PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, OCT. 10, 2013) — The campaign trail is funny. It can bring out the best in some, the worst in others. It rarely performs in neutral.

In Pittsfield, there is what one may term a “sleepy” ballot. The mayor’s “race” features — though trust THE PLANET on this, it’s not really much of a “feature” — an unopposed incumbent. There is an agitator named “Dan Valenti” who’s making noise about a write-in, but basically, that race is toast. The at-large race is somewhat interesting: seven candidates, three of whom are incumbents, vying for four seats. They are Barry Clairmont (I), Melissa Mazzeo (I), Church Cotton (I), Donna Todd Rivers, Mark Miller, Kathy Amuso, and Jim Conant. Amuso and Conant are finishing up terms on the school committee. Rivers is a former city solicitor and personnel director. Miller used to own the Berkshire Eagle.

In the wards, it’s Christine Yon (I) versus Lisa Tully in 1, Nick Caccamo versus Richard Latura in 3, and John Krol (I) versus Joe Nichols in 6.

Also on the ballot, voters will decide whether or not to approve a new charter. THE PLANET will not be making any endorsements in the other races at this point, but we shall quickly tell you what we think about the charter. THE PLANET recommends that voters reject this charter, on a couple of grounds:

(1) It will extend the mayoral term to four years (effective in 2016) and

(2) It will pay members of the school committee.

As for (1), all things being equal, a four-year term makes a lot of sense. In Pittsfield, however, all things are not equal. All things are tilted in favor of the GOB, The Suits, and the Special Interests. They are tilted against Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, We The People, and The Little Guy. The present two-year term for mayor at least give people the possibility of making a change in two years time. As we’ve seen this year, sometimes it’s little more than a theoretical possibility, but it’s a possibility nonetheless. THE PLANET recommends preserving that possibility by rejecting this charter revision.

(2) Again, it other times and space, dates and places, it might make perfect sense to pay the school committee. They ostensibly rule more than 70% of Pittsfield’s municipal budget, an amount well over $90 million. But this is Pittsfield, and, other than Terry Kinnas, the city has for a number of years now been saddled with a Sad Sack school board that sides every single time with the Administration and the teachers’ union to stick it to taxpayers. The vested interests get more money, even as product quality declines. Taxpayers are required to keep their mouths shut and pay the bill. Until the school committee takes its fiduciary responsibility seriously and begins to insist on accountability within the PSD, it would be throwing money away to pay them.

THE PLANET shall save comment on the races for another day, except for Ward 6, Krol versus Nichols.

There’s a story brewing in this race that is at once a big story (given the claustrophobic confines of Pittsfield’s dysfunctional politics), and at once it is a petty story, as petty as the most Lilliputian political mind could dream.

THE PLANET has to run in a moment, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version: The West Side Steering Committee contacted the candidates, Krol and Nichols, about setting up a debate. What happens next is a matter of, well, debate.

Nichols claims he agreed. He said that after this agreement, he heard nothing for two weeks, before being told there would NOT be a debate, after all. Nichols implied that Krol didn’t want to debate him in that forum and used his position on the steering committee to squash the debate.

THE PLANET contacted Krol, and he vehemently denied the accusation, calling it “a bald-faced lie.” The minutes of the meeting where the West Side Steering Committee discussed this confirm that Krol showed enthusiasm and encouragement for having the debate. Board members Jane Winn, Vickie Kane, Linda Kelley, and Judy Gittleson confirmed this as well, as did at-large candidate Kathy Amuso, who was present at the meeting. Thus, the record supports Krol and disputes Nichols claims.

In any case, the steering committee decided not to have a debate, saying there wasn’t enough time to get the word out.

Into the breach stepped THE PLANET. We contacted Krol and Nichols and offered to moderate a debate on PCTV. Both agreed. Cool, right?

Krol agreed without conditions. Nichols then added a stipulation: He wanted podiums, saying he had a bad back and needed to stand not sit. THE PLANET wanted and still wants to keep it as simple as possible: Two chairs for the candidates with the moderator roving with a wireless mic. We compromised on bar-type stools, which would allow for sitting or standing, as the candidate wishes. THE PLANET hates podium because they are too formal and stilted, and they give a candidate a place to hide in and an object to hide behind. Podiums also cut off the candidate from the camera, which is to say, the TV viewer.

