NEW BEDFORD — The City Council on Thursday night could not muster the votes to overturn vetoes the mayor exercised last month, meaning the November ballot will not include non-binding public opinion questions on the four-year mayoral term, on a program supporting community projects, and on whether the city should govern rent increases. 

Motions to overturn Mayor Jon Mitchell’s vetoes — requiring eight votes to pass — failed 6-5 and 3-8 on the ballot questions on rent stabilization and on withdrawing from the Community Preservation Act program respectively. A motion to sustain the mayor’s veto on the ballot question on whether the mayoral term in office should be two or four years passed 6-5.


In a two-sentence written statement issued soon after the votes were cast, Mitchell said he appreciated council members’ willingness to rethink the votes they cast on March 9, when the measures were adopted by lopsided margins.

“I appreciated the opportunity recently to have productive discussions with City Councilors about the three referenda before them tonight, and that they were willing to take a fresh look at the merits of each item,” said Mitchell, who vetoed the three motions on March 22, submitting to the council a four-page letter explaining why. “I look forward to working with the Council in the same cooperative spirit on the major challenges and opportunities facing the City in the days ahead.”

Councilor-at-Large Shane Burgo, the main sponsor and most outspoken supporter of the rent stabilization ballot question, said the outcome was a letdown.

“I am disappointed to see some of my colleagues change their vote,” he said, adding that he understands that “overriding a mayor’s veto is not something you take lightly.” 

Burgo pledged to continue fashioning a city policy to govern rent increases, saying he looked forward to working with opponents to resolve disagreements.

Ward 6 Councilor Ryan Pereira, who voted to override the veto on the rent stabilization question, also stressed the gravity of overturning a mayoral veto, but he said he thought “the people should have their voice” in a referendum, even if he said he himself would probably not support rent stabilization. 

The vote on the rent question — which has generated the most comment of the three motions — came after nearly an hour of remarks by council members in a room that was packed to overflowing with spectators, as many people who had rallied outside City Hall before the meeting to support the rent question flowed into council chambers once the session began. 

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Erik Andrade, the New Bedford activist who led the rally that was also supported by the Coalition for Social Justice, said after the vote on the rent question that councilors had deprived the public of a forum.

“Several councilors exposed themselves as afraid of the people’s right to democratically voice their opinions about an issue that is impacting the entire city,” said Andrade, who wrote an email to council members late Thursday afternoon saying 342 people had signed a petition supporting the ballot question on governing rent increases. 

“It’s unnerving to see elected officials decide on silencing the people,” Andrade said, vowing to organize voters to defeat councilors running for re-election in the fall who had voted against the veto override, singling out Ward 5 Councilor Scott Lima, who has said he’ll be running for an at-large seat. Lima, who voted for the rent ballot question last month, changed course and voted against the veto override Thursday night.

Some 30 to 40 people had gathered outside City Hall on William Street for about an hour on a brisk spring evening to hear a number of speakers decry rising rents, and what they considered the mayor’s attempt to deprive the public of a chance to voice their opinion on a matter of considerable public concern.

Andrade said Mitchell favored gentrification in New Bedford, adding that “gentrification is a form of genocide … It’s racial genocide.”

Burgo told the group outside that the council’s measure was not to create a rent increase policy, but only to take a measure of public opinion.

“All we’re asking today is to let the people vote,” said Burgo, arguing that there is substantial public support for some sort of policy governing rent increases. “What the mayor has said is ‘I don’t want to hear from you.’”

Former Councilor Viola Pina, speaking from behind the wheel of a white Nissan SUV idling at the curb on William Street, encouraged folks in the crowd to stay active. 

“Don’t let them silence you, they represent us,” said Pina. “We need to organize and stay strong and fight back,” she said, prompting a chant from the group: “FIGHT BACK, FIGHT BACK.”

The rhetoric about the rent question continued inside, as all but two council members, Councilors-at-Large Ian Abreu and Council President Linda Morad, rose one by one to speak. Abreu did not take part in the votes on March 9, as he was absent that session for a family obligation.

