When I pull up to the two-story colonial where Shawn Oliver and his family live in a single-family neighborhood wedged between Hathaway Road and Shawmut Avenue, I’m greeted by a whole bunch of his campaign signs.
Oliver lives on a corner, and his neighbors across both sides of the two streets have signs for him, as do the neighbors next door. There’s five in all, and right in the middle is his own sign, the largest one, and it has his own mug on it.
Shawn Oliver speaks with Jack Spillane:
“You have to win your neighborhood,” is what different people — ex-candidates and councilors — have told him, he said.
It certainly looks like Oliver, 39, is going to win his immediate neighborhood at least. And who knows you better than your closest neighbors?
Oliver, a corrections officer at the state’s maximum security prison in Walpole, is a former salesman and manager and has a big, outgoing personality. He’s recently become a constable serving judicial papers.
Oliver says he has wanted to be a city councilor for a while now and almost ran last year, after then-incumbent councilor Hugh Dunn garnered negative headlines over the way he, and three police officers, handled a late-night crash in the downtown’s pub district.
Sign up for our free newsletter
But he said he was working on his new house and on getting school services for his special-needs son, and it just wasn’t the right time. This time was better, and he said his abilities can help this sprawling ward in the middle of the city map, gain a stronger identity.
Oliver says that he has pretty much lived in New Bedford — the South and West Ends — his whole life. But he does acknowledge he lived in Wareham not too long ago for four years, from 2016-2020, when he says his wife worked in Plymouth and they almost by accident found a house that fit their needs. He admits the Wareham residence was an additional consideration in his not running in 2021, given that he had so recently moved to the ward.
“I knew that would be an issue,” he said, adding that “It was an obstacle I wasn’t ready to overcome at that time.”
Oliver is an outgoing guy and an animated conversationalist. He says he has long thought about a political career. When he was younger, however, he thought it would be almost impossible to break through the political power structure of the council’s longtime incumbents.
He grew up on Aquidneck Street on the peninsula and played youth baseball for the SEYAA (South End Youth Athletic Association), and as an adult lived in various neighborhoods of Ward 6 and 5. Now that he is located in Ward 3, he describes it the way everybody else does — a hodgepodge of single and multi-family blocks, a lot of low-income housing developments sprinkled in. It largely consists of the city’s “forgotten neighborhoods,” Oliver says.
“To sit here at a time where we can establish a true identity for ourselves here in Ward 3, with the multiple developments and things that’s going on, I feel that we need somebody in there who can properly represent us, and at least be a real voice for what’s going on here.”
What’s going on, at least in his section of the ward, he said, is that everybody is talking about what’s happening on Hathaway Road, a busy commercial street that cuts through the heart of the ward, just a block or so from Oliver’s own house.
People are worried about all the traffic on Hathaway that might come if the so-called Advanced Manufacturing Campus is built on part of the municipal golf course. And there is also a planned marijuana dispensary at the Route 140 intersection and a storage facility at the old Building 19 site, he said. “The traffic, before they even do the AMC project, at least once a week there is an accident,” he said.
The pot shop could be a particular problem, he added. “People coming off the highway are just going to try to shoot across the lanes of traffic instead of going up the hill and trying to loop back around.”
“There has to be a significant traffic study done in this location, this area.”
He believes they’ve allocated some money in the state budget for it, he said.
The traffic worries don’t necessarily mean his neighbors are against the developments, Oliver said. They just want them done right.
“The buzz in these neighborhoods is that it’s great, they love to see the new development, they love to see the new revenue coming into the city,” he said.
Although realistically, he noted, it’s only projected to be $2.7 million of tax relief in a city budget that’s half-a-billion dollars.
Oliver said he’s doing a lot of door-to-door campaigning and one of the things on the mind of the folks he’s talked to are the high property values and taxes. It’s difficult to trade-up to another house, he said. And he himself worries about the coming passenger rail stop in the ward bringing in crime from other parts of the state.
Like several other candidates, Oliver said the lack of parks and playgrounds in Ward 3 is a problem. He and his wife sometimes bring their son all the way down Shawmut Avenue to the airport playground. There is a tots playground at the Pacheco School, but he suggested adding one to Dias Field when the city is planning to replace two of the four baseball diamonds with a soccer field.
“We’re at a unique opportunity where New Bedford is pretty well developed. So if we have the opportunity to repurpose that land and do this, I’m all for it,” he said.
He does worry, Oliver said, that some of the kids who live in the area housing developments will find it difficult to find transportation to the remaining youth baseball leagues in the North and South Ends.
He also voiced an understanding of the people who need substance abuse services, saying he doesn’t mind the drug treatment centers that are in Hicks-Logan, at least until something better for the city gets developed there. “These are people that actively are trying to get help,” he said. “And here we are saying, “You don’t belong here. Or not in my neighborhood.”
He further said he’s sensitive to special needs children because of his own son’s situation and understood the frustrations of the school system paraprofessionals who work with these kids when they lobbied for better pay.
Like many of this year’s candidates, he said he is frustrated with the poor communication that seems to come out of some city departments, including the elections office, where he said he had a hard time getting information about when he could file papers for the race.
Oliver talks like a guy who’s interested in building consensus, almost like a Team New Bedford.
“We’re all trying to fight for the same goal, to live well in a city and a place that we enjoy,” he said.
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of walking profiles with each of the seven candidates in the Jan. 24 preliminary election for Ward 3 city councilor. Read Jack Spillane’s overview of the race with links to all seven profiles.
Email Jack Spillane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to our sponsors
Founding benefactors: Joan and Irwin Jacobs fund of the Jewish Community Foundation, Mary and Jim Ottaway
For questions about donations, contact Chrystal Walsh, director of advancement, at email@example.com.
For questions about sponsoring The Light, contact Peter Andrews, director of business development and community engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org.