"A sword in the heart of city Catholics"
By Dan Valenti
Saturday, February 16, 2008
They knew it was coming, but it still hurt.
No matter how well conveyed, time and distance most always dismiss a far-off threat. As long as it remains reasonably removed, abstraction rules. For example, we might hear Monday's meteorologist trumpet the outlying storm her computer insists will hit with Friday force. We rationalize. "What do they know?" "They're always wrong." Wednesday wings in, and we do not waver. "Not gonna happen."
On Thursday, though, the winds shift and birds eat from the feeder in unusually large numbers. Ms. Meteorologist's computers gleefully plot the distended storm in glowing green on a Doppler screen. On Friday, weather hits. Snow must be shoveled, ice sanded, and slush diverted. We knew it was coming. It still hurts.
More than a year ago, the Diocese of Springfield commissioned the Mullin Report. Even before the findings, we knew. Rumors flew, but not as fast as fact for Catholicism in Berkshire County: declining church attendance, a shortage of priests, a listless laity, and a lousy translation of doctrine as it affects daily life for John and Mary Jane Kapansky — you know, The Little Guy. The saintly old ladies who used to mail in $5 bills have all gone away. Young people rank organized religion one step below fedoras in relevance.
Six city parishes knew it was coming. It still hurt.
Empty pews and aging faces made Bishop Timothy O'Donnell's decision for him. Sixty percent of the 10 Pittsfield parishes would be shuttered in a spiritual mercy killing. A hierarchy that respects life from conception to natural death couldn't endure its own lingering passing.
Through sources and personal conversation, I've heard from or talked to a sizable cross-section of city Catholics since the announcement was made in local churches on Sunday, Feb. 10. Three things surprise me of the faithful: 1. Their lack of protest. 2. Their philosophical resignation to Bishop O'Donnell's decision. 3. Their graciousness in defeat.
Yes, it is defeat. At Mt. Carmel Church, to take one of the six, the closure punctured an entire ethic with the finality of a sword piercing the heart.
My grandparents were among that generation of immigrants who came to this country in the early 20th century and put down roots here. They sacrificed, scrimped, and broke their backs so a holy building could be erected at 359 Fenn St. Gone.
Joseph and Giselle Paoli, my maternal grandparents, were educated short of their intelligence but wise beyond their years. They spoke Italian in the home but insisted their children learn English. That decision freed my mother from a linguistic ghetto and gave her a future. She became "an American." She married my dad, Gino, a man from Lee. On June 6, it will be 64 years since they joined hands in Mt. Carmel Church.
My parents, their parents, and thousands like them maintained their heritage in large part through the tenor of worship. It would take a book to explain, but it's no accident, for instance, that the builders of Mt. Carmel Church used design to make a statement about culture. From altar balustrade to bell tower, the architectural vocabulary "spoke" in a visual dialect from 16th century northern Italy. The design dictum was proven: "the backward look transforms its object."
I look at that church and instantly feel its meaning. I was baptized in Mt. Carmel Church, received my First Communion there from Fr. Camillo Santini, and confirmed there by Bishop Christopher Weldon. My funeral won't be there.
From K-8 I attended Mt. Carmel School, long-since razed, where I got the education of a life from the Venerini Sisters. A hundred friends, a thousand joys, a million memories — what that church represents speaks to me.
Francis Curro and Jean Dassatti. Regina and Thomas Sachetti. Anthony LaGroterria and Susan McCabe. Jerome Packard and Linda Santolin. Francis Doyle and Carol Bruguglio. George Intelisano and Mary Ann Renzi. Johnny DeFillippo and JoAnn Mele. Lena and Josephine Noto. Jo Anne and Nicholene Mele. Catherine Kelly and Georgine Ciullo. Jo Anne Sanginetti and Francis Crea. Maria Lombardi and Donna Salvatore. Classmates, the blue-and-white lines, boys on one side, girls on the other.
Lost names. Unforgotten souls. Wherever they are, in this life or not, a piece of them expires July 1.
I have no tears, no regrets. One should never mourn the truth or regret reality. I move forward in lucid joy, knowing attachments are folly.
Welcome brother death, sister life.
Dan Valenti is an author. He lives in Stockbridge with his wife, Paula.
"Chapters is a test for North Street"
By Dan Valenti, Columnist, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle Online
Tuesday, October 14, 2008, STOCKBRIDGE, (Pittsfield) Massachusetts
Nothing can be more civilizing for a downtown trying to get back on its feet than a viable independent bookstore.
Just as conglomerates have scooped up most independent publishers, giant chain bookstores have become the dominant force in bookselling. In both instances, the prime directive points to the bottom line. Quality, if it does, arrives later.
As an author, I've had books published by giants Viking Penguin and Bantam, and small houses like Rounder and CR Custom Publishing. The little guys take better care of you and your manuscript. As a reader, I love the idea of going into a bookstore and knowing what city I'm in. Throughout my travels, I visit bookstores. The Big Boxes look the same — efficient, well stocked, and anti-personal.
Keep your eye on the new Chapters bookstore at 78 North St. I visited Chapters after it just opened. The pine bookshelves looked tenuous due to Newton's Fifth Law of Moving into New Space: Settling-in is mercurial in direct proportion to the amount of stuff that accompanies a move.
You can plan all you want, but only until you occupy a set of rooms can form meet function. Then, the rooms begin to "talk back." For a store like this, footprints have to track through aisles for a few months before the space "clicks."
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the light in Chapters. Daylight streamed through large windows with North Street frontage. Next to the stacks, a function room beckoned. Plants exhaled oxygen and inhaled carbon dioxide. I envisioned lots of people in comfortable chairs listening to an author holding court. I imagined ideas being bandied about — instinctive, imitative, original, creative, obedient, rebellious, outrageous, provocative, loving, passionate, controversial, divergent, and harmonious.
I talked with one of the partners, Kelly J. Wright, about her plans.
"We both love books," Wright said. "We also think the time is right for a good (independent) bookstore to prosper again on North Street." I took "again" as a nod to the long-departed and missed Either/Or.
Wright's business card read "Bookseller/Vice President." Interestingly, "Bookseller" came first. The placement suggested priorities — books would drive business and not the other way around, a sound strategy for a new "indie."
To succeed, indies must provide a level of service the chains cannot match. In terms of buying power and clout, indies can't compete. The little guys do, however, possess, three significant competitive edges.
First, small equals speed. They can provide personal service that turns on a dime, shifts gears like Dale Earnhardt Jr., and races at the pace the customer dictates. Second, an indie offers more of the human contact so vital in today's technocracy. Third, it can design a welcoming space with atmosphere, tone, and nuance. It doesn't have to rely on a cookie-cutter floor plan sent in from "corporate."
Commercial commitment to the human touch must assume the dimension of a code — an ethical perspective that lends meaning and provides direction. Moral fulfillment and business success look odd when paired, but in a small store, they make great partners.
A "mom and pop" meeting this business ethic becomes more than just a place of transaction. It comes alive. It develops a personality with foibles, quirks, strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics. It feels a little like home. It becomes interesting. It projects "business smarts" not as a commercial but philosophic capacity. Ever the exception to prove the rule, Starbucks parlayed this blueprint into a chain. If it can be done on such a scale, an independent bookstore has no excuse to fail.
Chapters has opened. Now it must deliver the goods; so does the book-buying public.
There's room in the book business for the chains and dotcoms, but there must also be room in a rejuvenating downtown for a store like Chapters. If Chapters is to have a chance, book buyers and authors must help the store fashion its character. What's at stake is not whether a particular store succeeds. The marketplace will decide that. More importantly, the success or failure of Chapters is a test for North Street.
Downtown Pittsfield has other cultural attractions that cater, mostly on weekends, to a certain demographic, but it has nothing as "literary" as a bookstore. Folks of modest means and humble aspiration have intellectual curiosity. They enjoy ideas, sonnets, architecture, spirituality, and other topics as much as rich folks. They have the same desire to know and learn something. They may not have 100 bucks to spend on a meal or theater tickets, but they have 20 bucks for the right book.
Ideas matter. Bookstores incubate ideas. At 78 North St., a couple of young women have staked a related claim. It won't be easy. There are a million mistakes a fledgling small business can make. Unlike the conglomerates, whose deep pockets can hide strategic mistakes, indies can't "write off" misjudgment. They have to get it right the first time, but so do the people of Pittsfield.
Dan Valenti is an author and college professor.
"'Catholic vote' is now extinct"
By Dan Valenti, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, Tuesday, December 02
Now that the campaign dust has settled, the ballots boxes have been put away, and we have a new president-elect, we can declare: There is no such thing as "the Catholic vote." There are Catholics who vote.
"The Catholic vote," as I predicted in October, was rendered extinct. To join the unicorn, Easter bunny, and "compassionate conservatism." In hell, one does not get to choose roommates.
"The Catholic vote" is a fiction — a crucifiction, one might say — created by a fringe group within Catholicism that loves playing church they way my best friend Jeannie and I used to play house as kids. This tiny group of rightist Catholics adopted the operating manual of Christian Fundamentalists, who have run the Republican Party into the ground.
The Fundamentalist model had no chance in Catholicism, with its rich tradition of intellectual diversity. Unlike the Fundamental Christian right, Catholics aren't afraid to think for themselves. Catholics hold that a formed conscience is the ultimate arbiter of one's actions, taking precedence over prelates in pointy hats and rightists who mistake hate for judgment.
President-elect Obama won in an electoral landslide, with many states enjoying record turnouts. Clearly, this was a mandate. This year's total eligible voting population numbered an all-time high of 231,229,580 people. Catholics comprise 25 percent of the electorate, or a little more than 57,800,000 voters.
How did Catholics vote? Democrat Obama won 54 percent of the Catholic turnout, with Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, receiving 45 percent. In sum, Catholics overwhelmingly favored Obama. What does this mean, especially in light of the aggressive voter education effort against Obama by some Church leaders? Does it mean Catholics support abortion rights? No. It means that Catholics define "life" issues inclusively rather than exclusively.
It also illustrates that a civil election is not an ecclesiastic but a state process. Give God his heaven, but, as Jesus advised, render to Caesar the ballot box. In a democracy, votes cannot be cast from within religious vacuums, thank God. A vote weighs on public matters, the societal/cultural life shared with all other Americans. Each member of the electorate has an equal claim on his or her views and choices.
If we don't respect that, we cannot say the United States is a nation of laws. Democracy affords not only equal weight to each person in the electorate. It further requires that after the votes are tallied, we abide by the results. If this was not the case, we would be no better than a banana republic.
Clearly, judging exit polls, the economy was the overriding issue. Voters felt far more comfortable with Obama's stance on an economy tottering on ruin. In terms of "life" issues, the results are equally clear.
Catholics are not single-issue voters. Rather, they consider "life" in the broader context of social justice. Liberation theology includes abortion along with "human dignity" issues such as poverty, oppression, health care, economics, war, the death penalty, and the environment.
Catholics do not decide elections, but they have an impressive record of picking winners. According to slate.com, Catholics have been on the side of the top vote getter (who, under the country's archaic electoral system, doesn't always win) in the past nine presidential races. That being said, Catholics turned the state of Virginia blue. Obama became the first Democrat to win there since 1964, largely on the strength of the huge increase in Catholic households, which in some areas jumped nearly 70 percent in two years.
Catholics also aren't afraid to think for themselves. They vote on the basis of conviction rather than ideological preconceptions. In these nine races, they've backed Republicans five times and Democrats four. This differs from other religious voting blocs. In that same time, Jews supported Democrats 9-for-9 while Protestants have supported Republicans with the same 9-for-9 imperfection.
According to The Catholic Telegraph, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 27 percent of Catholic voters nationwide are liberal, 46 percent are in the middle, and 23 percent are conservative. In other words, more than 75 percent of Catholics vote middle to left.
In addition to the economy, Catholic voters in 2008, led by the past two Popes, have adamantly opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama campaigned on ending the latter war, and Catholics saw him as a peacemaker. These other trends emerged in the 2008 election:
* Catholics identified Democrats as the party of the poor and oppressed. They saw Republicans as the party of the wealthy and powerful.
* They viewed Democrats as an inclusive party, particularly of the marginalized in society, while seeing Republicans as exclusionist.
* Catholics define "life" issues broadly and do not limit it to abortion. Incidentally, more than 90 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control. About the same number think the Church should permit condoms and the pill (The Detroit News, Aug. 20, 2008). They also believe opposition to birth control causes more abortions than not and is therefore morally wrong.
Where does that leave Catholics? It leaves us with the rest of the nation. We need to get past polarization. Partisanship and ideology need not apply. Americans face a choice — united we stand, divided we play politics.
Dan Valenti is an author and college professor. Religion is a frequent topic of his writing.
"Goodbye to days of three-hot dog lunch"
The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, By Dan Valenti
Wednesday, January 28, 2009, STOCKBRIDGE, Massachusetts
Charlie Crew, president and CEO of Sabic Innovative Plastics, late of GE Plastics; Mike Daly, president of Berkshire Bank; and J. William Dunleavy, CEO of Legacy Bank, each recently weighed in to the Eagle's Tony Dobrowolski on President Barack Obama's economic chops.
Each believes The O-Man will make out fine leading America out of its economic funk. Having grown up in Chicago with Billy Preston's other worldly "Outta Space" as his anthem, we can be reasonably sure Obama knows funk.
Each man in the local power trio can be considered a qualified source. I know Crew from having worked with him many times on freelance writing and consulting projects in the 1980s and '90s. I know the two bankers to be top-notch from having done business with their institutions for years.
Commandment #5: Be kind to the people who hold your cabbage when they do an excellent job. Both Berkshire and Legacy banks have demonstrated solidity.
While others made home loans at inflated values to the destitute, Berkshire and Legacy Banks never lost sight of who they are, why they exist, and where they do business. They are "local" banks doing business with neighbors in the best sense of the word. That's a reflection of their respective leaders.
I wrote speeches for Charlie Crew back when GE Plastics was ruled by the Glengarry Glen Ross School of Business philosophy. This was the "greed-is-good" 1980s. Sharks were in, team players were out, and productivity referred to how much a sales hotshot could spend and score during a night out on the town in a foreign port. Marketing drove the business of engineering plastics, at least plastics GE-style, where Jack Welch reigned.
At the Society of Engineers Auto Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit in the mid-'80s, I once asked Welch the secret for beating the competition. I had just read him a recent press quote, where he said the "essence of competitiveness is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important and then get out of their way while they do it."
When I asked him to give me "the Teo's Hot Dog version," Welch's PR flak nearly choked on a shrimp finger. Teo's on East Street is where Welch often held court during lunch when he ran GE Plastics. You've heard of the three-martini lunch? Welch loved the three-hot dog lunch.
Welch chuckled at my remark, zeroed in with his BB eyes, and said in that high-pitched Boston accent, "You don't 'beat' the competition. You 'crush' the
* * * * * * so badly he never wants to **** with you again."
That was the GE "essence." The company had no place for finishing second, a torch-and-burn philosophy that ultimately left Pittsfield unemployed and polluted. Power Transformers committed the Unpardonable Sin of not being number one in its field, and it was imploded. Blue-collar Pittsfield, epitomized by Power Transformer, had for generations put the city on its back and carried it to prosperity. The sober, stay-at-home lunch pail citizens of the city were a much different species than the GE Plastics mercenaries.
Each saw the other as from a distant planet. The GE Plastics up-and-comer, a Ricky Roma type, filed his teeth into points and had the GE meatball tattooed on his chest. Joe Lunchpail brushed with generic toothpaste and remained faithful to his wife. Roma worked 17 hours a day and played 16. He didn't sleep. He invented the 33-hour day and made a bestseller of a lightweight called "The One Minute Manager." Joe put in an honest eight hours, played with his kids, and read from Lawrence Welk's memoirs in "Reader's Digest."
The GE sharks kept score with everything: drinks, women, job titles, you name it. They were the type that bragged about everything to hide a lack of confidence. You remember the type from college. They joined frats. Joe Lunchpail went to church, humbly lived his life, and joined a bowling league.
Charley Crew didn't fit the "shark" mold whatsoever. For that reason he has long been a favorite at this address. He rose to prominence based on his professional acumen and personal integrity. He was quietly sanguine, convinced, self-assured, and possessed the sharpest business mind. When Charley speaks about business, I listen. Thus, his endorsement of Obama means something.
Today, engineering plastics is a commodity business driven by bean counters. There are no up-and-comers, not in an economy shedding jobs faster than one of Sarah Palin's huskies sheds his coat in summer. There are placeholders.
They keep their nose to the grindstone and try to fly under the radar. They are chained to their Blackberries and take work with them everywhere. They don't take vacations. They are scared.
