Ruberto pays attention to neighbors

The nutty bloggers have gone completely insane over Pittsfield Mayor Jim Ruberto hiring former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III to consult for the city. They are spouting their usual whack-job conspiracy theories. For a reported $15,000, Pittsfield gets to tap into the knowledge of the former longest serving mayor in the Commonwealth. Ruberto wants to hire Barrett for a three-month period during which he can figure out how to improve Pittsfield’s neighborhood services. Barrett was known for getting out in North Adams neighborhoods with his service providers. He has a lot more to offer than some wet-behind-the-ears college professor who majored in urban planning and gets his ideas from a book.

It seems to me that Ruberto is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. To his credit, he recognized that the neighborhoods felt left out in Pittsfield’s efforts at revitalization. So Ruberto takes steps to tell the neighborhoods that he has heard them and is doing something about their complaints. Instead of saying, “Thanks, mayor, we appreciate that you are listening to us,” he gets dumped on. Why anyone would want to subject themselves to a city where people continually show disrespect to their elected officials is beyond me. Hey, back in the day when I was a selectman in tiny Alford, three years was more than enough for me. You couldn’t have paid me to do it again. It looks to me like Pittsfield is showing real signs of life. I like the town but it’s time for someone to come forward and thank Jim Ruberto for doing a thankless job.

On another front, let there be no mistake that the next election cycle will be a Republican one. The warning signs are all over the place. Americans have always liked to cover their bets. They took a big chance on Barack Obama who, by and large, is doing a good job. He’s made some mistakes — trying to micromanage New York State politics, denying people the right to a primary, and making what could have been simple, one-size-fits-all health care reform into a big mish-mosh that almost no one understands. The people will put on the brakes. Too bad. How soon we forget what a disaster George W. Bush was. He brought the country to its knees and fiscal ruin. He created the recession we’re in. He led us into at least one unwarranted war that has bankrupted the country.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts now has to decide whether the Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, will be replaced by smart, intelligent, thoughtful Martha Coakley or Scott Brown who looks and smells like a more conservative Mitt Romney. Incredibly, at least one poll finds the election too close to call. It’s all going to come down to who can turn people out. Make no mistake about it — if the Democrats sit on their hands and the Republicans get their folks out to vote, the majority now enjoyed by the Democrats in the U.S. Senate will be a thing of the past. Voting is the most important job a citizen has in a democracy. I certainly hope no one will wake up the day after the election feeling guilty about not showing up at the polls. Putting the Republicans back in the driver’s seat is just too scary to imagine.

A very curious thing happened recently in Great Barrington. The local branch of the Massachusetts Cultural Council seemed to be looking for a reason to deny the local community radio station a paltry $350. WBCR has done a terrific job of bringing people together and creating a sense of community. I hoped that the money was not being withheld because the station plays political material that you or I might take exception.

I hear this all the time at WAMC. Those on the left complain about Herb London’s right-wing commentaries and more conservative folks complain about Alternative Radio. At least one of the people on the local Cultural Council once called me up and gave me the business because we played programming from the BBC, one of the most respected news organizations in the world. Let’s all take a deep breath. Smart people can make up their own minds.

Now we are hearing that Hilda Banks Shapiro, the longest serving member of the committee with the greatest institutional memory, has been thrown off the committee because she’s served more than two terms. If anyone in our community is slated for sainthood, it is Hilda. Now the chair of the committee has resigned under a cloud surrounding the WBCR affair. The little radio station has had some of its grant reinstated. As Paul Rapp, the station’s president put it, “It was never about the money, it was all about fairness.”

Congratulations to WBCR. Trust me — there are things on this little radio station that I find unlistenable. Nevertheless, they had an idea and went with it. They made it work against all odds and that’s quite an accomplishment.

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/16/10

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