|Former North Adams Mayor Barrett Announces Candidacy for House Seat|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
01:39AM / Tuesday, July 25, 2017
|John Barrett III, seen in this 2015 file photo, is running in the Democratic primary for the 1st Berkshire seat. |
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — John Barrett III has been working for the people of Northern Berkshire County in a variety of jobs for more than three decades.
Now, he hopes to do one more job and help bring more jobs to the county in the process.
Over the weekend, Barrett announced his candidacy for the 1st Berkshire seat in the House of Representatives.
Barrett is best known for his 26 years as the mayor of North Adams, but his public service record includes time as a county commissioner, a member of the McCann School Committee, a trustee of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and executive director of state employment agency BerkshireWorks in Pittsfield.
Now he is looking to fill the term of Gailanne Cariddi, his former colleague, who died last month at 63.
"I know where Gail was coming from, and she would often turn to me for advice," Barrett, 70, said on Monday afternoon. "I worked with her for, I guess, 19 years on the City Council.
"I want to be helpful. If I can help one more time, I'm willing to do this. I think this is an opportunity where I can keep things going."
There are several areas where Barrett thinks the Berkshires need an effective voice on Beacon Hill, and many of them relate to two priorities that go hand-in-hand: jobs and education.
At BerkshireWorks, where he stepped in as interim executive in 2011 after a stint as a public works consultant for the city of Pittsfield, Barrett learned first hand what job training programs work and, just as importantly, which ones don't.
"I'm very critical of workforce development not just in Berkshire County but in Massachusetts," Barrett said. "We've wasted millions on bogus programs and crazy things that produce nothing."
On the other hand, he has seen successes, like a program during his tenure at BerkshireWorks that placed 75 percent of its participants in "good paying, sustainable jobs."
He said Monday that he will never forget a 2012 report that found Berkshire County is the only county in the commonwealth that has to import people to fill job vacancies. Preparing the county's residents to meet the needs of 21st century businesses will require a multi-faceted approach.
"Berkshire Community College, McCann, Taconic High School, MCLA — all of them have to be involved in this," Barrett said. "I just don't believe the part about training is being emphasized enough. That starts at the state level. That's where the money is flowing from."
The flow of state money also is a problem in K-12 education, a subject near and dear to the former elementary school teacher.
In Barrett's campaign announcement, he criticized the state's distribution of Chapter 70 aid to school districts, which he said runs contrary to the Education Reform Act of 1993. He has declared changing that formula to be a top priority if he wins the seat, and on Monday he talked about how the imbalance in state aid is forcing taxpayer anger, reductions in educational opportunity and, most recently, school closures.
And he understands that Berkshire County has natural allies in Boston to help effect change.
"One thing I'd like to do is put together a coalition," Barrett said. "I know they're hurting in Fall River and New Bedford and other small cities and towns."
As a former president of the Massachusetts Mayors Association and dean of the commonwealth's mayors, Barrett has a network of contacts throughout the state that he believes will be an asset to his constituents in the 1st Berkshire District, which includes Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, Lanesborough, New Ashford, North Adams and Williamstown.
Barrett does not plan to restrict his efforts to benefiting North County. After decades in local government, he understands how the members of the Berkshire County legislative delegation work together to form a unified voice in Boston and how the same issues often impact all the county's towns.
"The people I've worked with at the state level — to them, Berkshire County was a foreign country," Barrett said. "They have to understand it's different, and you have to do things differently."
One of the challenges standing in the way of economic development in the state's most rural county is the lack of access to broadband internet connectivity. Barrett on Monday applauded the efforts of a study group in Williamstown looking to address the problem and indicated that government must take the lead.
"It's going to take heavy investment from state government to make that happen," Barrett said. "I think that's one of the top issues that has to be addressed as far as the economy. … It's not going to come from the private sector unless the state steps into it and provides incentives or whatever."
Barrett has been part of big projects before. He was at the ground floor for the conversion of the former Sprague Electric factory to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hoosic River Revival effort.
"I often say to people, what would have happened if I'd said no to Judy Grinnell when she came to me with the Hoosic River project? What would have happened if I'd said no to Tom Krens with his idea for a contemporary arts museum? These things never would have happened," Barrett said. "I'm not so egotistical as to say I'm the guy who made it all happen, but it has to start someplace."
Barrett said that next fall and winter are a critical time for the Berkshires as the next year's budget is prepared, and he is ready to put his experience to work for the people of county.
On Monday, Barrett said he plans to use social media to help get his message out to the voters.
"People live hectic lives," he said. "I will try to get them to focus on the importance of this election and think about what they want to see for the First Berkshire district and all of Berkshire County. You can't look at just one section of it. You have to look at the entire county."