I still know many people at Sabic. My sources are privy to what goes on at HQ on Plastics Avenue. Rumors are swirling that the company's Saudi owners will pull out of Pittsfield by the end of this year. Smart money has it relocating in Selkirk, N.Y., where it has a manufacturing facility. Sources point to a little-known aspect of the Sabic-GE Plastics deal. Sabic didn't purchase the campus on Plastics Avenue, which is apparently heavily polluted with PCBs. Sabic is a tenant, renting the property. The rental arrangement would make a pull-out relatively painless.
That doesn't bode well for the city, and it will make President Obama's job of economic recovery, to say nothing of the next mayor, all that more difficult.
The days of the three-hot dog lunch are over.
Dan Valenti is the author of numerous books and articles. His latest book is "Baseball Comes Home"(www.baseballcomeshome.com) He can be contacted at Danvalenti@verizon.net
"Ruberto Presents Valenti With City Honors"
iBerkshires.com- February 17, 2009
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor James M. Ruberto presented writer Dan Valenti with the recognition and honor of the city of Pittsfield Saturday at the start of a talk and book signing at Chapters Bookstore on North Street.
Valenti was there in connection with the release of his new book, “Baseball Comes Home.” Ruberto read the proclamation before a crowd gathered in Chapters’ reading room, noting that Valenti, “a long-time resident of our area, has become renowned far beyond the confines of this community” through his writing and broadcasting.
Valenti is a nationally known baseball writer whose work has been honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which presented him with its President’s Award for lifetime contributions to baseball history and literature.
Valenti writer grew up in Pittsfield, attended Pittsfield schools, and has a B.A. from Union College and a master’s degree in journalism from the Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University.
He has been a member of the English Department at Berkshire Community College since 1992. Since that time, he has also been a frequent commentator on local, state, and national politics. He has written for the Berkshire Eagle and Pittsfield Gazette, and for 14 years, hosted “The Dan Valenti Show” daily for WBRK.
He has written 13 books and edited three. He has published many newspaper and magazine articles, as well as fiction and poetry. Valenti lives in Stockbridge with his wife, Paula.
"Garivaltis worked for good of city"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Friday, April 3, 2009
A tip of the cap to Pittsfield Parks Commissioner Charles Garivaltis, who finishes a five-year stint as commissioner at the end of April.
Charlie's strength as a man made him a superb public official. I speak of his integrity, tenacity, courage, and high moral purpose, which — in his public life — he exercised solely for the good of the city.
Charlie would get my vote as "Best Athlete" to come out of Pittsfield. I can still see the photo of him making a one-on-one tackle for Colgate on the great Syracuse (later Cleveland Browns) running back Jim Brown. Baseball, though, was Charlie's plum, and he tops "Best Hitter" category in Berkshire County history, though Tommy Grieve would give him a run.
Sports, however, are incidental. Charlie was and is a good guy first, what the Bible calls in its highest compliment "a just man." He brings this quality of goodness to all other aspects of his life.
That defines "greatness" in life. Godspeed to a great man.
"In pursuit of a legacy"
By Dan Valenti, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, Thursday, May 7, 2009
Mayor Jim Ruberto is trying to do something that hasn't been done in Pittsfield in one score and two: win a fourth term. Charlie Smith stands as the last man to doff the hat-trick-plus-one.
When you're elected and become a one-hit wonder — hello, Sara Hathaway — you disappear into the night like smoke drifting up from a lit Winston. Hathaway deserved a better fate. She initiated or furthered several projects that blossomed under Ruberto, for example, Barrington Stage's move to Pittsfield, National Historic Register status for Wahconah Park, and the revamp of the Colonial Theatre. She was, though, built to govern not to win.
Only with a second term does a mayor define him or herself.
Gerry Doyle served two terms, four years dogged by hints of corruption, complacence, cronyism, and disingenuousness (the health care fiasco, budget voodoo, et al). No one could work a room better than Doyle, but glad-handing can only take you so far, even in a town where the politics are as inbred as Pittsfield's. Charisma lifted Doyle. Hubris brought him down.
After three terms, the question of legacy emerges. The fourth term (eight years, or what term limits proscribe for the president of the United States) defines the legacy: a bequeathal to the actualized future built upon policies of the past.
Folks perceive Smith's legacy as a sin of omission for allegedly squashing the downtown mall, approved by voters twice. Granted, those votes were non-binding, but at what point do officials begin to take the electorate at its word? The fiasco branded Smith the way a groundball painted the otherwise stellar baseball career of Bill Buckner.
Ruberto wants to run for another term largely because of the economic downturn that has jeopardized the Pittsfield economy. Before that, though, he had to face the crucible of his wife's health.
In a discussion with this writer in early April, Ruberto said he had made up his mind on another term. He spoke candidly about the emotions involved in the decision. Without his wife's consent, he said he wouldn't — couldn't — pursue the corner office for another go. Ellen Ruberto, though, wanted it.
It was interesting and poignant to see Ellen at Jim's side when he took out papers at the city clerk's office May 1. Ellen had the strength of character to appear without a head covering. She lost her hair due to cancer treatments, and her cheerful presence at a key moment in her husband's life spoke volumes about her inner strength, a smiling acceptance and bright persistence that bade hurt ease.
The nihilists (this cynic won't call them "cynics") jumped on Ruberto for "trotting his wife out there for a photo op" and accused him of using her sickness for political gain. Knowing nothing else, I might entertain that idea for a half second before dismissing it as speculation. I know a great deal more than nothing, however, about Jim Ruberto.
He would never pull such a trick. To make that ignorant suggestion — especially anonymously or, in the case of an online chat room, hiding behind the skirts of a pseudonym — shows the cowardice and disingenuousness of such cheap shots.
As to Ruberto's legacy, we have a clue. It won't be downtown revival, because that hasn't happened. It may yet but that has yet to occur. There are still too many empty storefronts, empty sidewalks, and too much of an untenanted air of desolation on North Street.
The emptiness isn't Ruberto's fault. The "critical mass" of foot traffic and life needed to sustain vibrancy hasn't happened to the "renaissance." Like it or not, though, at least Ruberto forced action. At least he did something.
The clue to Ruberto's legacy came in his comments to the Eagle's Tony Dobrowolski in an interview after taking out nomination papers.
"We thought long and hard about this fourth term," Ruberto said.
"What we know is that the next two years will be — from a financial and fiscal point of view — the most difficult we have been facing. . . The issue is understanding and managing through this fiscal crisis."
Later, he said the gloomy financial picture had "a great deal to do with my decision to run." In other words, Mayor Jim Ruberto's legacy, should he win, will hang on how he leads the city during a dicey economic minefield. That rests on the success or failure of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to transform the acres next to Silver Lake into the sylvan corporate park shown in artist's sketches.
When it's in your blood, politics becomes a consuming commitment. A legacy cranks the intensity and pressure up a notch. It took courage for Ellen Ruberto to support her husband's effort. It took pluck — even valor — for Jimmy to re-up.
She's got faith. He's got guts. That's worth a vote.
Dan Valenti is an author and college professor. His current book is a best seller (www.baseballcomeshome.com He is currently working on a book dealing with philosophy and spirituality.
"Dan Valenti" wrote:
"The sidebar to this story is the irony of the 24/7, interactive newscycle made possible by the internet. It's more than ironic that such a great communication tool - which the Founding Fathers couldn't have envisioned but would have loved - is being used to degrade the exchange of ideas so crucial to a democratic republic, even a nominal one such as we have. The ignorant and bigoted have finally found their haven and solace: in online chat rooms. Cowards, such as those who launched ad hominem attacks on Ellen and Jim Ruberto and thereby marginalized what was a wernching decision (to say nothing of the callous account of her illness), love to remain anonymous for obvious reasons."
"Jonathan Melle" wrote (edited):
"Dan Valenti does not see reality when he writes about Pittsfield and the Good Old Boys who run the city...further and further into the ground.
Jimmy Ruberto represents a narrow constituency of Pittsfield residents.
"Luciforo swears in Ruberto".
I remember when Luciforo voted for Carmen's 21% pay raise in 2005.
Another CAREER Pittsfield POL!
Luciforo did a dismal job with Berkshire County's economy -- the #1 place for job loss in Massachusetts!
I am NOT sorry, Dan Valenti, because I do my homework and use my name when I speak or write."
- Jonathan Melle
"Dress presentably and stay on campus"
The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, Wednesday, June 17, 2009, By Dan Valenti
When Mayor Jim Ruberto vented his frustration at the "appalling" fashions of Pittsfield High School students, he spoke volumes. So did school committeeman Carmen Massimiano in calling for a closed campus.
Sure enough, apologists reacted with fine whine. PHS teachers Lisa Ostellino and Jeff Lacatell knocked the heartbreak of the mayor's verbal psoriasis, while PHS student Becky Sibner lent her name to a letter to the editor signed by 87 students saying "we feel" Ruberto and Massimiano were "being unfair."
To Ostellino and Lacatell: Has it occurred to you that your lax attitude is a causal factor in the decline of public schools?
To Sibner: You and your fellow teens are incapable of sound judgment about fashion. Besides, the real world doesn't care how you "feel." Life isn't fair that way.
You don't like "being told what to wear"? What do you think will happen when you leave school for a job? From burger flipper to CEO, you will be "told what to wear." If you don't think the school department has the right to tell you how to dress, you're free to drop out and enroll in a private school. However, as long as you accept the nearly $9000 a year taxpayers spend so you can attend PHS, you have no say in the discussion.
Citizens have long known the school department has an "anything goes" policy that has turned the average school day into Halloween. They're fed up with it.
As for campus closure, Massimiano said he's tired of "the same old excuses" why it can't be done, such as "the cafeteria is not big enough to take care of the lunch needs. When I was a student at PHS, there were 1,500 students in the building, and no one went anywhere. They had three lunch periods, and with just about 1,000 students, we ought to be able to work out some plan that keeps the children in the building."
Massimiano has asked school Supt. Jake Eberwein for a report on both issues.
A conservative, well-policed dress code improves school image, morale, class behavior, and achievement. Like keeping kids on campus, it costs next to nothing.
"Many people have stopped me and said they were happy to hear us talking about the problem of inappropriate dress," Ruberto noted. "The schools have allowed kids to go to extremes in the way they dress. It's time to solve this problem."
Ruberto offered a three-part solution. First, "we must look at the current dress code. Does it have teeth?" Second, he said, if the dress code isn't tough enough, it should be rewritten. Third, the city must insist on "on-site management with school principals to ensure that the dress code is adhered to."
The issue, the mayor said, "isn't to punish kids. The issue is to say, ‘We have to understand what our dress standards are, and once we do, me must expect that everyone adheres to those standards."
As to the open campus, Ruberto agreed with Massimiano. He said he didn't see any benefit in allowing students to wander off campus.
This writer requested comments on both issues from each member of the School Committee. Besides Ruberto and Massimiano, Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso and Dan Elias responded. Apparently, Churchill Cotton, Erin Sullivan, and Angel Ramirez got a case of jelly knees. Stop me if you heard this one before.
Incidentally, the School Committee Web site still lists Cotton's e-mail address at KB Toys, which is, like Buffalo Bill, defunct. Also, a copy of the current dress code is not available online. Why not?
Amuso said she didn't think Pittsfield needed a more demanding dress code. While she "would like to see some of our students dress differently," she mentioned the "rules, regulations, and cases that we have to abide by" without providing one example. Regarding closed campus, she called for the issue to be examined.
Elias said a "majority of citizens are not pleased" or are "downright upset" at the way school kids are dressing. Like Amuso, though, he said the legality of the issue "makes it tricky." He called closed campus "a tough one. It is hard to take away something from someone once they have it."
In the comments of Amuso and Elias, one senses caution spilling into apprehension bleeding into fear. They know what's right but worry about lawsuits.
The simple answer is to welcome court challenges and win there. For too many years, school administrators and teachers have been muzzled by the vague threat of legal action. It's time to call that hollow bluff.
Simply put, Johnny and Janie need to dress presentably and stay on campus once the first bell rings. Period. Let them pout and do the crybaby thing. It doesn't matter. Adults need to start acting like adults to kids instead of their "best friends." Children are resilient, their "self-esteem" won't be harmed, and they'll thank us in the end.
Dan Valenti is an author and college professor. He is keynote speaker at noon, July 4, at the Independence Day gala at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
"Respect Pittsfield's diligent teachers"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, June 20, 2009
The recent debate about dress and lunch policies at PHS took an ugly turn with the publication of Dan Valenti's op-ed column on June 17. Mr. Valenti was out of line to lash out with such vitriol and unwarranted sarcasm at the teachers and students who had the temerity to express opinions that differ from his. Ms. Sibner doesn't deserve condescension for speaking out about a situation that she knows better than Mr. Valenti. Mr. Lacatell and Ms Ostellino, and by extension their colleagues on the faculty and staff of PHS, absolutely do not deserve to be treated with such disrespect on the op-ed page of their local newspaper. The only remedy for hateful speech is to speak in opposition, and I'm sure I won't be the only one to do so.
Ironically, I read Mr. Valenti's column after coming home from the PHS undergraduate awards night, where dozens of students were recognized by their teachers, local colleges and civic organizations for excellence and achievement in fields from physics to music to small engine repair. Anyone who really cared to know the state of education at Pittsfield High School would have been well served to be there. Some of the smartest and most remarkable kids in Pittsfield wear jeans and T-shirts, but it would still make you proud to hear some of the things they've accomplished.
Times have been tough for public education for years. When we enrolled our children in Pittsfield's public schools, we were aware of its down-at-the-heels resources and many challenges.
But, at every level, we've always found the teachers' abilities and efforts to be outstanding. They do a lot with very little. Contrary to Mr. Valenti's advice, they empathize with their students and focus on teaching, not trivia. They succeed because of their abilities, and because they really want to make a difference.
The public schools in a city like Pittsfield will always have plenty of problems, real and imagined. Let's not lose sight of the true mission of our schools, and how so much of it is being fulfilled every day under difficult circumstances. I don't believe that the average Pittsfielder is really outraged about what the high school kids are wearing, or where they eat their lunch, but they should be outraged by Mr. Valenti's bullying attacks. Let's stop the teacher-bashing right now. Pittsfield's teachers deserve our respect and support.
LAURENCE J. BIRD
"Parents send us the best they have"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, June 20, 2009
I read with interest and amusement Dan Valenti's piece on PHS students ("Dress presentably and stay on campus," op-ed, June 17.) All of us on the faculty are going to have quite a time correcting and tightening the "lax" Mr. Lacatell and Ms. Ostellino. While I don't have their stature, I felt the need to respond.
I have taught in schools with dress codes; in fact, I once sent a boy home for wearing the wrong socks. I found that insisting on a standard of dress increased the level of learning and decreased the classroom management. On the other hand, it might also be because the parents of those students paid $40,000 a year for the privilege of my instruction. Writing big checks has a positive effect on parental involvement.
Because we are a public school, we cannot ask our parents to write attention-getting checks. In fact, as a public school, we need to listen to the governor and the legislature on these issues. The suits are far more interested in test scores, truancy, and dropout rates than they are in hemlines and bra straps. Many of the students that we would send home for fashion faux pas would stay there on the sofa and not return.
One in four students drop out of high school anyway. Some drop out in order to take care of younger brothers and sisters, or their own children. Some drop out to get the high score on Gears of War. But all of them drop out with the parent's knowledge and signature. In short, we have to convince many of our parents that it is worthwhile to send their kids to school in the morning. We fail with 25 percent of those adults.
At PHS, we have far bigger fish to fry than drooping waists and dropped décolletage. If we could get many of the parents to even look at the report cards, we would be moving in the right direction. Getting those parents to look at what Junior wears out of the house in the morning would be a nice step after we make sure that he actually gets out of the house.
As legendary football coach Vito Cappizzo is fond of saying "their parents send us the best they have." Those ragamuffins are the best we have. The ones that stay in school, like Becky Sibner, go off to some of the finest colleges in the country, perform in musical and operating theaters, and become wing-tipped CEOs. Pittsfield produces those children; both the future burger flipper and the surgeons in waiting both ramble up to Burger King for lunch.
So, I agree that a dress code would probably help the school. A closed campus would also prevent our young people from blighting the tender eyes of you, the mayor, and the School Committee. But you should probably take a good look at the future mayors, school committee men, and professors on the sidewalk. If you have a problem with them, take it up with the adults involved. Especially the ones who sleep under the same roof.
The writer is a teacher at Pittsfield High School.
Editor's note: According to a museum spokesperson, Dan Valenti will be speaking at the Norman Rockwell Museum's Independence Day Gala but not as keynote speaker, as written in the tagline to his June 17 column. Valenti's views do not reflect those of the Rockwell Museum.
