We may not have any choices in the critically important School Committee race and three of the City Council ward races in New Bedford this year. But in wards 1, 5 and 6, the competing candidates are presenting clear alternatives to the voters.
The six competitors in the three wards — Leo Choquette and Brad Markey in Ward 1; Zach Boyer and Scott Lima in Ward 5; and Ryan Pereira and Joe Lopes in Ward 6 — are all responsible people who will take the council job seriously. Nevertheless, there are clear differences in what they are offering voters, based on their statements on the campaign trail and at a recent candidate night.
In both wards 1 and 6, it’s fair to say that the incumbents in both races have been among Mayor Jon Mitchell’s most reliable supporters on the council. The challengers, on the other hand, both sound like members of the loyal, if minority opposition led by current councilors Linda Morad and Brian Gomes.
That’s not to say the ward incumbents agree with the mayor on everything or the challengers agree with Morad and Gomes all the time. But on major issues like the importance of economic development downtown; addressing the structural deficit in the sewer and water bills now rather than later; and avoiding cuts to the city budgets that would result in sharp cutbacks in services or even the layoffs of city employees — both Brad Markey and Council President Joe Lopes have been there with Mitchell.
If you think the mayor has overall been doing a good job, you are probably inclined to vote for them again.
So, what are the challengers in Wards 1 and 6 focusing on?
Leo Choquette and Ryan Pereira are talking about some of the same things Morad and Gomes often talk about. They’re concerned about raising the sewer and water bills on folks with fixed incomes and want more money from the city’s COVID relief budget devoted to it. Pereira is concerned about crime, casting a skeptical eye toward the mayor’s touting of FBI statistics showing a steady decline in major crime over the last five years.
The challengers are also advocating better planning on neighborhood developments like the original permitting process for the Parallel Products recycling plant in the North End and the Cisco Brewery complex and East Beach water park on the South End peninsula. The mayor’s office and the City Council itself have both been criticized for letting those developments get too far down the track before realizing they were lacking important controls.
Choquette and Pereira, like virtually everyone else either on the council or wanting to be on it, are supporting a proposal that would require the city to provide a full salary pension benefit for all city employees who die of COVID. Councilor Morad has contended that the proposed benefit has already been extended at the state level for police. No one is saying a lot about how it will be paid for, should COVID deaths among city employees spike up.
What the Ward 1 and 6 challengers are most emphasizing is a contention that both Lopes and Markey have failed to provide sufficient constituent services. Markey has been on the council for four years and Lopes for 12, and the challengers say they are out of touch. They claim the incumbents either don’t return phone calls or get out in the neighborhood enough to know what’s on people’s minds. They both have promised to hold office hours in the wards.
Choquette said that in one instance, he worked with incumbent Councilor Ian Abreu to find out how to resolve a tree issue that had not been addressed.
For the record, Lopes and Markey strongly deny the out-of-touch charge, with Lopes saying he returns all calls within a day. At the Ward 6 debate he gave examples of his talks around the ward with constituents and city leaders, including former police Chief Joe Cordeiro. Markey discounts the “people don’t know” him charge, pointing out that they might not know him because the majority of city residents don’t follow local politics.
As an example of his constituent service, he noted his work with the mayor’s office to secure funding for an upgrade to Pulaski Park and a second entrance to the Pulaski School that he said will help relieve traffic congestion on Braley Road.
All in all, if you agree with the criticisms of the mayor made by his council critics, and if you feel your councilor doesn’t pay you enough attention, you are probably leaning toward voting for Choquette or Pereira.
Pereira, by the way, has an interesting pedigree. He is the son and nephew of prominent South End businessmen who have helped him finance his campaign to the tune of $25,000 in fundraising — far and away the most money raised in a ward race this or any other year. Pereira’s father was part of the same Holy Family High School class as popular former Councilor Victor Pereira. They played sports together in school and have remained close friends. Pinheiro has a big sign in his yard on Pereira’s behalf.
More about friendship and loyalty in New Bedford politics in a bit.
In Ward 5, the city’s most affluent ward, the arguments on constituent services seemed to be reversed, with the incumbent touting his record in lobbying for citizens and the challenger talking more deeply about policy.
