CUSTOMER IS KING AT CARR’S … MORE ON MONDAY’S WARD 5 RECOUNT … plus … JOSH CUTLER COMMENTS ON THE ELECTION TALLY: A LOOK BACK, A LOOK AHEAD
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, NOV. 18, 2011) — With BJ’s Wholesale Club being the lastest Big Box to further erode the market base for the dwindling number of Mom and Pops in the area, let us salute one store that exemplifies the battle.
Carr Hardware has been a part of downtown Pittsfield since the 1950s. When you go there, it looks like a hardware store. It smells, feels, and sounds like a hardware store. The aisles are narrow, the shelves are stocked to overflowing, and the help treats the customer as king and queen. As many times THE PLANET has been in Carr’s over the years countless times, we still like to explore: nooks in the side walls, crannies hidden behind curtains, secret passages that look like the insides of the Green Monster scoreboard at Fenway Park (if you’ve ever been inside). It’s a walk back in time without H.G. Wells … or Rod Taylor (who gets that last reference?!).
Bottom line, though, takes center stage in a hardware store. Hardware stores exist for pragmatic reasons: You go to one because you need an item, a service, a commodity typically related to a home or other building. The need for an item implies a problem that begs solving. Case in point: THE PLANET needed to stop a leak drip-drip-dripping from the cold-water shut-off valve underneath the kitchen sink.
Not being a plumber, we think we need plumber’s tape.
We go downstairs to the service desk (a trip in itself, the old stairwell, with its Pittsfield Mets 1997 championship sign on the right and B&W snapshots of Carr’s opening day in the 1950s on the left). We state our need, and we are directed to a $10 roll of tape. Perfect, we think. Just what we need. The service man, though, asks about our problem. We describe it. He smiles and says we don’t need tape. He then pulls out a model of a shut-off valve, instructs us on tightening the nut, and says that will seal off the leak. Later, with wrench in hand, the fix works perfectly.
He talked us out of a $10 purchase in order to solve our problem. He lost a sale for the store but ensured a lifetime customer. That, my good friends, is customer service, and that is why I will not shop for such items at Home Depot. Besides, Home Depot doesn’t have nooks and crannies. Carr’s has stayed true to itself, its business philosophy, and its home town.
More Information on Monday’s Ward 5 Recount
We present additional information on the upcoming recount in the Ward 5 race, in which incumbent Jonathan Lothrop pulled six more votes than challenger Joe Breault. The recount will take place Monday, Nov. 21, at 10 a.m., in council chambers. The event is open to the public.
The Board of the Registrar of Voters oversees the process. The board will umpire the proceedings, and will be seated apart from the counters.
The recount begins at 10 a.m.
(1) The Board will examine the seals in the two containers, one each from 5a and 5b. After the polls close, a worker seals each container with a red zip-tie seal, tabbed with a number. Containers are taken by police to a locked vault at the Registrar’s office. That’s where they’ve been sitting since the evening of Nov. 8.
(2) Seals are broken, and the bins are open.
(3) Ballots are then counted, one by one, in blocks of 50. Each block is brought to the counting table. The ballot reader literally looks at that ballot and indicates to the tally clerk the result of the vote. There are 1,632 ballots to examine. All but 83 will tally for J-Lo or JB. The 83 are the so-called blanks. Each candidate and/or their representatives witnesses the recounting.
(4) Every ballot will be examined. City Clerk Linda Tyer says that voter indication will take preference over the voting machine’s inability ot read a ballot if — a huge if — that intention is clear (for example, the name is circled or a voter places a check mark next to a candidate’s name.
City clerk Linda Tyer says the recount should take three to four hours. Tyer says having gone through the experience on a citywide basis in 2009 in the Ruberto-Bianchi recount, with 12,000 or so ballots recounted, provides an advantage.
“In 2009, it was nerve-wracking,” Tyer says. “For me professionaly, it was challenge and absolutely amazing. It’s helpful having done it once before and on a much more larger scope. [The 2009 recount] provided the ultimate test of our voting procedure, since very few votes actually changed. I think the 2009 experience shows that the likelihood of that the blank ballots in Ward 5 being able to overturn the result is very sllim.”
And now, after the emotional dust has settled from Election Day, we present a highly anticipated analysis by PLANET writer Josh Cutler.
2011 Pittsfield Elections: A Look Back, a Look Ahead
By Josh Cutler
Special to PLANET VALENTI
Since when did Pittsfield have a rollercoaster ride which could compare to the “Superman” at Six Flags in Agawam?
Since Tuesday night, Nov. 8, when the 2011 Pittsfield Municipal elections sent the hearts of political junkies racing as reaching the top of the Tower of Terror might do. In one day, an election would change the face of the corner office on Allen Street, as well as the complexion of the Pittsfield City Council.
Mayoral Race: Bianchi by the Hair of his Chinny Chin Chin
After Dan Bianchi’s 700 vote victory over Peter Marchetti in the September primary, it was clear that Marchetti had a great deal of work to do in order to spread his message and increase voter turnout in key areas of Pittsfield, namely Wards 3 and 4, where the electorate tends to turn out in greater numbers. Unfortunately for Marchetti, his victories in each of the four precincts were not as wide as current Mayor Jimmy Ruberto’s victories in 2009 to make up the difference in losing other precincts across the city.