"Better for having known her"
The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, By Dan Valenti, 7/26/2009
I learned of Ellen Ruberto’s death from Paula King, Jim’s secretary at City Hall, on the morning of July 22, 2009. Paula had called on behalf of the mayor, who wanted me to know before they released the information to the public.
A wave of sadness swept over me. Jim had just lost his life’s companion. His gesture to think of me at such a time touched me deeply, and it shows what kind of man he is.
The words of a Quaker spiritual came to mind:
Death, like an overflowing stream, sweeps us away.
Our life’s a dream, an empty tale, a morning flower.
Cut down and withered in an hour.
That is the grievous aspect of death. We are born. We live. We die. We ask, "Is that it? What does it all mean"? We feel the empty wake, like watching the ocean at a spot where a golden armada is sunk at sea.
I first saw Ellen Ruberto, then Ellen Reynolds, in 1963. That year, my brother Pete asked her to the prom at St. Joseph’s High School. She accepted, much to his delight, and the evidence showed up shortly after in a color snapshot taken to commemorate the occasion.
I had known Jim Ruberto through my brothers. He’s Pete age and about three years older than my brother Mike. That left me as the tag along, too young to hang out with "the big guys." Nonetheless, Ruberto was a neighborhood presence and an infielder on the Mount Carmel Elms, a championship squad that had Pete in left field and Mike at third. I was the mascot when I wasn’t playing for the Elms’ minor league squad, the Acorns.
I share this by way of establishing more than a passing interest in two people whose lives had intersected mine so many years ago, the way a watercolor wash tints a neighboring hue on a piece of drawing paper. A part of everyone you meet in life seeps into your own, which explains the wisdom of choosing your friends carefully.
Way led on to way, the decades passed, and life presented its choices. Imagine my surprise and delight when Jim Ruberto and his wife Ellen moved back to Pittsfield from Texas. It rekindled a relationship, this time on more equal terms, and allowed me glimpses into the woman he had taken as his bride that a 1963 color snapshot did not afford.
What more than love do we need to impel us to satisfy our callings, "the work our souls must have"? When Jim introduced me to Ellen in early 2001, I told her I was Pete’s brother. She smiled. The icebreaker opened her up.
Over the years, when Ellen thought I had ridden her man into the boards too roughly, she let me know. When I offered praise for his action, she did the same. Her tone each time never varied from a soft, sparkling directness. She stood up for Jim, either way.
When she became ill, she battled her disease with a fierce, life-affirming courage, never more illustrated than the luminous day this spring when Jim took out papers for re-election. He had agonized over the choice to re-up because of Ellen’s health. Yet she selflessly gave her blessing to another campaign by accompanying him to City Hall without a wig or a hat to cover her hairless head. It’s an image of courage that will not go away.
Fortunately, there’s a second verse to the Quaker spiritual:
Teach us, O Lord, how frail is man
And kindly lengthen out our span
Till all wise care and piety
Bid us to die and dwell with Thee.
Life is a table with changing guests, each of a different character and each with a common destiny.
Godspeed, Ellen. God bless, Jim.
Dan Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Setting the stage at Woodstock"
By Dan Valenti, The Berkshire Eagle, Friday, August 14, 2009
By the time the Quarry got to Woodstock, there weren't half a million strong.
The throngs would come later in the week. When the Pittsfield-based band got there, Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, N.Y. had maybe a hundred people. The Quarry had been hired to play as the festival's house band.
To this day, the Quarry remains the best band to come out of Berkshire County and the one that came closest to the Big Time. The band is also protagonist in what is likely the Last Great Untold Story to come out of the mythic, interminably covered rock fest, the 40th anniversary of which is being celebrated this week.
The Quarry's first audiences at Woodstock were crewmembers hired to erect the stage and handle a myriad of matters that attend an event of such scope. There was also a film crew whose footage later became the definitive cinematic rock documentary.
By the time the week was over, the Quarry had played more music before more people than any performers who appeared at the legendary gig. The band appears in the movie for maybe a minute, though most of their concerts were filmed. The Quarry's black-pearl, Ludwig drum kit, amps, equipment, and Mick Valenti, the band leader and my brother, appeared in the iconic photo that graced the Woodstock II album, where naked, blond-haired cherubs play with the drums. Valenti's face and white visor can be seen on stage behind the drums, in the upper right hand corner.
At Woodstock, the Quarry hooked up with the Grateful Dead, the first main-stage band to arrive. The Quarry played a three shows a day for seven days. Manager Barry Hollister, an entrepreneur still living in the Berkshires, loves to tell the story of how the Dead's Jerry Garcia told him the Quarry was the best he ever heard.
The Quarry garnered favorable press coverage, notably in the underground paper East Village Other. John Hilgerdt wrote in the Aug. 20 edition:
"The performance area of Movement City (left of the main stage) is usually crowded with people, maybe 70,000 at a time. The high point for me was an unbelievable performance by The Quarry, an outasite group of very heavy musicians. Mick Valenti is so far out ("far in," as he said last night), a fine musician."
The promoters of the Texas International Pop Festival scouted the band at Woodstock and hired them. Two weeks later, the Quarry played the Texas fest on Labor Day weekend before a quarter million people, this time as main stagers along with Led Zeppelin, Santana, B.B. King, Ten Years After, and others.
From there, they headed west for San Francisco, where they shared rehearsal space with their Woodstock pals the Grateful Dead plus New Riders of the Purple Sage. The three bands were regulars at the Cow Palace, the Family Dog, and the Avalon Ballroom.
After that, the Quarry headed back to NYC for residencies at the Zodiac Club and Electric Circus, then a Dec. 19 show at Bill Graham's Fillmore East. The band then flew to Caracas, Venezuela, for an extended stay beginning in January 1970 to launch the opening of a new concert club called the Cerebrum. They became the first rock act in the world to play that country, where they were treated like stars.
Though groupies were plentiful and the money was good, a record contract remained just out of reach. The Quarry did plenty of studio work. Unfortunately, a warehouse fire destroyed most of the band's archives, including hours of tape, film, and photos (extant material might still be out there locally. Anyone who would have Quarry material should contact this writer at the address below).
Ironically, Woodstock planted the seeds for the band's breakup. After seeing The Who, Ten Years After, and (in Texas) Led Zeppelin up close, Mick Valenti wanted a more driving sound for his band. Rhythm guitarist Dave Carron and bassist Dan Velika got into the laid-back, trippy sound of the Dead.
Valenti, singer-songwriter who founded the band and "fronted" the Quarry from his place behind the drums, broke from the group, took up the guitar, and formed the power trio Quick Fox. Valenti's new band soon became a staple on the club and college circuit in the Northeast, appearing for years as headliners and as openers for major acts.
Carron and Velika hooked up with Arlo Guthrie as his backing band, Shenandoah, to be joined by a protégé of Valenti's, Dave Grover. Mike Furey, Quarry lead guitarist, worked as a fill-in guitarist in various Pittsfield bands.
Today, only Valenti is still playing music. Furey is retired. Carron died in 1985. Velika passed away earlier this year. The former band mates stayed friendly in the years after Quarry's disbandment. Today, Valenti is back in the Berkshires, recording, after stints based with his band in Santa Fe, N.M., Daytona Beach, Fla., and Indianapolis, Ind. In the 1980s, he played the part of John Lennon in the Beatles' tribute band Starting Over and starred as Elvis Presley in the touring show, "The Legend of Elvis."
Valenti has recorded extensively on various independent labels and still performs with various back-up personnel as Quick Fox. He says he plans to be doing solo work soon, locally, before eventually touring again with Quick Fox.
Valenti has not been back to Yasgur's farm since 1969. He says he may travel there to "imagine what was and will never be again. Woodstock truly was about peace and love, not commerciality. After Woodstock, in the ‘70s, rock took on a darker side."
Valenti says he has this vision of driving back there and "giving a free concert to the land and the wildlife."
We are stardust. We are golden. At Woodstock, a generation honestly believed it could get back the Garden. A Pittsfield band provided much of the soundtrack.
Dan Valenti can be reached at email@example.com.
"Valenti plans mayoral event"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Editor & Publisher, 25.AUGUST.2009
Seeking to fill a void in the mayoral campaign, radio personality/columnist Dan Valenti has announced plans for a television event.
Billed as a "debate," the event will be filmed Friday afternoon at the studios of Pittsfield Community Television.
Valenti said that on Monday night he began inviting the ten candidates for mayor (sending emails to six of the candidates and arranging to call or write to the others). He wants them to attend a taping (open to the media but not the public) at 2:30 p.m.
Valenti will serve as host and questioner for the event. He is producing the event without affiliation with any organization or media outlet (he currently writes columns for The Berkshire Eagle and The Pittsfield Gazette).
The only "official" event for all mayoral candidates scheduled prior to the preliminary election is a forum on September 14 sponsored by the Gazette, PCTV and Berkshire Commmunity College. The date for that event was announced in June; all candidates received written notification about the forum after sufficient candidates qualified for the ballot, triggering the preliminary election.
"Rock-'em-Sock-'em mayoral battle"
By Dan Valenti, The Berkshire Eagle (Online), Op-Ed, October 29, 2009
As we saw in the "discussion" this writer produced on the live PCTV broadcast on October 22, 2009, mayoral finalists Dan Bianchi and Jimmy Ruberto bear little love for each other. Our televised "discussion" did what no other forum has done. It revealed the men hiding behind the personas created by their respective organizations.
Bianchi broke out of the buttoned down, even-keel, accountant-like mask to produce fire. He went from measured to adrenalized, the first time he has shown this side of his character. His "pepper" will prove a defining moment in terms of how the electorate views him.
Ruberto broke out of the well-heeled identity his organization has wanted him to portray. The strategy aims to sell the incumbent to the bluebloods, that is, Pittsfield's aristocracy. It's not a role Ruberto convincingly plays, and his campaign has blundered for not seeing Jimmy for who he is and playing to his strengths. These strengths include an animated style, lots of emotion, and a buoyancy opponents label as "bullying." Ruberto's advisers, however, haven't grasped that Jimmy doesn't have to preach to the choir. He's already got them singing his praises.
The TV event produced an avalanche of reaction from many "players," typical of which is this excerpt from an e-mail received from a former citywide elected official still heavily involved in local politics:
"I didn't know that it was being broadcast live so when [NAME REDACTED] called me at 3:45 p.m. yelling into the phone, ‘OMG, this is too much ... Are you watching this?', I was envious to have to be sitting instead at my desk. I immediately called [NAME REDACTED], though, and he was watching it and thought it was great. He thought their sitting facing one another and actually having to talk to each other was brilliant. He felt as I do now that it allowed us a view that we simply don't get from the standard fare. Great job!"
The event generated buzz. Not incidentally, the rebroadcast can be seen in its entirety on the following dates and times: Today (Thursday) at 10 a.m., 5 p.m., and 11 p.m.; and Oct. 30 at 8:30 p.m.
The mayoral campaign has evolved into the Rock-'em-Sock-'em Robots heavyweight battle we expected. You have two intelligent men each with a different style. Each knows how to campaign and both possess strong, well-financed organizations. Ruberto hasn't been tested this strenuously since he defeated Sara Hathaway in 2003. Instead of facing a token "bum of the month," he's facing a man who can actually fight back.
Three ominous signs linger on the Ruberto horizon: "incumbent flu," the numbers, and "the Six-Year Itch."
* Incumbent flu has been noted at all levels of government, pretty much nationwide. Ordinary people feel betrayed by politics. Fairly or not, they judge politicians to be in it for themselves, blinded by self-interest and greed and swayed by the moneymen or power brokers that control them.
* The numbers from the preliminary election show Bianchi took 10 of 14 wards. He dominated Ward 1 precincts A and B and took 2A and 2B by more than double digits (percentage). In Ward 3, along with Ward 4 a key because they register the heaviest turnout, the candidates split: Ruberto took 3A but only by 11 votes, with Bianchi winning 3B. Bianchi edged Ruberto in all of Ward 3 567 to 467. As expected, Ruberto was strongest in Ward 4, handily winning both precincts. A hopeful note for Ruberto is that Ward 4 typically produces the highest turnout in the city. The two candidates drew a split decision in Ward 5, with Bianchi cleaning up in Wards 6 and 7.
In the prelim, Ruberto won 2,998 votes of 7,952 cast, good for 37.7 percent. Bianchi won 3,540, or 44.5 percent. The other eight candidates drew 1,414, with Pam Malumphy winning 55 percent. It would seem reasonable that most of these "other" voters, should they participate Nov. 3, will vote for Bianchi since they had the chance to vote for the incumbent the first time and didn't.
Thus, the race boils down to turnout. Bianchi's winning plan is to hold onto his base, pick up most of the "others" from the prelim, and hope for a large turnout. The blueprint for a Ruberto victory is to drive large turnouts in Wards 3, 4, and 5, hope for low turnout elsewhere, and fund an unrelenting 11th-hour media blitz.
The consensus among numerous "experts" on local politics indicates that the magic numbers are 33 percent and 45 percent. Ruberto wins if the turnout is one third of the electorate or lower. Bianchi wins if it rises to 45 percent or higher. In this scenario, the 34- to 44-percent range is no man's land, with the mayor strongest on the lower end of that scale and Bianchi positioned better on the higher end.
* The Six-Year Itch stems from the fact that after his or her sixth year in office, an incumbent usually loses steam in the eyes of the public. Voters tend to retire candidates after six years because that seems to be enough time in which to form a fair assessment of an incumbent personally and an incumbent's accomplishments.
Who will win? Speaking in riddles, the bird on the bough senses a new wind blowing.
Dan Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"It's Christmas, baby!"
By Dan Valenti, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, December 7, 2009
For the past 28 years, the village of Amelia, Ohio, has hosted a Christmas parade. It won't this year. One person threatened village mayor Leroy Ellington with legal action. Rather than duke it out, Ellington caved. He offered to host a " Holiday Parade." Village residents told Ellington where to stick the "Holiday Parade."
Each year, it comes to this, a facile attempt to take the name "Christmas" from the Christmas season. How did we get to the point of political correctness where saying "Merry Christmas" risks a lawsuit or being kicked out of school?
Christmas Day, Dec. 25, honors the birth of Jesus. Here's the essential point: Christmas Day is a legal holiday in the United States, made so by an act of Congress.
Actually, the entire month of December is legally called " the Christmas Season." No other month wears the designation. December has no other legal holidays, according to Resources for Attorneys, a practices directory for lawyers. Hanukah is not a legal holiday. Kwanza is not a legal holiday. New Year's Eve doesn't qualify, since it is not a day but an evening. Consequently, it is not only insulting and ignorant but also illegal for anyone - including civil authorities - to prevent December from being called Christmas. The counterfeit "holiday season" should not be accepted as a substitute.
Not calling Christmas "Christmas" reveals profound bigotry against Christians of the same class as the worst racial or ethic slur. No rational person with a shred decency or goodness would use such terms. Bigots, though, don't care about reason or respect decency. Thus we have "holiday" run amuck: holiday ornaments, holiday bows, holiday lights, holiday wreaths, holiday Santas, and holiday trees.
No big deal, you say? Let's pose it this way: How about renaming a menorah a "holiday candelabra"? Try that and there would be a recitation of Ginsberg's "Howl" in the local Jewish community, a yawp the fawning media would take up. Call a Christmas tree a "holiday" tree, and not a peep.
The seven- stick candleholder has deep religious significance to Jews. Take its name away and you strip its significance. It would be a sign of religious contempt. Words have such power.
There's a large menorah in the Berkshire Mall but no Nativity Scene. What's the difference except Jesus in a crib has far better the claim to be here in December? Mall management has bought into the creeping bigotry. With due respect to my Jewish friends, a menorah as nothing to do with Christmas. It should not - neither should Wicca, kwanza, nor any other belief system - be stuffed into a one-size-fits-all cap bearing the embroidered logo "Holidays." No crèche, no menorah. It's Christmas, baby!
In public places, I have seen a kinara ( candleholder), a mkela (mat), and a zawadi (gifts) to celebrate kwanza. Beautiful. Do I call them the "holiday candleholder," "holiday mat," or "holiday gifts"? No, since I respect the traditions of kwanza, which celebrate values I endorse: community, culture, family, and self-determination.
The following public places in Pittsfield ban Christmas symbols: the post office, schools, City Hall, North Street, and Park Square. In public schools, students and teachers are forbidden to say "Merry Christmas." They can't sing Christmas carols. A student wearing red and green, if the clothes are judged to be a Christmas message, can be sent home. Boys dressing like gang members and girls like hookers, meanwhile, are fine.
Schools, politicians, and businesspeople have been intimidated by anti-Christmas bigotry. Not this writer, who will put to rest this illegal infringement of rights.
