Mayoral races worth a look

Barrett and Ruberto. Two mayors. Two races. Two different outcomes. Ruberto had a narrow win in a year when all political incumbents were at great risk.

Barrett went down after having held the position for 26 years, making him the longest-serving mayor in the commonwealth. He clearly loves his city but to his misfortune, he ran in a tough year. Things are going terribly wrong in this nation and in this state, and politicians are being held in distain. He says that “it was a great ride.” Class act.

Whether you like him or not, there’s no denying that “Big John” had a personality. Sometimes he liked to fight just a little too much and that very quality which served the city so well was in large part responsible for his defeat. When he took on the city’s powerful police union, he had his hands full but he did what he had to and he won. It’s that kind of passion that made him a good mayor.

Anytime you turned on the television, you saw slick, expensive Barrett ads.

You saw him with U.S. senators and governors. I never saw an ad for his opponent, Dick Alcombright. Unlike Barrett with his “put your dukes up” style, Alcombright comes off as a conciliator, a gentle man. A while back, after I wrote a complimentary piece about Barrett, I was surprised to receive a message from Alcombright. He was appreciative about the way I characterized the race.

That made me sit up and take notice so I asked my wife, Roselle, about him.

“I like him,” she said, having watched him from her perch at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She wasn’t alone — other people liked the guy, too. He spent an enormous amount of time going from house to house. He gave everyone a chance to come see him and talk to him and hear him. He met them at any opportunity, mostly in small groups, the way Americans have been doing it for years.

n New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent a hundred million dollars on his election. You couldn’t turn the TV on without seeing one of his ads. He rounded up most of the major political consultants and hired them all. The pollsters all gave him a double-digit lead and yet with only 51 percent of the vote, he almost lost the election.

His opponent figured out that he had opposed his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, getting a third term when the people of the Big Apple had voted in a two-term limit.

Then he turned around and got the rules changed. The people didn’t like it and he came close to losing.

In Pittsfield, it was another story. Jimmy Ruberto got a real fight from Dan Bianchi. This was a bruising battle. There were big differences between the candidates. Ruberto showed himself to be a man of courage. He had been punched in the solar plexus when his beautiful and wonderful wife Ellen succumbed to cancer. Then, in the last days of the campaign, his mother went.

The Bianchi campaign played it tough. Bianchi seemed to have a vision of the old Pittsfield, the one that led to the mess that the city has been trying to dig itself out of. Let’s face it, folks, GE is not coming back.

For Ruberto, the restoration of downtown came first. “Build it and they will come,” seemed to be the spirit: witness the movie theater, the Barrington Stage, the elimination of that stupid roundabout in the middle of the city.

Was he always right? Probably not. I never thought his idea about building a new high school was sensible but I can say that he was a big enough man to give up the idea when he assessed the economic situation.

Bianchi’s talk about a recount reminds me of a situation I was once in. I passed a hitchhiker. I couldn’t decide whether or not to pick the guy up, but I quickly realized it was too dangerous and passed him by.

When I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that the guy was lifting his finger in that international symbol we all recognize, I knew I had done the right thing. The way a man loses tells you a lot about him. And, that’s all I have to say about that. I am delighted that Ruberto pulled it off. He’s a wonderful man.

Originally Published in The Berkshire Eagle, 11/07/09,

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