Ward 3 Councilor Shawn Oliver, who was the only member to oppose the rent question in a 9-1 vote on March 9, echoed a main point he made when he voted last month, stressing his concern that talk of a rent stabilization or control policy would prompt landlords to raise rents in anticipation of limits on their income.

Oliver also held up a copy of a 33-page plan to expand and improve the supply of housing in New Bedford that was unveiled by Mitchell on March 29. He urged his colleagues to work with the administration to carry out the plan. 

Councilor-at-Large Brian Gomes, one of three sponsors of the original rent stabilization motion along with Burgo and Morad, said the Mitchell plan would do nothing immediately to address the city’s housing shortage, which he said is reflected in numbers of people “sleeping in cars, sleeping in tents. If you get around town you’ll see it, you’ll taste it.”

Councilor-at-Large Naomi R.A. Carney, who ultimately changed course from her vote on March 9 and voted against the veto override on the rent question, stressed the difficulty of casting this vote. Minutes before she cast her vote she said she was not sure of her choice. She said she was concerned about the reactions of “bad landlords” who would raise rents, and she worried about people losing their homes. 

“I’m going with carefulness and caring,” Carney said. 

Ultimately, switching their votes on the rent question were Carney, Lima, and Brad Markey of Ward 1. Abreu, who voted against overriding the veto Thursday night, had said soon after the March 9 vote that he would not support a nonbinding ballot question on rent stabilization. 

The motion to allow a nonbinding ballot question on the length of the mayor’s term in office was adopted on a 10-0 vote on March 9. On Thursday night, five councilors switched their votes on the ballot question: Carney, Lima, Markey, Pereira, and Maria Giesta of Ward 2. 

Pereira pointed out that this question and the one on the Community Preservation Act were a bit different from the rent question, as voters have since 2014 had their say on both issues in binding referenda that changed city policy. 

In 2014, voters decided to take part in the Community Preservation Act, a state program meant to support local projects that qualify under four categories: open space, historic preservation, recreation and housing. The program raises money through a property tax surcharge and state grants. 

In 2017, voters decided to change from a two-year to a four-year mayoral term. 

Markey noted that while only 12% of registered voters cast a ballot on the mayoral term question in 2017, at least the public had some say in the matter. He said if there was strong public support to reverse course, activists could muster the signatures needed to put the question on the ballot again. 

Lima said he changed his vote on this in part because Mayor Mitchell, who is now in the last months of his first four-year term after serving four two-year stints, agreed to consider a change to allow mayoral recall votes. 

In the 3-8 vote on overriding the veto of the CPA question, four councilors changed course to vote against putting the question on the ballot and to oppose the veto override: Pereira, Oliver, Carney, and Derek Baptiste of Ward 4. 

Morad, who originally sponsored a motion on March 9 to put a binding CPA question on the ballot, but revised that move to a nonbinding referendum, on Thursday night said she knew she would be outvoted, but she rose to make similar points she had made last month. 

She said she had talked with many people who were unhappy about the 1.5% property tax surcharge on property valued above $100,000.

She noted that the average city property tax bill has jumped from $2,763 in 2014 when the city voted to take part in the CPA to $4,434 today. She said she spoke with 139 people in the last few weeks about the tax surcharge, and found that 127 were not happy about it. 

Lima, who spoke in favor of the CPA on March 9 did so again, saying that Ward 5 itself was not getting a disproportionate share of the benefits, but the program was good for the city overall. 

This fiscal year, according to the current Community Preservation Plan, the city expects the state to put up about a third of the $1.2 million raised by the tax surcharge for a total of $1.6 million.

The council on Thursday night approved recommendations from the Community Preservation Committee for 23 projects totaling about $1.8 million, including work on restoring two historic theaters on Acushnet Avenue, the Capitol and the Strand, and for a playground at the Sgt. William Carney Memorial Academy Elementary School. 

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