Stuff That Happened in Pittsfield This Week (March 18-24)

Pittsfield, along with five other localities, became the first of Massachusetts new “Cultural Districts”, out of more than a hundred communities who’ve already applied. The distinction features new dedicated signage and an according listing on the State’s tourism website. While this does not bring with it any special funding, the designation is a tool that city cultural venues can use to bring in more money through grants and major gifts, as well as being an expected boost to overall tourism.

Mass. Treasurer Steven Grossman w/ Mayor Bianchi @ Taconic HS

Massachusetts State Treasurer Steve Grossman visited Pittsfield Friday, stopping in at Berkshire Bank, Starbase Technologies, and Luma’s Muffin and Mug, as well as taking a tour of facilities at Taconic High. Grossman viewed some of the results of the Small Business Banking Partnership he rolled out last may, and as a member of the state’s School Building Authority told local officials that “Pittsfield has waited long enough” for a new high school facility.

100-150 people, many in hoodies, turned out to Park Square Friday [TV coverage: WYNT or YNN ] to protest the injustice surrounding the death of Florida’s Trayvon Martin. My op-ed yesterday delves into why I think that not only is it important to express solidarity on this occasion, but it is imperative to locallly internalize the truths that are made apparent by Martin’s death and its aftermath.

Berkshire County continues to struggle with service shortfalls and limited services that impact the availability and use of public transit in the county, according the BRPC’s updated Human Services Transportation plan.  The update, which is mandatory every 3 years to maintain federal funding, comes at a time when the state continues to struggle with a massive transportation budget deficit and ongoing controversy over MBTA services in the eastern part of the state.

A heated battle with the Park Commission predicted by one of the area’s more hysterical pundits, over a park permit for the Pittsfield Positive People and Proud Pets event set for Kirvin Park, did not come to fruition Tuesday as the Commission approved the event in a manner similar to that of all acceptable park events which seek permission through the proper channels.  Robbed of all real controversy to harp on, the Berkshire Blusterer and his pals then turned to sour grapes hemming and hawing about various technicals, like the lack of flags present in City Hall’s 203 meeting room, an issue which of course has nothing to do with the Park Commission, one of many boards and committees who utilize the room for meeting space.

In the courts, a hearing was postponed and additional details revealed about the charges against Meredith Nilan in the hit and run injury of Peter Moore; 3 young men are being held on 25K bail at the House of Correction after pleading not guilty to charges after allegedly stealing multiple cars and setting fire to a Dalton Ave business; and Springfield cocaine dealer Terrance Brown was sentenced to 10 to 12 years on charges from the 2010 killing of Jahda Martin

Also this week, a public school employee and her young accomplice were issued a slap on the wrist following findings that the two orchestrated a number of prank calls to her ex-husband, a Pittsfield Police Officer, which included death threats.

Finally, the Berkshire Eagle partially indemnified itself against those who’ve said a sudden expose on Congressional candidate Andrea Nuciforo two weeks ago has caused it to look unbalanced in its coverage of the 1st Mass. District race. A story yesterday, also by investigative reporter Ned Oliver, revealed that Neal employed his son Brendan Conway Neal as an employee in his last two campaigns, to the tune of $28,500. Neal is one of 82 members of Congress who have used campaign funds to pay relatives for various functions, according to a recently released report. While this is in no way illegal, and Neal’s press secretary has defended the action, this could potentially crop up as a talking point in an election conversation that has mostly hinged on money.

Coming soon: Has the third Democrat vying for this seat, Alford’s Bill Shein, FULLY DISCLOSED HOW MANY DUCKS HE IS RAISING?

Pittsfield Must Learn From Trayvon Tragedy

I was unfortunately unable to attend a rally on Park Square Friday to protest the injustice to Trayvon Martin, the Florida youth whose murder has angered millions and reinvigorated national discussions about race, guns and violence.

100-150 people gathered to take part in this important action, part of an increasing wave of gatherings as the cry for justice in Martin’s tragic and unnecessary death reaches a nationwide roar. Organizers and participants spoke eloquently about the significance of these events, local and nationally.

