By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, NOV. 4, 2013) — Tomorrow is Election Day, the day when the vast majority of citizens do not vote. Not voting has become the 21st-century equivalent of doing one’s civic duty. In fact, not voting has become such a part of democracy that we can say that only those who do vote forfeit their right to complain. It is, in fact, the non-voters who determine election outcomes. They cede the score to the tiny minority and in doing do, determine outcomes. That is how skunks win office, only to bring their stinky spray with them. My, how times have changed from the days in the 1950s and 1960s, when turnouts rates in Pittsfield elections topped 70 and 80%.
In the city of Pittsfield, non-voters will be deciding council races in wards 1, 3, and 6; will elect four at-large council reps; will vote on mayor; will elect a school committee; and will weigh the adoption of not of a proposed new city charter — the first since the early 1930s — that virtually no one has read. The election, in other words, has the making of skunkery of the first order, beginning with the charter. One last point: Keep in mind that THE PLANET‘s endorsements are not the same as our predictions. The first we readily share; the second we keep to ourselves.
THE PLANET’S ENDORSEMENTS, or, IN CONSIDERATION OF THE SAYING, ‘THE GREATER THE FICTION, THE GREATER THE TRUTH’
PROPOSED NEW CHARTER: VOTE NO
THE PLANET recommends that voters reject it.
— First, the GOB and the “usual suspects” have pushed adoption too hard. We’re already in “red flag” territory.
— Second, backers of the charter never made a convincing case why the city needed a new one. Their “argument” amounted to, “Well, the old one is ‘old.’” That’s not good enough. They have said, “The present charter is outdated,” but never told us where and how.
— Third, for all its claimed “importance,” isn’t it odd that the city did not readily make hard copy of the charter freely available?
— Fourth, ask yourself, how many people who vote on the charter know what is in it? A summary of the charter, which is the most that’s been made available, isn’t the exact language itself. As we said last week, that where the devils reside, in the details of the exact wording. “They” don’t want you to know that wording.
— Fifth, the new charter gives the mayor four years and keeps the council term at two years. This will create all sorts of political mayhem, especially when aspirants and councilors run for election or re-election. The mayor, sitting pretty with two more uncontested years, will be able to exert enormous political pressure in council races, especially in this era of apathy, where turnouts remain pathetically low. We have seen this happen this election. Mayor Dan Bianchi is unopposed on the ballot. Freed from a campaign, he is out there on the campaign trail telling people who he wants out and who he wants in. Think of it as a preview of coming attractions if the charter passes.
— Sixth, the new charter allows a provision for paying members of the Pittsfield school committee, which is currently a volunteer board. Ask youself: Has past committee done such a great job with the failing, $90+-million public school department that voters should reward them with pay? We don’t think so.
— Seventh, we share some this snippet of history, taken from Wikipedia’s entry on William “Boss” Tweed of the Tammany Hall Ring, the “Man Who Sold New York City.” Note, especially, the sections that THE PLANET has set in bold face:
After the election of 1869, Tweed took control of the New York City government. His protégé, John T. Hoffman, the former mayor of the city, won election as governor, and Tweed garnered the support of good government reformers like Peter Cooper and the Union League Club, by proposing a new city charter which returned power to City Hall at the expense of the Republican-inspired state commissions. The new charter passed, thanks in part to $600,000 in bribes Tweed paid to Republicans, and was signed into law by Hoffman in 1870. Mandated new elections allowed Tammany to take over the city’s Common Council when they won all fifteen aldermanic contests.
THE PLANET recommends that a skull and crossbones logo be placed next to the charter question on the ballot. In potential for mayhem, it’s that deadly. It’s poison. Vote “NO” on the new charter.
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COUNCIL RACE, WARD 1: VOTE YON
The seeds of this race go back to the late 1980s, when Christine Yon‘s father race for mayor against Anne Wotjkowski. Lisa Tully‘s father, Phil, was council president back then and a big Wojtkowski supporter. The daughters continue the fight in this election. Christine Yon has been a tireless advocate of Ward 1 residents. There are many examples, but the best one is how she put herself on the line to fight the proposed location of the Spectrum Health Systems methadone clinic near Dwyer Funeral Home. Yon, a daily communicant at St. Charles Church, has a good heart. She is compassionate, and she’s probably the “least political” office holder in the city. Tully has not made a compelling case to unseat the incumbent.
