Politics may be ripping apart the country as a whole. It may have caused an unprecedented July recall election in Fairhaven and a bitter intra-town fight over the Dartmouth High “Indian.”
But in New Bedford in 2021, residents have given this year’s political season a collective and individual shrug.
In fact, there are so few candidates running this year that there will be no preliminary election in five of the city’s six wards. Only in Ward 5, where two-term incumbent Scott Lima has drawn two challengers, will there be a primary on Sept. 28.
Ward 5 City Council candidates
The top two vote-getters in the Sept. 28 preliminary election will face off Nov. 2.
Scott Lima (incumbent)
Otherwise, two open seats on the School Committee have drawn only two candidates. An open at-large City Council seat has drawn six challengers, but that’s one short of the number needed for a preliminary election.
There will be no challengers at all for the city council seats in Wards 2, 3, and 4, including for the seat of two-term incumbent Hugh Dunn who has been under scrutiny for an early morning car crash that spurred a state police investigation over whether New Bedford police let him off easily.
At-large City Council candidates
Six challengers and four incumbents are competing for five at-large seats on Nov. 2.
David Sullivan (no photo available)
The general election is Nov. 2
“I think everybody is politicked out,” said Manny DeBrito, chair of the New Bedford Election Commission.
DeBrito attributes the lack of interest in the city to what he said is a growth of public scrutiny that candidates receive nowadays. He theorizes that many people who previously would have run for office, nowadays vent their political frustrations on social media.
“People have their own sounding board now,” he said.
Also on the ballot Nov. 2
- Erik Andrade
- Kimberly Saunders (incumbent)
Ward 1 Councilor
- Leo E. Choquette Jr.
- William Brad Markey (incumbent)
Ward 2 Councilor
- Maria Giesta (no competitor)
Ward 3 Councilor
- Hugh Dunn (no competitor)
Ward 4 Councilor
- Derek Baptiste (no competitor)
Ward 6 Councilor
- Joseph P. Lopes (incumbent)
- Ryan Pereira
- Melissa Costa
- Colleen Dawicki (incumbent)
- Ross M. Grace Jr.
The lack of interest in the School Committee race seems especially surprising, given the recent controversies over the presence of police officers in school buildings and whether students will have to wear masks.
The lack of candidates in that race may be partly due to the fact that two incumbents — Josh Amaral and John Oliveira — dropped out of the race in August, just a week before the deadline for returning nomination papers. Serious candidates who might have thought of putting together a campaign if they did not have to run against an incumbent could have thought it was too late at that point.
Shortly after Amaral dropped out, social worker and former city council candidate Melissa Costa announced she would run, joining Ross Grace Jr., a former assistant principal at Carney Academy elementary school and former committee candidate, in the race. Amaral promptly endorsed both of them, as well as incumbent Colleen Dawicki, who is running for re-election to a third seat.
Oliveira was a traditionalist voice on the School Committee but Dawicki, Grace and Costa are all seen as on the progressive side of the ledger. “New Bedford would be lucky to have them on the School Committee,” said Amaral of Grace and Costa, contending that the quality of their candidacies could have scared away other would-be challengers.
“It could be a deterrent to other candidates; the system will be in good hands with them,” Amaral said.
A fourth potential School Committee candidate, former New Bedford principal Debra Letendre, had taken out and returned nomination papers, but she withdrew her candidacy before the Aug. 26 deadline.
Peter Barney, a longtime observer of the New Bedford political scene, said that besides the difficulty of raising money and the social media abuse, the lack of pay and benefits for School Committee members could be a factor in the lack of candidates. The city’s other elective offices — mayor, City Council, and Board of Assessors — are all paid salaries, as well as eligible for health and retirement benefits.
“There’s no incentive to run,” Barney said.
Former City Councilor Jane Gonsalves said she believes the general lack of candidates in New Bedford is connected to a growing alienation of the public from the process. “They don’t think anybody can change government,” she said.
The difficult of raising money and campaigning in the pandemic probably hasn’t helped either, she said.
“The majority of it is that people are just no longer interested,” she said.
Email Jack Spillane at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
A month into the 2021 municipal election’s campaign filing period, the William Street political world is abuzz over a Ward 6 race that would normally be a low-key affair.
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