NORTH ADAMS --Crime, blight, and economic growth dominated an hour-long radio debate between Mayor Richard J. Alcombright and challenger Robert Moulton Jr. Wednesday morning.
The debate, which aired live on WNAW, was moderated by the radio station's Megan Duley, who also asked questions along with media from iBerkshires and The Transcript. The debate was also taped for later playback by Northern Berkshire Community Television.
Moulton, a former City Councilor, challenged Alcombright's record when it came to crime in the city and criticized a recent endorsement the mayor had received from state Attorney General Martha Coakley. Coakley's endorsement praises Alcombright for increasing the police presence in the city over the last three months.
"What about the other 43 months?" Moulton said. "We need to be more proactive than reactive. We need more money for police."
He also made the assertion that crime is up 60 percent in the city and said Alcombright had failed to keep a campaign platform promise, made four years ago, to reduce crime in the city.
"I did not run on crime," Alcombright said. "I ran a platform of fiscal integrity, economic development and transparency. "Crime is up about 25 percent as far as breaking and entering is concerned."
He said that recent violent crimes in the city -- a stabbing outside of the Artery Lounge, a beating outside of McDonalds and the recent murder of an elderly woman -- all involved random acts of violence by people who knew each other.
Alcombright said his administration hasn't had its "head in the sand over this," noting increased policing efforts and proactive efforts with multiple municipalities and agencies to battle "the root of the problem" --drug addiction and poverty.
While both agreed the city's aging housing stock and blighted properties are a problem, their solutions were different.
Alcombright said he's looking to create a sustainable revolving loan program for homeowners, to help better their properties.
Moulton said he'd bring back the health inspector and beef up the department -- putting the inspectors out on the streets to identify violations. Alcombright refuted Moulton's claim the health inspector's position had been eliminated -- noting that James O'Brien had been promoted to the position during a consolidation of the city's inspection services department and that the assistant health inspector's position had been eliminated.
"These guys are out there every day doing inspections and writing citations," Alcombright said.
During the debate, Alcombright questioned how Moulton would pay for more police officers or additional inspectors, along with items on his "action plan" including a city-run charter school."
Moulton did not specify how he would fund those items, even when pressed by the panel, except to say that he would stop handing out raises or that he would look to decrease overtime in the police department.
Moulton and Alcombright also clashed over the redevelopment of Western Gateway Heritage State Park and the need for a master plan.
Moulton said he'd put Heritage State Park back out to bid and that he doubted the plan put forward by Greylock Market LLC would be sustainable -- saying private developers failed to sustain the park in the early 1990s.
Alcombright said the city can not afford to manage the property, nor can it invest in the aging structures, but that a commitment of $1.6 million in private funds was very real. He said that while private management failed in the 1990s, the city and the present economy are quite different.