WARD 3: VOTE LATURA
This is a tough one, with two newcomers looking to replace the embattled and criminally charged Paul Capitanio. Since his initial attempt at public office (mayor, 2009, and hopelessly in over his head) Nick Caccamo has attended countless official city meetings: council, committees, boards, and the like. In short, he’s put in the “ass time” and in that sense, he reminds THE PLANET of the diligence and persistence of Peter White. Caccamo’s the new White. Caccamo’s bid, however, has one fatal flaw. He works for the Pittsfield School Department, employed as a “data coach,” whatever that is. Could it be a make-work job to reward a loyal Democrat? Who knows? There is, however, serious question, whether the law allows him, as a full-time city employee, to serve on the council at all. Should he win this race, he could well be open the a legal challenge that could result in awarding the election to his challenger, Rick Latura. Caccamo’s position as a school insider is not what the council needs. For Ward 3 residents, even if Caccamo can legally serve, he would have to recuse himself from any discussion of policy matters pertaining to the public schools, including his vote on the $90+ million budget. Why, as a Ward 3 resident, would you want someone who cannot represent you on 70% of the total city budget. It makes no sense. That leaves Latura by default. The legal question is this: Caccamo is running with the old charter in effect. If the new charter is voted in, the language prohibits him, as a school department employee, from serving on the city council. City clerk Linda Tyer is on record as saying that the new charter, if voted in, will be in effect immediately. Under the new charter, if one follows the language, it would appear that Caccamo cannot serve.
In the interest of full coverage, Ward 5 city coucilor, our right honorable good friend Jonathan Lothrop, and city clerk Linda Tyer, posted yesterday on THE PLANET. Here are their posts, followed by our response:
LOTHROP: Dan – I want to disagree that Nick Caccamo could not serve in the upcoming Council term. The reason is simple, the rules of eligibility for which Mr. Caccamo qualified as a candidate, are from the current City Charter. If the proposed Charter passes, then it is possible for Mr. Caccamo to serve one term. The election following is when the new eligibility requirements would kick in. Then it would appear that he could not serve a second term, again assuming the Charter passes and if not amended in the intervening two years.
It is the same reason that the Mayor would not get a four year term, in January should that Charter proposal pass. The current rules apply to this election cycle, period. Check with any attorney with an municipal experience, they will tell you the same thing.
This is the kind of false argument that needs to be called out, especially since the election is two days away.
TYER: There has been a lot of discussion and confusion regarding the eligibility to serve requirements for the City of Pittsfield candidates on Tuesday’s ballot. It is paramount that voters are accurately informed on matters relating to elections. In my capacity as the city’s chief elections official I offer this clarification. If elected all candidates will be deemed eligible to serve based upon the city’s current charter. Elected candidates will not be disqualified by any election clause contained in the proposed charter if it is ratified by the voters. Provisions relating to elections will take affect for the first time in 2015. I hope this helps.
THE PLANET: I interpret the charter differently. You raise an objection that, of course, I considered. Here’s why it does not apply.
(a) comparing the mayor’s future term with the ward 3 councilor’s present term is not logical. The new charter, according to the city clerk, goes into effect the moment her office officially certifies the vote for “yeah,” should that be how the vote turns out. The mayor’s four-year term is clearly spelled out to begin in the next election, not this one. The ward 3 term, which the charter does not change, begins NOW, just as the mayor’s final two-year term.
(b) If the new charter is enacted, it will abolish the two-year term in the next election. It does nothing of the sort for the Ward 3 office.
Therefore, the only reasonable interpretation is that if the voters approved the new charter, its terms, which immediately go into effect for all offices that are unchanged, prohibit a full-time school department employee from being a councilor. That would apply, then, to Nick, should he win.
He will win office under the old charter. That office, however, will prohibit him from serving. It would be the same if the new charter prohibited full-time employees of the energy business. The mayor could not serve. It has nothing to do with the two-year/four-year difference.
I hope this clarifies my position.
I have reported only the facts (i.e., the provisions of the new charter). I have given the best and most reasonable application of the facts in my extrapolation.
PS: The city clerk’s comments are an interpretation. THE PLANET would suggest they are subject to a court’s judgment. How can the new charter not apply to any office holder, no matter how elected, even if it is under the old charter. The provision of the new charter do nothing to the office or the length of office of the Ward 3 city councilor. It DOES, however, do everything to the eligibility of the person who, having been elected, shall occupy that office. It would seem, then, that the matter is still very much up in the air.
Ward 3 voters, it’s up to you. We would offer than even if Caccamo is deemed by the courts or anyone else eligible to serve if he is elected, why would you want a representative who will not be able to participate in the debate or voting on the school department?