Ironically, it wouldn’t be Wards 3 or 4 which would be the decisive factor for the election, but Ward 2, Precinct B, an area of Pittsfield which traditionally does not vote in great numbers, and an area of Pittsfield, the Morningside neighborhood, which one might expect would be a stronghold for Marchetti, his home neighborhood. It was here that Bianchi was able to squeak by and avenge his ever so close loss to Ruberto in 2009.
For many people in Pittsfield, especially the older population, Bianchi represents more of an “old-school” approach to politics. He isn’t flashy, he isn’t technologically savvy, and he’s not a crazy spender. Bianchi represents an honest, ethical, common-sense approach to government which the people of Pittsfield want. Over the next two years, Bianchi will have to prove to the voters that he isn’t the “no man” which many people perceive he is (as he often cast votes in the negative during his tenure on the City Council for hot button issues). During the campaign, many voters perceived Bianchi as a “slash and burn” candidate, who would ignore the arts and cut funding for key city services, and it will be Bianchi’s task early on in his tenure to prove that this is not his mantra.
Marchetti, on the other hand, represented much of what the past eight years has been for the city. While many positive things have happened during this time, including the redevelopment of downtown Pittsfield as an arts and culture ‘destination’, this period of time has also been mired at times by cronyism and ethics violations, and Marchetti has largely been tied to the network of people who has been responsible for this perception. It is possible that this connection allowed Bianchi to sneak through the back door and take the election. It is unfortunate that Marchetti’s sexuality at times came into play during the latter portion of the election. While it might be an easy card for a politician to play in a parochial city with old school values,why should that effect how effectively someone can be mayor?
I went into the election with an open mind, but I chose to support Bianchi because I felt that it is time for the City of Pittsfield to take a year-round approach towards economic development, not just for the tourists from Memorial Day through Labor Day. As we stand right now, the improvements and the development we have made over the past eight years will be unsustainable in the long-term unless we rebuild our population. Our current demographics simply cannot sustain expensive luxuries like the Colonial Theatre and the Barrington Stage. The common people of Pittsfield can’t afford to frequent these places on their paychecks when they have to feed their families at the same time. Pittsfield needs to find a way to rebuild the industry sector so that the year-round population will rise, and that it will be sustainable. I viewed Marchetti as the type of mayor who wouldn’t be as aggressive in pursuing this avenue, especially with his refusal to serve on the PEDA board, the KEY TO THE FUTURE OF INDUSTRY IN PITTSFIELD. Unless we redevelop our population and bring new industry and jobs in, Pittsfield is going to hell in a handbasket.
I voted for Jim Ruberto in 2009, and over the past two years, I’ve come to reconsider some of Dan Bianchi’s “no” votes in the past, especially his dissention in the 2001 Civic Authority debate. The more one looks into the situation, the more one realizes that an affirmative vote for a Civic Authority could have potentially given that board unlimited authority to exercise powers of eminent domain across the city. Did we really want to give a board, likely populated with cronies of former Mayor Gerry Doyle, authority to do whatever they wanted with no checks and balances to the taxpayers? Forget about a stadium and minor league baseball, as this vote could have jeopardized businesses and homes of people who are just trying to live their lives and feed their families without being bothered.
I’ve also considered some of Bianchi’s “no” votes towards allocations of city money to entities like the Colonial Theatre, and appreciate his economic conservatism. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, an attitude is pervasive to many that money is nothing. “What’s another $80,000 for John Barrett while he waits for a new job? Who cares!”, or “It’s only $1,000,000 for a theater! Just give it to them!”. That type of attitude, in the MIDST OF THE WORST ECONOMIC CRISIS SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION, is NOT WHAT PITTSFIELD NEEDS. This comes a decade after financial insolvency, which Bianchi helped bail Pittsfield out of as a member of the financial oversight board.
Marchetti has served the city well during his tenure on the council, as well as in the community with his service for organizations like the Morningside Committee and Pittsfield Parade Committee. With such a close margin of victory, don’t be surprised to see a Bianchi/Marchetti rematch in 2013, especially if Bianchi’s first term is unproductive and unpopular with the voters.
At-Large Race: A Mixed Bag of Tricks
It was no surprise that incumbent Melissa Mazzeo was the top vote-getter from the pool of eight at-large candidates. Mazzeo has shown a penchant over the past two years to ask tough questions to civic leaders and has not been afraid to cast votes unpopular with the Ruberto Administration. Mazzeo will be looked upon over the next two years to grow as a leader and set an example as a tireless watchdog for the new council members.
It was also no surprise that Kevin Sherman easily won his bid for re-election. Sherman has quietly been a leader on the council over his past few terms and is widely expected in political circles to vie for the council presidency come January.
