La Mascara Bandida Strikes, 10×10 Excites, GOBvsLOD Re-ignites, Peter Moore Unites (w musings on Economic Development and Losing Our Urban Fabric)

A string of armed robberies caused grave concern among Elm Street residents and workers, after a masked woman in black with a small handgun knocked over first Getty, than Angelina’s Sub Shop and Palmer’s Variety

Mayor Bianchi released a statement Thursday, saying the robberies were cause for concern and called for citizen vigilance and increased neighborhood coordination efforts.

Finally, changing tact, La Mascara Bandida struck a fourth time, at the LiptonMart on West Housatonic Street.  Police have released video footage from the store:

3 young men were arrested in fires set on Dalton Ave, after crashing both of the stolen cars they were using within a short time of the arson, in the kind of absurd, Darwin Award -style weirdness that seems to typify Pittsfield Crime. (See also Top 5 Absurd Pittsfield Crimes of the previous 2 years.)

10×10 in Review 

The “descendium” of new artistic offerings known as 10×10 came to a close today. See reactions from Megan Whilden, Mayor Bianchi, and others on its merits, successes and potential areas for future improvement in: 10×10 Fest A Mix of Success

Around City Hall

Following up on a concept he proposed frequently during his two mayoral
campaigns, Mayor Bianchi is calling for the establishment of a $500,000 development for providing loans and grants to develop small businesses.  The money would come from the millions allocated to the city by General Electric, of which there is currently about six million remaining.

The proposal will be examined at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

-Some interesting discussion between City Councilors with regards to the heated disagreement over the appointment of Jeffrey Ferrin to the Ambulance Review Committee was shared on the PlanetValenti blog this week.

The challenge to the Mayor’s appointment to this volunteer came as a
surprise to some, and is politically significant because it seems to
highlight, for the first time since November’s close election, the
perceived split between Pittsfield’s two municipal “parties,” known by
their respective detractors as the GOB (Good Old Boys) and the LOD (Legion of Doom).The four councilors who specifically opposed Ferrin’s appointment, Paul Capitanio, Barry Clairmont, Jonathan Lothrop, and Christine Yon, were supporters and contributors to Peter Marchetti’s mayoral campaign, while Ferrin and the two councilors who voiced a strong negative reaction to his opposition, Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin Morandi, are seen as politically aligned with Mayor Bianchi and enjoyed mutually supportive campaigns.

Peter Moore Benefit
Sunday saw a fundraiser for Peter Moore, whose plight has drawn more
attention than perhaps any non-fatal vehicular injury in Pittsfield since
1902. Peter Moore was allegedly struck by Meredith Nilan in a Subaru SUV
on the night of December 8, though it was not initially reported that a
person was struck in the collision. Moore’s fate, and Sunday’s benefit
efforts, have received heightened attention due to the fact that Nilan’s
father, Clifford Nilan, is a Chief Probation Officer in the Pittsfield
court systems. Questions have arisen in recent weeks over whether Meridith, 24, may have received preferential treatment during an initial hearing.

Westfield Assistant Clerk Magistrate Nathan A. Byrnes had originally found
that there no probable cause to charge Nilan in the collision, but this
decision was reversed by Springfield District Court Judge William Hadley on February 10, following a redetermination request from the Pittsfield Police Department.

Hadley noted that “although much of what is alleged here is circumstancial
in nature,” he found the testimony presented sufficient to allow the
criminal complaint for negligent operation and leaving the scene of a
personal injury accident to be heard. Nilan is expected to be arraigned on
these charges February 29.

Preliminary estimates of more than 150 attendees at the matinee fundraising show, organized by Andy Poncherello, with help from Dan Valenti and various Pittsfield volunteers.

Losing What Urban Fabric We Have

A story in the Pittsfield Gazette from a couple of weeks ago, just recently
posted online, is very much worth taking a look at, as it reveals the plan
to demolish the historic Plunkett Building at the corner of First and Fenn
Street to accommodate the relocation of the First Street Dunkin Donuts.

Former city councilor turned valuable civilian community advocate Mike Ward, was kind enough to share his insightful take on this development with me, in which he presents a scathing view of what this symbolizes in the direction development in the community seems to be going:

“It’s the biggest waste of space I can imagine. We’re gradually losing our
urban fabric — it’s like a perverse suburbanization of our downtown. All
the old buildings that have fires are razed and not replaced. We lose the
density that makes it a walkable and contiguous downtown, and every change is more automobile-centric than what existed before.”

