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John Lawson
A collage of David Magadini, created by the artist John Lawson. The work will be on exhibit at the Mason Library.

David Magadini: Mayor of Main Street

By Sunday, May 18, 2014 Life In the Berkshires, News 17

Editor’s Note: The collage of David Magadini accompanying this article, created by John Lawson, will be on display in the Mason Library as part of an exhibit entitled “Great Barrington – The Best Small Town.” The exhibit opens May 23.

Great Barrington — He is one of the most recognizable and famous characters in Great Barrington.

And he is homeless.

For the past nine years, David Magadini has patrolled the streets of home town, pushing a small battered shopping cart in front of him. He wears a torn and ragged blue winter parka, beige Timberland work boots and baggy pants – winter and summer.

When he is not loitering outside Fuel Coffeehouse on Main Street, Magadini can be seen at the post office, sleeping in the gazebo behind Town Hall, faithfully attending town meetings, and reading chapters from “Town Meeting Time” at the Mason library.

In his eyes, David Magadini believes he is setting an example for the community. He argues that by exercising his rights as a citizen of the United States – in this case, to vote and be a free citizen even though he has chosen to remain homeless — he serves as a model to strongly encourage others to exercise their freedom as well.

David Magadini on Main Street with his belongings in tow.

David Magadini on Main Street with his belongings in tow.

I caught up with Magadini at one of his favorite haunts, the Mason Library, and interviewed him in one of the study rooms.

Born and raised in Great Barrington, Magadini graduated from Searles High School, and went on to attend the University of Iowa, where he received his Liberal Arts degree. As a kid, he recalled, he held a keen curiosity for science and mathematics as well as religion and theology. Looking back, he thinks this was “an odd mix of interests.”

After college he moved back to Great Barrington, where he has been making his political views well-known to the community ever since.

As far as town government is concerned, he had little interest or use for politics until 1983. That year he was appointed as a citizen representative to a committee working to redraft the zoning bylaws. A few years later he was elected to the zoning board of appeals.

Magadini marks the start of his serious political activity in the community as beginning in 2005. It is not a coincidence that this was also the year he became homeless. On Dec. 5, 2005, his landlord evicted him for reasons, he said, “I am not going to discuss.”

However multiple sources in town have clarified that the reason for his eviction was because he refused to pay his water bills. Since then, he has been kicked out of a few stores and motels in town, and has not had what he calls “a suitable habitation” to live in. It’s obvious that his encampment of piled clothes and crumpled newspapers behind Town Hall can hardly be called a home.

Still, Magidini made it clear that finding a residence is not a priority.

“I have managed to survive outside for seven years,” he said, and he plans to remain in Great Barrington as a homeless man, declaring, “I refuse to leave this place, this is my home, I am not going to be forced out of town because people do not like my opinions or the way I look.”

Indeed, eccentric as his chosen lifestyle may be, he insists on taking part in public affairs. Once again, at the Annual Town Meeting, Magadini put himself up as a candidate for town moderator, a position he has sought since 2009 without success. This year, however, he did attract a respectable 338 votes.

He runs for office because he believes that “the town meeting is important, it is the legislature of Great Barrington and not enough people understand that.”

Magadini is convinced that the town meetings should not be “a vehicle for the government to promote its agenda,” but rather “a vehicle for the citizens to act on what their government has planned or is planning to do.”

He is fed up with the way the town meetings have been run. He compares them to an auction, claiming that the town moderator dominates the room by rushing through the articles that need to be covered as quickly as possible so that everybody can go home.

Were he to be town moderator, he would offer a different approach.

“The people are the real town meeting,” he argues, adding that his method would “necessitate more discussion,” and encourage citizens to participate in those discussions. He would educate voters by urging them to read “Town Meeting Time,” a manual that contains the guidelines and procedures for the town meeting process, and can now be found at the Mason Library as a result of his request.

Magadini trudges in the direction of the Mason Library.

Magadini trudges in the direction of the Mason Library.

If he had his way, the meeting process would be doubled — if not tripled — in length, with possibly three nights of discussion time. He would expect that the people who attended town meeting would come with their own questions and criticisms to share.

In some ways, Magadini’s campaign for town moderator, and his decision to remain homeless are part of the same broader protest.

“If the citizens want their freedoms, then they have to utilize them,” he believes. “Otherwise, they will be taken away.”

Magadini does not seem too concerned about whether he won or not. His real objective is to educate the public, and lead by example.

David Magadini’s campaign is for the people, he insists; and he thinks he is fighting to preserve the liberties they all too often take for granted.

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