Attention K-Mart shoppers. Stop the buying frenzy a moment for this Christmas blue-light special: In Pittsfield, for part of one day, anti-Christmas bigotry will stop. On Dec. 24 at noon, I will be in Park Square. I will set up a Nativity Scene. I will have a sign reading, "Merry Christmas." I'm bringing a Nerf football and will conduct the first annual Nativity Bowl. If I have to play alone, I will. It's not George Bailey jumping off a bridge, but it's a start.
Other faiths bring your symbols. Those with no faith, come also with your symbols. This is a civic, not spiritual, affair: one man asserting his right to free expression on and of a legal holiday.
For many years, the city sponsored a Park Square crèche. No one suffered permanent brain damage, lost their belief in an Old Man in the Sky, converted to faith from having none, or as much as got their hair mussed. The damage has come recently, when a tiny handful of extremist cranks have co- opted the vast majority who love reason and value goodness.
One atheist cannot subdue tens of thousands of believers and nonbelievers. As for that, atheists have their way everyday in Park Square, since it is free of religious symbols 24/7/365.
This is not about religion. This is about freedom of expression in America.
Give me liberty or give me shibboleth.
Give me Halliday. Roy can head my pitching rotation every fifth day. Give me Holliday. I would like Matt's bat thundering in my lineup. You can keep "Holidays."
There's only one season in December, and it's Christmas.
Dan Valenti can be reached at email@example.com.
"Holiday humor is not amusing"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, December 8, 2009
Dan Valenti's editorial (" It's Christmas, baby!", Dec. 7) might have been written tongue-in-cheek, but I do not find this kind of humor amusing at all. Whether or not Dec. 25 is an official public holiday, with the name "Christmas," last I checked, we still have a separation of "church and state" in this country, for good reason.
When I was a child, and my public school had a Christmas tree and a Christmas Carol, in which songs were sung about Jesus, believe me when I tell you that I felt isolated, alienated, and unwelcome. When they introduced a Hanukkah song or two, that only made me feel like everyone else thought they were doing me a favor. I didn't want a single Hanukkah song, or Christmas song, for that matter, because I wanted my public school to be a safe place where nobody felt excluded. And, I did not think tax dollars should be spent on anything that promoted a particular religion.
It's not an "ethic slur" (sic), as Mr. Valenti put it, nor is it an "ethnic slur," when tax-funded, public institutions avoid associating the national day off with the "Christ Mass.". And, unless he had a time machine, I think Mr. Valenti may have had some difficulty counting the branches on the menorah. The seven-candle menorah was used in Biblical Israel, at the Temple in Jerusalem, on a daily basis, as a reminder that God is always present. However, the menorah we light on Hanukkah has one candle for each of the eight days, plus one more to light the others (nine in total).
Now, if the Berkshire Mall desires to have a menorah on its premises, and no nativity scene, that is the choice of a private institution. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have any religious symbols represented there, but I don't own the mall. My tax dollars do, however, support public institutions, such as schools, post offices, and government buildings, and I commend them for maintaining a separation of church and state.
I find it highly ironic that Mr. Valenti describes his position as "freedom of expression" when it was Thomas Jefferson himself, who described the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as "a wall of separation" between church and state.
RABBI ARI ROSENBERG
The author is the rabbi of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire.
December 9, 2009
Re: The Golden Rule: RESPECT!
Jesus Christ was a Jewish Rabbi who believed He is the only Son of God who martyred Himself on the Cross to forgive the sins of man.
Muhammad was a Christian man who believed that Jesus was the second to last prophet but not the Son of God. Muhammad believed he was the last prophet of God.
The Jewish People believe that the Jewish Messiah has yet to visit humanity, but will arrive sometime in the future.
Jewish, Christian and Muslim Peoples have been at wars with each other for thousands of years. The Jewish People have been persecuted by the Christian and Muslim Peoples for neither believing in the Christian Messiah nor the Islamic prophet.
I wonder if Jesus Christ, Muhammad, and the future Jewish Messiah were all put in a room together if they would choose war like all of the so-called religious followers of these respective faiths?
Rabbi Jesus, prophet Muhammad, and the future Jewish Messiah may find common ground in "the Golden Rule" of treating others as one wishes to be treated: with RESPECT!
- Jonathan Melle
"Persecution may affect thinking"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, December 11, 2009
I am sorry that Dan Valenti has gotten into such a state about the manner in which our society is treating Christmas ("It's Christmas, Baby!" Dec. 7). I wonder if feelings of persecution have affected his thinking. Among his many misstatements, typos and inaccuracies, my two favorites were: "It is illegal for anyone to prevent December from being called Christmas", and his reference to an "ethic slur."
I must correct him about the menorah. Mr. Valenti suggests that it would cause outrage in the Jewish community if people were to suddenly start calling a menorah "a holiday candelabra." I can't speak for all Jews, but it shouldn't be a problem. Menorah in Hebrew means " Clamp." The menorahs that have nine candles, not seven, as Mr. Valenti claims, are called chanukiot. If Mr. Valenti called one of those "a holiday candelabra" some Jews might respond cheerfully to him: " Chag sameach!" (Happy holiday!).
"A year later, Gaza reels"
By Dan Valenti, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, 1/9/2010, STOCKBRIDGE, Massachusetts
All property claims are fraudulent, as Marxists and Christians know.
"We are a nation of laws," we love to say while remaining oblivious to the implications. If so, right and wrong remain arbitrary legal concepts, even when based on moral dictates such as the Ten Commandments (you never heard of lawyers?).
Let’s get real, as in real estate: If you own a piece of land, you can trace the title back until the paper trail ends, as it always does. Without exception, all personal and national territorial claims began at a fixed point in the past when someone without right claimed, "This land is my land." It wasn’t Woody Guthrie. It was the bloke who had the biggest club to defend his claim by cracking skulls.
Such claims to property are special form of greed known as the territorial imperative. The Indians sold Manhattan for $24 worth of beads and laughed at the gullible white men. Buy the land? Why, that would be like buying the sky above your head. The white man not only bought the air but also waged war to keep it and take more.
No nation has moral claim to ownership, which brings us to the never-ending conflict between Israel and Palestine. One year ago, Israel ended a major military action on the Gaza Strip. How soon the world forgot the three-week offensive launched on Dec. 27, 2008, cynically named "Operation Cast Lead."
The U.S.-funded Israeli military pounded densely populated and largely defenseless
Gaza with a relentless land and ground assault, killing more than 1,400 Palestinians (including 895 unarmed civilians, 220 of whom were children) and wounding more than 6,000, many seriously. The attacks destroyed 2,400 buildings leaving 100,000 homeless. Some 352 factories and 29 schools or universities were demolished.
Many were victims of incendiary white phosphorus, which the Israelis fired in random shell bursts over populated areas. White phosphorus is prohibited in war under international law because of its torturous nature. When it lands on buildings, it burrows into cracks and can’t be extinguished. When it hits human skin, it burns through to the bone.
Israel’s casualty totals indicate the disproportionate nature of its action -- 10 soldiers and three civilians killed in defensive rocket attacks by armed Palestinian groups.
The holocaust was inaccurately reported and summarily dismissed. In the subsequent year, however, Amnesty International, with help from human rights groups in Israeli and Palestine, has investigated. Amnesty presented information to a U.N. fact-finding mission led by distinguished South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The Goldstone Report found Israel guilty of war crimes.
"Those responsible cannot be allowed to evade accountability for the crimes that were committed," said AI’s Malcolm Smart, speaking of the findings. "If the Israelis and Palestinians cannot -- or will not -- deliver justice, the international community must ensure that the perpetrators are held to account."
That will likely not happen, of course, because of the U.S.government continues to write Israel blank checks.
What does this tragedy mean on a personal level?
"Last year passed on us like a ghost of death," says Hanna Mickael, 36, a Palestinian father who lives in Tai el Hawa, Gaza, with his wife, Diana, and their four children. Lydia Khoury, communications director of Caritas Jerusalem, a Catholic human rights organization based in the holy city, made the family available for interview.
"[The assault] came to us at the same time as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ," Mickael said. "They were very tough times filled with fear, terror, killing, and destruction. Even our Christmas tree felt the sadness that year, as there [was] no electricity to light it."
Mickael said the attack destroyed his home and the pick-up truck that was his source of income. According to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, Mickael’s Tai el Hawa neighborhood was one of the most severely damaged in Gaza.
"[At Christmas last year] my children were crying instead of laughing," said Diana Mickael, Hanna’s wife. "We experienced hunger and poverty, like Christ did. We prayed so much that our lives would be spared, and all I could think of was staying alive [to protect] my family."
This past year, Hanna Mickael managed to partially repair his family’s home, but there are still gaping holes and other damage from Israeli fire. In 2009, Mickael said the family enjoyed a quiet Christmas with lights, happiness, and joy, but he fears another attack: "I do not think we can handle another attack like that. I am happy to see my children now laughing and celebrating Christmas, but I can never forget those days."
Meanwhile, Gaza’s borders remained sealed. The Israeli-led blockade, begun in June 2006, has cut off Gaza from the outside world and created a desperate shortage of food, fuel, potable water, medicine, and other necessities. This has led to a robust black market, which, according to the New York Times, employs 15,000 people to smuggle in $1 million worth of essential goods into Gaza each day. The blockade makes recovery in Gaza unrealistic and peace virtually impossible.
The Israel military has controlled Gaza for 38 years, land that it illegally seized by force. Such action has justified the creation of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.
Hamas formed out of the Mujama movement, a political party that had no military aims and that Israel encouraged. Hamas itself is not military in nature. It is a political and humanitarian group with a limited and strictly defensive military capability.
The Hamas constitution attributes the group’s creation in God’s name as a response to "the midst of troubles the sea of suffering, [and] the palpitation of faithful hearts." Hamas fights because it is being fought.
One year later, Gaza still reels.
Dan Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 15, 2010
Re: Open letter to Dan Valenti
Thank you for your feedback. I always enjoy reading your columns on politics, especially Pittsfield politics, too. However, I did not like your views on Israel versus Palestine (Gaza atrocity of early-2009) because both sides are extremist and have been from the dawn of modern time. I understand that Israel is strong and Palestine is weak, and that is wrong for the strong to pick on the weak. Despite one party being dominant and the other side being resistant victims of the other side's dominance, there is no excuse for violence via political and religious extremism. Jesus Christ did not use violence to further his cause! Neither did Martin Luther King, Jr. Violence should be used, of course, but only as a last resort, NOT an a means to an end, no matter who is powerful and who is powerless. In my life, I have unfortunately been a victim violence many times, but I never used violence to fight violence. Not once. Some have called me a "coward". So be it. I can do without labels. But I never gave into violence and never went down to my respective enemies' level. I know that it is wrong to fight violence with violence. However, if someone was planning to or in the process of hurting someone, then I would use violence as a last resort to stop that person and/or defend myself, if possible. That is where I disagree with you, Dan.
As for my trial by jury, it ended on January 28th, 2010. I was found "NOT guilty" of Felony Reckless Conduct, but I was found "guilty" of Misdemeanor Reckless Conduct. I was also found "guilty" of Misdemeanor Disobeying a Police Officer. However, I was found "NOT guilty" of both Misdemeanor Resisting Arrest & Misdemeanor Disorderly Conduct. I really won in court because I was exonerated from the felony indictment. My sentencing is scheduled for May 7, 2010, in NH Superior Court. Between then and now, I get to participate via my Defense Attorney in the pre-sentencing investigation. I will let you know what happens.
"GIC works for city, and for unions, too"
By Dan Valenti, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, February 13, 2010
Insurance is a crapshoot with loaded dice. The house always has the edge.
Car insurance, for example, is a wager the state forces you to make that you will get into a car accident. The odds are long that you won't, and the insurance company collects on your "bad" luck. Health insurance is another forced gamble. A health insurance policy pays if you get sick. If you remain healthy, the insurer takes your money for doing nothing. You're betting against your own health.
Insurance tables can accurately predict how many auto or health claims it will have. It can't predict which individuals in the pool will have the fender bender or the gall bladder operation, and it doesn't care. It knows the vast majority of insured will not have an incident yet will pay the premiums to avoid being dropped. The Mob operates similarly except Uncle Cheech doesn't send "premiums." He sends Vito.
For singles, families, companies, and cities, health insurance has become a budget breaker. All the hot air from windbag politicians about "fixing health care" has done nothing to solve the problem of runaway costs.
Consequently, last year Pittsfield entered into the insurance pool run by the state. The action came as a response to out-of-control insurance costs. The move was proactive and necessary.
The Legislature established the Group Insurance Commission in 1955. The GIC provides benefits to 135,000 state employees, their families, and retirees. It also offers its plan to municipalities, a move signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick on July 25, 2007. The GIC covers public employees in 26 cities and towns. Pittsfield joined in October 2008.
Sixteen months later, Pittsfield's unions are squawking. The GIC has announced a rare, mid-year increase in fees, citing a $35 million shortage in its current $1.4 billion budget. The teachers' union, the city's biggest, is complaining the loudest. Teachers allege that the city and Mayor James Ruberto have committed "fraud," a word used on a sign carried by one teacher-protester. At least the word was spelled right.
The unions accuse the city of pulling a fast one. Actually, the city has lived up to its word. Employees will have higher co-pays and deductibles but premiums will go down. According to Mayor Ruberto, the city will save $2.5 million this fiscal year through its membership in the GIC.
"That $2.5 million was reinvested in the city. It's the reason why we were able to maintain staffing," Ruberto said. "Had it not been for the employees agreeing to join the GIC, Pittsfield would have suffered layoffs in a number of departments." Ruberto said taxpayers benefited from the savings because "services were not interrupted in any area. City employees should be grateful for this. They benefited by keeping their jobs."
Fair point. The unions agreed to the move. The city could not by law make a unilateral decision and force GIC participation upon its employees. Ruberto and his team presented its case and won consensus from the unions, who are now petulantly grousing mid-contract about a deal they signed in good faith. They could have said no.
The GIC lists 15 commissioners on its Web site. These include a member of Local 5000, SEIU, NAGE; a member of Council 93, AFSCME, AFL-CIO; a member of the Massachusetts Association; and a retiree. The point is that unions not only had equal participation in negotiations with the city, it has strong representation on the GIC itself.
The unions complain that their co-pays are up. Welcome to the real world. Ask employees in the Dreaded Private Sector if they've been hammered with higher co-pays -- for years. These are the working stiffs who don't have a 90-10 or 85-15 split with employers that the unions do, if they're lucky to have jobs and if they're fortunate enough that those jobs include benefits.
Membership in the GIC has enabled Pittsfield to negotiate from a much stronger position than it could alone. That put an extra $2.5 million into city coffers. Ruberto said that's "a real number."
Public employees should count their blessings. They have secure positions, with their employer -- We the People -- picking up 85 to 90 percent of the tab. They should welcome the economies of scale afforded by belonging to the GIC. Not only are overall costs down but beneficiaries also have greater coverage options than before.
The GIC isn't the perfect answer to the health care scandal that has the little guy by the throat, but it's been a positive development. This move has provided taxpayer relief amounting to millions of dollars, maintained services, saved jobs, and led to better health coverage.
The health care industry -- insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and big medicine -- is running a fixed game that screws the little guy. The GIC at least provides coverage that, compared to what city employees had, improves quality, drives efficiency, and costs less.
That's the story union leaders don't want taxpayers to hear. If their membership could weigh in via a secret ballot with no fear of reprisal, rank and file would support the favor their leaders did for them in October 2008.
Dan Valenti can be reached at email@example.com.
"DerWunderbarrett is on the job"
By Dan Valenti, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, February 22, 2010
Walking into John Barrett's cubbyhole office at City Hall during a snowstorm is like walking in on Norman Rockwell while he's painting. The guy's in his element. Barrett works from the tiny City Council " bullpen" next to the mayor's office. The man who can fill entire chambers with his presence sits behind his desk like an oversized Buddha perched on a narrow shelf. The gravitas seems too much for the support. Somehow, though, it holds together.
On this day (Feb. 16), Barrett was gliding his index finger across the screen of his BlackBerry, monitoring information on his desktop computer, and giving hives to DPW personnel who needed that "little extra push."
For example, a citizen complained that the Herberg Middle School parking lot had been plowed to the skin during a week of no school while side streets around the school hadn't been touched. Barrett got on the blower to DPW commissioner Bruce Collingwood to get on the horn to the manager Tom Foody to meet him at the location. There, der Wunderbarrett read the riot act. Snow melted and ice withered. The roads were plowed.
There have been two major criticisms of Mayor Jimmy Ruberto's hiring of Barrett (three months at $15,000) to get Pittsfield's DPW, parks, and maintenance in shape. The first knocks the hiring process. The second asks why it was necessary for Barrett do the job Ruberto and 11 councilors should be doing.