Finally, Monday saw a bit of President’s Day fun, as we collected (with a little help from the public) a comprehensive history of local Presidential visits. Some were funny, some quite dramatic.  Worth a look.

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The Berkshire Eagle’s Mystifying Defensive Stance on Waterstone Development

I’m usually not one to blog on a lot about my occasional criticisms of our predominant local paper, The Berkshire Eagle. Not so much out of any deference or specific loyalty to it or its parent MediaNews Group, from whom I’ve gotten numerous checks for work in a couple of their publications- and wouldn’t necessarily shoot down the idea of doing so again in the future; but honestly, because that’s already pretty well covered in other local blogs- the daily raison d’etre in certain cases.  It’d just be redundant for me to plod along in those well worn tracks.

Nonetheless, I was a bit blown away when I saw the brief, terse editorial Sunday chastising Pittsfield’s City Council for its admittedly lengthy quizzing of Pitts. Economic Development Authority about its past and present activities as they relate to the current hot-button issue of a potential retail development at the PEDA-administered former G.E. industrial property known as William Stanley Business Park.

The first somewhat surprising thing is that, unless I’m missing something in a search of their site, Sunday’s four sentence blast of the council constitutes the paper’s sole reportage on the otherwise intensely scrutinized two and a half hour Q&A they had with PEDA director Cory Thurston last Tuesday. Everyone else in the attending press corp covered it – first PCTV obviously, then lengthy articles in iBerkshires and Pittsfield Gazette; YNN’s Brandon Walker presented a visually instructive recap on the issue last week for the benefit of our NY neighbors to the west. Even The Planet, who I was disappointed yet again not to meet in the flesh last week, weighed in for a paragraph of coverage more informative than anything one can gather from the Eagle’s dismissive Sunday editorial, which reads as follows:

PEDA ISSUE IS PHILOSOPHICAL
“The Pittsfield City Council asked a lot of PEDA head Cory Thurston Tuesday night. Mr. Thurston stood before the microphone for about two hours, which is no way to treat a guest, and the questions alternated among the incisive, redundant and irrelevant — the latter when they applied to the years before Mr. Thurston took over. (Good-natured Council President Kevin Sherman needs to ride herd on his flock, as well as on open mike pontificators who are bringing back the long-winded pre-Gerald Lee days). Verbiage aside, the PEDA question comes down to whether the William Stanley Business Park should be open to a major retail outlet, a shift from the park’s original mission, or whether PEDA should pursue a manufacturing opportunity that may not emerge any time soon. Or ever.” -Berkshire Eagle 2/19/12

I am flabbergasted by the scolding tone of this editorial and some of the flawed assumptions that seem to be built into it. Regardless of whether you’re for or against the retail project and its placement, it is hard to comprehend how anyone could take the position that the council’s questions about the events which ultimately led to what all parties involved acknowledge is a “shift” in direction on one of the city’s core development assets were somehow “irrelevant”. And while there may have been some repetition, it is worth noting that many of these questions inevitably came from many concerned consituents- the number and passion of which the Eagle has barely breezed upon over the past two months.

The City Council was unanimous and quite clear at its January 10 meeting, about its intention to ask for a lot of information from the quasi-public economic development authority. A lot of questions were to be expected. As the primary governing body of this city, there were not only within their rights but in my view obligated by responsibility to spend some serious time in illuminating for the public what has become an issue of extreme importance and divisive views for residents, on par with some of the biggest city issues in recent memory. The level of interest in this subject can not only be measured in the length of last Tuesday’s council meeting, but in the sheer volume of locals I saw actually Facebooking and Tweeting about the meeting as they watched from home.

That the councilors would have so many questions about the Waterstone deal and the seemingly abrupt redirection of the PEDA site’s planning efforts is pretty understandable, given the fact that most if not all were made aware of it about the same time as the general public, when they got the same press release we got back in December.

To be perfectly honest, I’m still very surprised that our former mayor, who sat on PEDA’s board throughout all the earliest negotiations of the deal, at no point saw fit to mention, even in passing, to our elected council that such a thing was in the works.

Councilor John Krol and former Councilor Mike Ward, who has been the point man activist against this proposed development, have already expressed disappointment, via Facebook. Ward commented, “Research assignment for the Berkshire Eagle. Why does the state offer tax incentives for R&D but not for big box retail? This is not a philosophical issue, it’s actually pretty black and white.”