Churchill Cotton is a newcomer to the council, placing third in Tuesday’s election. A longtime veteran of the School Committee, Cotton brings years of experience in the business sector with KB Toys and Berkshire Life to the table, and his municipal experience serving the school department will only be a plus for the council as he hits the ground running. Cotton is a popular personality in the community, and his election also comes as no surprise.
Though not unfamiliar to the City Council chambers, Barry Clairmont will be taking a seat on the dais, rather than sitting in the peanut gallery this January. Clairmont began his campaigning early in the spring and worked Ward 4 especially hard in order to push himself over the top. Clairmont totes 25 years of experience as a CPA, which will be especially beneficial to the council come budget time in May and June.
Rick Scapin, former City Council President and member of the “Three Amigos” during the 2001 Stadium debate, finished just out of the money. Scapin, like Bianchi, is a very old-school type of candidate who elects not to spend money or use technology in campaigning, rather going straight to the people. In a day in age where technology is being used more so as an advantage to win elections, this approach may have cost him key votes.
Nicholas Caccamo also did well in his second effort at municipal office, coming in sixth out of the eight candidates. Caccamo, who ran for Mayor in 2009, is still young (25 years old) and shows a great deal of promise as a future city leader. Caccamo may be best served to adopt a more streamlined platform in order to appeal to a wider base of voters in Pittsfield in order to win in the future.
Anthony Maffuccio was at the bottom of the barrel for candidates listed on the ballot, as the stigma from his domestic violence arrest and his poor service as Ward 7’s councilor was not forgotten by the voters of Pittsfield. He might have been better served to try to run for Ward 7 as he originally planned to, though it likely would have been difficult to defeat the popular Simonelli.
Former Ward 7 Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Joe Nichols rounded out the at-large candidates. It is extremely difficult to run a write-in campaign anywhere, let alone Pittsfield, where 5,000 write-in votes would still have placed him out of the money on Tuesday night. Nichols, like Mazzeo, also showed an independent streak during his tenure on the council, and his willingness to ‘tell it like it is’ will be sorely missed in elected government.
Ward Races: Few Surprises in Victors, Some in Margins
Kevin Morandi found that the third time was the charm Tuesday night, easily defeating write-in candidate Peter White to earn his seat in Ward 2. Though Morandi was the only name on the ballot, he worked Ward 2 hard in the days leading up to the election in order to solidify his victory, even walking Tyler Street with his sign during the Halloween Parade. It was going to be difficult for White to make much headway based on the traditional trends of Ward 2’s voting (which generally votes in very low numbers compared to the rest of the city), though it is fair to say that Pittsfield government has not seen the last of White. He’s a young face with experience and has tangible results, and will likely resurface in another race in two years.
In Ward 3, though Jeff Ferrin campaigned hard, Paul Capitanio was able to cruise to re-election, taking nearly 70% of the vote. Capitanio faced a great deal of criticism for his perceived inactivity on the council by Ferrin, though the electorate overwhelmingly approved of his performance Tuesday night. Capitanio faces a tough task over the next two years, including overseeing the impending demolition of the former Grossman’s warehouse on East St., as well as the continued development of the PEDA site. Ferrin has worked hard over the past two years to polish his image and learn the ins and outs of Pittsfield government, and his watchdog-like attitude will only be beneficial in acting as a check and balance to the City Council if he chooses to continue to do so.
Christopher Connell won in his second bid for Ward 4’s seat, defeating Ozias “Chuck” Vincelette. Though not a known commodity to the ward like Vincelette, Connell campaigned hard and won this election by going door to door and getting to know the residents of the ward over the past few months. Connell is going to have difficult shoes to fill with Mike Ward, though he brings years of experience as a landlord and property owner to the table, which will be important in dealing with issues of tax collection and blight over the next two years.
Though many expect a recount, Jonathan Lothrop has seemingly squeaked by newcomer Joseph Breault to barely retain his seat as Ward 5’s councilor. This was a surprise, as Lothrop has done good work for the ward and the city during his tenure, including helping to negotiate the Airport Compromise. Breault came under fire for being the proprietor of a building on West Housatonic St. which was the potential site of a strip club, a connection which may have cost him votes and the election.
Chris Yon and John Krol were uncontested incumbents and retained their seats in Wards 1 and 6 respectively, while Tony Simonelli was an uncontested challenger in Ward 7.
School Committee: Kinnas Finally Has His Day
I was so delighted to finally see the people of Pittsfield wake up and elect Terry Kinnas. This man has come to council meetings for years, done his homework, and offered solutions upon solutions on how to save the taxpayers of Pittsfield from shilling out more. Kinnas’ voice as a watchdog will be a welcome voice to elected government, as he projects a sense of conservatism, honesty, and accountability which Pittsfield desperately needs in its’ elected officials.
THE PLANET THANKS JOSH CUTLER FOR THIS INSIGHTFUL PIECE. WE REMIND VIEWERS OF OUR OPEN POLICY REGARDING EDITORIAL VIEWS AND COMMENTARY. SEND YOUR PIECES TO THIS ADDRESS FOR FAIR CONSIDERATION. AND NOW, AS ALWAYS …
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.