The first objection - There's no question Barrett's contract was worded to dodge state procurement law. Describing Barrett's role as a trainer activates the exemption to the requirement for competitive bids, according to Ruberto.
Barrett admitted he hadn't read the contract. He only glanced at it - after the fact, as it turns out, because he started a week before signing on Jan. 13. Usually, this would be problematic, but der Wunderbarrett is "usually."
Barrett is a 26- year corneroffice veteran, highly respected by the state's mayors for his knowledge and expertise. He's not shy about getting in faces. He equates public service with "customer" service. He doesn't like computers, prefers face-to- face meetings to e-mail, possesses a self-effacing sense of humor, and displays an emphatic attitude about his mission.
He's a bulldog built like a fireplug. He can lash out with the tenacity of a shark bite and empathize with the heart of a pastor. He smiles easily and thunders when frustrated. JB III has the instincts of a safe cracker, the balance of a high-wire artist, the confidence of an athlete, the pragmatism of an ascetic, and the impact of a wrecking ball.
When Barrett checks on workers, it's like Patton inspecting the troops. When he enters City Hall, the lights dim from the surge.
Asked to describe his philosophy of public service, Barrett thinks a moment and says, "I believe in being straight with people. Be straightforward and go from the heart."
The Barrett deal was a brilliant move and will go down as the best $15 grand Ruberto has spent as mayor. Der Wunderbarrett is on board to drive "culture change" among city employees. That means helping city workers wire their heads and rear ends together, serving citizens with top quality in a friendly, caring, and courteous manner. If DPW, parks, and maintenance didn't know it before, they know it now: they are in the "customer service business." The customer is John Q. Citizen, and he's always right.
"Employees are nervous," Barrett says. "They don't know what's coming down. There will be changes and realignment." As an example, he wants to combine the three departments into one Department of Public Services. This, he says, will consolidate resources and demolish the interdepartmental barriers that prevent the best use of talent. "[City employees] are crazy if they don't start listening to citizens."
Most consultants are "flitters" - they dart in for token face time with clients then disappear, doing who knows what while the meter's running. Barrett isn't doing that. Since he started in early January, he's only missed two days in the office. These are not "finger-sandwich" days of tea, toast, and adios. JB III is putting in eight to 10 hours per day not counting time working from home at night and on weekends.
The second objection - To complain that Ruberto and the council should be doing what Barrett is doing ignores reality. For whatever reason, the job hasn't gotten done. To hand-wring over why misses the point: It's getting done now. The council is fair game. People, though, must understand the body blow Ruberto took in 2009 when his wife, Ellen, suffered a relapse. Her worsening illness, culminating in death last summer, leveled the man.
Ruberto is still grieving. His disengagement from worldly affairs alarmed backers during the 2009 primary. The best thing that happened to Ruberto was to face a gloves-off campaign in the general election. It woke him up and made him realize he had more to offer the city of his birth and the place he loves.
Dan Bianchi's tough campaign revealed to Ruberto the mayor's next immediate challenge: stop ignoring the neighborhoods in favor of the downtown. Ruberto turned to Barrett, who was not only perfect for the job but also on a human level could commiserate with the numbing pain that comes from losing a spouse. It's no coincidence that since Barrett's hiring, Jimmy Ruberto has found more of his old self again.
One hopes the mayor extends Barrett's gig. The changes he will recommend and the attitude shift he's trying to instill into three worn-out departments will need longer than three months. Mayor Ruberto: give Barrett another three months to get the job done.
Good people of Pittsfield: Don't worry about the money. Der Wunderbarrett will earn it back for you times ten.
Dan Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Silver Lake will make a comeback"
By Dan Valenti, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, May 29, 2010
A dozen years ago, the city of Pittsfield and General Electric signed the historic and voluminous consent agreement, a doorstop-sized document that in legalese addressed an environmental "crime." The contract litigated the price the company would pay for polluting the city, the Housatonic River, and Silver Lake.
Of course, no "crime" had been committed. For years GE had legally and therefore properly used the now-suspected carcinogen PCB. When the feds prohibited PCBs in the 1970s, the company stopped using them. We can a priori condemn the practice of dumping untreated toxins into Silver Lake, but it does no good to judge a previous era by another era's morality. Slavery is barbaric, but we are not late-18th century cotton farmers living in Georgia.
From today's green mentality, such widespread pollution seems inconceivable. The politically and culturally correct home handyman no longer pours old motor oil down storm drains. Kids don't play with mercury. We separate our trash.
For the most part of the 20th century, however, America didn't have its emerald blush. Toxins were dismissed as an inevitable byproduct of industry, a ho-hum of hot spots and adulteration. Early "environmentalists" such as Pittsfield's braided O.B. Joyful were dismissed as cooks. On top of that, what city would give a rough ride to a company that provided 14,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs with great benefits? To this day, the city abounds with GE retirees, my parents included.
Actually, when Pittsfield and GE signed the consent agreement, most breathed a sigh of relief. The agreement saved the abandoned GE site from getting stuck on the roll call of federal Superfund cites, a manifest longer than a lad's Christmas list with a wait more interminable than dial-up Internet. At least the city got something, though to some, the settlement looked like pennies on the dollar compared to the environmental harm.
It is a fool's occupation to wish Pittsfield's pollution problem away by pretending a perfect solution exists, that one that can undo almost a century of damage. It's the realist's job to address the problem in a way that satisfies the competing interests of citizens, GE, the regulatory agencies charged with enforcing the consent agreement, City Hall, and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.
A key feature to the PEDA site is Silver Lake. The overall PEDA site has received much attention lately, but what's happening with Silver Lake?
The short answer is this: Silver Lake will soon be making a comeback. The company could have walked away and thrown a legion of lawyers at the city. Instead, it's moving forward with the remediation process. Healing, we laypeople call it.
On Jan. 29, GE submitted its final remedial plan for Silver Lake to the EPA. The EPA will review the plan, likely call for revisions, and work will begin. According to GE spokesman Peter O'Toole, the contractor hired by GE will excavate 10,000 cubic yards of soil from the banks of Silver Lake, remove 400 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the lake itself, and place an impermeable cap over the bottom of the lake's 26 acres.
O'Toole and EPA project manager Susan Svirsky estimate two years from when the work begins, most likely in spring 2011, until it ends, ready for citizens to enjoy.
Can we trust GE's claim that based on the science, the cap represents the best remedial route for the lake? Svirsky says yes. She says capping is a proven technology. As to the question of some critics, who claim GE got off on the cheap, Svirsky disagrees.
"That's a misperception," she said. "Capping is the best remedy, and [to go this route] has been dictated by the science" more than the economics.
O'Toole described the long negotiation process between GE and the EPA as "contentious and collegial." The company, he said, "wants the best solution, and we have put our best science on this problem. For so many years, we worked in this community. These are our people [retirees, former employees, and their families] and we still think [of Pittsfield] as a GE town."
Telling words that can be interpreted in multiple ways. O'Toole is a company mouthpiece, and he has to say the right thing. Nevertheless, as someone who grew up on East Street literally in the shadow of GE, I look out at where former building 34 stood and at Silver Lake, and I see dramatic improvement. This writer -- skeptical and cynical as they come -- can tell you, GE did not walk out on its responsibility.
Before the work begins on Silver Lake, the EPA -- in consultation with the DPE, the city, and PEDA -- must approve GE's plans. Svirsky, as project manager, eventually signs the letter of authorization. She is quick to point out that she will not be making a unilateral decision, and it will be an exacting review. No rubber stamp here.
"I have a whole group of experts on my team," Svirsky says. She says the group ranges from between 5-10 people, scientists with expertise in engineering, geotechnics, ecology, biology, environmental restoration, and working with contamination.
Svirsky says that although future use of the lake still must be determined, it's possible and even likely that, should the city allow it, swimming and boating could return to Silver Lake. Nature, she points out, has an amazing ability to heal itself, what the biologists call "natural resource recovery."
Two years from next spring, barring unforeseen snags, Silver Lake will look more like an Edenic glen that the toxic cesspool created by industrial manufacturing. Silver Lake Boulevard will be replanted with appropriate trees, shrubs, and greenery. The lake itself will be friendly to aquatic fowl and fauna. An attractive walkway will skirt the perimeter of the lake from East Street to Fourth Street. What was once an embarrassment will become an attraction.
"There will be a walking path," says PEDA Director William Hines. "Along the path will be a series of benches and a very extensive planting scheme of native trees and bushes. It is going to be very nice and park like." Hines added that this is a GE project: "They are footing the complete cost. GE deserves the recognition for ‘doing the right thing.'"
Dan Valenti can be reached at email@example.com.
"Council whiffs again on budget"
By Dan Valenti, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, June 26, 2010
Pittsfield's annual municipal budget process operates under the "reverse Doppler effect."
The Doppler effect describes the behavior of sound in reference to a fixed point. As sound approaches, its pitch rises. As it recedes, pitch lowers. That's how weathermen -- I mean, weather people -- I mean, meteorologists -- can determine the movement and speed of a front to get the morning forecast incorrect.
In Pittsfield, the municipal budget behaves in a fashion both analogous and contradictory to this phenomenon. Its budget makes more noise when it recedes than when it approaches. We call this by various names, the most common being "tax increases" and "fiscal irresponsibility."
One again, the City Council whiffed in its oversight role as the legislative branch of government. It didn't even go down swinging. The taxpayers called them out on strikes. We call this movie, "Same Time Next Year." In fact, there hasn't been a responsible council budget review since the days of Sara Hathaway and, prior to that, Ann Wojtkowski.
Tuesday night the council approved Mayor James Ruberto's $126.9 million spending plan. In a flying, reverse, double-axle Doppler, councilors made nary a peep as it approached this whopper of a spending plan.
Council president Gerry Lee gushed over the way Ruberto kept councilors informed. It's a puzzling remark, since communication between branches of government isn't supposed to be noteworthy.
It's predictable for revealing that a Lee-led council will never perform due diligence on a Ruberto-written budget.
My right honorable good friends on the council will no doubt dispute this assessment. That's because they define "review" differently than fiscally responsible entities do. They will brag how they pressured the mayor into restoring $50,000 in proposed library cuts without realizing Ruberto proposed the cuts without intending them to be made. Ruberto knew they would question this "cut," so when he "conceded," it looked like he had tossed them a bone.
They eagerly accepted the doggie biscuit. Their treat bought the mayor a lot of good will with them and gave councilors a reason to preen. After that, they rolled over and played dead. Who says you can't teach an old dog old tricks?
A responsible review would have insisted on more than treasurer Sue Carmel updating the numbers from last year's spreadsheets, which is essentially what she did. Her feeble actions on behalf of citizens, who were treated to a tax increase approaching five percent, got little more than the math correct. We should say her computer got the math correct. Then again, she's a "team player."
A responsible budget oversight would have insisted on two things. First, it would have required at least four scenarios from each department for level funding, a five percent cut, a 10 percent cut, a 15 percent cut, and a "worst case" budget of a 20 percent reduction. Second, it would have insisted on a management budget.
Management or strategic budgets not only present the amount of dollars each department wants. More importantly, it asks why they want those dollars, what that money is intended to achieve, and how their funding requests advance the city toward a defined direction. The council didn't insist on this. It could have, since it shares governance with the mayor.
Don't blame the executive for this sorry performance. Ruberto fulfilled his responsibilities by submitting a spending plan. The council dropped the ball. Once more, ("Same Time Next Year") they failed to perceive their position properly. A budget review is a negotiation, not a slumber party. The council needs to file its teeth into sharp points rather than put on nighties.
In a horse-trading session, you never accept the other side's first offer. The council did. Their job is to receive the mayor's request then negotiate. They represent taxpayers. They need to do more than shake their heads "yes" like back-seat-window bobbing-head dolls. They need to reject the other side's first offer, ask the mayor to sharpen his pencil, and negotiate.
For the record, the School Committee also got called out on strikes when it "reviewed" the school budget. They stood with their bats frozen to their shoulder while Ruberto and School Supt. Howard "Jake" Eberwein III lobbed a fat one over the middle of the plate.
The School Committee took action without Ruberto present. That's how much of a sure thing he had.
For the hypothetical little guys, the Mary Jane and Joe Kapanskis, the Pittsfield budget "review" was déjà vu, all over again. Any thoughts they had of fiscal responsibility were once more sent going, going, gone.
Dan Valenti, founding director of Planet Media Books, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Judge orders local blogger Dan Valenti to remove Nilan references from website"
By Andrew Amelinckx, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 27, 2012
PITTSFIELD - A Central Berkshire District Court judge on Wednesday morning granted Meredith Nilan an harassment prevention order against local blogger Dan Valenti, and ordered him to remove any references to the Pittsfield resident from his website, Planet Valenti.
Nilan, the daughter of Berkshire Superior Court Probation Chief Clifford Nilan, had been the subject of many postings on Valenti's website regarding charges she faced in a car accident in December.
In granting the harassment prevention order, Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega, ordered Valenti to remove "any and all references" of Nilan from "any and all websites, blogs, etc ...". The order also requires Valenti to stay 100 yards away from Nilan, stay away from both her place of employment and home, and refrain from any contact or abuse.
The order is effective until Monday, July 9. A court hearing will take place on that day to determine if an extension is warranted. Valenti, who was not in court on Wednesday, can attend the hearing. The order is being sent to him through the mail.
A freelance writer/journalist who has been a columnist for both The Berkshire Eagle and the Pittsfield Gazette, Valenti has operated his own website since 2010. He also runs his own publishing company, Planet Media Books.
The maximum penalty for violating an harassment prevention order is 2 1/2 years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
July 31, 2013
Re: My synopsis of Dan Valenti's blog on Pittsfield politics
Dan Valenti bitches and moans about Pittsfield politics every weekday on his blog. The following is a synopsis of what Dan Valenti vents about. In Pittsfield:
* Taxes are very high with a weak tax base
* Tens of thousands of people have left Pittsfield and Berkshire County over the past several decades
* Pittsfield and Berkshire County is the #1 place in Massachusetts for job loss
* There are more people on welfare assistance than have private sector jobs
* Teen pregnancies and welfare caseloads double the statewide average
* The public school system is overpriced and underperforming
* Tens of millions of dollars were spent on North Street and the dowtown area is still dead and place to avoid especially after hours
* Crime, drugs, violence, gangs are real problems
* The Good Old Boy network runs Pittsfield politics and serves the special interests instead of the common good
* The Good Old Boys consist of multi-generation, inter-related Pittsfield families that derive from two camps: the Del Gallo political machine and the Wojtkowski political machine (both camps do business under the banner of the Massachusetts Democratic Party)
* Pittsfield's finances have many millions of dollars in unfunded liabilities or debts that today's Pittsfield politicians are not adequately addressing
* Pittsfield has gone into state receivership before after the Doyle administration debacle and may go the way of insolvency like the Detroit bankruptcy
* The number one employer in Pittsfield is the City of Pittsfield
* Thousands of local residents work for the city government and the public school system
* Many people and entities, such as the labor unions, depend on the system and control the Pittsfield politicians
* After the public payroll patriots, non-profits, such as the Hospital, depend on taxpayer dollars and employ thousands more Pittsfield residents
* The above vested interests make Pittsfield unaffordable to the little guy (the "Kapanski" family) who is not politically connected to get a city, school, or non-profit job
* Pittsfield needs new Pittsfield politicians who will take on the special interests to regain control of city finances
* PCBs left behind by GE have polluted Pittsfield's air, water, and ground
* Thousands upon thousands of Pittsfield residents have suffered through and died of cancer caused by Pittsfield's toxic waste PCBs
* GE left Pittsfield behind for Wall Street
- Jonathan A. Melle
August 5, 2013
I like Dan Valenti. I think he is a good man. I personally dislike conservative cultural Catholics. I respect Catholics. I like the Catholic Church's belief in social justice. I read Dan Valenti's blog postings about cultural issues, and he always espouses conservative cultural Catholic beliefs. Unlike Dan Valenti, I believe in masturbation, safe sex, birth control, sex education, human rights for same sex couples, and limited abortion rights that protect a woman's right to choose a medically safe abortion. I believe the Catholic Church is violating human rights by not protecting people's reproductive rights. I do not see the issue as the PC-elites versus the conservative Christians. Rather, I see the issue as one of tolerance. I believe all people are sexual beings. God made us that way. The Catholic Church is dominated by a culture of conservative men who are not allowed to marry, but are known as sexual deviants who prey on innocent young people instead of praying to God. I believe in equality and relationships for all people. I believe women should be Priests and that Priests should be able to marry. Above all else, conservative cultural Catholics and the conservative Christians are all moral hypocrites. All people are sinners! That is how God made us.
- Jonathan Melle
November 1, 2013
Mayor Dan Bianchi is to blame for all of Pittsfield’s problems!
