Little Interest in Holding Public Office in New Bedford [OPINION]
I bet you didn't even know there is a preliminary election in New Bedford this month. There is, on September 28, and it could be a real snoozer. It seems not many are interested in seeking public office in New Bedford these days. I wonder why that is?
The highlight of the preliminary election features a three-way race for the Ward 5 City Council seat. Incumbent Scott Lima has two challengers, Zachary Boyer and Raena Camacho. Even though there are six challengers and four incumbents looking to fill five at-large council seats, there are not enough contestants to force a preliminary.
Ward 2's Maria Giesta, Ward 3's Hugh Dunn, and Ward 4's Derek Baptiste have no opponent and will automatically win another term in the general election on November 2. In that election, incumbent Ward 1 Councilor William Brad Markey faces a challenge from Leo Choquette, and Ward 6 incumbent Councilor Joe Lopes goes head to head with Ryan Pereira. The two winners of the Ward 5 preliminary election will square off in the general election.
Incumbent At-Large Councilors Ian Abreu, Brian Gomes, Naomi Carney, and Linda Morad look to fend off challengers Scott Pemberton, David Sullivan, Jason Mello, Lisa White, Paul Chasse, and Shane Burgo in a race for five seats.
For New Bedford School Committee, there are three candidates for three seats, two of which are being vacated by incumbents. Incumbent Colleen Dawicki and challengers Melissa Costa and Ross Grace, Jr. will have no competition in November.
Why so little interest? Change at the local level is all the rage across the country, particularly on local school boards where issues of transgender rights and critical race theory are drawing candidates from out of the woodwork. Why then does there seem to be such a lack of interest in participating in New Bedford politics?
Former Ward 5 Councilor Jane Gonsalves told The New Bedford Light's Jack Spillane she believes there is a growing disconnect between citizens and the political process. "They don't think anybody can change the government," she said.
A current member of the city council told me, "When you do the job right as a city councilor, even with it being a part-time salary, you have to be ready at all times – weekends, holidays, and late-night hours." Members of the school committee receive no compensation for their time.
Then there is social media. Gone are the days when someone might disagree with a public servant. The anonymity of social media allows critics to get downright mean and vicious, often attacking the families of elected officials. My councilor said, "It's easy to say 'you're in politics so you need to have thick skin,' but trust me, getting your teeth kicked in on social media sucks."
Long hours, in some cases a lack of compensation, and a constant barrage of nastiness on social media may be just enough to keep quality candidates from participating in public service locally. In addition to all that, I think people are just plain sick to death of the partisanship that dominates the cable news networks and the inability of government officials to work cooperatively. It's too bad because Lord knows we need all the help we can get.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.