PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, Oct. 14, 2013) — The recent announcement of the closing of four businesses in downtown Pittsfield surprised no one, except maybe Mayor Dan Bianchi and his motley collection of lackeys and apologists, who are telling us in what passes for “Campaign” 2013 of the great strides the city has made in economic development since January of 2012. Yes, that’s when Mayor Photo-Op promptly proceeded to pour sugar into the collective gas tank.

If you’ll recall, Bianchi’s He’s the guy who’s running scared of THE PLANET, who had the audacity of wanting to corner him in a live, broadcast interview. He has nothing to say. Bianchi’s the guy who looked the other way during Housegate, when one of the four-headed hydra of overpaid city school superintendents arranged for his secretary to receive the benefits of free house building courtesy of Taconic High School carpentry students. Once again, Bianchi had nothing to say. The mayor also arranged to be out of town when the Scopes Monkey Trial he rigged against school committeeman Terry Kinnas infected the city in January. Nothing to say again for Harpo.

This is what makes Bianchi’s comments about the “economic progress” the city has made in his two years as mayor worse than a sick joke. Bianchi has no credibility on such pronouncements, although we would believe him on the number of ribbons he’s cut as mayor and the number of certificates he has awarded. The exact numbers, by the way, can be found on the city’s website, under “mickey mouse.”

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The larger picture of the four failings, as we looked at last week on THE PLANET, depicts the near collapse of the city’s economy. People may point out that the undoing began a generation ago, and they would be right. In case you didn’t notice,  General Electric; Sheaffer Eaton; Sprague Electric; Beloit Jones; the silk, woolen, and paper mills and the rest of the good-pay, good-benefit manufacturing jobs aren’t likely to walk through the door any time soon.

Nonetheless, what did the “in-the-meanitime” plethora of local “jobs creation” and “economic development” companies, enterprises, think tanks, and offices do except create Con Jobs and Snow Jobs for the public and a few choice high-paying jobs for “executive directors” and staff, most of whom were picked not for their abilities but for Who They Know.

While year after year the local economy did a decent impression of the Amazing, Shrinking Man and Pittsfield’s population dropped by 33%, the elected officials kept caving to the local Special Interests in the public sector, granting pay and benefit increases that far outstripped the diminishing private sector. Local Big Shots and Poo Bahs in the Private Sector also moved into the breach to help fill the power void, liked what they saw, and began to do anything, no matter how treacherous, to destroy any chances for an economic revival. They had, and still have, their own little Feifdoms to protect. These Lords and Ladies, the 1% in Pittsfield, make big bucks (usually working for “non profits”) and don’t want ANYTHING to change.

Throughout all this, in his 10 years as a ward councilor and especially in his two years as mayor, Dan Bianchi has voted to increase the size and cost of city government and voted in seven budgets, each of which called for an increase in government spending and higher taxes for homeowners and businesses. Thus, we arrive at the larger picture exemplified by the recent four business failings — Pittsfield is a poor community. The city is on poverty row. It’s more than irony that when you go to the city’s website, while the page loads, it finds itself under water at Pontoosuc Lake, a photo of which serves as the saver.

Bianchi finds the four business closings as an affront to him rather than a sign of his leadership failure as mayor.

There’s no greater proof of this sad fact than the one that emerged during the Sept. 25 school committee meeting. Bianchi, as mayor, is a member of that committee, but neither he, nor Kathy Yon, Kathy Amuso, Dan Elias, Alf Barbalunga, or Jim Conant brought attention to the proof, as startling as it was.

The Pittsfield School Committee is part of the Pittsfield School District, where one teacher wrote this syntactical and conceptual nightmare of a review of the use on iPad use in classes: “Constant process is being honest and recognizing/controlling personal distractions. I don’t think that it is a negative that indicates a need to remove iPads, but I think it is a reality that we will constantly face and use as a tool to help kids develop good habits and personal accountability” — whatever the hell that means. We mention this aside to put the following data about the PPS in the true perspective of its downward spiral.

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It was committeeman Terry Kinnas, alone, who on Tuesday night (10/8) brought this data to the attention of We The People via our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council.

School superintendent Jason “Jake” McCandless, a.k.a. Jake IV, a.k.a. JIV (pronounced “Jive”) presented charts related to MCAS performance. Exhibit 1 shared the percentage of pupils and students from “low income” (that is, poor) families. THE PLANET advises that you are sitting down before you read this:

* Allendale — 55.60% [of the student are from poor families]

* Egremont — 46.40%

* Capeless — 47.20%

* Morningside Community — 88.20% (no, that’s not a typo)

* Crosby — 75.80%

* Stearns — 50.40%

* Williams — 32.50%

* Conte — 90.50 (neither is that one a typo)

* Reid Middle School — 64.80%

* Herberg Middle School — 49.60%

* Pittsfield High School — 43.20%

* Taconic High School — 49.10%

Kinnas crunched the aggregate numbers. Of the 6,077 pupils in the PPS, 56.70% are classified as “low income” for the 2012-2013 school year. That number is likely higher for the current session. Of those 6,077 kids, 3,444 receive free lunches or reduced-cost lunches, the difference being made up by — you guessed it — taxpayers, most of whom do not have children in the system.

