The 2023 New Bedford election season has started not so much with a bang as with a whimper.
Manny DeBrito, the chair of the Election Commission, moved up the date for taking out papers by a full month, from the beginning of May to the beginning of April. But when asked why, he shrugged his shoulders and said no special reason. When I pressed him, he said it gives candidates more time to come out.
DeBrito had been criticized by some candidates for the short preparation time in February’s special Ward 3 election. The City Council had quickly scheduled the election after Councilor Hugh Dunn abruptly resigned a little over a month after he was found not guilty of a drunken driving charge.
So as of April 4 we are in election season in New Bedford, even though the date for finalizing the preliminary election ballot won’t be until August 17. The preliminary — never say primary in New Bedford — will be Oct. 3 and then the final election on Nov. 7.
We might have known something was coming quickly when the City Council on March 9 approved no fewer than three November ballot questions. Out of the blue, all of them were manufactured, debated and passed at one meeting.
It’s not clear that the council will be able to override Mayor Jon Mitchell’s vetoes on all three of the questions — the one Council President Linda Morad proposed eliminating the popular Community Preservation Act seems particularly endangered. But it’s safe to say that the non-binding question on eliminating the four-year mayoral term will at least make it there.
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The City Council is not unanimous in anything other than their hatred of Mayor Jon Mitchell, 12 years into his mayorship. It’s a wonder how the same guy could be so popular with the people and so unpopular with the council.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the so-called rent stabilization question. Freshman Councilor Shane Burgo, if he can’t override the mayor’s veto, may rue the day he voted to put the other questions on the ballot.
While the first day to take out papers to collect the required 50 nomination signatures has historically resulted in a page full of candidates by the end of the initial day, this year, there were a mere six names on the list.
The most noteworthy news was that three-term Ward 5 Councilor Scott Lima has decided not to run for re-election in his ward but is thinking about running at-large.
Lima isn’t saying much about why he’s thinking of switching. Maybe he thinks an at-large seat would have fewer constituent demands and he would have more time for other jobs. City Council in New Bedford is a part-time position that pays less than $30,000 a year. Most of the councilors who are not retired have to work.
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But just in time for the open Ward 5 seat is former Ward 6 Councilor Joe Lopes. The moderate-to-conservative longtime councilor, and four-time council president, was handily defeated by freshman Ryan Pereira a year ago. But he recently moved to Plymouth Street, near Buttonwood Park, and before the nomination papers had even been laid out, he had garnered the endorsements of both Lima and the next-to-last Ward 5 councilor, Kerry Winterson, for the Ward 5 seat.
Lopes had a better relationship with Mayor Jon Mitchell than most councilors, although his sponsorship of the law penalizing new city employees 10% of their salaries before they move in, was a low point in their parallel careers.
The only endorsement that Lopes didn’t win was that of longtime former councilor Jane Gonsalves, and though she doesn’t usually endorse, she could be a key factor if she gave her blessing to someone other than Lopes. Is there room for a woman candidate in Ward 5? Councilor Gonsalves would certainly like that.
Among the handful of other candidates who have made their intentions known early are just-elected Ward 3 Councilor Shawn Oliver, who made sure that recent opponent Carmen Amaral knew right off the bat that he was game for another head-to-head contest. Bob Bromley, who finished just out of the final, in the Ward 3 race, might give it another look, too. He could position himself between Oliver and Amaral, it would seem.
Would Ward 3 be different this time, with a higher turnout and Oliver’s conservative instincts and Amaral’s progressive ones better known? Who knows?
The ward voted against longtime incumbent Sheriff Tom Hodsgon last November. It seems like it’s competitive for the right progressive campaign, or moderate for that matter.
Also, letting it be known he’ll be running early is Leo Choquette, who lost narrowly to incumbent Ward 1 Council Brad Markey two years ago. Choquette is actively working the media already and positioning himself as a moderate, contending he’d be more available than Markey for constituent services. Markey has moved somewhat closer to his fellow councilors and away from the mayor since his narrow win. It would be an interesting race.
Are constituent services really as important as some of the councilors think they are? They’re important, but they are not everything.
The most interesting thing about the slow start to the campaign may be that the potential candidates for mayor are all keeping their powder dry. Five-term incumbent Jon Mitchell would be the prohibitive favorite should he decide to go but certainly councilors Brian Gomes, Linda Morad and Ian Abreu continue to look in the mirror and see a mayor staring back at them.
Gomes’ and Morad’s long-standing attempts to act as mayor when they are still councilors would probably work against them, even should Mitchell decide not to go again. Abreu these days actually seems distracted from his council job as he tries to build his Silmo coffee syrup business.
Almost certainly an open mayor’s seat would bring other interesting and qualified mayoral candidates to come out of the woodwork, especially from the business or legal communities. Possibly longtime state Rep. Tony Cabral, who lost to Mitchell in the final election 12 years ago.
We’re all just going to have to wait to see what happens. It’s still early April, and it’s starting slow.
Email columnist Jack Spillane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interesting assessment of the early filers.I am not sure of the thought process of Scott Lima deciding to drop is ward seat for a city wide run for an “At-Large” spot. Maybe he has future aspirations and is testing the water city wide.It could also be that there are “coalitions” being hatched as Joe Lopes enters days after Lima bails out.
Personally, I see Mayor Mitchell staving off any challenge except for maybe one present at large council should he decide to run again. I do agree that the past “love-hate” relationship between The Mayor and the city council has morphed in a “hate-hate” relationship with little if any compromise on major issues facing the future of New Bedford. Sadly not much gets accomplished when there is no give and take.
My final point is that I certainly take an opposite stance on your assessment that Ian Abreu has lost some of his “mojo” in respect to his council seat while building back his SILMO brand. He is still the trend setter in ensuring constituent services are provided and remains highly accessible albeit not as visible. He above them all gets things done. Now only if we can get more than 16% of the registered voters to show up at the polls maybe, just maybe we can start to turn things around.
I can see the Forest.
Imagine, charging ten dollars for a bottle of coffee syrup in this economy and this location says a lot!
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