NEW BEDFORD — The Mayor’s Youth Council, made up of some of the top students in the city’s high schools, hosted a candidates night Thursday, drawing out the hopefuls on some familiar topics — crime, tax rate, schools and economic state of the city.
The four-hour event at the Whaling Museum’s Harbor View Gallery on AHA! Night eventually saw about 75 people fill the room to hear the final debate of the evening between Mayor Jon Mitchell and challenger Charlie Perry. The election is Nov. 7.
The recent murders — bringing the city’s total this year to eight — were high on the mayoral candidates’ minds. Mitchell praised on Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro for having a wide skills set to confront the issues facing the city.
Perry, a 30-year veteran of the police force, said the city needs to focus on community policing, something that Cordeiro is working on.
Perry also said New Bedford is wrongly accused of being the one of the most violent cities in Massachusetts. The statistics look higher because residents here are more likely to call police and report crimes than residents of other places, who might choose to hide behind closed doors.
“It could be a fight outside, and they’re not going to call. That’s a stat, so if they don’t call, we don’t produce that stat,” Perry said.
Mitchell said the schools have improved markedly since he took office five years ago, when the school system was in “shambles,” with state monitoring and little accountability compared to today.
Perry countered the city still suffers because good teachers are leaving and too many substitutes are teaching school rather than full-fledged teachers with master's degrees.
Mitchell touted his economic record and all the initiatives that have been taking place such as the harbor walk, the downtown revival, and the south terminal’s long-term potential in the offshore wind industry.
Countering Mitchell’s list of accomplishments, Perry said the mayor isn’t doing enough for existing businesses. High taxes and an unresponsive City Hall, Perry said, are to blame for what he said are nine establishments downtown looking for a way to leave the city. He declined to elaborate on the names of the businesses.
Seven candidates shared the stage for the at-large City Council portion of the evening; only two are not incumbents, Christopher Boerl and Michael Janson.
“The city deserves better than this,” Boerl declared, signaling to the incumbents. Janson decried the increases in the city budget, which he said put the tax squeeze on families in the city.
The City Council candidates touted their individual assets for serving on the council. Ian Abreu, with one term under his belt, described his style of openness and communication with residents.
Linda Morad praised the City Council culture of having members with varying strengths so that they can work together in an interlocking fashion.
Brian Gomes offered his hands-on approach over the years he has been on the council, doing such things as joining neighborhood cleanups. He said that he won’t go along with a mayor who doesn’t give much lead time in passing a city budget.
Naomi Carney described how she works with landlords on issues involving their property, especially the handful who have the lion’s share of residential rental property in the city.
Debora Coelho said she is alone on the council in living “in the hood,” putting her in a position to keep track of what is happening especially as far as crime is concerned.
Three School Committee candidates, incumbent Josh Amaral and challengers John Oliveira and Richard Porter, had more of an urgency about them as they exchanged views on the quality of the city’s schools, agreeing the city has the oldest inventory of buildings in the commonwealth. Candidate Colleen Dawicki was unable to attend.
The candidates also sought more accountability for the school system. Oliveria, who rose to lieutenant commander in the Navy, said he would be tough on the school system and seek more accountability for how it spends money.
Porter said that his employment as an administrator in the Dartmouth schools would be useful on the School Committee because he’s familiar with how school systems operate.
Amaral described how difficult it is to watch needs go unmet because the school budget is so tight when the city has extraordinary needs that suburban towns do not, such as poverty and lack of family involvement.
Follow Steve Urbon on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT.