Retrospections of a Former New Bedford Mayor
There are different ways stories can be told. While former New Bedford Mayor Brian Lawler is here visiting relatives and close friends, we spent some time together having the freshest swordfish steak and New Bedford scallops at Knuckleheads Restaurant, talking about untold stories – until now.
"Tell me about the time when...," I said, and it was like a magic wand as we were transported back to a kinder and gentler city.
"When my father ran for mayor in the 1950s, we'd have 60 candidates running against other," Lawler said. "Every lawyer in town would run because in those days, a lawyer couldn't advertise, and anybody who had a gripe jumped in because with 60 candidates, you don't have to get that many votes to end up first or second."
Former Mayor Jack Markey stepped down to become a judge, "and in that mayoral election, we had 18 candidates," Lawler said. "Sure, you always had a couple of cranks, but most were serious. I remember 'Cuzzin'' Dave (Williford) got 1,000 votes and everybody said that he was the new wonder boy who had a promising political future here. On the other hand, Bobby Hunt also got 1,000 votes, and everyone said Hunt's political career was finished."
He started smiling at something he was thinking. "Do you remember the late Michael Zaritt?" he asked. Of course I remember Michael, I told Lawler.
"All of us were at a heated debate at the high school and out of all of us, Michael received the loudest, most thunderous applause," Lawler said. "Michael addressed the capacity crowd by saying, 'Most of you won't recognize me, but I was the 'talking Christmas Tree' at the North Dartmouth Mall.' The crowd went bonkers, giving Zaritt a near standing ovation!"
Lawler also had some great memories of things most others never knew about.
"I'll never forget the city official who wanted to paint his house, so over an extended period, there was always a leftover can of paint on various city projects that ended up at this official's home. Have you ever seen the day-glo paint sprayed in between the stripes? Well, he painted his home with all this free paint, only to see his house illuminate at night, like a glowworm."
The former mayor spoke fondly about some of the past lions of local politics. "Willie Saltzman was amazing," he said. "He taught me how to answer debate questions. For instance, I'm up there on stage and when the question was posed, I answered, 'yes, I will go back and re-read the issues at hand and work to come up with a solution.'"
As we were passing Freestone's, Lawler looked out and said, "See that corner at Freestone's? Ted Kennedy gave his last New Bedford speech there, surrounded by hundreds of people."
As we were finishing up our visit together, I asked Lawler why some people made it while others failed?
"Well, sometimes we get in the mud for a lot of reasons, but then we work hard and find a formula that helps us find a way out of the mud, and then, hopefully, we move on," he said.
Hopefully we will reconvene with the Lawlers and hundreds more from this area at New Bedford Day in Fort Meyers, on the second Tuesday in March 2022. "If they allow us, New Bedford Day is a go!" he said.