An inveterate runner and walker throughout the neighborhoods of New Bedford, Carmen Amaral took me on a brisk walk through the streets close to her home neighborhood near Oak Grove Cemetery.
She described it as a not-too-brisk pace but it was plenty brisk for me.
Carmen Amaral speaks with Jack Spillane
Amaral, 43, has a foster dog named Zoe and she came along with us. She says she loves both her runs and walks with the dog, who has doggie friends along her various routes. Amaral herself has run several of the New Bedford Half Marathons and full marathons in other places.
“I enjoy walking and being active, running. So it fits,” she said, of my desire to walk their neighborhoods with the candidates.
Amaral, who is on her third foster dog, is the kind of person who knows the names of the pets of her neighbors, and stories about their kids and spouses. She describes herself as a natural advocate for people.
“My whole life has been service and advocacy. And I’m ready to do that for the city as a whole,” she said.
The academic coordinator for the Old Colony Regional Vocational High School in Rochester, Amaral has previously been a longtime teacher — first in the Cape Cod Collaborative, a regional public district for at-risk students in Barnstable, and later at the Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton, where she taught science. She also holds an undergraduate degree in biology and recently bowed out of volunteering with the Save Our Schools group, an activist group of educators and their supporters who advocated against using public district school funding for public charter schools.
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The group was instrumental in defeating a proposal by Alma del Mar charter system and Mayor Jon Mitchell to establish a neighborhood charter school in New Bedford. The neighborhood charter was an experiment to see if a charter school could be successful in educating whatever children come in the door as opposed to parents applying for their children to attend charters. In the wake of opposition by teachers unions and others, the state Legislature declined to allow charter schools to organize themselves that way.
Amaral’s advocacy is hard-won and emblematic of an immigrant’s success story.
She came to the United States when she was 4 years old, with parents who spoke no English. She grew up in the Portuguese enclave of triple-deckers around Madeira Field. Her parents, although they owned a home in the Azores, never owned one in America.
When Amaral was in middle school, she became the chief care-giver and liaison for her mother with the medical community. Nicolina Amaral had been diagnosed with uterine cancer and died just a year later.
“My passion for science started when my mother got sick at a very young age,” she remembered of her parent’s battle. “I wanted to cure cancer.”
Along our walk, Amaral told me an interesting story of her journey to becoming an American citizen. She had a green card and a social security number from a young age, but she was left on her own as a young adult to become an American citizen. Her written citizenship test was scheduled for Sept. 12, 2001.
After Acting Gov. Jane Swift came on television telling the public that the state government would be “business as usual” in the wake of the 911 attacks, the 21-year-old Amaral showed up in Boston for her citizenship test on the following day. The surprised security guards were shocked to think she had shown up and told her the test had been canceled.
Later, a crumpled-up and torn envelope with a rescheduled date for the exam arrived at her latest address the day after the test had taken place. She had to start all over with her quest to become a citizen.
“I said, ‘O my gosh, I have to do this again.’” she said. “Right now. I’m a graduating college student … life can’t get in the way, I have to do this paperwork again, I want to get there, I want this to happen, I want to be sworn in, I want to be naturalized.”
Since her ability to cast a ballot has been hard-won, Amaral said, she has been avid about elections ever since she became a citizen, saying it’s critical for people in getting their views known. “I’m very passionate about voting,” she said.
Amaral may be passionate about voting, but she seems to have learned to be a bit of a politician in her first run for office. When I referenced the thousands of undocumented Central American immigrants who are thought to live in New Bedford, she seemed guarded about her views on the subject.
“I don’t know that that’s in the purview of the City Council,” she said, “I do think it’s an important issue that we need to consider how it impacts the city.”
When I told her that undocumented immigrants have a right to a public education, she agreed and repeated back to me that they do have that right.
I was trying to draw out her views on undocumented immigration so I asked her if the law mandating that immigrants without papers obtain a free public education should be changed, and she seemed reluctant to answer: “I don’t know if that’s up to us as a City Council to decide, if that’s what you’re asking.”
So I said no, I just wanted to know what her personal feelings were on the issue. “No, I think we educate folks,” she said.
Maybe I wasn’t asking the question clearly enough. I just wanted to know her views, given her own immigrant background.
Amaral, like several of the other candidates, said she is doing a lot of door-to-door campaigning in the ward. She seems to be hearing the same things as the others are hearing: that is, that improving constituent services and the city’s communication with the public is the No. 1 issue. Her personal positions on the issues are one thing, but she wants to know what the public is thinking. “I want to hear what people have to say. I think that’s important,” she said. “Community members need a voice.”
Part of being a scientist is that she’s a data geek, she explained. She wants to get the facts before making a decision.
What Amaral said she is hearing from the public is that taxes are too high and people are not sure what they are getting for their money; everyone thinks the traffic at the intersection of Hathaway Road and Route 140 is horrendous; and bringing in new business is important for the city in terms of growing revenue. People are concerned about homelessness and that those in need should be taken care of, she said.
She’s been plugged in during the campaign, attending a city-sponsored meeting at Holy Family hall on the big changes coming in the construction of a regulation-size soccer pitch at Dias Field. She and her campaign are doggedly doing door-to-door canvassing.
Amaral returns to emphasizing her lifelong work doing public service — from helping her ill mother to her work with students and teachers. It is what makes her believe she can get things done on the City Council, she said.
She knows the systems that work and the ways to include people, she said.
“I know that I have the skills and the experience as a lifelong advocate, as an educator working with stakeholders, working with parents, in the community, that I have the skill set to be a city councilor and represent the people of New Bedford,” she said.
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of walking profiles with each of the seven candidates in the Jan. 24 preliminary election for Ward 3 city councilor. Read Jack Spillane’s overview of the race with links to all seven profiles.
Email Jack Spillane at email@example.com.
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