BUT, WHY???

Cory Thurston, to his great credit, several times reiterated that he was plenty willing to answer the Council’s questions, and looking to be as transparent as possible, even if- for reasons not entirely his fault- he didn’t always have a satisfactory answer.  If PEDA is fine with being grilled on this, WHY is the Eagle editorial board so upset about it, with its huffy “that’s no way to treat a guest” tone?

Since the Eagle first put forth its initial pro-retail-at-PEDA editorial at the first sign of resistance in the community, it has become increasingly hard to understand the extent of bias in coverage on this issue, given the course and dimension the discussion has taken in the community, and according significance given it in every other media outlet, the hours of discussion that have taken place on every major local radio show, etc etc ETC. Only when the clamor reached unignorable levels did the publication once pay slight lip service to the position opposed to its own.

With the reasoning behind this rigid defensive position so unclear, one almost has to speculate and question motivation. Is this recent finger wag at the city council about consistency? Saving face? Loyalty to a previous administration? Certainly it couldn’t possibly be that chain retail operations, especially newly opened ones, are a plentiful teat of advertising dollars for the primary local paper in any locality.

Because I know things like that never, ever influence news and editorial viewpoints.  Nope, not in this sainted business.

Weekly Pittsfieldian: News Roundup, Feb. 6-12

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Election 2012

The campaign for U.S. Rep. for the newly redrawn 1st Mass. District heated up this week, with Andrea Nuciforo finally formally throwing his hat in the race in a kickoff bus tour of five western Mass cities culminating in Pittsfield.

Current 2nd district Rep. Richard Neal responded with another campai- er, I mean “listening” visit to Pittsfield Friday.  I correct myself, here, because Mr. Neal keeps reiterating that his visits to towns and cities that are not currently  part of his constituency are not campaign visits.  These visits, he says, are just opportunities for him to get to know the areas he would come to represent if elected in 2012… in a casual, but media-covered way that lends itself to photo ops with popular area politicians and opportunities to verbally align himself with John Olver and Silvio Conte.

Well, you weren’t expecting an amateur, were you?  The man has been involved with political campaigns since George McGovern took on Nixon in ’72.

Meanwhile, Bill Shein is no slouch, either, as seen here in his WGBY interview this week.  One or two folks may have tried to paint him as some kind of comic outsider candidate, but it seems clear that neither the media nor the other candidates feel they can afford to take that position.  Quite the contrary, Shein’s an eloquent, poignant progressive with decades of experience around major electoral races, making a serious run to be the Democratic nominee, in a year when more and more Massachusetts liberals (and Americans in general) are moving onto the kind of anti-corporate, anti-lobbyist, anti-PAC page that Shein has already been on for years.

On Saturday, a variety of Democratic Caucuses were held throughout the Berkshires, including 5 of Pittsfield’s 7 wards.  These caucuses are being held to decide the delegates who will nominate candidates for U.S. Senate at Mass.’s  Democratic Party convention in Springfield June 2.  Not very surprisingly, Elizabeth Warren is considered by most to be the preferred frontrunner to go against Senator Scott Brown in the November election.

There seem to still be a lot of mixed opinions on the city’s heavy resistance to additional addiction treatment centers opening in key downtown areas.  Things moved forward this week with a move by city government to preemptively prohibit future attempts to open methadone and/or suboxone clinics in what is called the “arts overlay district,” as well as in off-north the area from around Columbus Ave to Summer Street-where Spectrum Health applied for permitting to open a clinic in 2011, and which contains large elderly housing complexes who voiced strong opposition to such a clinic. 

This move would not effect the current discrimination lawsuit against the city by Spectrum Health, nor would it effect any already existing clinic, such as Experience Wellness, which opened on North Street in October 2010.  While most city officials and a majority of people involved in downtown venues and attractions have tended to favor such a prohibition, not everyone agrees, judging from the barrage of comments on this week’s story.

Art & About

Pittsfield officials made some interesting comments on the local politics of art and culture at the Ferrin Gallery during a Tricks of the Trade discussion with our new statewide cultural czar, the Berkshire’s own Helena Fruscio.  A number of current and perennial issues came up, including the aforementioned addiction clinic controversy, PEDA, parking, and the still-contested vote to fund the Colonial Theatre.

In other cultural news, excitement is building around town for Pittsfield’s first ever major winter arts festival, the 10×10 which will run February 16-26 in what I have dubbed a “Decendium of Decagoguery”… yes, yes, I know.  My only defense is you should see how many latin Dec- rooted words I cut out from my original draft.

Check back at iPittsfield and Pittsfield.com for more updates and blogging from the scene of all this decaphilia starting in the next couple of days.

Crime, a Priority

Mayor Bianchi discussed with the Berkshire Eagle some of what he has done so far to address the issues he talked about during his campaign, chief among them that of crime in Pittsfield.

Meanwhile, three men charged with murder in the March 2010 death of Jahda Martin in the Burger King parking lot across from former Club Groove on Wendell Avenue Extenstion will begin trial on April 30.

An expected ruling in an appeal by the Pittsfield Police with regards to charging 24-year old Meredith Nilan in the hit-and-run of Peter Moore on Winesap Road did not come this week, but word has it will be forthcoming from Springfield’s Judge William Hadley on Monday.

Though it had been suggested to me by Chief Wynn that new information might be available in the somewhat mysterious shooting incident two weeks ago, to date no major details have as yet been revealed. On Wednesday Lt. Michael Grady, who is heading the investigation, told me that it remains “ongoing” and that the identity of the man treated at BMC for a gunshot wound to the chest is still not being made public

News That Wasn’t

In the realm of Non-news and Nontroversy, NO CHANGE was made to board chair of the Pittsfield Economic Development Board, despite a blustery announcement to the contrary by decorated journalist turned rumor-blogger Dan Valenti.  Dan announced in trademark all caps that as of this week’s PEDA meeting, Board Chair Gary Grunin had been replaced by Maurice Callahan, based apparently on a misunderstanding which occurred while trying to “cover” the meeting based on the agenda found online.  As this story and accompanying Facebook post were never changed or retracted, iPittsfield would like to clear up for those who may have been mislead, that no such change has been made;  Callahan ran Wedneday’s meeting simply because Grunin was preparing to leave on vacation.

Gunplay, Rail Trail Woes, and Just a Dash of Superbowl: This Week in Pittsfield

Still no new information in a shooting incident early Tuesday morning in which a man said to be in his 40s was found by police with a gunshot wound to his chest, wandering in the vicinity of Wahconah Street and Mohawk.  Investigators say the man has given conflicting accounts of what happened, but have not released further details, including the name of the man injured.

Despite earlier preference and an arguably more viable proposal by Pittsfield, the city lost out to northern Berkshires in a 4-3 vote Tuesday by the local Metropolitan Planning Organization to recommend federal funds for extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.

A semi-controversial redux benefit for Bartlett Ave fire victims at Chameleons nightclub Tuesday netted $377, about a hundred of it from a last minute raffle deftly organized by volunteer Sara Clement. Proceeds have been put into a fund established at Pittsfield Coop, where donations can still be made at any Coop location.

Pittsfield officials addressed concerns expressed by many residents about the perceived failure to effectively maintain roads in the days following mid January’s ice and snow storm.

The last section of the abandoned former Grossman’s/ Berkshire Street Railroad building was finally demolished Wednesday.  Rubble removal is ongoing.

–BRTA debuted new, hard-to-miss purple busses seen around county this week. http://bit.ly/wMcoom

–An ambulance was rolled onto its side at the intersection of Lakeway Drive and Valentine Road when a car sped across the intersection without stopping. 

I have personally witnessed people driving horribly at this intersection many times before.  People blast across Valentine from Lakeway without stopping at the sign all the time.  Something about it makes people ignore the Stop even though it’s perfectly visible and also a common sense thing, as traffic is usually moving pretty fast on Valentine and can’t really be seen from Lakeway until you get right up to the intersection.

Not cool.  SLOW THE F DOWN, Pittsfield.

–Finally, though I’m not an enthusiast myself, no one can truly ignore the phenomenon of the Superbowl- check out YNN’s Brandon Walker reporting on who has the “home team advantage” here in the New England/New York borderland that is the Berkshires, featuring Mayor Bianchi, Tom Bowler, and others on their picks for Sunday
AND  Jenn Smith’s Berkshire Eagle feature on Superbowl Parties around the area, for those of you who haven’t picked a spot to catch the game from.