Ladies and gentlemen, do we have to draw you a map? These numbers prove the existence of an economic disaster now being accelerated by the disastrous performance of Mayor Bianchi — so go ahead, vote for him on Nov. 5.

These appalling numbers should be thrown in Mayor Bianchi’s face like a Moe Howard-propelled shaving-cream pie. Under his watch, the city has accelerated its plummeting plunge into village ghetto land. Naturally, the Boring Broadsheet, which had a reporter at the Sept. 25 school committee meeting in which the income data were shared, skipped right over this story and these numbers. THE PLANET won’t speculate why. All we can say is that this site, and this site alone, has again answered the call for Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski. The media — be it radio, TV, newspaper, or blog — must function as the watchdog for bedraggled taxpayers. We are their eyes and ears, and we are the last safeguard of their rapidly vanishing freedom. THE PLANET, now with the Gazette‘s Jonathan Levine on the mend, is alone in Berkshire County doing this vital work.

So the next time you see Bianchi wind-bagging about all the “progress” the city has made with economic development, throw these numbers in his face.


 Oars can divide an ocean too silver for a seam. — adaptation from Emily Dickinson.




  1. Wilson
    October 14, 2013 at 4:56 am #

    The city’s economy is pathetic, but child poverty is really a nationwide condition now that most children are born to unwed mothers. It’s social policy: make the people weak, so that they need a strong government

    • danvalenti
      October 14, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

      No doubt that is a factor. In Pittsfield, one only needs to stroll down North Street during the week to see the future: Those single, teen moms pushing babies in welfare state park.

  2. We Love Pittsfield
    October 14, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Yes its a nationwide policy but I think the point is that on the local level we can do something about it and certainly one way is through economic deveopment (expanding the tax base) or paying less for government (reducing costs). I agree with DV on his statements about the job Mayor Bianchi has done.

    • danvalenti
      October 14, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

      Good input, WLP.

  3. Spectator
    October 14, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    Hey, could be worse. Look at Winsted CT.

  4. AmandavivesWell
    October 14, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Pittsfield has always been a poor community, and can remember Peter G. Arlos would always start off a statement relating to city finances that “we are a poor community”.

    • Jonathan Melle
      October 14, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      The late Peter Arlos was a millionaire who collected a public pension after decades collecting a public salary in Pittsfield and Berkshire County. Arlos also owned Section 8 housing units in Pittsfield to collect rent off of poor people on welfare. Arlos also made money off of pinball machines in Pittsfield bars. Arlos was friend of my family, but he was also a total hypocrite when it came to his Pittsfield politics because he made money off of poor people and earned a living off of the taxpayers. Arlos would be my friend, but they turn on my when it became convenient for him. I wish I never knew Pete Arlos! I am glad he is gone.

  5. bobbyd
    October 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Kinnas crunched the aggregate numbers. Of the 6,077 pupils in the PPS, 56.70% are classified as “low income” for the 2012-2013 school year. That number is likely higher for the current session. Of those 6,077 kids, 3,444 receive free lunches or reduced-cost lunches, the difference being made up by — you guessed it — taxpayers, most of whom do not have children in the system.

    No number-crunching needed. It’s all very public information anyone can see ( Nor is it news. The state has experienced a marked increase in low-income families, especially in urban areas over the past five years.

    You’re right, the difference is made up by taxpayers–if you mean federal tax payers. I believe this federal program actually brings more money into the local system than it spends.

    Our economic problems extend much farther than the borders of Pittsfield. IMO, there has been national cultural shift that embraces dependence but shuns accountability, quite the reverse of the nation I was born in.

    • danvalenti
      October 14, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

      Thanks, BOBBY.

    • Tim
      October 16, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

      A few days late but…. Bobbyd is right. Schools countywide encourage parents to apply for free/reduced regardless of economic status so they can hopefully get a few more federal dollars and therefore spread their budgets. The stats may therefore be misleading, but if so only a few percentage pts.
      A quick view of the link he posted shows that the increase in low income families is a COUNTYWIDE trend. I only went back as far as late 90’s for almost all county districts. Even in traditional wealthy communities like lenox, wiliamstown and south county. Could some of that be due to school choice, or families moving from pittsfield to live in the smaller town, etc? Would be an interesting way to study all of the data.
      But Dan, i think you are guilty of generalizing here and blaming bianchi, when this is an obvious trend that predates him and even ruberto. And is not exclusive to pittsfield. In fact north adams has a higher percentage. You are doing what politicians and statisticians and all other “itians” do: bending the facts or not providing all the facts to suit your argument. Your current target is bianchi, just like ruberto was 4 years ago, and youll say whatever you want to get your point across.
      Has he fixed the problem, absolutely not, but it cant be determined his fault.

