LOTHROP, MAZZEO SHARE THOUGHTS ON RACE FOR ‘THE SECOND ELECTION,’ WHICH WILL BE FOR THE COUNCIL PRESIDENCY … LOTS AT STAKE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, SEPT. 30, 2013) — In our previous installment, THE PLANET presented some thoughts on the two elections coming up in Pittsfield. The first will be for ward, at-large, and corner offices. The second will be for council president. Obviously, both hold critical importance for this city that has seriously lost its way. Today, we would like to expand on the thoughts of election No. 2.
To get you up to speed, here are the comments from last time:
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, SEPT. 27, 2013) — There will be two elections this year for the city council. In the first, voters from the electorate will select seven ward councilors and four at-large. In the second, the newly formed city council will elect a council president.
This involves some premature analyses of the at-large council race.Jonathan Lothrop is unopposed in Ward 5, and so he will be back. In the at-large race, of the seven candidates, there is at least one close-to-sure lock at this point: Melissa Mazzeo (that being said, anything is possible). MelMaz has as solid a core organization as you can find locally, and in this era of low turnouts, that spells a pump-in. The import of these two developments can be found in that second election.
In 2011, so the insiders say, there was a tacit “promise” from mayor-electDan Bianchi that Mazzeo would be the council president. Bianchi lobbied behind the scenes for this outcome, but Lothrop’s supporters returned serve. The deadlock produced a compromise candidate, Kevin Sherman. As VP, instead of going for Mazzeo, Lothrop got the call, buzzing the bonnets of both Mazzeo and Bianchi.
In 2013, with Lothrop a certainty and Mazzeo all but, it promises to be another epic battle for what will likely be a split council: For council president, Lothrop versus Mazzeo.
We have been in contact with these two councilors, and THE PLANETshall be back soon with what they had to say.
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Both Lothrop and Mazzeo shared their thoughts with THE PLANET on this matter of the council presidency. As you will see, Lothrop was by far the more expansive of the two. Mazzeo played it close to the vest … or blouse, as the case may be. One played for keeps. One played politics. This isn’t a judgment but a statement of fact. It will remain to be seen which was the more strategic approach, but we can tell you that, even now, there is politicking going on for Election No. 2. For the moment, THE PLANET will pretend the Open Meeting Law doesn’t exist!
We spoke to J-LO in person. His comments were on the record and refreshingly frank.
After pointing out that the new council will be as divided as the current one (i.e., those who are loyal to Bianchi and those who are not), Lothrop said the greatest need for the new council president will be someone who can provide a bridge between the two warring political factions.
“I think I’m the only one who can arbitrate city council meetings in a manner that is both impartial and judicious,” J-Lo said. THE PLANET asked him for his views on what makes an effective council president. He named three qualities:
1. Know the rules.
2. Apply the rules on on a consistent basis.
3. Do so with a sense of perspective and humor.
That last remark recalled the light touch brought by Uncle Gerry Lee. Like him or not, Lee brought a droll, bone-dry sense of wit that served him well. Lee didn’t come as fully packed on the first two qualities.
Without betraying sources, Lothrop confirmed a story we had heard about the council presidency in 2011. The council, unable to resolve a standoff between him and Mazzeo, chose Kevin Sherman as a compromise or coalition president. Sherman proved to b a wise choice, a strictly transitional figure who at times has alternated between pulling out his hair and tugging at his beard — when he had a beard.
This time around promises to be different. If it’s Lothrop for council prez in 2014, he promises to run council meetings with an open mind and respect to all, including his political opposition. If it’s Mazzeo, J-Lo says “It will be an incredibly confrontational two years, because she cannot say ‘no’ to the mayor.”
“If I become [council] president,” J-Lo said, “I will vet every issue for its merits, not for its politics.”
Honestly, now. Step back from your emotions and analyze what J-LO has just said. Consider his detached, polemic style, and one would have to agree that, at least in the abstract, Lothrop appears fully capable of running this type of council. The most important job of the council president is to encourage full vetting on all the issues and to allow a full-throated debate on them.
This contrasts with the mayor’s approach, Lothrop said. Calling the mayor a major disappointment, J-Lo said he is most disheartened by the one-sidedness that Bianchi brings to various issues: “With Dan, it’s my way or the highway. He has shown no respect for minority [or opposing] opinions. He brings politics into every issue, and if you’re not a ‘loyalist’ then your views don’t count.”
On the other hand, J-Lo says, he “welcomes competence over loyalty. It’s been abundantly clear to me that [Bianchi] is the opposite. He doesn’t respect competence but loyalty.” Lothrop says that this has applied not only to the mayor’s dealings with the council but in putting together his administrative team and in dealing with the day-to-day matters at city hall.
On a few other matters, Lothrop says that he sees two “locks” in the at-large council race: Mazzeo and Barry Clairmont. He also said he will liked the bid of Donna Todd Rivers among the challengers.
Shortly after talking to Lothrop, we contacted Mazzeo with the following e-mail:
Hope this finds you well.
I’m working on a piece about the two council elections: one by the electorate and the other by the councilors for the new president. I’ve talked with numerous people, including the wise guys and those in the know, and there is virtual unanimous consent that it will be between you and Lothrop. Lothrop is a lock for his ward seat by being unopposed, and you have to be considered a lock in the at-large race.
Assuming you win, do you have interest in the presidency?
Do you think you will get it?
Is it true that in 2011, you were “supposed” to get the presidency, but J-Lo’s challenge led to Sherman as the compromise candidate?
I’ve talked to Lothrop about his views on this, and he was candid and forthcoming for the record about his intentions and the probability of going up against you.
Can you give me your thoughts on this, answering these questions and adding anything else you wish. …
Mazzeo got back to us by e-mail the next day. Here is what she wrote:
Things are great.. I’m busy working with residents on issues right now and haven’t had time to focus on the presidency. Until the election is over and I see if I am re-elected I think I will just continue to do the work that I have in front [of] me and the city.
This is a perfectly proper reply, though, as you can see, one short on details and one that skirts around our questions about the presidency. She dodged them. Again, we shall see which strategy wins out. Mark it, though, the new council president will be chosen among these two strong-will individuals. There will be no compromise candidate in 2014.
The second election will be the one with the most drama.
“He will not go behind his father’s saying, / And he likes having thought of it so well / He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.” — Robert Frost, last lines from “Mending Wall,” (1914)
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL