Twelve New Bedford Mayors Have Served During My Lifetime
Thirty-eight individuals have served as Mayor of New Bedford since 1847. Some, including Mayor Charles S. Ashley and the current Mayor Jonathan F. Mitchell, served for more than 10 years.
When I arrived on the planet in March 1958, Francis J. Lawler was mayor. Lawler served two terms from 1956 to 1961 and was also interim mayor from May to December 1953 while Mayor Edward C. Pierce was in prison. Who was mayor the year you were born?
Voters elected Charles S. Ashley to more than 25 terms as Mayor of New Bedford. Many of them were one-year terms. Ashley was the city's longest-serving mayor.
Abraham H. Howland was New Bedford's first mayor serving from 1847 through 1851. Several other Howlands, including Abraham H. Howland, Jr. and George Howland, Jr., held the office.
Other mayor's names are recognizable when you think of streets and schools in the city. They include Rodney French, William Rotch, George Dunbar, Issac C. Taber, Jethro C. Brock, Stephen Allen Brownell, David Parker, and Edward R. Hathaway, to name a few.
During my lifetime, 12 people have held the office of Mayor of New Bedford. Most were elected to the position, but Cynthia G. Kruger and Nelson Macedo were acting mayors. The others include Edward F. Harrington, George Rogers, John A. Markey, Brian J. Lawler, John K. Bullard, Rosemary S. Tierney, Frederick M. Kalsiz, Jr., and Scott W. Lang.
You can read more about all of New Bedford mayors since 1847, but here are the ones that served in my lifetime:
Francis J. Lawler (1956-1961)
Father of future Mayor Brian J. Lawler, Mayor Lawler finished out the term of Edward C. Pierce when Pierce went to prison in 1953. The Francis J. Lawler Library at Buttonwood Park is named for him.
Edward F. Harrington (1962-1969)
Known simply as "Eddie," Harrington was proud of his Irish ancestry. He served in the Pacific Theater in World war II. You can see what life was like in New Bedford during his time in office in this video from the National Archives:
George Rogers (1970-1971)
Rogers went to prison for his role in the Voc-Ed scandal. He served for years on the New Bedford City Council where he was known as a master parliamentarian. He also served in the Massachusetts House and Senate. Rogers was mayor when racial unrest occurred in New Bedford during the Summer of 1970.
John A. Markey (1972-1982)
Known to all as "Jack," Markey took off his pants for a photo that went viral around the nation before going viral was a thing. It was in protest to high labor union demands and in solidarity with what he believed were overburdened property taxpayers. Markey's administration saw school teachers jailed during an illegal strike that lasted two weeks. His administration also began to identify and work to clean up contaminants in New Bedford Harbor. Markey resigned to accept a judicial appointment by Governor Edward King.
Cynthia G. Kruger (1982-1983)
Kruger was acting mayor when Markey resigned as she was the city council president at the time. Kruger was the first woman to occupy the mayor's office in New Bedford. Kruger, a distinguished educator at UMass Dartmouth, passed away in 2021.
Nelson Macedo (1983)
Macedo was elected city council president, replacing Kruger and thus becoming acting mayor until a special election could be held later that year. Macedo, a youth baseball umpire for years, died in 2018.
Brian J. Lawler (1983-1985)
Lawler served only one term. He was mayor during Hurricane Gloria which struck the region in September 1983 and is now the man behind the annual "New Bedford Day" each March in Ft. Myers, Florida.
John K. Bullard (1986-1991)
Before, during, and after his time as mayor, Bullard was instrumental in preserving historically significant properties and was a founder of the Waterfront Historic Area League.
Rosemary S. Tierney (1992-1998)
Tierney served on the New Bedford School Committee and as a member of the Governor's Council before being elected mayor. Tierney is credited with restoring the city's parks and beaches and fostering the arts in Downtown New Bedford. She is also remembered for hosting Mother Theresa during a visit to New Bedford. She passed away in 2020.
Frederick M. Kalisz, Jr. (1998-2006)
Kalisz is credited with building new schools and signing the agreement to privatize trash collection in New Bedford. His efforts to negotiate a new health benefits package for public employee unions made enemies of the police and firefighters, who often picketed his appearances. His decision to close the North and South End police stations cost him his job. Kalisz died due to complications from COVID-19 in 2021.
Scott W. Lang (2006-2012)
Lang, a successful attorney, former sports agent and member of the Democratic National Committee, was a popular mayor who opted to retire rather than face re-election in 2011. Lang re-opened the police stations closed by his predecessor and began the process of reconstructing railroad tracks to make way for South Coast Rail.
Jonathan F. Mitchell (2012-)
Mitchell revamped the education system in New Bedford. Mitchell will be best remembered for governing during the COVID pandemic. A strong advocate for the offshore wind industry, Mitchell positioned the city to play a vital role in that industry. His ongoing battles with the police and fire unions cost him support with some voters. Mitchell has worked to improve the beach area and attract new industry to the city. He was also the first mayor elected to a four-year term in city history.
Markey, Brian Lawler, Bullard, Lang, and Mitchell are the only surviving Mayors of New Bedford.