NEW BEDFORD — How is a Ward 3 voter to choose?
Some 10,000 registered voters have a decision to make in a special final election Tuesday, Feb. 28, for the vacant ward City Council seat: Shawn Oliver, a 39-year-old correctional officer at a maximum security state prison, or Carmen Amaral, a 43-year-old science teacher turned school administrator.
The two split 353 of the 686 ballots cast for seven candidates in the preliminary special election on Jan. 24. Oliver topped the field with 193, Amaral followed with 160. Both are competing to fill nearly a year remaining in the term of former Councilor Hugh Dunn, who stepped down in December.
Both candidates bring to the race considerable personal appeal, compelling personal stories, and a grasp of city affairs. Neither of these candidates has run for office before; each attributed their success in the preliminary election to the work of meeting voters, often at their doorsteps.
In the end, the difference could be the legwork. Or perhaps some mix of that plus endorsements, plus personal story, plus some subtle touches of the cultural/class-affiliation tensions that have ebbed and flowed in American partisan politics for decades.
But those touches have been gentle; this election is nonpartisan; and there has been very little disagreement between the two on matters of public concern.
Asked to describe a difference between him and his opponent, Oliver — a correctional officer at MCI Cedar Junction, formerly Walpole state prison — said “I may be a little more blue collar.”
Amaral — who works as academic coordinator for the Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School in Rochester — said a difference would be that the skills she has cultivated at work, including budget management and dealing with diverse communities, could serve her well as a City Council member.
The campaign since the fall has focused on discussion points on which the candidates have tended to agree: the need for more responsive constituent service, expanding the commercial tax base to better control property taxes, transparency in city government, developing the Whaling City Golf Course in Ward 3 as a manufacturing center while somehow not worsening chronic rush-hour traffic jams around Hathaway Road.
In an hour-long joint appearance on The Chat, hosted last week by The New Bedford Light’s Jack Spillane, even the most discerning voter would have had a tough time finding significant differences on local issues between the two candidates.
Was there sufficient openness in the City Council’s process of approving a salary reclassification overhaul for city department managers and other specialists, which resulted in a few very high pay raises? Oliver and Amaral agreed: no, there was not.
Was the council right last month in turning down Mayor Jon Mitchell’s appointment of Carol Pimentel to the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School Committee? Both agreed Pimentel is qualified for the position and they would have voted for her appointment.
What about the issue of a lottery to select students for the voc-tech, where admissions policy has been a source of controversy for years in New Bedford and recently sparked a lawsuit against the whole state voc-tech system? Both Oliver and Amaral agreed that a lottery would be useful, at least as part of the solution.
Do the candidates support charter schools, which are public schools but have been criticized for competing with district schools for resources? Amaral, who has volunteered for the Save Our Schools group, which works against charter school expansion, was an easy “no” on this one, saying she opposed funding a “parallel system” of schools. Neither did Oliver — who, like Amaral, graduated from New Bedford public schools — give a ringing endorsement to charter schools. He said there should be some “middle ground” to accommodate charter schools.
Should public school paraprofessionals be paid more? Without getting into specifics of how much more or how to cover that cost, both praised the work these people do, and said yes.
Are city property taxes too high? Well, sure. How to manage that? Both agreed that the city needed to cultivate more commercial development, but neither said exactly how.
Was it a good idea for Mayor Mitchell to try to discourage panhandling at a busy intersection near downtown at Pleasant Street by having cobblestones in the median there re-installed pointing up, making it difficult to walk or stand there? Both said no, not a great solution to the larger issue of homeless people congregating downtown.
Was the council right in rejecting a proposal for an addiction treatment center on Union Street in downtown New Bedford? Here, as in the answer on charter schools, there was a distinction between their answers. Oliver said that perhaps downtown might not be the best place, that the Hicks-Logan area of Ward 3, where the High Point addiction treatment clinic already has a location, might be preferable. Amaral said her answer to the “Not In My Backyard” crowd is that people struggling with addiction deserve help, and “New Bedford is our backyard.”
Voters might look to endorsements for guidance, and here there is some contrast. Both, for instance, have labor union support, but from different sorts of organizations.
