In North Adams Mayoral Race, 'Gangster Talk' And Competing Economic Strategies

Nov 3, 2017

On Tuesday, North Adams, Massachusetts, will elect just its third mayor since 1984. After eight years in office, incumbent Richard Alcombright decided to give up the job.

This is Tom Bernard's first crack at elected office, while his opponent, Bob Moulton Jr., has been on the North Adams City Council for the past decade.

At a debate this week, both listed their qualifications for mayor. First Bernard, who's currently an administrator at Smith College:

"Organizational management, budget management, planning, communications and community relations," Bernard said.

And now Moulton, who owns two eye-glass shops:

"We need a mayor with true business experience and real work experience you cannot learn in a lecture hall," Moulton said.

Boosting North Adams' economy was a main topic. Bernard said the city should hire an economic development director to help bring new businesses to town. But Moulton said the position isn’t needed, as the mayor can do that work.

And Moulton added, two of the city’s major institutions, MassMoCA and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, should take more of a financial role in revitalizing the downtown. Bernard, who in the past spent time working at both places, said their presence in North Adams already adds an economic boost -- as they attract visitors and are large employers.

Then the discussion shifted to how to improve schools. Moulton said there needs to be what he called a "higher standard.” He noted Bernard supported a relaxed dress code at the city's high school.

"Tom was on the school council when and he voted to allow the kids to wear hoodies, hats, wear pants down below their waist, let girls come in with revealing clothing," Moulton said. "I don't think that's raising your standards. I think when people come in from out of town, go in your schools and see what's in there, I mean that's gangster dressing."

That clearly agitated Bernard, who defended the policy.

"These were about keeping students engaged in class," Bernard said. "And to reduce them and reduce my position on them to gangster talk, is really, frankly offensive."

Bernard was tops in September's four-person primary, taking 65 percent of the vote to Moulton's 26 percent.

And Bernard has been leading in campaign donations too: He's taken in about $8,000 in the latest reporting period, to less than $1,000 for Moulton.

Campaign finance records also show Moulton has received two fine notices from the state for filing paperwork late.