WARD 6: VOTE KROL
The marquee ward race pits incumbent John Krol versus former Ward 7 councilor (and failed mayoral candidate) Joe Nichols. THE PLANET moderated a live debate between these two in which the differences were stark. To sum up with a broad brushstroke, we think Krol represents the more forward-thinking political style. Nichols seems too much a blast from the past. Nichols campaign basically amounted to little more than the assertion that “Krol doesn’t return calls” and not much else. You’d find plenty of Ward 6 residents who would dispute that Krol “doestn’ return calls.” In fact, Krol has been one of the most responsive ward councilors in recent memory. Krol has grown immensely since his first election. He has become more of an independent voice and vote, and he has displayed an open mind when it comes to city issues. As a ward representative, he has been true to the people who elected him. Nichols seems little more than a member of the slate that Bianchi has put together in an attempt to obtain control of the city council. In Ward 6, it’s Krol all the way.
AT LARGE: VOTE CLAIRMONT, MAZZEO, MILLER, AND RIVERS
Seven are running: The incumbents, Barry Clairmont, Melissa Mazzeo, Churchill Cotten; and the challengers, Mark Miller, Donna Todd Rivers, Kathy Amuso, and Jim Conant. THE PLANET recommends four for election: Clairmont, Mazzeo, Miller, and Rivers.
Clairmont’s performance in his first term warrants as the council’s biggest surprise. He has proven to be a dogged examiner of issues that come before the council, including, yes, the initiatives put forward by Mayor Bianchi. That is a highly desirable trait. An effective council cannot be a “rubber-stamp” council. One of the hallmarks of a good council is lots of questions. Remember, discussion, debate, deliberation, and dissent are healthy.
If one has Clairmont on the council, one also wants Melissa Mazzeo, who is his counter. On the scales, they politically balance out. Mazzeo has proven an effective campaigner and generally demonstrates a decent grasp of the issues. She thinks “citywide,” which is what you want in an at-large representative.
THE PLANET likes Miller for several reasons. We are familiar with his low-key, wonkish, uber-serious style from his previous campaigns for state rep. He does his homework, and, despite a far-left political leaning, seems to be a man who enters the arena with an open mind on the issues. Specifically, though, THE PLANET loved two ideas Miller raised in the campaign: He favors uniforms for the public schools, and he has advocated monthly public tours of the PEDA site. THE PLANET hope Miller pushes both.
Rivers brings city experience, which, we grant, isn’t a guarantee of anything. Her legal training should come in handy during debate and consideration. THE PLANET also judges her to be capable of an open mind and independent decision making. Moreover, she has campaigned as if she wants it and has thus earned the shot.
Amuso and Conant come from the school committee, which, given the charged political nature of the school budget and its disastrous “untouchable” status among office holders, is the last thing the council needs. Cotton had an invisible campaign. His debate performance re-defined “low key.” There’s a difference between being soft spoken and having little of substance to contribute.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE: ALL BUT THE TEEN-AGER
It amazes us that this board, which controls $90+ million of an overall $137 million operational budget, always runs under the radar. If you ever wanted a more tangible example of apathy’s cost, look no further. This race is easy: Seven are running for six positions. They are incumbents Dan Elias and Kathy Yon, plus newcomers Josh Cutler, Pam Farron, Tony Riello (former Pittsfield police chief), Cindy Taylor, and 19-year-old Brittany Douglass. Leave Douglass out. She didn’t bother to campaign. Of the six, THE PLANET sees Cutler as the person with the greatest chance to take up where Terry Kinnas left off. Their styles couldn’t show a starker difference, and it will take Cutler a year to get his sea legs, so don’t look for it right away. Cutler, a law student, has a great combination of eagerness, work ethic, and moral sense.
FOR MAYOR: “DAN VALENTI”
Do we have to spell this one out? We don’t think so. Bianchi has been an unrelenting disappointment as mayor. He has made an art form of ribbon cutting and elevated handing our certificates and proclamations to a science. He also has proven to be the Phantom of the Photo-Op. When it comes to accomplishments, however: Nada, nothing, zip, zilch. THE PLANET recommends writing in the name of “Dan Valenti” as a None-of-the-Above protest to this do-nothing mayor. Counting the write-ins, the blanks, and those who do not vote, Bianchi will enjoy an overwhelming landslide loss, leading him into his final fling at office. 2015, my friends. 2015.
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So there you have it, friends. Remember, do your civic duty on Tuesday. Don’t remember to vote.
“Only you know and I know all the love there that don’t show, so don’t refuse to believe it by asking too many questions.” — Dave Mason, from the album, “Alone Together.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.