BIANCHI TO RUN UNOPPOSED, CLAIMS IT’s BECAUSE HE’S DONE SUCH A GREAT JOB … TRUTH IS, BIANCHI’s TIMID, UNIMAGINATIVE TERM HAS PUNISHED THE LITTLE GUY AND TURNED VOTER APATHY INTO ATROPHY
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, AUG. 9 AND THROUGH THE WEEKEND, 2013) — Dan Bianchi lost by 200 votes to Jimmy Ruberto in 2009 then turned the tables on Peter Marchetti in 2011, winning by 106. That’s a miserable sum total of (-94) votes over the two last election cycles. His narrow loss to Ruberto came even as the incumbent mayor struggled with the recent death of his beloved wife, Ellen. He ran only because she bid him do so, kind of as the fulfillment of a last wish.
In 2011, Bianchi beat Marchetti by a skinnier margin because (a) Marchetti lacked self confidence, (b) wasn’t comfortable in his own skin, and (c) campaigned in a lack-lustre way, almost as if he didn’t want to win. With all that, he nearly pulled it off. As it was, Bianchi got through on a wafer-thin margin, hardly what one would call a mandate. It was the closest mayoral outcome in 90 years.
Looked at a little closer, Bianchi won with approximately half of the turnout of under 50%. In other words, Bianchi became mayor, even though more than 3/4 of registered voters either voted for someone else or didn’t bother to vote at all. Move that forward to 2013, where electoral apathy has calcified into atrophy. The mayor has done nothing except worsen the biggest problem facing the city: He added millions to the city’s bloated, $137 million budget. Moreover, he failed to address the long-term obligation crisis (pensions, health insurance, and OPEB benefits due to public employees), the same ones that have sunk Detroit and forced Chicago to greatly cut back on public education there.
Bianchi increased spending by millions in his second budget, underfunding city side once more then adding $1.66 million to the school side, which, at more than $90 million, has become the cement galoshes around Pittsfield’s plunge into an ocean of financial mess. He has done nothing to address the looming crisis with unfunded pension and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) liabilities, which top an unbelievable 1/3 of a billion dollars (that’s billion with a “b”).
On the surface, this performance seems harmless enough. To raise the millions needed to fund this year’s city budget, Bianchi raised taxes, of course, on those who can least afford to pay — bedraggled “middle class” homeowners and small business owners. At what point in a death by 1,000 cuts does the victim pass the point of no return? The 587th cut? The 604th? That’s what we’re trying to ascertain now in Pittsfield. Clearly, the cuts will prove fatal … but not quote yet. And so, from one year to the next, the increases can continue. The veneer holds. At some point, most likely with the next decade, the illusion will collapse. Pittsfield’s story will be Detroit’s. Bianchi, thinking short-term, as all politicians do, isn’t concerned about any of that. He may say he is, but his actions as mayor belie the point.
Nonetheless, Dan Bianchi, the incumbent, appears that he will waltz into a second term by virtue of no competition. What are we to make of this?
Bianchi’s explanation is that he’s done such a great job that even his political enemies have been won over by his greatness. Which ones? Ruberto? Barry Clairmont? Which “political enemies,” specifically?
“The feedback I’ve gotten is great,” Bianchi told Jim Therrien of the Boring Broadsheet. “A lot of people who weren’t with me in the past have commented that I’m doing a good job.” Bianchi never identifies even one of these “lot of people.” We wonder if Therrien bothered to followup with the question: “Can you name names?”
Bianchi went on, “You’re often defined by your opponents. But people have had an opportunity to get to know me as a person and as a mayor, and they have a certain satisfaction with me as a person and as a mayor.” Again, the follow-up question begs to be asked: “What people?” and “What do we know about you as a person that we didn’t know before?” As a candidate for two straight election cycles, no one had any measure of Dan Bianchi. He had never been a mayor before.
This time it’s different. He’s been mayor for going on two years. His track record shows him to be a timid bureaucrat, an unimaginative bean-counter who, it seems, can only count by addition.
To listen to Bianchi, he has no opponents because he’s done such a great job that no one can find fault or criticism. Bianchi has fallen pray to one of the oldest delusions of political power: “Everyone loves me!” What he doesn’t realize is that, discounting his core support, the more than 3/4 of Pittsfield that did not vote for him the last time will not vote for him in 2013.
These numbers would seem to make the mayor ripe for the picking for an opponent. What kind of opponent?
The ideal opponent would have assumed candidacy in the traditional way by taking out papers and getting his or her name on the ballot. He or she would also have the financial resources to compete. These would either be discretionary and private funds or an ability to raise funds. He or she would have the ability to organize a campaign citywide, in 14 precincts. Most of all, and surpassing all the other attributes, the ideal challenger will have a charismatic presence, the ability to energize and activate the large, slumbering mass of the sleeping electorate. This would be a populist, a person who would capable of reaching the electorate in an emotional as well as intellectual way. This person would be an electrifying speaker, formidable in debate, and tireless on the campaign trail. Put all this together, and you’d have a winner.
Bianchi told Therrien that even though he is likely to be unopposed, he would still like to have “a strong public discussion” on what he thinks are key issues. These include, Bianchi says, PEDA, vocational education, a new or renovated Taconic High School, and an airing of the revision to the city charter.
Bianchi told Therrien, apparently with a straight face, that he wanted to use his power “to be a voice for people who might not have one.” This is hilarious, given the fact that he’s consistently run roughshod over these same people — the unwashed, voiceless masses — in the form of prohibitively higher taxes.
“I was at four events in one day recently, Bianchi said. “They were all good events, things citizens appreciate you being a part of — and I am happy to do those things.” Aside from the tortured syntax, THE PLANET wonders if Bianchi’s time would be better spent working on ways to solve Pittsfield’s ticking financial time bomb rather than cutting ribbons, reading to children at the library, and attending sixth grade science fairs. This quote indicates the fatal flaw of Bianchi’s tenure: He’s content with appearance and PR. True, a mayor has to “play the role” to some extent, but what the city needs now more than ever, more than photo-ops and throwing out first pitches, is a person in the corner office who will fight to reduce taxes. That is by far the single-most important issue,the need to let people keep more of their own money rather than letting the government get its greedy hands on it to placate the Special Interests by robbing Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski.
The mayor says he wants a full airing of the issues. How will he get one, though, without an opponent. These seem to very the words of the phony brave, who know they won’t be facing those tough questions.
THE PLANET is tempted to take Bianchi at his word, but how can we, with the mayor having no one to debate and knowing he won’t face a tough question to save a taxpayer’s life.
Someone needs to put the tough questions to the mayor.
We wonder: Would the mayor accept THE PLANET’s challenge to a series of TV/radio broadcasts where he would sit down, one on one, with us, to “debate?” We doubt it: He’s been playing rather hard to get lately.
We therefore predict a landslide victory by Bianchi in 2013. He shall beat Nobody, although the blanks may give him a run.
“Now dreary dawns the eastern light, / And fall of eve is drear, / And cold the poor man lies at night, / And so goes out the year. // Little is the luck I’ve had, / And oh, ’tis comfort small / To think that many another lad / Has had no luck at all.” — A. E. Housman, “Now Dreary Dawns the Eastern Light,” (1922)
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.