NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Jon Mitchell, declaring that the city has made “historic progress” in the last few years in reversing a course of decline that has been followed by many older industrial cities, announced Thursday that he is running for a sixth consecutive term.
In a nearly two-minute message posted late Thursday afternoon to his Facebook page, Mitchell pointed to improvements in high school graduation rates, more stable city finances and safer neighborhoods, improved employment and infrastructure development — including the waterfront staging ground for wind turbine construction. He said he wants to stay on the job.
“We can’t afford to slow down,” said Mitchell, 54, who chose as a backdrop for his re-election campaign announcement the port where the first wind turbines will be assembled from parts that arrived just a few weeks ago to great fanfare. “We have to keep it going.”
Mitchell, who was first elected in 2011, said his administration would continue to build infrastructure, such as the wind development site behind him.
“I’m so excited for what’s ahead for our city,” said Mitchell, who has served four two-year terms and is completing the first four-year term a city mayor ever served. The term of office was changed in 2017 and took effect for the election of 2019.
“We’ve built a very strong foundation and now we’re going to build up,” Mitchell said in his video statement.
The mayor made his announcement with a week left until the deadline of July 28 for taking out nomination papers from the Board of Election Commissioners. He spent his first evening as a candidate at ’50s Night downtown, listening to live music, checking out antique cars and gathering the registered voters’ signatures he’ll need to submit with his nomination papers to make this official. He’ll need 50 certified signatures, but said he collected a couple hundred in short order and would submit those on Friday.
Mitchell said in an interview Thursday night that if he’d been sure earlier that he was not going to run he would have made that public. He said he had decided earlier this summer to run again, but there was no single “epiphany” moment.
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“I wrestled with the decision,” for some time, Mitchell said. “I was not continuing in the job unless I thought I could be 100% committed to it. I have too much respect for the residents of the city. That’s the way I do every job, but particularly this. You have to be absolutely committed to it. The job is too demanding.”
He said he remains determined to defy the forces stacked against cities of New Bedford’s size that are not part of major metropolitan areas.
“My work and my team’s work will be to beat those odds,” he said. “We have a very clear pathway we’re on” to do that, including building on the city’s strengths: the port, a distinct sense of place, a rich history.
Were he to win a sixth term, which would be his second four-year stint, he said the new administration will have a list of most urgent work. That includes helping to develop more housing, supporting the police with training and equipment, continuing to try to help city schools recover from slips in student achievement and attendance since the pandemic, building infrastructure including roads, sidewalks and port facilities.
He said the emphasis will continue on cultivating New Bedford as a center of what some call the “ocean economy,” including fishing, offshore wind and other maritime commerce.
In a written statement posted to his campaign website, the former federal prosecutor said that in the last several years, “unemployment has dropped by two-thirds,” schools are “turning around” and crime has fallen.
“The most important point we should heed from our accomplishments is this: decline is not inevitable,” Mitchell said. “For a city that has suffered job loss and capital flight for decades after the Great Depression, and all the ills that came with them, it had been tempting to assume that there’s nothing we can do about the general trajectory of our city.”
He said the city “rejected that passive way of thinking. We decided to act. Together we’ve worked hard to achieve something that so many other older industrial cities haven’t managed to do: we have reversed course.”
Mitchell so far has no serious competition in the nonpartisan election to be held on Nov. 7. With days remaining for prospective candidates to take out nomination papers, no experienced public servants or well-known political names have emerged among those who signed up for the mayor’s race. As of last week six people had done so.
Former Mayor John Bullard said he was not surprised at the absence of contenders who could mount a serious challenge.
“You’re going to run against Mitchell when the city is doing well?” Bullard asked. “Good luck with that.”
Bullard, who served as mayor from 1986 to 1992, said he was happy to hear Thursday’s news.
“I care about the City of New Bedford and so I’m delighted he’s willing to do another term,” said Bullard, who praised Mitchell for his “enlightened leadership.”
As president of the New Bedford Ocean Cluster — an organization promoting the city’s maritime economy, including offshore wind, fishing and portside industries — Bullard said he’s seen up close Mitchell’s command of the job.
“I see a guy who knows the details,” said Bullard. “He knows the vision we’re aiming at and that’s rare … He understands New Bedford is a complex city.”
Bullard applauded Mitchell’s work as chairman ex-officio of the New Bedford School Committee, specifically for bringing in superintendent Pia Durkin in 2013 and later Thomas Anderson. The high school graduation rate during Mitchell’s time in office rose from about 55-65% to nearly 90%, according to news accounts.
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News reports also show that crime overall in the city dropped nearly 40% since 2016.
A native of New Bedford who was raised in Dartmouth, Mitchell served as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., then as assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston before leaving that post to run for mayor in 2011.
His first race was the closest, as he defeated state Rep. Antonio Cabral by about four percentage points. After that, Mitchell eased into office four more times, running unopposed in 2013, then winning three contested races by no less than 20% each time.
The father of three daughters whose wife, Ann Partridge, is an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor at Harvard Medical School, Mitchell has from time to time been seen as a potential candidate for statewide office, including attorney general last year. He decided, however, to stay in New Bedford then, and now to try to stay on the job.
“It was not an easy decision,” Mitchell said. “There was a certainty I wanted.”
Email Arthur Hirsch at email@example.com.