hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues October 2015



Mayoral races top ballot in Mass., N.Y.



The mayors of Pittsfield and North Adams both appear to face uphill climbs for re-election on Nov. 3 after they each posted distant second-place finishes in preliminary elections held last month.

The two races in the Berkshires, along with mayoral races in Hudson and Saratoga Springs, are among the marquee contests on the ballot this fall in local elections in Massachusetts and New York. Also at stake are city and school board positions in Pittsfield and North Adams and a host of races for town, county and judicial positions across New York.

For the Nov. 3 election, polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Massachusetts and from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in New York. To participate, voters must be registered by Friday, Oct. 9, in New York and by Wednesday, Oct. 14, in Massachusetts. In both states, voters needing absentee ballots must request them no later than Monday, Nov. 2 (the deadline is noon that day in Massachusetts).
In Pittsfield, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s bid for a third term faces a strong challenge from City Clerk Linda Tyer, who placed far ahead of him in last month’s preliminary balloting.

Bianchi has said he wants the chance to continue with infrastructure and other projects begun on his watch, including plans for a new Taconic High School with an estimated cost of $120 million. Tyer has faulted the incumbent’s handling of the city’s crime problems and called for adding more police officers to the city force; she also has characterized Bianchi as divisive and said she would offer a more inclusive city administration.

In the Sept. 22 preliminary election, Tyer received 2,790 votes, or 55 percent, to Bianchi’s 1,960 votes, or 39 percent. Two other candidates, Craig Gaetani and Donna Walto, received 176 and 133 votes respectively and were eliminated from the running. As with other municipal elections in Massachusetts, the race is nonpartisan, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.

Campaign finance reports show that as of Sept. 4, Tyer had outspent Bianchi by a margin of more than 2-to-1 on the mayoral contest. But Bianchi’s campaign had more cash on hand going into the final two months of the race, with $13,000 to Tyer’s $8,000.

Of course, candidates who place first in Massachusetts preliminary elections don’t always prevail in the general election, as Bianchi should know from experience. In his first bid for mayor in 2009, Bianchi bested longtime Mayor James M. Ruberto in the preliminary vote, but Ruberto prevailed in the final round, winning his final term by a 217-vote margin. Bianchi came back to win the seat in 2011 after Ruberto opted to retire. Bianchi was unopposed for re-election two years ago.

This year’s campaign features some echoes of the Bianchi-Ruberto contest of 2009, as Tyer is being supported by Ruberto and by Peter M. Marchetti, a longtime city councilor who narrowly lost to Bianchi in 2011 after a campaign in which supporters cast him as Ruberto’s natural heir. In announcing her candidacy in March, Tyer described herself as “a progressive candidate who can continue the momentum started under the Ruberto administration.”

Although the position of Pittsfield mayor has until now carried a two-year term, the winner of this year’s race will serve for four years under a city charter revision that voters approved in 2013.
In North Adams, Mayor Richard Alcombright is seeking a fourth two-year term but faces a strong challenge from John Barrett III, who served as mayor for 26 years before losing to Alcombright in 2009 in a stunning upset.

In the Sept. 22 preliminary election, Barrett received 1,240 votes, or 51 percent, to Alcombright’s 974 votes, or 40 percent. A third candidate, Eric Rudd, drew 204 votes and was eliminated from the running. Barrett was the top vote-getter in all five of the city’s election wards.
Alcombright, a former banker who defeated Barrett six years ago after promising a more inclusive, less combative style, still claims the mantle of open government. He cites quality-of-life improvements during his tenure such as the development of a new North Adams-based tourist-train operation and the expansion of a bicycle and pedestrian trail network linking the city with Adams and Williamstown.

But Barrett, who had been the longest-serving mayor in Massachusetts at the time of his 2009 defeat, contends the city isn’t moving quickly enough on basic economic development issues and is in danger of becoming a “one-industry town” focused on the arts. He has called for new efforts to combat blight, including reinstatement of a code enforcement position, and for new steps to encourage people to live in the city’s core. He also has criticized Alcombright’s handling of the abrupt closing of North Adams Regional Hospital last year.

Barrett also faults the incumbent for rising city taxes and cuts in city services, though Alcombright contends this is largely the result of sharp cuts in state aid in recent years.

Campaign-finance reports as of early September showed Alcombright with more than $9,000 on hand going into the final two months of the race, compared with only about $1,000 raised by Barrett.

In Hudson, Mayor William H. Hallenbeck Jr. is seeking a third two-year term but faces a challenge from Tiffany Martin Hamilton, who has served on the city school board since 2012.
Hallenbeck, a Republican, has cast himself as an advocate for local business owners and takes credit for limiting tax increases and for a drop in crime during his tenure. He is a former city police officer.

Hamilton, a Democrat, has faulted the mayor for a lack of progress on such issues as attracting a supermarket to the city. (The nearest full-service supermarkets now are well outside the city limits in Greenport.) In announcing her candidacy in January, she called for a city government that is more open and “more reflective of the values and makeup of its population.”

Hudson is strongly Democratic, but Hallenbeck has enjoyed the support of a conservative Democratic faction that includes the city’s former longtime mayor, Richard Scalera.
In Saratoga Springs, Democratic Mayor Joanne Yepsen is seeking a second term but faces a challenge from Republican John Safford. The race is one of four contested races for the five seats on the City Council, where Democrats currently hold a 4-1 majority.

Controversies over development, especially in the city’s outer greenbelt area, have become the dominant issue in the campaign so far. (See accompanying story, Page 4.) Although the mayor is co-equal to the four other commissioners who serve on the City Council, the mayor holds the power to appoint members of the city planning and zoning boards and so has outsized influence on development issues.

In other council races, Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen, a Democrat, is seeking a third term but is being challenged by Richard C. Wirth, the Republican he unseated in 2011. Mathiesen prevailed over Wirth by 60 votes in 2013 rematch. Last month, Mathiesen fended off a primary challenge from Sarah Burger, winning 65 percent of the vote.

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, a Democrat, is seeking a third term but faces a challenge from Republican Kenneth Ivins, whom she unseated in 2011. She was unopposed in 2013.

And Public Works Commissioner Anthony Scirocco, a Republican, is seeking a fifth term. He faces a challenge from William McTygue, a Democrat who served for many years as public works director when his brother, Thomas McTygue, was commissioner. William McTygue challenged Scirocco in 2013 but lost by fewer than 500 votes out of more than 8,000 cast.