      • danvalenti
        October 18, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

        Thanks. Some generalization is warranted. I am only too quick to acknowledge the downward trend in the PPS predates Bianchi. My point is that in the past two years (and three superintendents) Bianchi has worsened the situation. He stood by and did nothing in wake of the $9,000 theft from PHS. He stood by and did nothing in wake of Housegate. Evidence strongly suggests he orchestrated the Scopes Monkey Trial. He has claimed for two budgets that he’s “saved” taxpayers money in the PPS budgets, but in fact he’s approved the addition of millions two budgets in a row. He’s done nothing visionary as a member of the school committee. He’s been a pushover, afraid to take a stance, and has thus accelerated a culture of dysfunction in the schools.

  6. John Grogan
    October 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Both Wilson and BobbyD are getting dangerously close to the old “blame the victim” bugaboo. This country is indeed in bad shape in a lot of ways, but to blame the unwed mothers, the lazy, shiftless welfare cheats (see the secret code there) the denizens of subsidized housing, the illegal aliens, etc. is to truly miss the point. I know for a fact that the vast majority of people living below the poverty line a) don’t want to be & don’t CHOOSE to be, b) are not living opulent lives at the government expense and c) have worked and usually continue to work to try to get above the line, often futilely. Poverty is a trap that usually is unavoidable, and once it snaps shut on you you may as well chew your own leg off to try to escape. Unfortunately in many cases that last resort doesn’t work either. The answer is a single word; jobs. But the devil is in the details. I worked at Berkshire Meadows for $10 per hour. I worked at Berkshire Meadows for $10 per hour; wonderful, meaningful HARD work changing disabled adult diapers and trying to keep them from hurting themselves or me. Do the math on that. $10 per hour, which is close to 17% MORE than a WalMart or McDonalds employee makes, for a 40 hour week adds up to $19K per year GROSS…Before taxes and insurance are taken out. Yet according to census data, 48% of all Americans earn less than $25k annually. This puts almost everyone ONE emergency, one mishap, one unfortunate happening away from the steel trap of poverty. So, in most cases it’s not the poor’s fault. They’d gladly trade their left leg for elevation out. We should be spending all our time devising ways to bring good paying jobs back to america, and back to Pittsfield, not blaming the victims.

    • bobbyd
      October 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      Both Wilson and BobbyD are getting dangerously close to the old “blame the victim” bugaboo.
      I’m not one to blame victims, nor am I one to ascribe the status of victim to everyone who has less than enough means. I would say that most (not all) of the victims are of school age or below. Still, there has to be a better way to help victims than to continue to incentivize bad choices and institutionalize poverty.

    • danvalenti
      October 14, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

      Points worth considering, although no one here blamed the “gimme groups” that you mention, at least that I can see. The elevation out is two-fold: careers and education. The second often leads to the first. Education and training are there for those who wish to better themselves. Many (not all) in the “gimme groups” would prefer to leech off taxpayers and stay where they are.

    • allthesame
      October 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      Well said. I agree totally. We the people should not be satisfied with the crumbs that are been offered. We need to stand united and demand more than just retail jobs. Vote DV for mayor.

  7. Rivetor
    October 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Bobby three points of disagreement and one of agreement.

    First Number crunching is needed because few people will bother to crunch them or retrieve them.

    Second it is news. The BB as DV pointed out had a chance to report these numbers and didn’t, no one else at the meeting took them and highlighted them (except TK then later Dan).

    Third, to imply the situation is good because it brings more federal (tax) dollars into town is ridiculous .
    Fourth we agree on the last point of the rise of dependence & the fall of accountability. I’m wondering, are you an employee of the PPS? I am employed inthe private sector, as a planner

    • bobbyd
      October 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      The number-crunching has been done ad nauseum and is something that the educational community has been lamenting for years. If it’s new to you, then you haven’t been listening.

      I am not saying at ALL that it is good that it brings in federal tax dollars, just that it does. It does not an additional burden on the local budget. I would MUCH rather no one needed it!

      And, yes, I am an employee of PPS.

      • danvalenti
        October 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

        I disagree with your point on additional local burden. No amount of federal dollars (which, as you agreed to earlier, are taxpayer dollars) can mitigate the economic consequences to the local economy. The local budget not only gets additional burden, but in Pittsfield case, finds itself burdened nearly to the breaking point. As the tax base shrinks, income from that sector decreases. The local solution, and it’s a lousy one at that, is to keep raising taxes on homeowners and businesses. The better solution is to control spending. The GOB and its apologists argue that 85% of the city budget is earmarked, mostly by salaries. Let’s take that as accurate for the sake of discussion. That leaves roughly $21 million in discretionary spending. You mean to say the city couldn’t find a few million there? Of course it could. All it lacks is the political spine. I’m curious, BOBBYD, are you a teacher, an administrator, or one of the support staff at the PPS? I will fully understand if you don’t wish to say. I also value your contributions to this site.

        • bobbyd
          October 15, 2013 at 10:53 am #

          Good points.

          I am support staff. I work primarily with data and assessment.

  8. outfox
    October 16, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    Wow, seriously? Y’all really didn’t know how poor we are in the Pitty? I initially thought Dan’s headline was a bit of hyperbole, but reading these comments…Anyway, beyond just being poor, we are also an impoverished community, which is what we’re really talking about, isn’t it?

    • danvalenti
      October 18, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

      Yes, it is.