Mayor Dick Alcombright Takes Charge

Regime Change in North Adams Starts This Week

By: - Jan 03, 2010

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Following a weekend of celebrations and ceremonies on Monday morning, after ten months of grueling campaigning, Dick Alcombright will be officially sworn in as the new Mayor of North Adams.

In a classical Last Hurrah, after 26 years in office, the legendary, beloved, feared and reviled, John Barrett III, sought one last two year term. Instead of walking away graciously, he opted for another old fashioned, dog fight. It wasn't even close when a shocked and disappointed Barrett lost by a margin of more than 800 votes.

From Barrett and his loyalists there has been rancor leaving a bitter taste to the sweetness of righteous victory. To his great credit Alcombright, in his first race for a major office, maintained a focused and high minded campaign. To my knowledge he has never made an unkind remark about anyone. It was even implied that he was too soft for the tough job of running a struggling, hard scrabble, down on its heels city. Lord knows it's going to be challenging.

In the mainstream print media, The Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript, the story line has been pursued as the end of an era of a great mayor. With hardly any ink spilled on a clean and decisive victory for a well qualified challenger.

From the very moment of grudgingly reporting an Alcombright victory the Eagle and Transcript, led by political commentator, Alan Chartock in the Eagle, and Transcript editor, Glen Drohan, have fed their readers with a steady line of what a terrible mistake has been made by the citizens of North Adams. There have been a number of touchy feely recaps of Barrett's regime. Last week, the Transcript visited Barrett with a front page story as he packed up the memories of the corner office. This was followed  by a similar full court press from the Eagle.  So long Big John, we hardly knew you. Not.

The papers of record are yet to run a sit down with Alcombright discussing his plans for the next two years. One wonders when Drohan and the Eagle editors will start to face reality and make nice with the new administration.

During a brief, but powerful, and poignant speech following a ceremonial (unofficial) swearing in on January 1, with the graciousness that we have come to expect and respect, Alcombright paid tribute to Barrett's 26 years of dedicated service. We all understand and acknowledge that Barrett has left the city in better shape than he found it. It is just best to hear that from someone other than Barrett himself. During the debates Barrett often discussed what "I have done for the city." While Alcombright conveyed what "We will do."

The transition from 26 years of Barrett, to the new era of Alcombright, is best expressed from the personal pronoun of the former Mayor to the plural of the new one. Hey folks, there is a huge difference between "I" and "We."

To the packed audience in the Council Chamber, and the hundred or so watching the event  through a video feed in the lobby, there was a great cheer when Alcombright proclaimed "As we move into this new decade we will be partners. My mind will never be closed, my door will always be open. This is OUR city. I will never forget that."

Referring to Barrett, who opted not to attend the ceremony, he thanked his predecessor for his "Tireless efforts. This city owes him deeply for his unprecedented 26 years of service."

In a surprising moment Alcombright revealed his humanity  commenting on the morning headline in the Transcript "Property tax rates will head upward." With an ironic aside he said "Hey guys, thanks for that."  Standing next to me, Jennifer Huberdeau, who wrote the story, conveyed no response.

There was another emotional moment when Alcombright choked up while acknowledging the support of his family. His late father was a former city councilor. It is known that there have been personal attacks and threats to his family.

Arguably, it is understandable that Barrett opted to stay away from the event. But looking about it was disappointing to note that there were no representatives from Mass MoCA or MCLA. State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, was the highest ranking official to attend the event. During the campaign Bosley endorsed Barrett. He may have attended to mend fences. Alcombright was endorsed by North Adams's own, Martha Coakley, who is days away from being elected Senator.

Another Berkshire native, Governor Deval Patrick, is viewed as such damaged goods that he has become a non factor in state politics. Particularly, with the Commonwealth facing a $3.2 billion deficit for the coming year. Alcombright noted this stating that "(the next fiscal year) promises to be one of the toughest in the history of the Commonwealth and this city."

But quoting Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry he said "A man's got to know his limitations."

Under Barrett the City Council was widely viewed as ineffective. It takes a two third vote of the Council of nine members to overturn a veto from the Mayor. But Alcombright has made it clear that he will broaden the reach and advice of the Council. The new president is Ronald A. Boucher who replaces Alan L. Marden who remains on the Council. Lisa Blackmer is the new vice president. The other members of the council are Michael C. Bloom, Keith J. Bona, who won a squeaker to return to office, David A. Bond, serving his first term, Michael S. Boland, Gailanne M. Cariddi and Marie Harpin. Cariddi was the top vote getter in the council race and is widely anticipated to consider opposing Alcombright in the next election.

During his council speech Alcobright stated that "I will ask the City Council's community development committee (chaired by Blackmer) to immediately begin work on a state-wide marketing plan. I'll also be looking to them for ideas on reinventing a viable and sustainable Mohawk Theater project."

He touched on a range of other issues including an old and devalued housing stock, initiatives for the youth of the city, improving the school system, and a hope to put cops back on bikes

Following the ceremonies at City Hall there was a well attended reception at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center. The color guard marched followed by the singing of the National Anthem. Once again, Alcombright warmly but briefly greeted his constituents.

On the following day Phil Sellers, of River Hill Pottery, and the chair of North Adams Open Studios, organized a reception for the Mayor in the gallery of the Eclipse Mill. Dick and his wife Michelle came early and stayed late. They took time to chat with the many artists and guests who attended.

Phil and his wife Gail were early in their support for Alcombright. He noted that they hosted one of the first of many "meet and greet" sessions  Phil was very warm and welcoming in announcing Dick as a "friend." It is a feeling shared by many who have been involved in the campaign.

Following his defeat Barrett told the media that he felt "betrayed" by the artists and others whom he said "I brought to the city." That point is arguable but it is important to note the arts community as a significant constituency and resource for the city. While Barrett may have, as he claimed, brought us to the city, we were allowed no voice or role in city governance.
Having reached its tenth year, Mass MoCA has had an undeniable impact on the survival and growth of the city. We are on the brink of a new decade and era. We must move forward with revised mandates and fresh ideas. With Mass MoCA  seemingly secure it is time to expand its vision to help grow the entire broad and unique creative community. There need to be many new voices in that dialogue.

In addition to Alcombright the council president, Boucher, and vice president, Blackmer, attended the Eclipse Mill reception and talked freely with the artists.

We spent time with Boucher who expressed great confidence in the new administration and opportunity to have an expanded role through committees and fact finding.

During his remarks, following taking an oath as council president, Boucher seemed to hit all the right notes. He said "We need to Â…market our city and show others that North Adams is an attractive, safe, affordable community to raise a family in and invest in business. We need to display all of our natural resources such as Windsor Lake, the campgrounds, Mt. Greylock, and Natural Bridge." While acknowledging the creative community and its economy he stressed that "We cannot put all of our eggs in one basket. We need to support economic growth in the downtown and support existing businesses."

Starting this week the process begins of turning campaign rhetoric into actual results. There are many good ideas and exciting plans but severely limited resources with which to execute them. A term of just two years is a limited time in which to identify and initiate vital changes. The truth is that Alcombright will have a year in office before launching the next campaign. The Eagle and Transcript do not appear ready to cut him any slack. In this economy the going is sure to be rough. It will be up to Alcombright to steady the course and exert firm leadership. Surely there will be tough and unpopular decisions.

Many of us, however, feel that we have a friend running our city. Boy, that sure feels good, and makes a difference. Let the games begin.