enforcing protocol in a neutral and objective way during council business. He notes that Lee looks for technical reasons to put a muzzle on Melissa Mazzeo (councilor at large): “I do believe that [Lee] doesn’t bother with any kind of standard protocol. He blocks a lot of stuff people never know about. The residents [of Pittsfield] are the ones who end up paying for it. The residents are the only ones who can make this government work.” Nichols says Lee and Ruberto are afraid of that.
“Councilors do not get enough options,” Niochols says. “We receive information from the administration, Lee tells us what we can and can’t debate, and that’s how things are done. I want to break that pattern. I think asking questions is a good thing, especially when you represent hundreds or thousands of people.” Nichols says the mayor and Lee have just the opposite philosophy.
THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP
Nichols talks a lot about leadership. He strikes one as a person who received his graduate education at the University of Hard Knox, where he learned to take optimism and idealism and marry it to the challenges of day-to-day life. Ask to define leadership, Nichols says it begins “with respect for people — those who work with you, for you, over you, or under you. The style of leadership of Mayor Ruberto and Deanna Ruffer is to ‘cram it down your throat’ [and expect you to swallow it]. That’s not good enough. That’s what I’m going to run against.”
The Planet noted that incumbent mayors have faced many challengers over the years, but only the serious ones proved their determination by competing financially. The “pretenders” qualified for the ballot but didn’t put money into their campaigns.
Does he intend to raise money? Nichols. He says he will raise a war chest of “at least $50,000″ for his mayoral bid. Nichols says some of this will come from personal resources.
“I’m serious about this bid, and I’m determined,” Nichols says of his upcoming push for the corner office. If necessary, he says he “will sacrifice my business” so that he can devote full attention to campaigning. Ruberto is presently in Florida. He has told The Planet that he will return to Pittsfield in early 2011. He has said he intends to run again in 2011.
The oddsmakers are giving even money on whether Ruberto will be in or out in 2011. Take it from The Planet, Jimmy Ruberto will run for mayor in 2011, and he will do so with fire in his belly for two reasons: he doesn’t like to lose, and he will dedicate his bid to the memory of his late wife.
Asked about Dan Bianci, Nichols says he hopes Bianchi decides to run again. He questions why Bianchi hasn’t made a decision on that, saying that to beat Ruberto, a candidate “has to start now.” Nichols says he will knock on more doors than any candidate has done in Pittsfield electoral history. Clearly, he intends to wear out shoe leather and sneaker bottoms.
“I live by the strong morals taught to me by my parents,” Nichols says. “Work hard, take responsibility for your actions, and treat others fairly. I am running to bring integrity back to city government.”
END OF THIS SERIES. TOMORROW, TUNE INTO THE PLANET, FOR THE LETTER “DA BOYS” SENT TO ANDY NUCIFORO, TELLING HIM IT WOULDN’T BE WISE TO CHALLENGE JOHN OLVER. THIS, MY GOOD FRIENDS, IS ONE LETTER THE POWER BROKERS DO NOT WANT YOU TO SEE!! IT IS ONE LETTER THAT THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE DIDN’T EVEN TRY TO GET!!