Much has been made of the fact that with an open at-large City Council seat, only eight challengers have taken out papers to run for office this year.
But three of those challengers — Shane Burgo, Jason Mello and Lisa White — are running active campaigns that will present the voters with a good cross-section of different approaches to city government.
Taking a look at where a candidate lives in the city can provide a glimpse into who they are and what their personal interests are, and Burgo, Mello and White live in very different New Bedford neighborhoods and very different types of residences.
Burgo, 28, lives in a first-floor apartment in a two-family on Purchase Street, four blocks south of the downtown in the heart of one of the city’s longtime Cape Verdean neighborhoods. A program manager at the state Department of Transitional Assistance, his campaign is emphasizing the city’s ongoing opioid crisis, jobs, education and constituent services.
He noted that unlike in much of the state, the number of opioid deaths continued to increase in New Bedford last year. He said he was moved to run when he attended a City Council debate two years ago and one of the incumbent at-large councilors said there was little the council could do to address the opioid problem beyond praying for those addicted.
“It was in that moment I said I have to run. I have to be in this race,” he said.
Mello, 50, lives in a recently built single-family garrison on a cul-de-sac in the city’s far North End. He retired at 40 after working 22 years as a corrections officer at the Bristol County House of Correction, and he has long run a DJ business specializing in wedding receptions.
He is emphasizing doing something about what he describes as the burden of high property taxes in his race for the council. Constituent services is another big focus.
He was disturbed by the City Council’s annual budget-cutting meeting, he said, and contended that only two of 11 councilors were willing to cut fat out of the budget.
“I felt the taxpayers like myself needed to have a voice in this city,” he said.
White, who appears to be in her late 30s based on information on her Facebook page, lives in an historic County Street colonial, just north of the downtown and built about 1855. She and her husband Ian are the owners of six investment properties in the city, according to Assessor’s Office records, and run Acushnet Apartments LLC.
The couple are very active commenters on social media and since last year have also run the nonprofit #NB Strong, which gives out food, clothing and household utensils to those in need. They also run the Facebook search site “Apartments for rent in the 508.”
White said that housing and small business development are the two issues she’d like to focus on.
“I rarely hear about housing being discussed in this city. In the administration or in the council,” she said.
She sees two dilemmas in housing, one that it has become unaffordable in the city, and two, that the aging housing stock contains so much lead. She said there needs to be more publicity about government first-time home ownership and lead abatement programs for landlords. She also supports government funding to help small businesses grow.
There are six other potential candidates in the at-large race but two — Bruno Freire and Mark Custodio — have not yet even registered with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance; three candidates — David Sullivan, Shawn Thimas and Scott Pemberton have raised no money but Pemberton says he intends to, and also intends to contribute to his own campaign. One other candidate, Matt Keefer, has already dropped out, though not before he spent $1,750 on a computerized voting list from the state Democratic Party. He has endorsed Burgo.
In the money game, Jason Mello is the hands-down leader, currently having $3,514.24 in his campaign fund and having already spent $2,600 on a fundraiser at the Airport Grille. He’s also run a spaghetti supper and has another fundraiser scheduled for September at the Moose hall.
Shane Burgo, as a state employee, is prohibited from raising campaign money himself, but his brother (who is heading up his money effort), has raised just short of $1,000. He has donated $125 to the Martha Briggs educational scholarship club.
Lisa White is not raising money, but she and her husband have contributed more than $1,000 of their own money to her campaign, and one of their regular expenses is $103.06 a month for four consecutive months on what are described in her finance report as Send Out Cards.
Mello is the guy who seems most savvy about the traditional way campaigns are financed and run. He noted that his father in the 1970s ran former mayor and longtime city councilor George Rogers’ campaigns.
A spate of incumbent politicians including state Rep. Chris Hendricks, School Committee member Josh Amaral, and former City Councilor Jane Gonsalves have contributed to Mello’s campaign. Perhaps most meaningful, County Commissioner and former Councilor John Saunders has contributed. Saunders is seen by many as at the heart of a political machine that has long dominated New Bedford politics. Ironically, he was the last incumbent at-large councilor to lose his seat on the council back in 2013 but has since been easily elected and re-elected to the Bristol County board of commissioners.
Mello seems to take pride in his knowledge of New Bedford politics. “I understand politics in New Bedford, I really do,” he said. “I know what New Bedford’s all about.”
He emphasized that he will not be in anyone’s pocket as far as political favors go.
“I don’t want to owe anything to anybody,” he said. “I’m not gonna fall into that trap where I’m bought. Just because John Saunders gave me money, I’m not gonna be a voice for John Saunders.”
He said he knows Saunders’ sister and his cousin Chris (the county treasurer) better than John and did not ask for a donation from him.
Saunders did not return phone calls for this column but sent a text that said, “Not interested.”
Burgo admitted that raising money as a state employee has been difficult and that it has been intimidating learning how to run a campaign. Many young people and people of color encounter the “imposter” syndrome when putting themselves forward in politics, he said.
Burgo has been endorsed by the Coalition for Social Justice, long the most influential progressive group in the city. David Ehrens, an activist with Bristol County for Correctional Justice, a group that has campaigned against what they see as Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s inhumane policies at the Bristol County House of Correction, has also contributed to him.
He spoke to the alienation of many young people from the local political system who he described as more and more caught in impossible financial circumstances.
He noted that 23% of city residents are “severely cost burdened” by housing and 47% of city residents are “cost burdened” by housing, according to state statistics.
“A lot of voter apathy is connected to people not feeling connected to local government,” he said.
“People don’t look at local politics (as) to how important it is. Especially young people.”
A progressive, Burgo said he believes politics is pushing more and more conservative in Bristol County. He said many local Democrats actually hold more conservative positions than the party does.
“I want New Bedford to move forward,” he said. “I want everyone to be more involved in the political involvement of our city.”
White may be a politician like the city has not seen before.
She and her husband and campaign manager Ian moved to New Bedford in 2013, have purchased multiple investment rental properties and have become big presences on social media. Lisa has almost 5,000 Facebook friends and Ian more than 4,500. She ran for City Council in 2019 and considered running for both state Senate and state rep last year.
The Whites are frequent online commenters on a variety of subjects, but much of it about political topics of the day. Last year, just as the pandemic began, they launched #NB Strong, a 501c3 registered nonprofit that distributes free goods, much of it overflow from the Freetown food bank.
“We’re actually now the largest mutual aid group in the SouthCoast, Massachusetts,” Lisa said, describing it as “really disappointing” that anyone might think she is buying votes.
Like Mello, White criticized the incumbent City Council for not cutting more out of the city budget. “Did you notice the department heads are among the contributors, a builder from Dartmouth contributing?” she asked.
White described her decision not to raise campaign funds as a “personal choice” connected to what she sees as the influence of money on politicians.
“I don’t want a seat in the City Council if I have to have someone else pay for it,” she said. “Because I don’t want to owe anyone anything. Every time you owe someone, it’s never going to help you represent your constituents better.”
Email Jack Spillane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The five confirmed cases were traced to four separate groups within the club that night, including one member of an 11-person bachelorette party.
State police say an EMT and paramedic on the scene the night of the accidents described it as “obvious” that he had been drinking and that they smelled alcohol on his breath.
They agreed to devote a portion of the Cannon Street site for a modern seafood offloading facility where the public could view the fishing boats as they purchase fresh fish.
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