You didn’t have to go to Washington and watch the MAGA Republicans and Freedom Caucus this week to find political self-destruction on a mouth-dropping level.
You could have found it right here in the Whaling City.
The New Bedford City Council on Tuesday night elected a new council president who is not on speaking terms with Mayor Jon Mitchell.
That’s right. The overwhelming majority of the councilors present, willingly and knowingly, voted for one of their members — well known to have a terrible relationship with the city’s chief executive — to be their new leader.
The mayor’s office confirms to me that Councilor-at-Large Linda Morad, the newly elected president, has not been speaking to the mayor since February 2021, when she last returned one of his texts.
Mitchell said his practice has been to meet with the council president once a week and it has worked well with the past two presidents, Ian Abreu and Joe Lopes. “It’s more efficient,” he said if he can get a message out through the president.
It appears that Morad got the job because no one else really wanted to do it. It’s time consuming and some of the councilors have demanding full-time jobs; others, to be honest, are simply not up to the position, or have not been on the council long enough to have the experience.
Morad is a puzzle to many who have watched her now two-decades-old career on the council.
It’s indisputable that she has been one of the smartest and most effective councilors during those 20-odd years. She nonetheless has a reputation for mean-spiritedness against those she feels have done her wrong and has often raised eyebrows and caused colleagues to sigh, both collectively and individually.
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The latest example of Morad’s penchant against comity was at the Dec. 6 City Council meeting, the last meeting run by outgoing Council President Abreu. According to individuals who were in the council chambers, Morad refused to clap for Abreu after another councilor made the customary remarks thanking the outgoing president for his service.
It is traditional at these last meetings of the year for one of the councilors to thank the council president for their work. Being council president is a labor-intensive job. Not only is the president the main conduit for communication between the mayor’s office and the council, he or she is the main organizing official for the council’s activities. It takes time and effort to do the job well.
Ward 2 Councilor Maria Giesta delivered the thank-you remarks for outgoing President Abreu, which was odd because I would have thought it would have been the 1st vice president, which would mean Morad herself would be doing the honors. But even odder than that was the fact that when the other councilors began to applaud after Giesta finished her remarks, Morad could not bring herself to clap.
Now maybe there is something that Abreu has done to Morad that I don’t know about, and that has caused her to have such bad feelings toward her fellow councilor. And maybe there is something that Mayor Mitchell has done to Morad that I don’t know about, and that has also caused her to not respond to the chief executive’s efforts to contact her.
My understanding is that there are other councilors who also don’t take the mayor’s calls — Brian Gomes, Derek Baptiste. It’s actually quite something when you realize how much dysfunction there is in New Bedford city government.
Morad has not returned my own phone calls for a while now, and I understand from third parties that she feels I’ve been unfair to her.
It’s certainly true that my keyboard has given Morad more than her share of criticism, although that same keyboard has given nearly every other elected official in the city, including Morad’s political opponents, a goodly share of second-guessing. That’s my job. When the ice bucket challenge was popular, I was understandably one of the first people to be challenged by a New Bedford elected official or two.
I do wish, however, that Councilor Morad would return my calls more often because then perhaps at least some of the time, I would better understand her reasoning.
On Tuesday night, after Morad was elected president on an 8-1 vote (with Abreu dissenting), she proceeded to go to the seats of her fellow councilors and give them a hug. But there were no hugs for Abreu. There was barely even a handshake.
As Abreu stepped down from the council president’s dais and Morad approached it, they passed each without looking one another in the eye. Their handshake was so quick and light that my phone camera could barely capture it.
It was an exact replica of the disheartening dysfunction in current American national politics right on display here in New Bedford. That dysfunction has moved us from being a democracy — where we view our political opponents as individuals we respectfully disagree with — to our being some sort of kakistocracy — where we see our opponents as evil persons that we should not even engage with. Yeah, I had to look up “kakistocracy” too.
As I said, it’s hard to figure out Morad. The same councilors who are well familiar with her wrath when she’s crossed say that on a personal level she’s one of the nicest people they know, always remembering birthdays and showing up with food and support when someone is sick or in a crisis.
Councilor Shane Burgo talks about how when he was first elected last year, Morad was one of the first persons to offer him a helping hand to get to know the ways of the council, telling him they are all part of the same “council team.” Hmm … I’m not sure what Morad is up to with this “council team” thing. Who is the council team playing against? Is the opposing team the mayor and his administration? The media? The voters?
From the way the council protected former Councilor Hugh Dunn — even after he did not contest charges that he had left the scene of a property damage car crash and driven negligently — it makes me wonder what this council team concept really means.
If only the City Council’s dysfunction were limited to their vote for the council presidency.
If you want to know how bad things have really gotten on the city’s main governing body, you should look on the city’s cable TV website at the Dec. 13 meeting of the Appointments and Briefings meeting. That’s when two freshman councilors — Shane Burgo and Ryan Pereira — actually walked out of the meeting altogether rather than be part of what they perceived as an unfair proceeding. Their departure meant there was no longer a quorum and no business could be done.
The freshman councilors have told me they feared a truncated committee was going to wrongly torpedo two of Mayor Mitchell’s appointments that have been bottled up in the council committee for months.
Carol Pimentel, a Hall of Fame athlete and longtime UMass Dartmouth administrator, had been nominated to the School Committee at Voc-Tech, her alma mater. But fearful that Pimentel might be a vote to increase Latino representation on the student body, the appointment has been held up. It’s the second Voc-Tech nominee in a row, both Cape Verdeans, that the council has held up. They actually voted down longtime School Committee member Jack Livramento.
Also on the agenda that night was the mayor’s nomination of Ricard Rezendes, a former police officer, to replace longtime Chair Steve Beauregard on the Licensing Board. Rezendes being on the board might help address some of the problems with the old boy and girl network going easy on some of the … er, drinking establishments in the city. Ward 6 Councilor Pereira, who has some problems with lower County Street establishments in his ward, would probably like that, too.
Burgo and Pereira said they feared that the nominations might be endangered because only seven of 11 councilors were in attendance and thus only two votes could kill the nominations.
Appointments and Briefings Chair Naomi Carney says she was simply trying to move some nominations along and did not know all those councilors would be absent from December meetings that are historically sparsely attended. She inherited 58 items on her agenda when she took the job, she said.
Unlike Morad, Carney was gracious enough to take my questions but methinks the lady doth protest too much. These important nominations have been in her committee for months. I’m with the freshman councilors that this meeting smacked of parliamentary maneuvering that the council sometimes uses to deny the mayor his due appointing authority of qualified people.
City councilors walking out of a meeting because they don’t trust other councilors is another indication of how much mistrust there is on the current body. It reminds me of Mitch McConnell denying President Obama a Supreme Court nominee a few years ago.
It’s not news that politics sometimes pollutes small town government every bit as much as things at the national or state level. Sometimes I think that the smaller the stakes are, the worse elected officials behave. But that doesn’t mean we the public have to like it. And it doesn’t mean that this kind of hard-ball tactics and mean-spiritedness in our office-holders is right.
New Bedford can do better.
Email New Bedford Light columnist Jack Spillane at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: The number of councilors voting at the organizational meeting has been corrected to reflect the fact Councilor Hugh Dunn has resigned and Councilor Derek Baptiste was late for the meeting.
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