Zach Boyer, a management official with Coastline Elderly Services, is running as a progressive alternative to moderate incumbent Councilor Scott Lima. Lima easily outpolled both Boyer and a third candidate, Raena Camacho, in the very low-turnout (6%) Sept. 28 preliminary election.
Boyer says he is now working hard, going door-to-door to increase the turnout in the final election, while Lima says he’s doing the same thing he does all year long, provide good constituent services.
People in Ward 5 demand the services, Lima said, and he points out work that he’s done on streetlights and sidewalks, as well as meetings trying to resolve a neighborhood nuisance problem at the Roosevelt Apartments on County Street, or even a troubled rooming house in another councilor’s ward
Lima is a Realtor and also workers with developmentally delayed children. He has backed Mitchell on the water/sewer upgrades and spreading out the COVID-relief money. He has opposed the mayor, however, on the closure of the police and fire stations.
One of the purposes that Lima says he’d like to see ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money spent on is the creation of indoor day services for the homeless, including things like showers. He mentions a proposal to do that at the PAACA building on Coggeshall Street in the North End.
In going door-to-door, challenger Boyer said he’s learned that ward councilors are really the first line of defense in residents getting their problems solved.
He has lived in the ward for about a decade, he said, and was lucky enough to recently buy a house. His home-purchase has shown him how difficult it is for city residents to become homeowners, and he cited affordable housing as his biggest issue. He doesn’t feel there has been enough discussion of the problem on the present council.
Boyer cited the ongoing opioid crisis, and the NIMBY resistance to locating treatment centers in neighborhoods, as well as gentrification of low-income neighborhoods, as other problems in New Bedford.
But he’s not conceding the constituent services vote to Lima, and he talked about the problem of potholes on Union Street. He also suggested the city light up some of its dark crosswalks the way it is done in some local suburbs.
If you’re satisfied with the incumbent, you’re probably voting for Lima; if you’re looking for something different, you’ll probably go with Boyer.
A few words before we close about the Ward 3 council race.
There was a ripple of publicity a couple of weeks ago about a write-in campaign for former Ward 3 Councilor Henry Bousquet.
A story appeared on WBSM-AM’s website citing a regular station talk-show guest, Lynn Sears, saying there is a write-in campaign going on behalf of former Councilor Bousquet.
The story depicted Bousquet as trying to have it both ways on the effort. He was quoted as saying he is not behind the campaign because the unopposed incumbent, Hugh Dunn, is his friend. But then he was quoted saying he would “enthusiastically oblige” if elected, and that he, in fact, misses the council.
Dunn, of course, is an odd candidate to be unopposed.
As a result of a clerk magistrate hearing on Sept. 29, he is facing a serious criminal trial.
Dunn has been charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of a property damage accident, and operating a motor vehicle negligently.
The two-term councilor has been battling criticism since a May 1 crash into two separate parked cars that he has been less than forthright about the incident. Three New Bedford police officers who responded to the scene for the pro-police union councilor have been suspended for not following department protocols.
The story is a good illustration of the loyalty politics that often influences elections and politics in New Bedford, and of course other places.
The initial report about a Bousquet campaign, written by reporter Kate Robinson, was promptly followed by one ‘BSM talk host weighing in on Bousquet’s behalf and two others on behalf of Councilor Dunn.
Yet another of the station’s radio personalities, veteran newsman Jim Phillips, then asked the at-large candidates at an Oct. 19 debate if the council should not have a mechanism for reprimanding a councilor who has acted inappropriately. It was a clear reference to Dunn’s problems.
The incumbent’s council support may be starting to crack. Virtually all the at-large candidates, at the debate at Gomes School said the council should have a way of expressing disapproval of a councilor acting inappropriately, although several mentioned that people are innocent until proven guilty. Councilor Morad went so far as to say there should be a mechanism to vote to remove a councilor convicted of a crime.
Watch for the number of blank ballots in the Ward 3 race.
For his part, Bousquet did not return my phone call asking for comment Monday, perhaps now having thought better of his “enthusiastically oblige” comment, given the politics of loyalty in New Bedford.
The politics of friendship and loyalty. It runs so much of small-town politics. And maybe big-time politics too.
Contact Jack Spillane at email@example.com.
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