Another Western Massachusetts mayor announced they will not seek re-election this year. North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard joins Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz in announcing that their current terms in office will be their last.
Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel is joined by Mayor Bernard, who discusses his reasons for stepping down after serving two terms, and what lies ahead for both himself and the city of North Adams.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Another western Massachusetts mayor is not seeking re-election this year, as North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard joins Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz in announcing that their current terms will be their last ones in office.
Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel spoke with Mayor Bernard to discuss his reasons for stepping down after serving two terms and what lies ahead for both him and the city of North Adams.
Mayor Tom Bernard, North Adams: You know, a lot of things came together for this decision. Certainly, what the last year has been has been like for for leaders everywhere, in what for almost a full year — it will be a year at the end of this week, I think — of crisis response to the to the pandemic. And that did a lot of things.
One, it took focus and put it where it needed to be. But, in doing that, it took my focus off of some really important work that I didn’t I didn’t get a chance to get done, things around long-term fiscal and capital planning.
And now that things are trending in a good direction — that’s not to say that we were out of the woods, not to say that we were in full recovery mode — but as we can as we can look ahead and say, “well, there’s still tunnel to go, but we can start to see the light,” I want to be able to really fully commit myself and my team to working on those those things that I didn’t really get a chance to do as deeply and consistently as I wanted to over the course of the last year. And thinking about the continued recovery, that work, and a campaign, I felt like I could do two of those things, but not three. So, I decided I’d rather spend the time remaining to me doing the work and then leave it in a position to hand it off to somebody else.
Ray Hershel: Now, as you conclude your last term in office in North Adams, Mayor, what will be your priorities? What’s your priority list look like in terms of what you’d like to get done before you leave office?
Mayor Tom Bernard: You know, passing a good budget for this year, updating our capital planning for the future, really making sure that the city is positioned for success.
We have a lot, and we’ve talked about this in other in other conversations, Ray. A lot of a lot of things to recommend North Adams. A lot of a lot of progress, a lot of investment. And I want to make sure that as we recover, we’re on the right trajectory, both in terms of what’s happening in the area of private development, what’s happening with our, you know, our reputation, our position as a cultural center, as a center for outdoor recreation.
But also as a place that is affordable to live, a place that is welcoming, a place that is inclusive, and a place where our fundamentals are are as solid and sound as we can make them. And we’ve had a couple of a couple of issues and a couple of concerning items come up recently, one of them being the condition of our fire hydrants that we really got a wake up call on around two recent fires.
And making sure that the work that I’m doing is addressing those things, and making sure that we are as safe as we can be, we’re investing where we need to be. And we’re doing it in a way that that’s sustainable for a community that’s still, you know, still struggles with our our underlying economics.
Ray Hershel: Now Mayor, how hard did COVID-19 hit your community in terms of the public health issue, in terms of economic development and economic hardship? What kind of hit did North Adams take as a result of COVID-19?
Mayor Tom Bernard: We took a big hit, like everybody did. I mean, first of all, we lost members of our community. People in our community also lost friends and family members who don’t live here, but that that effect is is felt. We had people who came down with, you know, came down with COVID, and suffered and struggled and were and were hospitalized. We had we had businesses close. We had businesses struggle.
And we’re going to continue to see those struggles as we move through the through the recovery. And the good news is, that by paying attention to public health fundamentals, paying attention to social distancing, and masking, and preventive and precautionary measures, we were able to manage it.
And again, I don’t want to I don’t want to minimize or diminish the impact on any individual, on any family, on any community member. But we we did a good job managing through this crisis.
Ray Hershel: Can you look back just and give us an idea of what you feel you think you accomplished, what your major accomplishments have been in North Adams over your last two terms?
Mayor Tom Bernard: I would say, again, it is the work of our foundation. Addressing things like transitions in leadership positions, hiring a new a new police chief, we’re in the process of hiring a fire chief. Updating our zoning , bringing in grants to support economic development.
We got a really good MassWorks grant last year in the midst of the pandemic, for two point four million dollars to support both infrastructure work in our Blackington neighborhood, but also work that will support private development down the road.
So, it’s making sure that we are doing everything we can to make the the momentum for North Adams as positive as it can be.
Ray Hershel: Now, you announced early in the last year of your term that you wouldn’t seek reelection at this point. Any thoughts on where Tom Bernard may end up in the next year or two? Private sector? Is public sector still a possibility? What are your thoughts about the future?
Mayor Tom Bernard: Honestly, Ray, I’m looking forward to being surprised as we get further into the year, and I start networking and having conversations and considering some options.
But also trying to carve out some time to reflect, and to think about what the totality of my career up to this point, having worked in the non-profit sector, having worked in higher ed, now having worked in public service, what is it that takes all those things and puts them together in a way that is exciting, that’s engaging, and still gives me the opportunity to be of some positive use.
Ray Hershel: And Mayor, one final question. Just wanted to get your quick thoughts on how North Adams has fared in terms of COVID distribution and rollout. Has your city gotten its fair share of doses and has things gone as smoothly as you had anticipated?
Mayor Tom Bernard, North Adams: You know, let’s take both those. It’s gone incredibly smoothly because from from day one, from day one, a year ago, we’ve had a close, trusting, trusted, collaborative connection throughout the northern Berkshires.
And whether it’s been, you know, our initial response, whether it’s been connecting with our human service partners, or whether it’s the work that we’ve done to set up our vaccination clinics and models, we’ve done it really well. Which is why the governor and others across the state have highlighted the work in the Berkshires.
But we have the same challenge that everybody else does, which is vaccine supply still remains the challenge for all of us. And, you know, I was talking with with some folks the other day at our clinic, and they were making the point it takes the same amount of effort to vaccinate three hundred people as it does a thousand. And we would rather have those thousand appointment days as often as we can, because that’s going to get us through, that’s going to get our folks vaccinated, that’s going to create the sense of confidence and safety and security and progress that we need to reopen our economy to get people back in school.
So, we’re probably — I think the data is we’re probably getting 10 percent of our allocation statewide, on a on a weekly basis. And so I understand why people are frustrated. I understand why sometimes it can feel like waiting for concert tickets or buying a lottery ticket to try and get a COVID appointment.
And we’re trying to do the best we can to to manage, to connect our councils on aging to this work, to make sure that everything that we can do to support our residents in our community, we are doing, as we have since day one of our pandemic response.