Public sector experience
Mayor of New Bedford; trustee, U.S. Conference of Mayors; president, Massachusetts Mayors Association; assistant United States attorney; first lieutenant, Army National Guard.
Facebook: Jon Mitchell
I’m running for mayor for the same reason I first ran: I believe the residents of New Bedford deserve accountable and effective city government.
By working together, we’ve made New Bedford a far stronger city. We’ve raised the graduation rate, reduced crime, helped create thousands of jobs, modernized the port and made-over the city’s physical appearance.
We’ll continue to make the investments necessary for New Bedford to thrive:
• In housing at every income level.
• In our police, to keep our neighborhoods safe.
• In the assets that make us competitive in a global economy: our port, our arts, and our schools.
The city has tremendous momentum, and we can’t afford to skip a beat.
With limited land in the city for potential commercial development and tax revenue, what can the mayor do to build the tax base outside of taxes on private homes? What would you do as mayor?
Increasing the city’s tax base depends on growing our economy. We have made considerable progress in the last decade, especially in employment growth. We will continue our success by focusing on a no-gimmicks approach to economic development. We build on economic assets — the port, arts and culture, and manufacturing. We invest in infrastructure, education and workforce development. And we market to industries that would gain a competitive advantage by being here.
At times, our growth has not kept up with the rising costs of city government, especially those dictated by state mandates — our required share of educational spending, pension obligations, and health care. To expand our tax base further, the city has sought to activate underused land. We are selling city-owned property such as former school buildings. We also have urged owners of inactive properties, including some mill buildings and the former Shaw’s Plaza on Kings Highway, to sell their properties if they aren’t going to build on them. And we are proceeding with partial development of our municipal golf course. This complex project was ensnared in regulatory approvals and the dampening of the commercial real estate market caused by the pandemic. In the coming months, we will have in place a development plan that addresses these obstacles and paves the way for new tax revenue and job opportunities.
UMass Dartmouth’s decision to move the College of Visual and Performing Arts out of New Bedford is seen as a significant blow to business and cultural activity downtown. What could the city have done to keep the CVPA here? What should the city do now?
To say that I was surprised and dismayed by the Star Store’s closing is an understatement.
None of the parties involved in the negotiations over the building’s lease indicated to us that the program was in jeopardy. The state Senate’s elimination of the program’s funding and the university’s sudden response to vacate the building has hurt students, faculty, and nearby businesses, and it has eliminated an anchor institution in a city that cannot afford to lose any.
Conventional political wisdom would suggest that I distance myself from all of it and let those who were involved absorb the blame. But as mayor I have not shied away from taking responsibility for matters important to the city. For the Star Store, my focus is on how we can rectify the problem. As a starting point, I have been skeptical about assertions that the building requires more than $50 million in repairs. So, we undertook an expert analysis of the building’s condition, and we are now confident that it can be restored for much less. With this in mind, last week I met with the governor, lieutenant governor and UMass president to propose a pathway to restore the program. I believe the conversation was constructive, and there will be follow up discussions. Although I cannot guarantee any particular outcome, I pledge to do my best to pursue a solution that works for everyone.
Most agree the city needs more affordable housing. How do you see the role of the mayor in this?
The cost of housing in Greater New Bedford has imposed a heavy burden on families who are trying to make ends meet. While the causes of the problem are largely driven by national market forces, there are many steps we can take at the city level to address the challenge.
Earlier this year, we released a comprehensive housing plan: Building New Bedford: Strategies to Promote Attainable Housing for All in a Thriving New Bedford.
The plan’s focus is to increase the supply of available housing units, promote home ownership, and support those who are in danger of losing their housing.
It is comprised of 22 measures to address the regional housing crisis through a variety organized into six areas:
- Facilitating new housing production across income levels.
- Making use of existing housing stock and space.
- Promoting home ownership and independent living.
- Updating regulatory framework.
- Establishing a regional approach on housing issues.
- Addressing housing instability and homelessness.
The city is executing the plan on all these fronts. We are encouraged that there are approximately 200 new housing units that will soon come on the market, and several other projects in the pipeline across the city.
How should the city balance the needs of the offshore wind industry with the needs of New Bedford’s commercial fishermen?
Over the last decade, we have sought to build on our region’s primary economic asset, the Port of New Bedford, with the twin goals of becoming America’s leading offshore wind port while strengthening our primacy in commercial fishing. Through careful planning and unrelenting effort, we have made historic progress in pursuit of both. The deployment of the Vineyard Wind I has infused our waterfront with new activity and jobs. The arrival of offshore wind has garnered New Bedford positive attention in the national media and has attracted private sector investment interest. At the same time, New Bedford has remained America’s top commercial fishing port, and its relative share of the East Coast landings has grown, as has our seafood processing base.
Today, there is no city in the country that speaks with greater authority on both offshore wind and commercial fishing policy than New Bedford.
The work of avoiding conflict is hardly over. But by understanding each industry’s needs, we have persuaded the federal government to refrain from siting wind farms in valuable scalloping grounds and facilitated investments by wind developers in fishing-related research and in using fishing vessels in wind projects. In the port, we have secured hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure to serve both industries. We have worked hard to become an honest, informed broker between the two industries so that both can successfully co-exist.
Editor’s note: Candidates in all contested races were asked the same questions with a limit of roughly 200 words for each answer. Additional profiles will be printed as they are returned by the candidates.