Signholders may have been more attuned to perceived factional lines than the average voter.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pundits and insiders had predicted an ultimate clash between the two polar sets of politicos and opposing visions for Pittsfield, with voters falling to one side or the other of this power struggle between pseudo-parties.
The story that unfolded as voters went to the polls and results came in Tuesday night, though, was one of varying loyalties and decisions based on personal perceptions of the candidates individually, rather than as part of a set.
Ramping up to election day, the theory emerging in conversations among insiders and in various blogs and online discussions was that the mayoral and most of the City Council candidates could be viewed as aligned with either one group or another- de facto parties which pundits on either side have dubbed "Good Old Boys" versus the "Legion of Doom." The GOB is supposed to be the pro-Ruberto, pro-Marchetti, pro-Tricia Farley-Bouvier, seen as also endorsing or including Peter White, Paul Capitanio, Jonathan Lothrop, Nicholas Caccamo, and in some scenarios newcomers Churchill Cotton, Christopher Connell, and Barry Clairmont.
The "Legion of Doom," as detractors of its supposed members call it, would be the pro-Bianchi, pro-Malumphy forces which are said to include allies Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin Morandi, Jeffrey Ferrin, Joseph Nichols and Anthony Maffucio.
While there is certainly a notable level of co-support and agreement on issues between candidates in these two makeshift municipal political factions, there is reason to think that this distinction was much more significant to those close to the campaigns than it was to the average Pittsfield voter.
Many of the voters iBerkshires interviewed cast ballots based on personal experiences with the candidates.
At after-parties, as in conversations with voters at polls throughout the city on Tuesday, most said they voted for individuals for specific reasons rather than their overall politics. Firsthand encounters with candidates, both in professional and personal contexts, were among the major reasons cited by voters throughout the day. These encounters ranged from direct help from their councilor with an issue to family friendships, being classmates, or through patronizing one of their restaurants. From veterans who had encountered Councilor Mazzeo through her work with Soldier On, a woman who met Peter Marchetti years ago at a Morningside neighborhood cleanup, or a young man who said he only registered to vote after having a conversation with at-large candidate Nicholas Caccamo at a recent 3rd Thursday event, personal connections to the candidates were emphasized far more frequently than bitter resistance to their opponents or to any faction.
No voters queried at any of the polls iBerkshires visited brought up differences such as those over PEDA, the Department of Cultural development, or the recent out-voted petition for a ballot question to poll residents on the eventual findings of the School Building Needs Commission, items which have all been issues raised in debates throughout the campaign. Though these issues did come up in conversations with sign-holding campaign supporters, voters passing through were more likely to cite differences in candidates' statements about the state of crime in Pittsfield, if they cited an issue at all.
Daniel Wotjkowski said he voted for Daniel Bianchi for mayor not out of any dislike for his opponent, but out of overwhelming personal admiration for the man himself. "Marchetti's a good guy, he's been a great city councilor with a lot of public service, and he's a sharp guy. But Dan is just such a good guy. He's really helped me and my family a lot."
Francis Wilk, who lives in Ward 2B, the final precint to report in what became a nail-biting wait in this ultra-close election, said he and Bianchi had been childhood friends, in the very neighborhood that decided the election. It was his lifelong experience of him as a person that made him the right choice, in Wilk's view. "Even when we were kids, Dan always had a great instinct for avoiding trouble."
Jonathan Lothrop, now the most senior member of the City Council following his 6-vote win in Ward 5, took some time to discuss his views on the nature of Tuesday's election results with iBerkshires. Lothrop, though not originally from Pittsfield, acknowledged that most of the individuals running for election on Tuesday are natives and have long-standing relationships in the city, both personal and political, in some cases going back to previous generations.
"This is a community where people know each other well. Families have histories together, people went to high school together, and that's a real retail-politics kind of reality, especially in Pittsfield, where you don't have a huge amount of migration in or out. There's an awful lot of people who've been here for generation after generation after generation."
Both Daniel Bianchi and John Krol, purportedly on 'opposite sides,' did well in Ward 6.
Results from the election seem to confirm that while there were certainly some correlations between mayoral and councilor preferences, the final outcome is a mixed tapestry.
For example, Marchetti's slight lead in Ward 3 hardly mirrors the landslide victory in the same ward for Paul Capitanio, who has been accused by critics of consistently voting with the "GOB" majority. Nor can Bianchi's large lead in Ward 6 be chalked up to anti-GOB political sentiments where ardent Ruberto supporter John Krol ran unopposed and is considered hugely popular.
With six of eight incumbents who ran returning to the council and a razor-thin margin in the mayoral race, Tuesday's election looks less like the full scale anti-establishment revolt predicted by some pundits and more like a jigsaw puzzle of many different personal relationships, professional encounters, campaign perceptions, and sometimes even views on the business of running a city.
Though with an estimated 42 percent of registered voters turning out, less than a third of the total population of Pittsfield, as one after-party supporter pointed out, "It's hard to know what the rest of the city thinks."
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The state is holding a special election to fill the seat vacated by John F. Kerry, who has been confirmed as U.S. secretary of state.
The state primary is Tuesday, April 30. The last day to register to vote or to change party affiliation for the primary is Wednesday, April 10. Enrolled voters may only vote in their party primary; unenrolled voters may select a primary to vote in without changing their status.
The special election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 25. The last day to register to vote in the election is Wednesday, June 5.
To register to vote, one must be at least age 18 by the date of the election, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the municipality in which you are voting.