* Homelessness in Pittsfield
* Teen pregnancies in Pittsfield
* Thousands of welfare caseloads in Pittsfield
* High municipal taxes and fees in Pittsfield
* Low median incomes in Pittsfield
* GE’s toxic waste PCBs pollution in Pittsfield
* Job loss in Pittsfield
* Population loss in Pittsfield
* Substandard public education in Pittsfield
* The Good Old Boy network in Pittsfield
* Hundreds of Millions of Dollars of unfunded liabilities or municipal debts in Pittsfield
* The #1 employer in Pittsfield is the City of Pittsfield
* The #2 employer in Pittsfield are non-profit organizations like the Hospital
* There are no Fortune 500 corporations in Pittsfield
* Thousands of local workers depend on tax dollars in Pittsfield
* The vested interests in Pittsfield vote for Pittsfield politicians who ensure out of control and unsustainable municipal finances
* The “Kapanski” family gets screwed by Pittsfield politics
* Pittsfield politicians will never change Pittsfield politics until Pittsfield goes bankrupt like Detroit
It is all Mayor Dan Bianchi’s fault!
- Jonathan Melle
January 31, 2014
I wonder if Pittsfield built a new version of the old “Berlin Wall” if it would help keep people from moving far away from Pittsfield?
Pittsfield’s “Berlin Wall” could have billboards full of propaganda saying “Pittsfield is a nice place to live”, “PCBs are good for your health”, “Find and retain a living wage job in Pittsfield”, “The Good Old Boy network is a paradigm model for Pittsfield politics”, “High taxes helps you with achieving financial security”, “Teen pregnancies and welfare caseloads are normal”, “Pittsfield public schools are the best in the state and nation”, “North Street is a cultural mecca”, “Teo’s hot dogs and Kool-Aid make you grow strong”.
- Jonathan Melle
January 31, 2014
I love Pittsfield. I grew up in Pittsfield and I enjoy reading Dan Valenti's blog on Pittsfield politics. I think that former Mayors Jimmy Ruberto and Gerry Doyle were terrible leaders. Under Doyle, Pittsfield went bankrupt and went into state goverment receivership. Millions of municipal dollars are still unaccounted for 15 years later. Doyle also signed the flawed and illegal consent decree that did not adequately address the toxic waste PCBs pollution left behind by Jack Welch's General Electric Company. There is a public school in Pittsfield that still abuts Hill 78. The caps do not last forever. Once the caps do not work properly, the toxic waste sites have to be cleaned up and re-capped. The consent decree Doyle signed capped a majority of the toxic waste sites that cause cancer in people. Doyle was a Good Old Boy, and like Jimmy Ruberto, ruled Pittsfield for the special interests instead of the common good. During the Ruberto regime, thousands of jobs were lost in Pittsfield. Thousands of people moved away from Pittsfield, too. Ruberto raised taxes above the rate of inflation every single year of the 8 years he was in political office in Pittsfield. Ruberto did nothing to address the toxic waste pollution in Pittsfield, but he did spend millions of dollars from the GE fund on revitalizing the downtown area from the Colonial Theater to North Street. Ruberto's investments into the arts and cultural attractions did not create any jobs for Pittsfield. Moreover, North Street is still dead, and people still avoid downtown Pittsfield after hours. Mayor Dan Bianchi inherited the mess that Doyle and Ruberto left behind. As far as I know, Dan Bianchi is not doing enough to help or change Pittsfield for the better. Taxes are still very high in Pittsfield, people are still leaving the Pittsfield area, the consent decree is still law and in effect, and the special interests still work through the Good Old Boy network in Pittsfield politics. Pittsfield problems include teen pregnancies doubling the statewide average, high per capita welfare caseloads, poverty, low median incomes, high taxes, job loss, poorly performing public schools, especially in depressed areas of the community, a dead downtown area known as "Social Services Alley", crime, drugs, substance abuse, and gangs, a corrupt political system ran by the Good Old Boy network, hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded liabilities or long-term debts, the #1 and #2 employers in Pittsfield are the City of Pittsfield and the Hospital with along other non-profits who rely on taxpayer dollars, and toxic waste, cancer-causing PCBs with the flawed consent decree. It makes me sad to follow Pittsfield politics and read Dan Valenti's blog every weekday because it seems like no one cares anymore.
- Jonathan Melle
"Valenti launching call-in television show"
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/5/2014
STOCKBRIDGE — The Planet is coming to television.
Stockbridge-based author, journalist and blogger Dan Valenti is launching a new, locally produced call-in television show that will debut on Thursday (May 8th, 2014).
“Planet Valenti Presents: PVTV Starring Dan Valenti” will be broadcast live from the studios of Access Pittsfield from 7 to 8 p.m. It can be seen on Channel 16 over the Time Warner broadcasting system.
Beginning in June, the show will be broadcast from 7 to 8 p.m. every Thursday night. Two shows will be broadcast this month, on May 8 and May 23.
Co-produced by Valenti and PVTV director Dan Bubriski, the show will be centered on viewer phone calls. In the future, Valenti hopes to expand the focus of the show to include musical guests, comedy, satire and the unusual.
Anyone interested in becoming involved in the show is welcome. The staff at PCTV will offer free technical training to anyone who wants to learn TV production.
Valenti operates Planet Valenti, a journalistic website of news and commentary regarding events in the Berkshire, with an emphasis on Pittsfield politics. The site is available online at www.plantvalenti.com.
June 5, 2014
Re: the People get screwed by their corrupt government
Dan Valenti is the only journalist/blogger who covers Pittsfield politics who writes about Pittsfield's finances. Everyone else writes about the revitalization of downtown Pittsfield with arts and culture. North Adams and Pittsfield are similar municipalities who invested in downtown revitalization and the arts since the collapse of their local economies that depended on manufacturing from GE and Sprague. Both North Adams and Pittsfield are acutely financially constrained. North Adams is financially insolvent, while Pittsfield is nearing insolvency. Both communities have the same demographics with low median incomes, dependency on Senior Citizens for their diminishing tax base, and youth that either leave the area or end up on welfare and/or in jail. I lived in Pittsfield for most of my life, and I even lived in North Adams as a young adult, so I know what I am writing about from personal experience.
Pittsfield and North Adams depends on state aid for a good chunk of their municipal budgets. State aid was higher -- not adjusted for inflation -- 13 years ago than it is today for Pittsfield and North Adams. That means costs have gone up with inflation, while state aid has been cut, which leaves huge gaps in funding Pittsfield and North Adams' municipal budgets. Where are the Berkshire delegates to Beacon Hill on state aid for cities and towns? I thought that once county governments were abolished 15 years ago, local government would become more efficient because that state government runs things so smoothly. I guess that did not prove to be the case here.
Since I get criticized for following Pittsfield politics from my home in Southern New Hampshire, I should note that like Peter Larkin, former NH Members of Congress Charlie Bass and Judd Gregg also became corrupt lobbyists making six figure salaries from the corporate elites. I guess government is for the politically connected while the people get screwed.
If I became a future government official, I would never become a lobbyist! I like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Bill Moyers, Robert Reich. I would work to make the World a better place for everyone.
Pittsfield's finances are inequitable! Thousands of people have moved away from Pittsfield over the past decade. Hundreds of jobs have been lost in Pittsfield over the past decade. Pittsfield's tax base is diminished. Yet, Pittsfield's taxes are going up again.
- Jonathan Melle
"Bianchi's transparent gag order"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 7/11/2014
To the editor of THE EAGLE:
In his letter defending his press policy (July 7), Mayor Daniel Bianchi conveniently ignores two important facts. First, he never meant for this policy to be made public. When he first issued it (June 24), he did so in a memo to department heads on hard copies that were hand-delivered. He wanted no electronic copy to exist, to prevent use of the "Forward" button.
Second, because the policy was meant to be strictly internal, the intention wasn't to "be efficient and responsive," as the mayor claims. Rather, it was to serve as a gag order on department heads, who were instructed to refer all press inquiries into the mayor's office. There, the mayor would decide who could respond and what to say, a lame attempt to block "negative" news in favor of the positive spin.
After I obtained a copy of the policy and made it public, only then did the mayor acknowledge its existence. Prior to making it public, his office denied such a policy existed. When I called the mayor's office and began reading from the policy, Julia Sabourin, his assistant, became flustered. Everything the mayor has said or written about the policy since then has been an attempt to cover his tracks.
The last topic this mayor should ever address is "transparency."
The writer is an investigative blogger (www.planetvalenti.com) and TV host.
This letter was updated on July 11, 2014 to correct the author's hometown.
December 29, 2014
Re: my friend Dan Valenti is a myopic fiscal conservative
I read Dan Valenti’s blog everyday. I comment about the issues he writes about. A lot of the time, I concur with Dan Valenti’s analsyes of my native hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. However, I disagree with Dan Valenti about public financial management when it comes to local government. There is an optimal local tax rate, which means that in some fiscal years, politicians need to raise taxes above the rate of inflation and growth to fund the municipality. Today (12/29/2014), Dan Valenti wrote about Pittsfield politics’ partially unfunded debt load to its present and retired personnel, which he states is above $350-million dollars, with the worst grade of F for transparency. The reason I see my friend Dan Valenti’s as a myopic fiscal conservative is that Pittsfield is the victim of a negligent state government in Boston. The Governor and Legislature have cut local aid by over 40 percent since the late-1990′s. That is on top of inflationary costs that Pittsfield had no control over. Pittsfield’s municipal costs are more expensive than ever, while its state aid is lower than ever. Dan Valenti is using Republican Party arguments concerning long-term debts, future insolvencies, and possible future bankruptcies in government programs to cut taxes. That argument only makes the fiscal problems worse. It is like pouring gasoline on the fire! Dan Valenti should be arguing for the state government to raise its taxes to pay back municipalities like Pittsfield all the money the state took away over the past 15 years. Dan Valenti should be arguing for the state government to come up with a program to insure municipal debt so that Pittsfield won’t become insolvent over the years. I use the following illustrative example of financial conservatives screwing working class communities like Pittsfield. Long after Proposition 2.5 passed into law in the early-1980′s, wealthy suburban communities like Wellesley, Mass., have “public” schools that have better performance outcomes than New England’s elite private schools. Wealthy suburbs outside of Boston have median home prices over one million dollars. That means the average working stiff can’t afford to live in a wealthy Boston suburb. Yet, these communities have “public” schools and are not financially constrained by Prop. 2.5. Meanwhile, Prop. 2.5 gutted public education funding to working class communities like Pittsfield, Mass., which is very financially constrained by Prop. 2.5. Pittsfield’s schools are now among the bottom in performance outcomes in Massachusetts. As a result of fiscal conservatism, the wealthy suburbs of Boston’s “public” schools are more elite than its neighboring private schools, while communities like Pittsfield and North Adams got screwed. But, Dan Valenti would probably try to sell Prop. 2.5 to the working class people of Pittsfield, whose children end up working poor, on welfare assistance programs, or worse, in the Pittsfield jail. I would also inquire to Dan Valenti about the 2008 bail out of Wall Street and governmental financial firms like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. This was done by the Republican Party Bush II White House and continued under the Obama administration. The Wall Street bailout added trillions to our huge national debt. Now, the Republican Party is taking over Congress next week. The Republicans are going to argue against funding the government, while pointing to the government’s huge debts. It is all such hypocrisy. The bottom line is that politicians from the banks of the PCBs filled Housatonic River to the banks of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. should find the optimal level of funding the government without myopic fiscal conservative arguments that favor the wealthy at the expense of the working class.
- Jonathan Melle
April 6, 2015
Re: Open letter to Dan Valenti
Pittsfield needs to focus on economic development so that the people can get full time, living wage jobs and become taxpaying citizens. All of this talk about reforming Pittsfield politics is a lot of bunk. The vested interests that ran Pittsfield into the proverbial ditch won't allow it to happen. If a new Mayor of Pittsfield is going to cut costs, then I want to know how much money is mandatory, and how much of the budget is discretionary. What areas of the discretionary budget can be cut and who will be impacted? In business, cost cutting means that management finds a means to make fixed costs into variable costs and then lessen the variable costs until they eliminate the variable costs. The single largest expense for any business is its workforce personnel. Businesses have be lessening the earnings and compensation of their workers for over a generation now. Workers' defined benefits pensions have be eliminated and replaced with defined contribution pensions such as 401ks. Workers' wages have stagnated. After adjusting for inflation, many workers' wages have actually diminished in inflation-adjusted dollars. Workers' healthcare insurance plans have become more expensive. Businesses have outsourced its workforce to foreign nations that pay far less in income and benefits. A new Mayor of Pittsfield would cut costs by looking at its public workforce as its biggest expense. How would the new Mayor of Pittsfield cut costs on the back of its public workforce? What would the public unions have to say about these cuts? It is one thing to say, "I am going to cut costs." It is another thing to be specific about how one is going to cut costs!
- Jonathan Melle
"Column on race by Berkshires official sparks debate"
By Callum Borchers, Boston Globe Staff, July 01, 2015
Cabin retreats are opening for the summer, and a new season of music at Tanglewood begins this weekend, but the talk of the Berkshires is about an inflammatory racial commentary penned by a local Republican official — and a newspaper’s decision to print it.
The uproar has brought a contentious national discussion about race relations, sparked by events in Charleston, S.C., Baltimore, and Ferguson, Mo., to a typically tranquil community where vacationers go to escape real-world concerns.
“It’s surely been a bigger debate than we anticipated,” said Bill Everhart, editorial page editor of The Berkshire Eagle, the Pittsfield daily that published the commentary.
The debate began with a column that ran under the headline “Here’s the solution for black America” on June 13, four days before a white supremacist, Dylann Storm Roof, shot and killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
The timing added fuel to what probably would have been a controversial item anyway, drawing attention from readers and media bloggers far outside of the Eagle’s circulation area, many of whom added the column to a growing list of exhibits revealing the undying existence of racism in America.
The column’s author, Steven Nikitas, is a member of the Berkshire County Republican Association, which submits opinion pieces every other week in a series called “Right from the Berkshires.” Nikitas argued against what he called “endless media hand-wringing that somehow ‘we’ must all do something more to help black America.”
“And ‘we’ means white people, taxpayers, businesses, the criminal justice system, the universities and the government,” Nikitas continued. “But blacks must now pull themselves up.”
He went on to write that black people should “reform their culture from top to bottom by respecting marriage and the family and the law, returning to their churches, embracing education and hard work, avoiding violence and debased rap music, speaking clearly, shunning drugs and profanity, and pulling up their pants.”
Online comments and letters to the editor poured in and continue to do so.
A few have applauded Nikitas: “Conservatives are realists who risk stating the TRUTH and consequently being labeled a racist.”
Most have lampooned him: “This is a terrible piece of writing that isn’t even worth debating.”
And some comments, much to the Eagle’s consternation, are based on the mistaken belief that Nikitas is a staff writer at the newspaper and that the paper endorses his views.
The confusion prompted the Eagle’s editor, Kevin Moran, to print a lengthy explanation of the paper’s decision to publish Nikitas’s column last Friday. Declaring the Eagle’s opinion page to be “among the most progressive in the country,” Moran stressed that Nikitas is not an employee and that the paper’s editorial board disagrees with his views.
“Views and opinions — whether they be considered by some, most or all people to be ignorant or brilliant or somewhere in between — tell us a lot about the community in which we live,” Moran wrote.
“Such knowledge can spark a community discussion or debate and enact change, but it should never be held a secret.”
Efforts to reach Nikitas by e-mail and phone were unsuccessful.
Dan Valenti, an adjunct professor of journalism at Berkshire Community College, said the Eagle made “absolutely the right call” when it chose to print the Nikitas column. If anything should have been withheld, it was Moran’s defense, which Valenti contended was unnecessary.
“The Eagle had a duty to publish it to start this very debate that has followed,” said Valenti, who runs a news and commentary blog called Planet Valenti. “We have to decide in this case whether we believe in the First Amendment or we don’t.”
Everhart, the editorial page editor, said he felt confident that most regular readers of the Eagle, familiar with its left-leaning editorial stance, understood that the paper was merely honoring its agreement to publish submissions of the Berkshire County Republican Association as a sort of counterweight. The Eagle, which has a print and digital circulation of about 30,000, has printed “Right from the Berkshires” since 2013 and plans to run the next installment this weekend.
But Everhart acknowledged the potential for confusion among nonlocal readers who might have been directed to Nikitas’s column from other news sites, blogs, or social media. A slight majority of mobile traffic on the column has come from outside of Massachusetts, according to the newspaper, and desktop traffic has been split almost evenly between in-state and out-of-state readers.
Everhart said the paper might introduce additional disclaimers to maker clearer which opinion pieces represent the Eagle and which come from third parties.
Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
“NAACP: Let's work toward real solutions to racism”
By Dennis Powell, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, July 12, 2015
In the weeks following the column that presupposed to have the solutions for the so-called ills of black America, much has been said by many. From the resounding backlash from readers of all ethnicities throughout Berkshire County and beyond, who rejected the columnist's racist generalizations and inaccuracies, to rationale provided by The Berkshire Eagle's editor, Kevin Moran, as to why the column was printed, to an article in The Boston Globe over the controversial piece.
While there have been many voices in the resulting conversation, it's been asked, "What does the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP have to say about all of this? Why are you silent?" To this we assert that, far from being silent, the NAACP's response is not one merely tied to words, but rather, one that is demonstrated in our ongoing work in the Berkshire community.
But first, let us be absolutely clear, we believe the column's rambling diatribe reflected a dangerous undercurrent of thinking both in the Berkshires and nationally. While we understand and appreciate the rationale provided by The Eagle's and that of free speech, our position is that this type of diatribe can cause certain individuals to blame present situations in their own life on others whom they feel are "taking away" from them. These tired stereotypes continue to thrive by those who refuse to acknowledge that many of the troubling issues plaguing this country are borne out of a legacy of blatant and institutionalized racism based on supremacist — whether conscious or unconscious — perspective.
As for personal responsibility, long before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black Americans have fought — both figuratively and literally — for their right to self-determination and the pursuit of liberty and happiness in all its forms.
Contrary to the columnist's unfounded notion of a gentler and more comfortable time for African Americans, passive acceptance has never been part of the black American narrative. The quest for true equality and justice continues today as we have recently seen with the shootings of unarmed black males in a five-month period by white police officers; and the massacre of nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., at the hands of a domestic terrorist. It also seems that this night of terror has sparked a wave of church burnings — seven to date — throughout the South. It must be said that the torching of churches has long been used as a tool of intimidation and fear tactic by domestic terrorists in this country against black Americans.
As the columnist is quite proficient in offering solutions, we would love to hear his thoughts on those who inflict such heinous acts on others.
But in spite of all of this, communities across the country still manage to come together. Here in the Berkshires, we saw a magnificent and powerful display of togetherness when hundreds met at Pitt Park on the west side of town and marched in unity, peace and justice in a protest of dissatisfaction over recent Missouri and New York grand jury decisions — a march organized by the NAACP, and again during a vigil late last month organized by the NAACP, Lift Ev'ry Voice and Multicultural BRIDGE. We honored the lives taken that night and resolved to continue to each do our part to enrich our respective communities throughout the county by taking a stand for justice for all.
The fierce backlash to the column also demonstrated that ours is not a community that will tacitly allow such vitriol, and we, the NAACP, appreciate this. While the response is comforting, it by no means negates the very real fact that the columnist's opinion is representative of an untold number of others, who share such thoughts by way of remarks or "jokes" in private among one another.
So we know that there remains important work to do. For those who may not know, here are just some of the initiatives the NAACP has been working on in this community, and will continue to do:
• Advocating for the implementation of the City of Pittsfield's Affirmative Action Ordinance, which will help to allow for greater transparency and access to potential opportunities for all city residents who qualify.
• Community revitalization by way of the repair of the basketball court at Pitt Park in the city's multicultural Westside neighborhood; while the court has been patched, a comprehensive repair is slated to begin before the end of summer.
• Challenging the Pittsfield school department for the lack of diversity in teachers and administration, especially those who are black. In one particular instance, the NAACP advocated for the school department to overturn a decision not to hire a young and highly qualified black teacher based on reasoning that the candidate lacked experience over other applicants. We noted that this young woman graduated in the top of her class, and had proven her skills through substitute teaching. We also stood firmly behind the Affirmative Action rule that hiring is based on qualifications for the job and not on years of experience a person may or may not have, and based on that rule, the candidate was given the position.
• Challenged the school department, school board, and local law enforcement on their decision to use the former Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction on Second Street in Pittsfield — that was deemed unfit for those incarcerated — to house our youth in an alternative School then known as the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC). Due to our efforts pointing out the injustice to our youth and community, the JRC was relocated to a more appropriate location.
• Collaborating with businesses such as Greylock Federal Credit Union to increase diversity within their staffing, and providing scholarships to students advancing to higher education. Additionally, Greylock will serve as the major sponsor for this year's Gather-In on July 25, the Berkshires' longest running African American celebration. Organized by the NAACP and first held in 1972, the Gather-In has served as an event that has entertained and inspired, and Greylock will be an on-site community partner to provide financial literacy education to community members. Greylock's commitment to engagement on this level is noteworthy because it demonstrates the importance of community partners who understand that there's work to do, and are proactive about finding solutions.
• With the recent shooting in Pittsfield, the NAACP will be actively working with other community groups and organizations to form a coalition and discuss collaborative strategies to implement change in the community.
• And, in September, the Berkshire chapter, along with other chapters throughout the New England area, will be holding a simultaneous three-mile Unity Walk for Justice in our respective areas.
We know that ours is a county filled with people and organizations who value real solutions, and as such, we cannot afford to allow the tentacles of racism and discrimination to embed its poison into the fabric of the Berkshires. For those who were deeply disturbed by this column, it is our hope that you will find a way to keep the engagement going so that this kind of rhetoric never becomes OK.
Do know that you have the power within your sphere of influence to take a stand against racist talk and practices. Unfortunately, silence, whether intentional or unintentional, equates to complicity. Let it be known that the Berkshire branch of the NAACP comprises a committed and passionate group of people from all ethnicities and ages, and we sincerely welcome all those who would like to join us as we work to find real solutions to advance our community forward.
Dennis Powell is the president of the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP. To learn more about the organization, visit facebook.com/NAACPBerkshires.
"Anonymous critics should be ignored"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 28, 2015
To the editor:
For the past couple of weeks, Dan Valenti has been criticizing the construction on Fenn Street done by the DPW in Pittsfield on his TV show and on his blog. He has been trying to convince city residents that the roadwork is complete and that the work is shoddy.
Everyone should realize that the raised and recessed manholes that present somewhat of a hazard are going to be all level with the roadbed when the work is completed.
The writers who post on Valenti's blog do so under pen names and approximately 20 percent contribute in a positive way. The rest exhibit no minds of their own and they buy whatever Valenti says, right or wrong. Many city employees, including Mayor Daniel Bianchi, have been the target of Valenti.
Any site that allows individuals to post under pen names and to spew hatred toward others must be considered suspect. One can only conclude that this site and many like it in this country have a clear goal of trying to crucify individuals who have no recourse because the hate-mongers are anonymous.
If anyone wants to criticize another on websites they should at least be man or woman enough to post under their real names. In the meantime, we should all shun sites such as these and pay them no attention.
I would suggest to the 40 or so people who post back and forth to each other and watch Valenti's TV show that they look for other sources of entertainment. It is not funny and is downright dangerous to anyone who is crucified unjustly.
Craig C. Gaetani, Pittsfield
The writer is a candidate for mayor of Pittsfield.
September 4, 2015
Re: Open letter to Dan Valenti
Dear Dan Valenti,
Your weekday blog about Pittsfield politics shows how corrupt Pittsfield’s state and local government is, and how the insider’s politics ran by two local political camps (Wojtkowski’s and Del Gallo’s) under the banner of the state Democratic Party in Boston is hurting the little guys whom you call the Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski family.
The Dan Bianchi campaign stems from the late-Mayor Anne Everest Wojtkowski administration of the late 1980’s. The Linda Tyer campaign stems from Mayor Jimmy Ruberto’s administration, whose roots come from the Remo Del Gallo administration of long ago. In early-November, 2015, the Kapanski’s are going to choose from the same two political camps that have ran Pittsfield into the proverbial ditch over the past 4 decades.
If you aren’t from either the Wojtkowski or Del Gallo political camp, you don’t have the organization to win the plums in Pittsfield politics. It helps if you are related to one of these multigenerational families in Pittsfield. For example, former Pittsfield State Senator and Registrar of Deeds and failed U.S. Congressional candidate Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr. is the son of a Pittsfield Probate Court Judge, the nephew of the late-Mayor Anne E. Wojtkowski, and the nephew of former Pittsfield State Representative Tom Wojtkowski. Another example is Pittsfield State Senator Ben Downing, whose late-father, Gerry Downing, was a Berkshire County District Attorney. Jimmy Ruberto’s late-brother was a Berkshire County D.A. and Judge. The list goes on and on.
The Good Old Boys club that controls Pittsfield politics only serves the vested interests through huge yearly budgets with annual 5 percent increases in spending, high local taxes that the average working family struggles to pay, and colossal debts that hover in the one-half billion dollar range. The vested interests are comprised of police, fire, and public school unions, the hundreds of non-profit organizations in Pittsfield, and the politically connected powerbrokers.
Despite all of the political corruption you blog about, local services in Pittsfield are substandard. Over 600 children choice out of Pittsfield public schools per year. The school system takes about 70 percent of the budget pie with inadequate performance results. The streets of downtown Pittsfield have seen major violence with shootings and murders. About 70 percent of Pittsfield residents live in poverty and rely on welfare and social services. Thousands of people keep moving out of Pittsfield. There are no full time, living wage jobs in Pittsfield, unless you have connections to the G.O.B.’s.
The Dan Bianchi administration is failing to address Pittsfield’s social problems and continuing to spend money like water to serve the vested interests. Mayor Dan Bianchi and the PPD is being sued by multiple police officers for alleged discrimination, conspiracy, and corruption. PEDA is still a toxic waste site with no private business investment. Downtown Pittsfield is still dead and a place most people avoid, especially after hours.
The citizens of Pittsfield are afraid to speak out about all of the corruption and sad realities facing Pittsfield. If a brave man or woman speaks out against the politically connected powerbrokers, he or she will lose his or her job faster than you can snap your fingers together. People who speak out about Pittsfield politics are blacklisted from ever finding one of the scarce full time, living wage jobs left in Pittsfield. The bottom line is that the people live in fear in Pittsfield.
“Don't fall for negativity of Pittsfield critics”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 7, 2015
To the editor:
In reference to Craig Gaetani's August 27 letter "Anonymous critics should be ignored," I have to say good for him for speaking out. Dan Valenti has quite a talent for writing on an event or a situation and putting his own spin on it to a point where the facts of what really happened are unrecognizable.
Then the 20-30 regulars who post on the Planet Valenti blog site continue with the rhetoric and blow things out of proportion. The identity of those regulars is known to many people and it is common knowledge that they have their own negative agenda to promote via the Valenti blog. Not one will ever say a good thing about anyone or anything that has to do with Pittsfield. And if someone challenges that negativity that person will immediately be ripped to shreds and asked not to engage in the conversation.
They complain when the streets aren't fixed, then complain when they are inconvenienced with construction to fix them. They complain when the streets aren't swept in a timely fashion, then complain when the sweepers come through their neighborhoods at night because they must be getting paid overtime.
After the last unfortunate shooting on Tyler Street they all talked about not being able to go out at night in Pittsfield and some spoke of canceling plans to go to the Common that night to see the performance of "Romeo and Juliet." Well, I'm happy to say that night boasted the highest audience attendance of all! The only night with lighter attendance was when it rained. Apparently, most people in Pittsfield are more afraid of being out in the rain they of being shot at by "gangs roaming the streets."
There are so many good things going on in Pittsfield right now one doesn't have to look far to find them. But, I guarantee you won't find them under the darkness of the Valenti blog.
I certainly do not agree with Mr. Gaetani's rants, but he is spot-on with his comments about Planet Valenti. Planet readers beware — just because the bloggers say so doesn't mean it's true.
Cindy Hillard, Pittsfield
Pittsfield: "Linda Tyer to appear on 'Planet Valenti Television'"
The Berkshire Eagle, January 11, 2016
Mayor Linda Tyer will appear as a guest on "Planet Valenti Television," a one-hour live, news, commentary and entertainment show hosted and written by Dan Valenti.
The show airs live beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, on Time-Warner's public access channel 16.
The full hour will be rebroadcast at 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 11 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15. It will also be available on the Pittsfield Community Television website.
February 12, 2016
What happened to Pittsfield over the past 4 decades? There was once a thriving blue collar community who invested in its local people instead of the vested interests. It seemed like Mayor Charlie Smith represented the old school Pittsfield where people were proud of their community.
Pittsfield politics is currently ran by the Good Old Boys' club who only serves the vested interests. Pittsfield politics has very high costs due to the big 3 labor unions: Police, Fire, Schools. Instead of Pittsfield investing in the local people, the opposite is happening! The local people are investing in the corrupt vested interests and the Good Old Boys' iron grip on Pittsfield politics.
Citizen participation in Pittsfield politics is disparaged on this very blog by various commentators. I get picked on daily on topix. They say when I was a student at Pittsfield High School in the early 1990's, I got a basketball coach fired; that my dad had a courthouse job due to nepotism; that I have big buck teeth; that I never worked, and that I have no problem eating my free lunch, etc. My point is that if you participate in Pittsfield politics, you are retaliated against.
Pittsfield politics is a China-like de facto one political party system that suppresses and intimidates citizen participation in state and local government. If you are not with the in crowd, you are an outsider. That is NOT how democratic government is supposed to be. Instead, We the People all should have a voice in OUR government!
- Jonathan Melle
Dear Dan Valenti,
I have a few comments about Craig Gaetani's letter, below, that was published in the Berkshire Eagle today (Friday, March 4th, 2016).
1st, about 70% of Pittsfield residents belong to the underclass. They live in or near poverty and rely on welfare assistance and social services programs. They like the way Pittsfield operates because they are taken care of by the government. They don't vote or participate in the state and local political system that they subsist off of for their survival.
2nd, Pittsfield politics is a one party, China-like system. You have to be a "Democrat" who is loyal to the "Good Old Boys" to have a real voice in your state and local government. That leaves many people on the sidelines. The G.O.B.'s retaliate against anyone who doesn't follow their failed leadership over Pittsfield's downward spiral.
3rd, Pittsfield politics' finances are the biggest issue facing the community. The financial management is always the same. Add about 5% per year to the municipal budget, plus add millions of dollars per year in new debt to the capital and OPEB budgets. Even wealthy communities cannot run their finances like Pittsfield! There is no long term fiscal solvency plan for Pittsfield politics.
4th, Pittsfield politics will never change! It has been on a 4 decade long downward spiral. The same group of corrupt and insider political hacks have had their hands in the cookie jar all of this time. All of my life, people have complained about Pittsfield politics, but nothing happens except for more and more bad news for Pittsfield.
5th, Pittsfield faces losses in both population and jobs. People and businesses are moving away from Pittsfield. Economists see Pittsfield as a depressed local economy with high per capita welfare and social services caseloads. Pittsfield has seen violent crimes, shootings, murders, drugs, gangs, and unsafe streets. Pittsfield's overpriced public schools are among the worse performing in the state and nation. No rational middle class family or small business would choose to move to Pittsfield given these sad realities.
Lastly, Pittsfield politics is designed to feed the greedy vested interests instead of represent the people. In return, the vested interests keeps the same group of corrupt and insider G.O.B.'s in state and local political office.
Letter: “City manager government will help fix broken Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 3/4/2016
To the editor:
I believe the time has come for the city to go to the city manager type of government. For the past 40 years, the city has been run by the Good Old Boy Network, which has placed our city in the perilous position of going bankrupt in the not-too-distant future.
The mayor-City Council type of government was supposed to be a check-and-balance system but has morphed into a rubber-stamping style of government with no real checks and balances. In city elections the Good Old Boy Network not only chooses a mayor but they elect a City Council and School Committee to insure total city dominance with the taxpayer being the ultimate loser who has to pay the bills for these big spenders. They support the special interest groups with exorbitant salaries and perks which make them some of the highest earners in the city. The average taxpayer is a week's paycheck from disaster.
We must put a stop to this type of city government as quickly as we possibly can. What must be done to turn this city back to fiscal responsibility is to vote out of office every present city official at the nearest possible time and for the average city resident who doesn't vote to be educated and brought up to speed as to what we as a group can do to take back our city.
The people I am talking about are you the taxpayers who haven't been involved in city government for a very long time. The city's future lies in your hands.
We see what the present city government has brought us, which isn't good, and we must ban together to change things for the better for everyone who lives and pays taxes in Pittsfield. We need to explore the city manager type of government as a viable alternative to what we have now, which is a failing leadership team holding city positions of great importance.
We need to put an end to the reign of the rich at the expense of we the middle class and poor. Many people we know have given up hope to change things here but this plays right into the game plan of the present city administration and allows it to continue to tax us to death and ultimately forces city residents to move to other locations because they can not afford to live here any further. We must unite and put an end to this once and for all.
