Whether you like it here or you don't, anyone who has been around New Bedford long enough has witnessed a lot of changes over the years, some for the bad but a lot for the good.

As a child in the early 1960's, I remember a thriving downtown with palatial theaters and bustling businesses and restaurants seemingly on every corner. Thursday night was a big night for downtown. Everyone went. Route 6 was the way to go if you needed to get to the Cape or to Fall River and beyond, and it ran right through the heart of downtown.

The North End and South End business districts were crammed with mom and pops and shoppers filled the sidewalks. The mills hummed seven days a week and fishing was king.

Times changed dramatically. New Bedford went through a dark age as Interstate 195, Route140 and Route 18 dissected the city. Entire neighborhoods were demolished. Much of the downtown was leveled and suburban malls lured our commerce away. Manufacturing moved south and overseas. Megastores replaced mom and pops and the once-thriving business districts were boarded up.

Tim Dunn/Townsquare Media.

A school district that prepared most kids for jobs in the mills or on the ocean was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, as the new reality called for greater accountability and greater achievements.

Today New Bedford, a city known for rebounding and reinventing itself, is on the road to recovery. Its a slow and arduous process. New Bedford draws tourists from all over the world. It is home to many fine restaurants and unique shops. The education system is making great strides.

Compared to the New Bedford of 40 years ago, it's a whole new world.

A lot of people have contributed to the revival of New Bedford. Elected officials, appointed officials, volunteers, and just ordinary citizens have performed extraordinary tasks to reverse the course of this city. Are we out of the woods? I can't say for sure, but there is reason for optimism.

New Bedford Whaling Museum Facebook

New Bedford would not be where it is today if not for the leadership of its chief executives over the decades. Recently six of the last seven surviving mayors of New Bedford posed for the photo displayed above. Each contributed in some way to turning New Bedford in the right direction.

Jack Markey took high on taxes and attempted to market the city. John Bullard fought to save New Bedford's historic buildings. Rosemary Tierney battled for quality of life and the arts. Fred Kalisz tried to address staggering insurance and medical costs and advocated for transportation issues. Scott Lang was a force for unity and secured grants for rail bridges and track replacements. Jon Mitchell has worked to diversify the economy and improve school performance.

Fishing Fleet 1 (Barry Richard Photo)

Each former mayor left a mark and moved the ball a few inches further down the field. For that, we are grateful and we thank you for your service.

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 barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.