NEW BEDFORD — A crowd that gathered at Custom House Square to hear from U.S. Sen. Ed Markey didn't seem to mind that his campaign bus arrived an hour late, and gave the co-author of the Green New Deal an enthusiastic welcome as he stepped to the lectern to deliver his stump speech five days ahead of a hotly contested Democratic primary election.

"Justice is on the ballot this year," Markey proclaimed before holding forth on now-familiar themes including climate change, the environment, racism and criminal justice, health care, housing, and today's sharp economic disparities. He blasted Republicans and excoriated President Donald Trump: "We have a criminally negligent president in the White House, a racist, who has ignored the coronavirus."

Markey blamed Trump for failing to take early action to stem the spread of COVID-19. He said people of color are twice as likely to die from the disease as white people, that half of all black adults are unemployed, and 20 percent of black workers are essential workers who "can't Zoom to work." Markey said as a result of the pandemic, the unemployment rate in New Bedford has soared to 22 percent, one of the highest rates in the state.

The senator hammered on issues of policing and race, saying "as long as black and brown men continue to get shot, injured or murdered on the streets by police officers who are supposed to protect them, we have a criminal injustice system." He talked about Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, and Jacob Blake, the black man shot by police last weekend in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and said "Black Lives Matter."

In discussing climate change, Markey said New Bedford's fishing industry is feeling the effects. "The cod are moving north because they need cold water. The lobster are moving north because they need cold water," he remarked. "The lobsters are voting with their claws."

The Malden Democrat and "son of a milkman" name-dropped Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the Green New Deal. Markey said the two introduced the non-binding measure "so that we would do something about this climate crisis, and do it now." He said the concept would create millions of jobs and that "communities of color and front-line communities -- and we’re talking New Bedford" would reap the benefits.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

Markey once again reminded the crowd that in 2018 he secured a $15 million federal grant to help expand a port facility in New Bedford harbor. When the North Terminal project is completed, it will provide much-needed new dockage for commercial fishing vessels and other maritime ventures.

The senator delivered a soliloquy on the virtues of offshore wind, saying the nascent industry will bring thousands of jobs to the South Coast. "Those winds that blew the Pilgrims here 400 years ago -- the winds that were used by fishermen to create the whaling industry -- those same winds can now be captured for the fishing industry of the 21st century and for the wind industry," he said.

Voters in the 7th Congressional District first sent Markey to Washington in 1976, and he was elected to the Senate in 2013. The 74-year-old political veteran faces a primary challenge this year from 39-year-old U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, a Newton Democrat and scion of a famous family.

During the campaign, Kennedy has been spending a lot of time in the New Bedford and Fall River area, much of it in casual settings where he talks to voters one-on-one. Kennedy has claimed that Markey in general is "not present" in Massachusetts. In criticizing Markey, Kennedy has repeatedly said that being a senator "means more than simply passing bills."

Yet Markey told reporters Friday that he's doing what he was elected to do.

"The job of a legislator is to legislate. That's the job," Markey said. "So I have more than 500 laws on the books. My opponent does not."

Markey declined to issue an endorsement in the crowded 4th Congressional District race, where now seven Democratic candidates are competing for Kennedy's seat. The primary is set for Sept. 1.

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