Yesterday, we started hustling, visited PCTV, made some phone calls, and did 95% of the “t” crossing and “i” dotting to make a live, televised debate happen. Dave Cachet of PCTV was great and as accommodating as one could ask, given the late and impromptu nature of our request. We came up with a debate date of Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. It would be broadcast live and taped for later re-broadcast.

With 95% secure, we contacted each candidate, telling them it was on.

Today, we received e-mails from Krol and Nichols:

Krol wrote: “Sounds good to me. It’s on my calendar.” That’s a dream response for a moderator and producer of an event like this — a candidate who wants to “let it happen,” who’s ready to rock and roll, and who doesn’t need high maintenance.

Nichols wrote to THE PLANET this morning:

I thought this would be easy for you  to put together with the idea of recording it ASAP rather than with less than 2 weeks remaining before the election.  The format you chose is completely unacceptable to me.  I thank you Dan for trying to pull something together after learning that there would be no debate at Conte Elementary School as originally planned.
I wish both of you the best and I’ll see you on the campaign trail.
Joseph Nichols

This came out of left field. Personally, we respect whatever Nichols decides. Professionally, it’s the people of Ward 6 who will be cheated if Nichols doesn’t come around to reason.

THE PLANET has had subsequent communications with both Krol and, especially, Nichols, to try and save the event. Krol has made it clear: He will debate Nichols, no conditions. It’s up to Nichols now to accept. We have asked him what conditions, specifically, are “completely unacceptable.” We are waiting his response.

In any case, until we decide otherwise, THE PLANET will conduct a debate on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. from the PCTV studios. There will be two chairs (or stools). One will have John Krol in it. The other will have either Joe Nichols or a potted plant.

It’s up to Nichols now.

THE PLANET thinks if Nichols wants to have a chance at winning, he will show up. If he wants to secure his loss prematurely, he will let the plant to the talking for him.

More on this developing story as we get it.

Oh, the joys of politics in Palookaville.


“I follow the women wherever they call.” — E. A. Robinson, from “John Evereldown,” (1897).





  1. Ron Kitterman
    October 10, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    I’m not in favor of a new charter either. If you took a random sample and asked are you in favor of term limits ? Oh yeah but not for my mayor, he’s doing such a great job why not make his term 4 yrs would be the overwhelming response. You’re correct a sleeper election is where this should be forced upon us for sure. Nothing more than a power grab in my view, but needed to satisfy the progressive agenda.

    • danvalenti
      October 10, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      Power grab sums it up nicely.

  2. Mike Ward
    October 10, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    With a squirrelly response like that I’d say Joe threw the game. And it’s a brilliant tactic because now he can save face by blaming Valenti for his showing in November.

    • Jim Gleason
      October 10, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      You don’t blame people for a victory, you Thank them for their help in achieving such.

      • Mike Ward
        October 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

        I guess anything’s possible in Opposite World, where challenging candidates are the ones trying to duck debates.

        • danvalenti
          October 10, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

          For as long as I’ve been covering politics and doing the debate thing, this is a first: The challenger ducking, the incumbent ready to go without conditions.

    • Ed McClelland
      October 10, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      Mike : Thanks for this subjective opinion and for your obvious talent for November clairvoyance. Are you selling tips and odds ? I understand your remarks as a featured speaker at John Krol’s fund raiser may also have been considered precocious and “squirrelly” as you say. I understand your faithfulness to Krol as a political ally, however when you were on the council, your objectivity was unquestioned. Don’t lose it.

      • danvalenti
        October 10, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

        Thanks for the input, Ed.

      • Mike Ward
        October 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

        You’re right, Ed. I don’t know the election outcome or why Joe doesn’t want to participate in this debate. I do know that he’s missing an important opportunity to tell ward 6 voters why they should replace John with him. He should be taking every opportunity to tell that story.
        And the rest of us are missing a good debate. Dan’s debates are never snoozers.

  3. We Love Pittsfield
    October 10, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    Well I don’t live in Ward 6 but I’m hoping Joe mans up and shows up. Two good candidates but if one ducks DV that will be it for that one. As for blaming Valenti I hope not. DV went through the trouble to arrange this for both Mr. Nichols and Mr. Krol.

    • danvalenti
      October 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

      Anyone can blame me for anything. I’m indifferent to it. In fact, blaming “Dan Valenti” for losing an election or some other political loss is an old tactic in Pittsfield. Many have used it, though it never works.

  4. Joe
    October 10, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    The city charter proposal reminds me of rejected county charter back in 1986. No price tags or revenue sources for the new proposed county government doomed it in the legislature. Now this city charter wants to pay the School Committee. How much?
    Same as City Council? I am voting NO.