Justice for Trayvon takes over Park Square - YNN News

SEE ALSO: WNYT “Justice for Trayvon Rally draws crowd in Pittsfield”

Former Lee HS Basketball star Jahda Martin

The local outcry over Travyvon Martin happens to coincide with the sentencing of Terrance Brown in the 2010 stabbing death of Jahda Martin, which took place less 50 yeards from where the rally took place. The coincidence reminds us that issues of crime and violence are broad in scope, complicated, and very much a local concern.

The emerging picture of what happened to Trayvon should be a reminder as Pittsfield goes forward with its growing neighborhood watch initiatives, that they must be absolutely vigilant of those whose motivations and agendas are grounded in racial, ethnic, or cultural prejudices. I hear a lot of talk about the “wrong elements” inhabiting Pittsfield, on North Street and elsewhere, and while sometimes this is in reference to legitimate concerns and actual criminal activity, all too often these veer into judgements based on race, on appearance, on clothing, hairstyle, what music someone is listening to or whether they’re carrying a skateboard. These are not issues that only effect other communities- the attitudes and ideologies that lead to such tragedies are alive and well in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Trayvon’s death and the justice system’s failure to properly take action on it are a painful example of the disastrous results that come of creating a civic culture based on superficial judgements and stereotypes rather than factual, behavioral realities.

Police and local residents need to make every possible effort to see that initiatives to address crime in the community retain their perspective, their internal vigilance, their respect for all people, and their humanity.

On the Radar: Happenings in the Coming Week

Monday Senators Benjamin Downing and William Pignatelli will host the Commonwealth’s Ways and Means Committee for a budget meeting in Pittsfield at Berkshire Community College, from 10-2.  Boland Theatre will be awash in various state departmental directors, commissioners and secretaries.

SUPER TUESDAY is predicted to see lackluster attendance at Pittsfield polls, with President Barack Obama the only candidate on the ballot for registered  Democrats, three Green-Rainbow candidates (with Jill Stein of Massachusetts holding the home advantage), and a winnowing crop of motley conservatives, none of which are likely to inspire hope in Berkshire Republicans of being the next Ronald Reagan.  Most expect an easy win for Mr. Romney.

8AM Wednesday will see the monthly meeting of PEDA (Pittsfield Economic Development Authority).  Of particular note, Mayor Bianchi will speak about his attendance of a recent meeting with the Mass. Life Sciences Collaborative, a quasi-public agency whose job is to help communities attract the sort of life science companies PEDA is seeking to recruit for its proposed federally funded center.  At last week’s council meeting, the mayor said he had initially thought it would be easier to develop the proposals and grant writing necessary to pursue such opportunities, but after meeting with the statewide organization feels it will be more involved, citing this as one of the reasons behind his request to add additional members to PEDA’s board.

Later in the day, the Mayor and I will sit down for an interview that will form the first installment of a periodic column, probably called From the Corner Office, or something lame like that, unless I can think of better in the next couple of days…

THURSDAY, I will switch from interviewer to interviewee as I pull up a chair in the studio with Donna Todd Rivers on the ever-popular Berkshire Buzz from 1-2pm on WBRK 1340am. In this first-ever epic hour of radio the none-too-bashful Diva of Downtown will go there with Diplomatic Durwin on a crazy range of local issues, brouhahas and scandals in this no holds barred, no punches pulled, in depth discuss of All Things Pittsfield in which nothing is off the table… except Baseball.  

And that’s prettymuch everything that will happen in Pittsfield this week… I kid, of course.  You’d be nuts not to give a look at Cultural Pittsfield’s trusty weekly listing of arts & entertainment for the week, with music, theatre, films, Reverend Billy, et al, various board and committee meetings open to the public are always listed on the city calendar, and if you have your own event or story you want to get out, be sure to try the new Park Square Soapbox on Pittsfield.com -where you can blog on any local matter for an established and ever-growing crowd of site visitors, with all the usual social media sharing capabilities.

