By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, JUNE 17, 2014) — The biggest good news story will be when the police watch TOM (The One Man). TOM’s the busy guy who, according to Mayor Dan Bianchi ostrich-like view, is responsible for all of the crime currently plaguing downtown Pittsfield. While THE PLANET waits for The Empty Suit to deliver that good news, let’s deal in some actual currency.
Silver Lake Back in Play
The return of Silver Lake to the Land of the Living is one of the best stories to hit the city in some time. The reclamation of this spring-fed body of water seems like nothing less than a miracle to those of us who grew up in Pittsfield during the 1950s and 60s, at the height of GE production and the low-point of the pollution of that once-lovely body of water.
Talk to the old folks, the ones in their 90s, and they’ll tell you stories of fishing and swimming in the lake. That, of course, was before GE turned the lake into a fetid brew of industrial chemicals that used to inspire nightmares.
We take this discussion beyond the usual concerns about capping the bottom of the lake instead to a removal of the foul materials that remain. THE PLANET does this simply as a matter of pragmatics. Despite the promise of Melissa Mazzeo to raise the issue of Silver Lake as a part of the attempted reopening of the consent Consent Decree, the council president dropped the issue two seconds after winning re-election in the 2011 campaign. As council president and at no time during these past three years has Mazzeo shown any meaningful interest in the matter which so occupied her in her ravenous hunger for votes during the 2011 campaign. She sent a couple of blind, cold token e-mails a few years ago and presented that as her token of address.
Funny thing about politicians. When they need your vote, why gosh, they love you to death. After they win office, you are little more than road kill.
THE PLANET is more than content at this point to acknowledge the development of the lake’s reclamation from its previous state to its present one and hail it as good news, a rare note of hope and progress for the residents of the city. The site has a fair ways to go. The multiple plantings of trees, shrubs, and greenery of enjoying but their first summer of growth. They will need a few years to fill in and reach their emerald shading. The choice of black, industrial fencing around the lake perimeter has proven less than inspiring. Perhaps the cap won’t hold. For that matter, some day the sun will explode.
Nonetheless, THE PLANET loves what is as opposed to what was at the lake. This includes the cleanliness of the water, fit for fishing and swimming. No one should pull a Randy Rocca and drink a glass of Silver Lake at this point, but we wouldn’t recommend that for any body of water in the Berkshires, at least without the use of a industrial-grade water filter. Fact is, the lake is now ready for enjoyment again. This past winter, we saw skaters gliding along on an ice surface looking as smooth as if it had been raked over by a Zamboni. In fact, on one of the coldest days of winter, a friend and THE PLANET spread a couple blankets and picnicked on candy bars and coffee.
A paved walking trail meanders around 3/4 of the perimeter of the lake, from East Street and the boulevard to the Fourth Street area. It makes for a relaxing, reflective stroll. We’ve seen people fishing from the banks, strollers taking both brisk and sedate walks, and we’re still waiting for our first boat siting. Granted, it’s progress of a sort but progress nonetheless.
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Downtown Pittsfield Loses Pam Tobin, Gains Kate McGuire
Give it up for Kate Maguire, the indefatigable head of the Berkshire Theatre Group. She has taken on many challenges, not the least of which was the alliance of the Berkshire Theatre Festival with Pittsfield’s Colonial Theater. Though the jury remains out on the ultimate verdict on the alliance, the early returns have been promising.
Now Maguire has stepped up again to make a statement about her belief in the downtown. Stepped up? Some are saying she “stepped in it.” Time will tell. You can’t fault the woman, though, for trying.
As president of the DPI board, Maguire appears ready to take less of an advisory and more of an active role in trying to be a catalyst for downtown renewal. Pam Tobin, who came to Pittsfield fresh or stale from a parking-ticket scandal in Albany, resigned as DPI executive director on Friday.
She won’t be missed.
Here’s a quote from her that tells you everything you need to know about Tobin: “I am grateful for all of the opportunities bestowed upon me by the DPI board, our constituents and colleagues, especially to truly lead all involved to strategically be an economic engine in the community we serve,” she said. Now what the f@%* does that mean? During her tenure as DPI executive director, Tobin did little more than hide behind her desk, collect her paycheck, and stay away from downtown business owners. If we exaggerate, it’s only by a tad.
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As DPI searches for a new executive director, Maguire has the intelligence and the integrity to realize several things about her new task:
* The downtown is unsafe. Recently, there have been a rash of burglaries hitting downtown businesses. Source differ on the number, but the numbers fall into a distressing range, from a low of a dozen to a high of 20. Sources say Mission Tappas alone has been hit four times during the current spree, Dotties five times. Even the Colonial Theater has been burglarized. TOM is a pretty clever thief.
* The Empty Sit will be of no help to Maguire. Bianchi has been an enemy of the Colonial Theater from the early discussion of its refurbishment. Unlike his predecessor and his wife, Jimmy and Ellen Ruberto, TES has no love for the theater or the arts, especially at the Colonial, and he still has resentments that he has been on the losing side of the discussion for so long. He will show no hesitation to make things difficult for Maguire politically.
* Small business owners in the downtown are thoroughly disenchanted with Downtown Pittsfield Inc. DPI has to date been an entirely political subsidiary of the corner office, hiring political hacks like Tobin instead of searching for competency and professionalism. The recent of meeting downtown businesses at Dotties illustrates the degree of distrust they have for DPI. Maguire needs to realize, and we think she does, that the first task in making DPI a viable organization will be to reach out to small business owners, acknowledge past mistakes, and acting — acting — to forge a new way of operating. What is that way? That, my friends, is the challenge. We do know this: The downtown is long past its “Best if used by” date.
* There are people, mostly the mayor and his allies, who would love Maguire to fail. Again, this can be explained by the city’s swamp politics. THE PLANET has known and has worked with Maguire for nearly 20 years, and we would issue what we think is a superfluous word of warning, given her business smarts and her strong instinct not only for self-preservation but for growth and advancement. We would urge “caution, with abandon.”
Downtown Pittsfield Inc. eats up at least $50,000 of taxpayer’s dollars. Until now, that yearly expenditure has been a colossal waste, meant more to feed the egos of The Suits and provide safe cover for hacks. All that must change, and the smart money will be willing to bet that Maguire will change it.
“I’m an old cowhand, from the Rio Grande. But my legs ain’t bowled, and my cheeks ain’t tan. I’m a cowboy whose never seen a cow.” — “I’m an Old Cowhand,” various artists, including Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.