NEW BEDFORD — Shawn Oliver, a state prison correctional officer who hitched his first bid for public office to a vigorous door-to-door campaign and the appeal of a “working-class” persona, was elected to fill a vacant Ward 3 seat on the New Bedford City Council Tuesday in a light special-election turnout. 

Oliver, 39, defeated Carmen Amaral, 43, a school teacher turned school administrator who presented her professional background and her role advocating for her immigrant family as key elements of her appeal. Oliver won 414 votes, or 57% of ballots cast to 307 votes or 42% for Amaral, also a political newcomer. 

He won four of six precincts, with his biggest margins in territory that was home base to both candidates. At the Holy Name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish hall — a polling place for two precincts where both candidates voted Tuesday morning — he won 205 to 140, his biggest precinct margin. 

Ward 3 special election results

Precinct A1312
Precinct B3113
Precinct C411
Precinct D43100
Precinct E97105
Precinct F119173
Results are unofficial until certified

Oliver won his second-largest margin at the Bayberry Apartments polling place, in the more middle-class western section of the ward near where both candidates live, where the precinct and sub-precinct total was 173-119.

Amaral won two precincts near the eastern end of the ward, not far from Weld Square and the Hicks-Logan area, but the turnouts there tend to be low, and they were again on Tuesday. Amaral’s margin for the combined vote at the Hayden-McFadden Elementary School and Hillside Court apartments was 44-25.

Oliver, who has served as a New Bedford constable for a little more than a year, is expected to be sworn into office on Friday to complete about a year left in the term of former Councilor Hugh Dunn, who stepped down in December. 

He attributed the election result largely to the legwork in the ward, starting when he took out his papers in early December to seek the office.

“The biggest thing was not just knock at your door, but the relationship building,” Oliver said at City Hall soon after the official results were announced. “Fortunately we had a very mild winter” with favorable door-knocking conditions. 

After voting Tuesday morning at Holy Name, Oliver said regardless of the outcome, he hoped his candidacy would encourage others to get involved in local affairs. He hoped newcomers like himself would think “this guy wasn’t a known person in the city, neither am I. If he can do it, maybe I can.”

Ward 3 city council candidate Carmen Amaral shows off her “I voted” sticker while casting her vote in the special election Tuesday. Credit: Arthur Hirsch / The New Bedford Light

Amaral, 43, also in her first bid for public office, said she was glad to have had the experience and she would continue to be active in local affairs, even if it was much too soon to say if she would run for office again.

“I’m grateful for peers; I’m grateful to the people that supported me,” said Amaral, who is the academic coordinator for the Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School in Rochester. 

“I’m going to continue to be a voice for women” through her work with the Women’s Fund SouthCoast, and for immigrants. She came to this country with her family from the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores when she was 4 years old. 

On a day that started with snow turning to rain that continued off and on through most of the day into the night, 723 ballots were counted — including mail-ins, and early voting — a turnout of 6.8% of 10,613 registered voters in the ward that spans the city’s midsection, from the Dartmouth line to the Acushnet River waterfront. 

The figures are consistent with the Ward 3 special final election of 2017 in which Dunn was elected, and the preliminary election last month, which drew just over 7% and 6.5% respectively on a slightly smaller number of total registered voters, 10,534.

The campaign for the preliminary and final elections unfolded amicably enough starting in the late fall, as the discussion was dominated by points on which the candidates generally agreed. 

Differences between the two candidates began to emerge late in the campaign, as some of the class and cultural tensions that have been more common in national politics started to appear in this nonpartisan race focused on local matters. 

Both candidates emerged from humble beginnings, but Oliver, a New Bedford High School graduate who never went to college, presented himself as a “blue collar” candidate, proud to embrace that identity as an adult. A father at the age of 17, he worked an array of jobs to support his family, went into retail management, then became a correctional officer 11 years ago at MCI-Cedar Junction, a maximum security state prison formerly known as MCI-Walpole.

Amaral had stressed her role as an advocate for her family, as she and her older brother were the fluent English speakers in the household, acting as liaisons in a new world as the family struggled for money, and for a time received public assistance. When her  mother was diagnosed with cancer, the little girl helped manage contacts with the medical system. Her mother died when she was 13. 

Also a New Bedford High School graduate, Amaral waited tables to work herself through school. She pursued her education through an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry at Bridgewater State College and a post baccalaureate in secondary education. She holds a master’s degree in teaching from UMass Dartmouth and a degree in educational leadership from Bridgewater. 

Asked to draw distinctions between himself and Amaral late in the campaign, Oliver said “it feels like the business class versus the blue collar.” He stressed that he was “relatable” and “a little more blue collar” in a ward that is a mix of middle, working-class and low-income residents.

Amaral said one difference between the two would be the skills she had cultivated at work, including budget management and dealing with diverse communities, could serve her well as a City Council member.

Both received endorsements from labor unions, but somewhat different sorts of organizations. 

Oliver was endorsed by the union of correctional officers to which he belongs, the New Bedford Police Union, and Local 851 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, representing more than 300 city workers in New Bedford, including clerks, mechanics and custodians. 

Amaral was endorsed by a New Bedford union affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association representing professionals who work in schools. She also was supported by the Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Labor Council AFL-CIO, an organization of some 40 affiliated unions, and by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, AFL-CIO, the New Bedford Democratic City Committee and the Coalition for Social Justice. 

The CSJ, a progressive organization formed in the 1990s, drew a sharp line between the two less than a week before Election Day, putting out a news release and images of material that had been posted to Oliver’s personal Facebook page between 2019 and early 2022. 

The release argued that six memes posted to the Facebook page showed that Oliver was not as open-minded about diverse constituencies as he has seemed to appear. 

