Our Opinion: Local elections have magnified impact in 2017

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National politics tends to suck the air out of the room, and never more so than these days. That doesn't make local politics any less important. In fact, with changes coming out of Washington, D.C. sure to reverberate down to the local level, grassroots elections in 2017 will be of critical importance.

In Pittsfield, elections for City Council and School Committee this November will for the first time be conducted without a race for mayor at the top of the ticket. A voter-approved charter change increased the mayor's term to four years, and Linda Tyer will be halfway through her first term at the end of the year. This is uncharted territory for the city, and the lack of a high profile mayor's race could at least theoretically drain enthusiasm for races lower in the ticket.

Happily, candidates have been emerging for City Council in recent weeks. Helen Haerhan Moon, a critical care nurse at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington and a native of South Korea who is planning a race in Ward 1, told The Eagle (March 17) that she felt compelled to get more involved in her neighborhood, ward and city following the Nov. 8 elections of last year. According to national surveys as well as anecdotal evidence, this is not an uncommon reaction.

It has been apparent since the federal election that programs that benefit communities, from the arts, to the environment, to education, were likely to suffer cuts in federal funding. President Trump's budget proposal last week set the stage, although there will be furious debate in Congress. Getting involved personally at the local level to find ways of minimizing the impact of these potential cuts is one way of helping the community, and it is also a way for many who were disappointed by the election to respond in a constructive manner.

The decision of Lisa Tully not to run for a third term in Ward 1 created a wide open race, which tends to inspire candidates who may not have run against a respected incumbent. Ward 1 includes the Tyler Street/Morningside area, a central focus of Pittsfield's growth efforts, and an active campaign for that seat should stimulate discussion about the problems facing the ward and the possible solutions.

More immediately, Berkshire towns will be having races for Select Board and School Committee, as well as other positions, this spring, and the same principles apply. Funding decisions at the Washington level reverberate through Boston and then to communities. Concerned, informed citizens are needed to fill critical positions so towns can best handle whatever it is that is coming their way.

Frustration over what may be coming from the top down is not necessarily a Civics 101 lesson in why people should get involved in local government, but it is certainly a practical one. Berkshire towns and cities need good candidates for critical positions, and the undeniable stress aside, public service can be as rewarding as it is challenging.


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