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It’s “Silly Season” in New Bedford Politics

It usually happens around this time during a campaign. Fatigue sets in. Frustration boils over. The candidates not ready for prime time are exposed. And by Halloween, just before the first Tuesday in November, things get downright silly.

We’re in “Silly Season” right now in New Bedford politics.

And that’s a shame. It would nice to discuss serious policy proposals put forth by the candidates for Mayor, the Councilor-At-Large seats, the ward Council seats and the School Committee seats.

But too many of these races have only one viable or predictable candidate for office. And the way some candidates have run their races has only underscored their limitations . Especially this past week.

This isn’t going to be a puff piece for my personal favorites in the various races under consideration. While I enjoy wide latitude on this blog as Groundworker-At-Large, not only would that be wrong but it would insult my own background as a reporter.

However, as a reporter, I can’t help sharing facts and informed observations as illustrated by a couple of races. 

First and foremost of those observations would be this: New Bedford isn’t the same city it was 10, five or even three years ago. It’s a city that’s been renewed – as captured in the superb profile of New Bedford on “Chronicle.”

As a renewed city, where the “opportunities outweigh the challenges,” as I wrote not so long ago, its citizenry as well as business and creative classes have a vested interest in stable municipal government. Government that builds on the momentum the city has achieved and one that ensures it reaches another plateau in the years ahead rather than slip backwards.

In that light, there really are few choices for the offices under the consideration.

The Mayor’s Race

Mayor Jon Mitchell already enjoyed a huge advantage entering the race. The city has reached a modern-day pinnacle during his time in office. His handling of his duties and the decisions he’s made as mayor has a lot to do with that achievement and bringing New Bedford to this moment. Still, it would have been nice to see a real race for the office – and, we almost had it.

Challenger Charlie Perry’s unexpected strong showing in the primary held out the promise of a robust campaign season. The candidate could have broadened his premise that not everyone, and not every neighborhood, has enjoyed the fruits of New Bedford’s renaissance – and he was the person to make that happen if elected. That would have been an important conversation to  have with voters. 

Instead, he brought his campaign down to its own most reductive elements this week and revealed it as little more than a Human Resources dispute with his boss at the New Bedford Police Department. And he did it with innuendo and baseless accusations that I won’t detail here.

There really is no choice for mayor if you’re interested in keeping the city moving forward into the future except re-electing Jon Mitchell.

Serving our Students

A superb and sincere candidate for New Bedford School Committee, Colleen Dawicki, also found herself under attack this week for, essentially, having the temerity to donate her time and talent to her community. Dark motives were assigned to her – in the dark places of the web reserved for trolls.

The usually reserved and unflappable candidate hit back – albeit with a grace and intelligence usually not found in public life. Her response to the “Silly Season” is required reading. (Find it here.) The fact is, a vote for her is a guarantee that tomorrow will be brighter than today for our students – and for our city. 

Competitive races are a part of political discourse – but in these strange times, as Dawicki notes, what passes as discourse too often emerges from somewhere different. She writes, “To those who arrived here from an angry place, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you haven’t experienced enough quality leadership in your lives to believe that I truly am the person I claim to be, a person whose greatest fulfillment comes from making my community a better place.”

Right on. 

This week, we’re not having a debate about how best to build on the city’s recent successes. We’re not having a debate about where we’ve fallen short as a community empowering all our residents and preparing our students for the future. We’re not enjoying a meaningful and spirited contest of ideas.

You know what, though? That’s okay. Because that’s not the real story.

The real story is, we’ll get through the “Silly Season” because, though some don’t yet believe it, New Bedford is now a city where you can pursue individual dreams and reach collective goals. 

Filtering out the noise

This past Sunday,  the city’s daily newspaper, The Standard-Times published a column by their premier political columnist (and managing editor) that caused this normally unflappable person to lose his cool. 

Jack Spillane also bemoaned the state of campaigning in the city. But, his reporting was specious and thus the conclusions he drew from it were demeaning. He wasn’t just indicting the candidates – but the citizenry. He summed up (in his opinion) that, “…something seems to have changed about contemporary politics. People just don’t seem that into it anymore.”

Wrong as wrong can be. The column was drive-by reporting that simply perpetuates a negative stereotype that New Bedford citizens are apathetic about their future. In truth, that notion is reinforced by the city’s largely empty media echo chamber. 

We do care, Jack. Very many of us have got emotional and actual skin in the game and therefore an investment in the outcome on a deeply personal level. Despite having to deal with your ennui as a representative of the mainstream media; despite enduring endless social media trolls; despite seeing good people demeaned; and despite having to endure the “Silly Season.”

We’re not going back. We’ll take Jon Mitchell for another term – because it’s in our interest to do so as a city. We’ve got the confidence to elect a Colleen Dawicki – who can help pave the way for other smart, capable people to enter the arena of public life. 

We’ll go forward – engaged, energized and with purpose.

Because that’s New Bedford now. It’s a different city than it was 10, five or even three years ago. It is a passionate community filled with dedicated residents, committed business owners and creative persons of all types.

The real story is that one “Silly Season” isn’t going to change that fact or dampen that renewed spirit. It’s the new normal here – despite of what you might read in the paper or hear on the radio. 

Steven Froias