The first time I flew in an airplane, I was seatmates with William "Willie" Saltzman, the longtime legendary "watchdog" of the New Bedford City Council.

A Pennsylvania-based waste-to-energy company was looking to locate in New Bedford and members of the New Bedford City Council were invited to fly to Blue Belle, PA to tour the company's headquarters. As a cub reporter, I was among the press invited to tag along.

I would guess that happened about 1980.

New Bedford's Legendary 'Watchdog' William 'Willie' Saltzman
Tim Weisberg/Townsquare Media

It was so long ago that I don't recall who else boarded that small 40-45 seat propeller plane at New Bedford Regional Airport for the trip west except for Hank Seaman, whose great photography graced the pages of the New Bedford Standard-Times for years.

Willie Saltzman was an old-school politician. There was a lot of showbiz in Councilor Saltzman's style, but he was sharp as a tack and smart as a whip.

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Saltzman was born on March 26, 1906, in New York City. Saltzman operated United Fruit Store on Acushnet Avenue and then Rockdale Avenue until his retirement.

Saltzman was nothing without his beloved wife Mary, whom he often called to bail him out of jail after he was arrested while protesting one issue or another in Council Chambers.

New Bedford's Legendary 'Watchdog' William 'Willie' Saltzman
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Saltzman campaigned with oversized $50 bills with his likeness that he gladly handed to all who would take one.

Always with a cigar in hand, Saltzman was up for the fight, whether it be railing against Urban Renewal or the construction of Route 18. He denounced who he called the "sh--house engineers" who "brought their wrath" upon the adopted city he loved so well.

When Saltzman died on July 5, 1987 at the age of 81, the city council named a room at New Bedford City Hall the "Councilor William Saltzman Antechamber, Room 213."

A pedestrian walkway along the east side of the Buttonwood Park Zoo was renamed William Saltzman Way.

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