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IN THE NEWS - Cops, graffiti - and priorities
March 13, 2006

 By Alan Chartock
 Berkshire Eagle 

I believe that I qualify as the person having written the most about Pam Drumm and her historic work on the pedestrian tunnel that goes under the railroad tracks and connects the town to Great Barrington's "Hill" neighborhood. Now comes word that she's giving up her volunteer work of ending the offensive, criminal graffiti in the tunnel.

It seems that, on two recent occasions, she saw that some young vandals had stripped some of the bricks from the tunnel wall. She called the police to report the crime and waited at the scene. On the first occasion, she was told, "It's not a good time," that it was "between shifts." The police got there late and didn't bring a camera. The second time, after she actually saw the vandals stripping more bricks, she called and received what she called a "reserved reaction," or a downright cold shoulder. That time, she didn't wait and moved on. Four days later, the bricks were still on the ground.

 This should not happen because Great Barrington residents pay a lot of money in taxes. As far as we know, the precious little darlings responsible for the vandalism are still at large. Pam is now throwing up her hands and walking away. Too bad, but I do understand. I am sure that if our juvenile delinquents were caught and convicted, their parents would be arguing that graffiti is art and would be forming a citizens' committee to protect the rights of young scoundrels.

We are now engaged in an important debate concerning the future of the Great Barrington Police Department and, in the words of the famous detective Nero Wolfe, the story is "Unsatisfactory." Here is a tale of police dispatchers who couldn't get the job done. We are being told that the dispatcher's tasks should not go to civilians because the cops can prioritize. In addition, let us remember that graffiti is a symbol of social disintegration. If unruly and rude kids are allowed to congregate uncontrolled in a parking lot (yes, they are back), if one virtually never sees a cop in Great Barrington and if graffiti goes unchecked, one can only wonder whether this isn't assurance that we do, indeed, need to pay the police to stay on the job. To what end? Not to respond in a timely manner to calls?

 Let us return to the open state Senate seat being vacated by Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. This past week amid considerable fanfare, young Benjamin Downing officially announced his candidacy. This is a good thing. Yes, he is very young, almost 25. But his lineage, his family, his honesty and his decency can hardly be questioned. There are more and more signs that our young people are not reading newspapers or engaging in politics. Put an honest, committed man like Downing in the state Senate, and it might well inspire others to do the same thing. If age is the criterion, one can only wonder why things are such a mess on Beacon Hill. Most of the guys up there are very old. In fact, if Downing is elected, this might be the start of something big.

Yet another pressing topic is the question of the national efforts by the Democratic Party to take the Senate and the House of Representatives. If that happens, everything will change. The Democrats, of course, are all over the lot. Both the House and Senate campaigns are being run by effective bulldogs. Nevertheless, there does not seem to be a coordinated campaign. Just think about it this way. If the Democrats take the House, there is likely to be a lot of questioning about this government's policies on Iraq and Iran, and internally on matters of national security. Not only that, but there is every indication that the president will have even more Supreme Court nominations to make. If the Democrats have the Senate, at least those nominees will have the kind of rigorous questioning that every candidate deserves.

Finally, I recently had an opportunity to spend an hour in an interview with Eva Marie Saint. What a wonderful woman, incredibly warm and centered. In the middle of the interview, I told her that I live in the Berkshires. She became animated and mentioned her longtime friendship with the wonderful Karl Lipsky of Jenifer House fame and with Dory Previn and said how she loved Previn's singing and performances at Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge. I mean, this lady really loves the Berkshires. She said that she is not one to get crazy about actors because she is one. But, said the lady who won an Academy Award for her first film, "On the Waterfront," the two actors who really got to her were Marlon Brando and Cary Grant. Both were her leading men. That is an interview that you are not going to want to miss.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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