    • danvalenti
      October 10, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

      Good post, Joe. The new charter, if approved, will be yet another step backward for the city.

  5. AmandavivesWell
    October 10, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    Why would anyone duck the MAN’ ie the Planet,recipe for losing Joe.

  6. AmandavivesWell
    October 10, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    I agree with Dan and the NO VOTE on the Charter. Why pay Committee members? if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    • Russell Moody
      October 10, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

      …it IS broke(n)… just saying

      • danvalenti
        October 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

        Yes, RUSS, but the first rule in medicine applies here: First, do no harm. The “cure” in this case is worse than the original condition.

  7. Russell Moody
    October 10, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    Why don’t you all meet down at The Cove after hours… Krol can sit at the counter on a stool while Nichols can stand in familiar surroundings that might appease any ‘conditions’ that might be ‘completely unacceptable.’

    Dan can guard the cash register–

    Kudos to Krol… no conditiions.

    Of course, Krol will have to ‘pay’ for his pizza and slice o’ pie. There are campaigning rules you know…

  8. Dave
    October 10, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    All the time and energy spent working on the Charter could be undone by one issue-paying the school committee. One lightning rod issue( anyone remember eminent domain?) can derail an otherwise productive endeavor. The spin doctors are out there insisting that the word “may” as in may be compensated is the protection for the taxpayers. Every elected official(except for Terry Kinnas) who spoke before the Charter Commission spoke in favor of compensation for the school committee. What in the wide wide world of sports would make anyone think that the discretion of the mayor and city council would ever be to deny compensation? I believe it will pass handily because of a very low voter turnout and in 2015 the school committee will be compensated.

    • danvalenti
      October 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

      If turnout is low, which the GOB is counting on, the charter will pass. This is the sad tactic that The Suits have been using for years to enact their ballot-box power grabs … all legal, by the way.

  9. Jonathan Melle
    October 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    In Pittsfield:
    * Taxes are very high with a weak tax base
    * Tens of thousands of people have left Pittsfield and Berkshire County over the past several decades
    * Pittsfield and Berkshire County is the #1 place in Massachusetts for job loss
    * There are more people on welfare assistance than have private sector jobs
    * Teen pregnancies and welfare caseloads double the statewide average
    * The public school system is overpriced and underperforming
    * Tens of millions of dollars were spent on North Street and the dowtown area is still dead and place to avoid especially after hours
    * Crime, drugs, violence, gangs are real problems
    * The Good Old Boy network runs Pittsfield politics and serves the special interests instead of the common good
    * The Good Old Boys consist of multi-generation, inter-related Pittsfield families that derive from two camps: the Del Gallo political machine and the Wojtkowski political machine
    * Pittsfield’s finances have many millions of dollars in unfunded liabilities or debts that today’s Pittsfield politicians are not adequately addressing
    * Pittsfield has gone into state receivership before after the Doyle administration debacle and may go the way of insolvency like the Detroit bankruptcy
    * The number one employer in Pittsfield is the City of Pittsfield
    * Thousands of local residents work for the city government and the public school system
    * Many people and entities, such as the labor unions, depend on the system and control the Pittsfield politicians
    * After the public payroll patriots, non-profits, such as the Hospital, depend on taxpayer dollars and employ thousands more Pittsfield residents
    * The above vested interests make Pittsfield unaffordable to the little guy (the “Kapanski” family) who is not politically connected to get a city, school, or non-profit job
    * Pittsfield needs new Pittsfield politicians who will take on the special interests to regain control of city finances
    * PCBs left behind by GE have polluted Pittsfield’s air, water, and ground
    * Thousands upon thousands of Pittsfield residents have suffered through and died of cancer caused by Pittsfield’s toxic waste PCBs
    * GE left Pittsfield behind for Wall Street

  10. levitan
    October 12, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    One word: knee chairs. Both candidates & moderator on knee chairs for simplicity and fairness.

    I have a bad back from having been hurled to the floor in my youth. Knee chairs are the panacea of all injured backs.

    Problem solved? (Podiums discriminate against the weak-kneed.)

  11. #nomorebianchi
    October 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    I’ll make a prediction right now that John Krol is the winner in ward 6 on election night. After Nichols decided not to run in th last election. And then decided to run a write in campaign ad totally disgraced himself has shot all credibility. Not that he was a credible candidate to begin with.