Oliver has the support of the union to which he belongs as an officer at MCI-Cedar Junction: the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, which also represents Bristol County Sheriff’s officers. Oliver also has Local 851 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, representing more than 300 city workers, including clerks, mechanics and custodians. He’s been endorsed by the New Bedford Police Union, which represents sworn officers up to captains.
Amaral has been endorsed by the New Bedford Support Specialists Union, a local affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association representing professionals who work in schools, including speech pathologist assistants and occupational therapy assistants. She’s also backed 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 Coalition for Social Justice and the New Bedford Democratic City Committee.
Oliver has been endorsed by two former opponents in this race: Robert Cabral and former Ward 3 Councilor Kathy Dehner. Amaral has been endorsed by At-Large City Councilor Shane Burgo, and Ward 5 Councilor Scott Lima.
Amaral also has the support of newly elected Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux, which suggests a political distinction between the two Ward 3 candidates in at least one respect.
In an interview, Oliver acknowledged that he voted for Heroux’s opponent in the campaign for sheriff, Thomas M. Hodgson, a conservative Republican known for his outspoken support for former President Donald Trump. Oliver said he liked Hodgson’s “law and order” emphasis and, as a correctional officer, he thought the former sheriff, who served in the post for 25 years, would “have your back.”
Oliver was the top vote-getter in the preliminary council election, but in this one sense he’s out of step with the ward, where Hodgson lost with 37% to Heroux’s 60%. That was just about the ratio in the city as a whole.
Oliver noted that while Amaral has the support of the Bristol County Sheriff, he has the support of the union representing sheriff’s office employees. That, he said, suggests something about the race overall, and a distinction between him and his opponent.
“It feels like the business class versus the blue collar,” said Oliver, who has emphasized his working-class appeal.
A graduate of New Bedford High School, Oliver, whose mother was born in the Azores, was himself a father at the age of 17. That ruled out college, he said, as he had to scramble to support a family. He took what jobs he could find, sometimes working three at a time. Eventually he worked as assistant manager, then a manager for Olympia Sports stores. He’s been a correctional officer for 11 years.
Key dates and deadlines in New Bedford’s special election
The deadline to request a mail-in/absentee ballot for the Feb. 28 special Ward 3 election is Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 5 p.m.
Applications can be found on the City of New Bedford Elections Commission page.
Absentee ballots can be used in person at the Election Office through noon on Saturday, Feb. 25. Also, absentee voting hours will be held on Saturday, Feb. 25, from 9 a.m. to noon.
New Bedford Ward 3 voters will be casting their votes at Ward 3 polling locations on Feb. 28 for nominees Shawn Oliver and Carmen F. Amaral. The winner will serve the remaining 10 months of former City Councilor Hugh Dunn’s two-year term. Dunn resigned from the post in December 2022.
Some key dates and times for next Tuesday’s Ward 3 election:
- Feb. 21 at 5 p.m. — Last day and hour to apply for a mail-in or absentee election ballot.
- Feb. 25, 9 a.m. to noon — Saturday absentee voting, City Hall, Room 114.
- Feb. 27 at noon — Last day and hour to apply for an in-person absentee election ballot.
- Feb. 28 voting hours: Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for in person voting.For more information, visit the City of New Bedford Special Election Schedule or the New Bedford Election Commission website.
After graduating from New Bedford High School, Amaral earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, worked briefly for a pharmaceutical company before becoming a teacher, but she’s scarcely to the manner born.
Like Oliver, she is of Azorean ancestry. Unlike Oliver, who was born in New Bedford, Amaral arrived in the United States with her family from São Miguel when she was 4. The family struggled for money, and at times received public assistance.
Amaral and her older brother were the first in the family to graduate from high school. As they spoke English fluently and their parents did not, they became the family’s liaisons to the world, including managing their mother’s treatment when she was diagnosed with cancer. She died when Amaral was 13.
Amaral waited tables at the Olive Garden in Dartmouth and did college work study to put herself through school. She holds degrees from Bridgewater State College in biology, chemistry 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.
Two compelling stories: two candidates hoping to make their ward, and their city, a better place. How is a Ward 3 voter to choose?
This much is clear: one will be sworn into office on March 3, and, in the fall, start campaigning again for their first full two-year term.
Email Arthur Hirsch at firstname.lastname@example.org.