NEW BEDFORD — Joe Lopes won the Ward 5 race, recouping a spot on the City Council after a 2021 upset loss to Ryan Periera in Ward 6. Lopes, a former City Council president, beat another young political newcomer, Zach Boyer, on Tuesday to find his way back to the council. 

Boyer, the 30-year-old activist turned elderly advocate, lost in his second attempt to represent Ward 5 after a 2021 political debut failed to topple another longtime councilor, Scott Lima.

Lopes, 49, who moved to Ward 5 in February, captured the victory with 1,308 votes, or just over 60%. Turnout improved to 13% from the dismal preliminary, where only 6% of city voters had made their way to the polls.

“I am honored to be able to represent the residents of Ward 5,” said Lopes after his victory. “I appreciate their support and their vote today, and I look forward to working on the council over the next two years to be a voice for everyone in the ward.”

On Tuesday evening, voters had said they were weighing Lopes’ experience against Boyer’s “fresh perspective.” 

Joe Lopes. Credit: Arthur Hirsch / The New Bedford Light

Peter and Samia Walker, a married couple in Ward 5, split their votes; Peter preferred Lopes’ experience while Samia said she was looking for a new face.

“It’s just about timing,” said Peter Walker, an offshore wind consultant. “We need someone who knows the processes.” Though he supported Lopes, Walker added that he’s hopeful Boyer will stay involved and run again in the future. His wife, Samia Walker, said she supported Boyer because “he’s new and young and ready.”

Lopes, who works as the executive director and CEO of MassHire Greater New Bedford, told The Light during the campaign that he’s shown he can build relationships on the council, pointing to the four times he served as council president during 12 years in office, starting in 2010. 

While not technically the incumbent, Lopes benefited from name recognition among many voters in Ward 5, the politically active district south and west of downtown. 

Lopes highlighted the need to increase the city’s tax base. One solution he’s proposed is seeking a second industrial park in the city. This idea, he said, “would provide the city with additional commercial tax base while becoming a catalyst for commercial real estate development across the city.”

On another hot issue in Ward 5, Lopes opposed sober homes, needle exchanges, and other “harm reduction” strategies to combat the ongoing addiction crisis. He told The Light that he doesn’t want New Bedford to encourage a South Coast version of “Mass and Cass,” the Boston enclave of homeless people and prevalent drug use at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

Lopes differed on this issue from Boyer, who said addiction should be treated as a public health issue. Many voters said they resonated with Boyer’s fresh perspective on these issues. “I like his more progressive approach to the community’s problems,” said one voter on Tuesday, a young attorney who asked to withhold her name.

Boyer said about the results: “I wish it went another way, but at the end of the day, people turned out to vote and that’s what’s important,” he said. “We started a lot of good conversations about the issues affecting our community and I’m looking forward to the next election season.” 

Lopes said one issue constituents can expect to see action on early in his term is pedestrian safety near Buttonwood Park, an issue that came up during the campaign.

“I look forward to representing all the residents of Ward 5,” Lopes said — “all that voted for me and for my opponent.”

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