Craig Gaetani, Pittsfield
May 2, 2016
Re: Open letter to Dan Valenti
Please ask Dr. Charles Trczinka to write an economic analysis of Pittsfield politics.
Here is my analysis of Pittsfield politics:
In Pittsfield, the only economic growth is in the underclass. Year after year, welfare caseloads, social services programs, and crime increase in Pittsfield.
In Pittsfield, thousands of people have moved away. One of the major causes of Pittsfield’s population loss is the loss of thousands of jobs. Once a full time, living wage job is lost, it ain’t coming back, Jack (Welch).
Pittsfield politics is not a democracy. Not even close! Pittsfield politics is ran by an insider’s network of Good Old Boys. If you are not on the inside of Pittsfield’s corrupt one political party system, you do not have a real voice in Pittsfield politics.
The only way you can get a decent job in Pittsfield is to be part of the G.O.B. If you don’t kiss their dirty behinds, then you will lose your job and be blacklisted from ever finding work in Pittsfield. In truth, Pittsfield politics uses economic fear to keep the people in line.
Pittsfield politics’ municipal finances are at a breaking point. Within the next 5 years, Pittsfield politics will go fiscally insolvent and may risk another round of state government receivership since the corrupt days of the Doyle debacle.
Pittsfield politics will add further stress to its financial crisis by financing the new Taconic High School project, which will add millions of dollars to its burdensome budgets.
Even wealthy communities with high median incomes could not run their municipal finances like Pittsfield politics!
Within the next 2 months, the lovely Linda Tyer will produce a fiscal year 2017 municipal budget with tax and spending increases. This will be the first indicator of her leadership priorities as Mayor of Pittsfield.
- Jonathan Melle
Pittsfield police respond to a scene where shots were fired into an occupied house on Circular Avenue in Pittsfield, Mass., Sunday May 22, 2016. The latest in a string of shootings in Pittsfield has left a family with children shaken after someone fired several rounds into their house. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)
"Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer to gangbangers: 'I am not going to stand down while you terrorize our neighborhoods'"
By Conor Berry | firstname.lastname@example.org - The (Springfield) Republican - May 31, 2016
PITTSFIELD — Standing firm against a wave of violence that has seemingly transformed Berkshire County's biggest city into the Wild West in recent weeks, Mayor Linda M. Tyer has pledged to make Pittsfield "very uncomfortable" for gangbangers and other criminals who threaten the otherwise peaceful way of life in this emerging cultural capital in the western corner of the state.
"We must honestly acknowledge the challenges facing our city: Gang and gun violence is real," Tyer said at a press conference last week at City Hall, where she was joined by Pittsfield Police Chief Michael J. Wynn, District Attorney David F. Capeless and Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler, among other local and state officials.
"I want to be very clear: I have had enough, and I will not allow the City of Pittsfield to be overrun by this or any other criminal element," said Tyer, a former city councilor and clerk who began her first term as mayor in January.
"To all who threaten our city, I am not going to stand down while you terrorize our neighborhoods," she said. "We are going to make it very uncomfortable for you to engage in criminal behavior. If you endanger a child or interfere with Pittsfield's aspiring youth, we will intervene."
Surge in shootings
Shootings have spiked dramatically in Pittsfield this year, including a fatal shooting in January and multiple gunfire episodes since then. Tyer called the press conference after gunfire erupted on the city's West Side on May 21. Bullets pierced the walls of a home on Circular Avenue while a mother, two young children, and others were inside. No one was hurt in the incident, the latest in a string of violence that has included several shootings in May alone.
Pittsfield Police Chief Mike Wynn
"As of this morning, we have 30 reported gun incidents in this calendar year. That was our total for all of last year," Wynn said at the May 23 press conference, acknowledging the city is in a tough spot at the moment. Wynn said investigators were still trying to determine if the shootings were related.
To combat the problem, Tyer has vowed to beef up the Police Department budget by more than $936,000 for the fiscal year beginning July 1. For fiscal year 2016, which ends June 30, the department's budget was $8,884,566, but Tyer has proposed upping the fiscal 2017 budget to $9,820,605.
The additional money would go toward buying new equipment and hiring more officers, she said, with an eventual goal of bringing the county's largest police force up to 120 full-time members. The new officers would likely be ready to join the department by the fall, she said.
"For far too long the plea of our police chief to increase personnel has been ignored," Tyer said. "A city of our size should have 120 sworn officers, and we are currently operating with 82 and will approach an all-time low this summer due to transfers and retirements."
In the meantime, the Police Department has shifted its resources to trouble spots in the city and can also tap other law enforcement agencies for help, although such requests must be made on a day-to-day basis, according to Wynn. "We have a robust mutual aid agreement with every law enforcement agency in the county," he said, praising the Massachusetts State Police and Berkshire County Sheriff's Department for assisting when needed.
City on the rise
The rising gun violence in this city of almost 45,000 people – the region's third-largest population center after Chicopee and Springfield – seems to run counter to Pittsfield's emerging reputation as a cultural stronghold in Western Massachusetts, a place that's worked hard to shed its reputation as a blue-collar town whose best days are behind it. That's why city leaders want to stop the violence before it threatens the many advances Pittsfield has made over the past dozen or so years.
"We're going to do good policework," Tyer said in an interview with The Republican on Friday. "We are the hub and the epicenter of the county."
Linda Tyer via Facebook. Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer (Facebook)
In recent years, Pittsfield has received such honors as the Commonwealth Award, the state's highest acknowledgment for accomplishments in the arts, humanities and sciences. It has also earned more than a few sobriquets, including "Brooklyn of the Berkshires" because of its ability to attract artists, hipsters and young entrepreneurs.
New businesses have opened on North Street, the city's main drag, including the sorts of creative venues more commonly associated with places like Northampton or Provincetown. The working-class underbelly of the city – known for its large Irish and Italian populations, strong connection to baseball, penchant for neighborhood taverns, and strong preference for Democratic politics – is still there.
But now you're just as likely to find art galleries, sidewalk dining, live music and theater in Pittsfield, evidence of the commonwealth's "creative economy" at work. Popular downtown destinations include the Beacon Cinema, a movie theater showing arthouse and mainstream films, gastropubs, coffeehouses, and even a boutique hotel on North Street that's aptly named Hotel on North.
Pittsfield has come a long way since its gritty days as a factory town, where General Electric long dominated the physical, financial and cultural landscape of the city. In the company's heyday, as many as 15,000 people worked at three GE facilities in Pittsfield. Payday was on Thursday, when workers would flock to North Street to spend their paychecks at the many restaurants and entertainment choices lining the grand avenue, one of the widest in Massachusetts.
GE loses grip
By the mid-1970s, PCBs leaking into the Housatonic River were labeled "probable carcinogens," leading to GE's decline in Pittsfield. Workers lost their jobs as the company gradually shut down divisions through the early 1990s, causing the city's unemployment rate to spike.
Today, Pittsfield's unemployment rate remains higher than the statewide average, and other corporate bright spots also have dimmed. A plastics company that took over a former GE facility in town is in the process of leaving that space after occupying it for less than a decade.
By the year 2000, downtown Pittsfield looked downright destitute. At about the same time, however, another gradual process began taking root, and it eventually helped spark a cultural renaissance in the city. Although there's no single event that jumpstarted Pittsfield's transformation from former industrial hub to arts mecca, Maggie Mailer, a painter and daughter of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Norman Mailer, arrived from Brooklyn and quickly persuaded landlords to let artists use vacant real estate as studio space.
By 2002, the Storefront Artists Project was born, an organic initiative that helped revitalize the downtown commercial district. Almost a decade later, Mailer discontinued her creative initiative, announcing that the mission to fill empty storefronts with artists, entrepreneurs and businesses had been accomplished.
We are the hub and the epicenter of the county." ~ Mayor Linda Tyer
"It's incredible to see all the positive changes in Pittsfield over the last ten years: theatre, galleries, restaurants, pop-up stores, coffee shops, artist run projects, and the list goes on," Mailer wrote in a December 2011 letter announcing SAP's happy ending.
"We have achieved our purpose with flying colors. Downtown is thriving, and we are honored to have helped fill empty storefronts, put Pittsfield on the map, and become a model for the regeneration of other cities," she said.
During that decade, noteworthy advances in the downtown district, now known as the Upstreet Cultural District, included the relocation of the Ferrin Gallery from Lenox and the Tony Award-winning Barrington Stage Company from Sheffield.
Another bright spot: The historic Colonial Theatre, a former vaudeville landmark known for its pristine acoustics and gilded age architecture at the southern end of downtown, underwent a $21 million renovation and merged forces with the Berkshire Theatre Festival. The marriage created the Berkshire Theatre Group, which currently has two smaller performance spaces in Stockbridge and the 780-seat Colonial and a smaller venue called The Garage in Pittsfield.
Other cultural draws are the stately Berkshire Museum and the city-owned Licthenstein Center for the Arts.
A cultural destination
Slowly but surely, Pittsfield began to retire the shot-and-a-beer image of its factory town days, emerging as a genuine cultural destination for tourists and locals alike. Manhattanites who once drove through Pittsfield without stopping, traveling from Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Lenox to the Clark Museum in Williamstown or MassMoca in North Adams, were now stopping for dinner and a show in Pittsfield, or even a downtown stroll on a warm Thursday evening.
That's when the city holds its popular Third Thursdays event, which brings thousands of people downtown for food, drink and live entertainment. In a nod to the old GE days, when company employees would have a night out on the town after getting paid on Thursdays, North Street shuts down to traffic on the third Thursday of every month during the warm-weather season, while shops, galleries and restaurants stay open late.
3rd Thursdays logo via facebook.
Former Mayor James M. Ruberto, whose tenure coincided with Pittsfield's cultural renaissance, was a strong supporter of the arts. His administration was the first to actively welcome – and woo – the LGBT community to Pittsfield by launching an Out in the Berkshires event, a strategic marketing initiative aimed at promoting the city as an LGBT-friendly community.
The liberal Democrat didn't embrace the initiative solely in the spirit of tolerance and equality. There were real economic benefits to this relationship: Same-sex couples have higher-than-average incomes and tend to have more formal education and hold more professional positions, making them a desirable market to tap.
Urban theorist Richard Florida, an author and professor, has written much about the emergence of urban America's "creative class," a group that includes gay men, lesbians, artists, musicians, writers, bohemians and others. Wherever this class of people flourishes, others also flourish, according to Florida. And Pittsfield did its part to roll out the welcome mat.
Ruberto, the second-longest-serving mayor in Pittsfield history, was widely lauded for the cultural and economic resurgence downtown, but he also was criticized for failing to lure more large employers to town. The arts are great, according to his critics, but most of the jobs created by the so-called creative economy were low-paying jobs.
The nation's median household income, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for a quarter of a century, and smaller cities such as Pittsfield haven't recovered from the Great Recession as quickly as some of the country's bigger cities. The specter of crime is also a factor, and Pittsfield's leaders are acutely aware of that.
There's a lot at stake, which is why city leaders are aiming to stop the gun violence before it escalates. Despite the strides Pittsfield has made as a destination for the arts, dining and entertainment, it remains susceptible to the vagaries of a 21st century economy – an economy dominated by technology and globalization, widening inequalities between rich and poor, and stagnant living standards.
City of contrasts
Even with its bustling downtown, two of Pittsfield's poorest neighborhoods are located just off North Street: Morningside and West Side. These are places where crime, poverty and chronic unemployment have historically been more prevalent than in other parts of the city. These are also places where drug- and gang-related violence have become more common.
"What we are seeing now is locally formed street gangs, forming in response to nationally associated gangs," Wynn said, adding that police are still trying to gauge the extent of the city's gang problem. For now, officers will focus on identifying and arresting those responsible for the recent violence, he said.
Third Thursday North Street shot via Cultural Pittsfield facebook page. A typical street scene on Third Thursdays, when the city shuts down the business district to traffic and the stores stay open late. (Facebook)
Tyer emphasized that her administration is committed to protecting citizens, businesses and cultural venues from those who use guns to settle scores. The outbreak of violence is real, she said, but it's also not going to define the city.
"Yes, it's a big deal and I don't think it's something we should take in stride," she said, describing the "entrenched culture" of negativity in some Pittsfield communities. Still, the mayor said she's confident the city's many upcoming downtown community events will go off without a hitch. "They will be safe and lively experiences," she said.
A recent shooting coincided with a planned Third Thursdays event, and there was "a lot of chatter" that the popular event would be cancelled because of the violence, Tyer said. But the show went on, she said – and it always will. Pittsfield has no plans of curtailing its lively cultural calendar because of a few bad incidents, she said.
If anything, street violence motivates the vast majority of people who aren't involved in gangs and drugs to flex their collective muscles, the mayor said, calling on a "critical mass" of people to come out and support Third Thursdays and other downtown events this spring and summer. Tyer said she doesn't want people to hide in their homes, too scared to venture downtown in their own city.
"I would encourage people to do the exact opposite," she said. "We're not unplugging. We're not turning off the lights. We're still going to be the cool city we are."
A wave of gun violence
With more shooting incidents in the first five months of 2016 than in most calendar years, the surge has given the Pittsfield Police Department's Detective Bureau and crime scene investigators quite a workout.
On May 13, a morning shooting in the Morningside neighborhood prompted a lockdown of the city's hospital after a gunman allegedly opened fire while confronting his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend on nearby Hull Avenue. No one was hurt in the incident, and the suspect was apprehended a few blocks from the crime scene, police said.
On the evening of May 18, a man was shot in the Pond Street area of Morningside. The victim, who wasn't publicly identified by police, was expected to survive, according to authorities, who continue to investigate. Less than two hours later, officers were called back to the same neighborhood for a shooting that damaged a car on Dartmouth Street. No one was injured, police said.
shell casings via ap. Evidence markers in the street at a recent Pittsfield shooting scene. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle via AP)
On the afternoon of May 19, officers chased down and arrested a man who allegedly fired multiple rounds at cars driving in the area of Wahconah Street and Pecks Road, a busy intersection near a local market, package store and city housing project. No one was hurt, but the gunfire prompted police to reroute city school buses away from the area as officers searched for the gunman.
Dan Valenti, a former newspaperman and the city's best-known blogger, has seen and heard it all before – the "hollow" press conferences, the pledges of more cops on the streets, and so on.
"Good, honest citizens have been squeezed into a corner by a failed local economy and mayhem taking over neighborhoods and streets," he wrote on his popular PLANET VALENTI blog, sometimes referred to simply as "THE PLANET."
"Politicians and officials, doing the work of the 'gimme' developers and scam artists who flock to Pittsfield, keep offering this and that latest project as the next savior," Valenti said, ticking off several failed projects that were billed as panaceas for Pittsfield at one point or another. "All these and more failed after several years of operation and countless millions of public money stolen," he added.
Valenti mocked the pageantry of the mayor's press conference about the uptick in gun violence, an event that featured Tyer flanked by several other officials at City Hall. "The 'Media Advisory' from the mayor's office billed it as a 'press conference.' It turned into a community free-for-all," said Valenti.
Pittsfield blogger Dan Valenti (Facebook)
"Mayor Tyer and Police Chief Mike Wynn were the only ones to speak. The other dozen stood around behind badges and badgering, trying their best to look officious," Valenti wrote. "THE PLANET understands the show of strength, but shouldn't that be one of the allowable minimal assumptions? Shouldn't we be able to assume all public officials and community activists agree that gunplay, drugs, gangs, and violence are out of control and the city should do something about it?"
For Tyer, who decisively defeated incumbent Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in November 2015, winning all 14 of the city's precincts and nearly 60 percent of the vote, acknowledging that the city has a problem with gangs is the first step to combating the problem.
"For various reasons over the last decade, these moments of violence maybe didn't quite get the attention they deserved," she said, stressing her willingness to confront Pittsfield's problems head on, while also emphasizing that she wasn't judging past mayoral administrations.
"It's a law enforcement issue, and it's a community issue," she said.
March 20, 2017
My favorite response to blogger Dan Valenti's writings against people who want to live with financial dignity is the bailout of Wall Street in 2008 and 2009. The masses bailed out Wall Street investment firms with trillions of dollars, and bailed out foreign big banks with tens of billions of dollars respectively, which proves we do not live in a true capitalist economic system. Rather, it is all socialism (and sometimes socialism in reverse)! The wealthy see the American people as their insurance policy if they go bankrupt. Wall Street firms are no better than the people blogger Dan Valenti criticizes who ask for handouts from the taxpayers. In fact, I do know and believe that the wealthy receive more corporate welfare from the system of government than the "have-nots" do. Until blogger Dan Valenti justifies the Wall Street bailouts of 2008 and 2009, which were supported by both political parties, then he should stop picking on people who truly need financial and economic help from the government!
- Jonathan Melle
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at email@example.com
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