And who knows, we might even see another appearance of La Mascara Bandida

WTH Happened in Pittsfield This Week?

BANDIDA STILL AT LARGE

The hunt continues in earnest for the city’s most recent serial armed robber.  A video released by Pittsfield Police of “La Mascara Bandida” (The Masked (female) Bandit, and by the way, it wouldn’t hurt you to learn a smidge of Spanish, Pittsfield) saw nearly 2000 views in the first 24 hours on youtube, or about 40 times the views vids of Pittsfield’s Mayoral Inauguration got in two months.  PPD says they’ve gotten numerous tips in response, but no arrests as yet.

A systematic stake out of local convenience stores Saturday night verified a  heavy police presence, with cruisers passing by or circling slowly at regular intervals at nearly a dozen surveyed locations.

MAN KILLED BY TRAIN HAD TROUBLED BACKGROUND

On Tuesday night, Pittsfield was shocked by the news that a man was struck by a CSX freight train on the tracks along Depot Street.  In a previous post the similarities between this and previous incidents in the same general area were explored.

Authorities on Wednesday released the name of the victim, John Castonguay of Pittsfield.  Whether his death was an accident or suicide remains undetermined, according to Pittsfield Police.

While no new information or obituary has yet appeared, a cursory check of public records outlines a troubled history dating back to the man’s youth.  Castonguay was a registered sex offender, dating back to a conviction for sexual abuse in 1985.  Local police twice sought him out for failing to register as such, most recently in 2006.  In 2008, Castonguay was arrested along with two other men for breaking into the Clock Tower building on South Church street in order to steal some scrap metal or tools.

THE CITY COUNCIL

….voted on several noteworthy issues Tuesday, including a move to expand the board of PEDA from 7 to 11 members, prohibition of non-essential heavy commercial vehicles on Melbourne Road, and a proposal by Councilor Clairmont that the city generate a list of desired but unfunded projects so that local businesses and philanthropists who may be so inclined to fund them.

BOLD STEP FOR INCLUSION

Also of real noteworthiness, in my opinion, is this story from earlier in the week about First Congregational Church’s bold move to symbolically and pragmatically support the LGBT community and help foster dialogue about inclusion.  This courageous stance by yet another mainstream Protestant church is yet another sign of changing attitudes across the social spheres.

While similar affirmations have been put forth by churches in Lenox, Williamstown, Stockbridge and Housatonic… we’re not any of those towns. In this somewhat more blue-collar, generally angrier, more reactionary little city, such an example by this iconic Park Square place of worship, Pittsfield’s oldest, is significant.

FISHY HIT AND RUN GETS FISHIER

In the ongoing sage of the most talked about local hit-and-run case in maybe ever, Meredith Nilan had not guilty pleas entered for her on her behalf at an arraignment at Central Berkshire Court on Wednesday.  The case will be prosecuted by Springfield DA Joseph Quinlan and heard by Northampton Judge Michael Mulcahy, who set a March 21 pre-trial hearing date.

Curiously, the following day a motion to dismiss was filed by Nilan’s attorney, Timothy Shugrue, on the grounds that the court seems to be missing key paperwork on this case, including copies of the initial January show-cause hearing and subsequent re-hearing under Judge William Hadley.  According to Shugrue, “No one appears to know where they went.”

Accusations have swirled for weeks that Ms. Nilan has received special treatment due to her father, Clifford Nilan, being a highly placed official within the court system – in this context, the revelation that documents are suddenly missing from this case is being viewed by many with extreme suspicion.

In other courthouse news, several individuals were sentenced this week on a variety of robbery, larceny, assault and drug charges.  See Superior Court  Briefs Feb. 27- Mar. 1 for the full lineup.

SUNS WILL REPLACE COLONIALS

Pittsfield’s new baseball team will be called the Suns, we were told this week. The Suns will have the same general manager as the failed Colonials team, but owners at the Goldklang Group assure us that a new business model, including “unconventional” promotional initiatives, will succeed where the previous franchise failed to hold water at Wahconah Park.