Three of the memes took shots at transgender people and their allies, using crude images in two of the three. Three others target advocates of a higher minimum wage and politicians including Vice President Kamala Harris, former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. 

April Jennison, a CSJ organizer said the memes show “extremist beliefs that are harmful and hateful. They have no place in our community.” She said the images suggest a candidate who as a council member would “struggle to represent diverse groups of people. I think it says they’ll struggle to be nonpartisan.”

Amaral condemned the posts, saying they are “disrespectful, hurtful, perpetuate harmful stereotypes, and promote intolerance and division.”

Oliver did not deny that the materials were posted to his page, but he dismissed the news release as a sign that Amaral’s supporters were nervous, “running desperate and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at me in an effort to distract from the real issues people in Ward 3 are facing like providing Constituent Services.”

A couple of voters at the polls Tuesday said the stories about the Facebook posts did affect their decision, and they voted for Amaral. 

William diGiacomantonio, voting at the Hayden-McFadden Elementary School in the afternoon — where Amaral won 13 votes to 12 — said he had not made up his mind in the morning, but “the stuff (Oliver) was posting on his Facebook page, when I can nip that in the bud I will.”  

A retired historian for the National Archives in Washington, diGiacomantonio, also taught history part time, and said he liked that Amaral was working in education.

Frank Pina, voting at Bayberry Apartments — where Oliver won 173 to 119 — would not exactly come out and say he voted for Amaral, but he said he was “leaning” her way, not least because of what he’d heard about Oliver’s posts. He voted for Oliver in the preliminary election, but he said word of the Facebook posts troubled him, especially as he had such a good impression of Oliver before. 

“I heard about that and I was sorry to hear that. I liked him right off the bat,” he said. 

He also said, “I felt it was time for women to be in office to see what they can do.”

Voters at the polls who supported Oliver said they liked his persona and what he stood for. 

Robert Cabral, who finished sixth out of seven candidates in the preliminary election, voted in the afternoon at Hayden-McFadden School for Oliver. He said he was impressed with Oliver’s hard-working campaign style. 

“Every day I was out there I ran into him,” Cabral said. “He’s grassroots.”

He said he sympathized with Oliver’s situation when the Facebook story emerged. 

“That would have been me,” he said, adding that he could not be certain he had posted similar material, but he indicated it was possible.

“I didn’t do anything to sanitize my page,” Cabral said. 

Christopher Sheldon, a former Republican activist and congressional candidate who now runs a solar business in the city, voted at Hayden-McFadden for Oliver. 

“I had made up my mind shortly after the primary,” said Sheldon, who supported his roommate, Jacob Ventura, in the preliminary election. He said Oliver “seemed more in my direction, what I think of what’s good for the city.”

Diane Walecka, who voted at Holy Name in the morning, said she voted for Oliver largely because he’s a correctional officer, as her father was. 

“I felt like my father was telling me to vote for him,” Walecka said. “I think he could do a lot of good for the city.”

For his part, Oliver said he would begin work as a council member next week by listening. 

“You have to have the lay of the land,” he said, “learn the ins and outs, talking with my new colleagues.”

Email Arthur Hirsch at

Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 1, 2023, to add new details about Tuesday’s voting.

Join the Conversation


  1. School teachers aren’t business class. Good grief. Oliver you may be relatable in only this -“nothing changes if nothing changes!,” and New Bedford certainty has inertia down to a science. Mr Oliver there is nothing wrong with getting an education and New Bedford really deserves more and attracting people to city politics to continue having higher level conversations about what this will look like in 20 years.
    This city has so much potential but its a crab pot. Some climb up to the edge but their “buddy’s” on the bottom pull them back in.
    We need to evolve and education, gender & yes, sexuality – will play a role Mr. Oliver.

    Also, was there a nearly a peep from the SC LGBT community in this conversation?
    Dear New Bedford -politicians are counting on us not to show up to the polls. It’s what we do historically as a city. “welcome to New Beige -SOS – going on 60 years.”

    Asked to draw distinctions between himself and Amaral late in the campaign, Oliver said “it feels like the business class versus the blue collar.” He stressed that he was “relatable” and “a little more blue collar” in a ward that is a mix of middle, working-class and low-income residents.

  2. Disappointed that a majority of Ward 3 eligible voters did not bother to vote. Democracy requires participation, and those who neglect to do so need to remember that “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Also very disappointed that the majority cast a vote for bigotry. The Facebook posts are a clear warning.

  3. It troubles me that Oliver never disavowed or apologized for his hurtful, bigoted and politically intolerant commentary. Here’s hoping that develops some sensitivity towards those who are different than he or who express different political views.

  4. The only way to keep rent prices from rising without creating negative externalities is to increase the supply of housing. There’s a reason Massachusetts banned rent control almost 30 years ago. You can call it stabilization but a spade is still a spade. Who is anyone to tell me what I can charge people to live in my house? You don’t tell WalMart how much they can charge me for a pizza. You don’t tell the car dealers how much they can charge for a vehicle. But you want to tell me how much I can charge someone to live in my house. A better policy would be to ban Airbnb. A better policy would be to attract developers to build more high rise buildings. A better policy would be to change the zoning law so buildings can be built higher than 3 stories if one exists. A better policy would be to not allow big business to scoop up homes to squeeze as much profit off rent as possible. I’d rather see a ban on businesses owning 3 family houses then rent control. Put a cap on how many houses a person can own. There’s quite a few industries that I deem essential (housing, food, healthcare) and I’d like to see the profiteering, if it exists, eradicated. I’m not saying we should do any of this, however, something needs to be done. Rent control has not, and will not work in a capitalist society. The only thing we can do is encourage supply while decreasing the incentive to maximize profit from housing.


    Or just wait for the housing market to collapse. It’s coming.


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