The Undoing of New Bedford Mayor Fred Kalisz [OPINION]
Fred Kalisz battled his way into the mayor's office by defeating incumbent Rosemary Tierney in 1997. It was a rematch for Kalisz and Tierney. She bested him by 1,000 votes just two years prior. Kalisz served four terms before being turned away by the voters in favor of Attorney Scott Lang.
Tierney was a popular mayor. But Kalisz was able to exploit some Tierney weaknesses to his advantage. Higher taxes and fees, rising unemployment, and a failure to lock down a promised casino for New Bedford swept Tierney from office and ushered in the Kalisz Administration.
Mayor Tierney once told me there is little that any mayor can do with the limited discretionary funds in the budget. But Tierney did make a difference. And Kalisz did as well.
Kalisz won the election on a promise to try and bring government spending under control. He attempted unsuccessfully to renegotiate costly insurance plans with the public safety unions. Kalisz offered solutions that would have reduced costs with only minimal impact on employee coverage. The unions refused.
Kalisz became entangled in bitter contract negotiations with the public safety unions that hurt him politically. His refusal to allow sheriff's deputies to provide patrols following a spate of shootings was seen as political pettiness by some. But his biggest mistake was to shutter the North End and South End police stations.
Kalisz's view that centralizing the police department would save the city money without sacrificing efficiency was correct – on paper. He neglected to see the human element. People felt safer and more secure with their neighborhood police stations operational. Scott Lang exploited that weakness and defeated Kalisz in 2005.
Despite his missteps on the policing issue, Kalisz accomplished a great deal during his time as Mayor of New Bedford. He built new schools, refurbished lighthouses, advanced economic development efforts, restored ferry service, and much more.
Most importantly, Fred Kalisz cared about people, and it showed in his lifelong commitment to the City of New Bedford. He never stopped caring, even after leaving office. Kalisz will long be remembered as one of New Bedford's most beloved mayors. He was truly a man of the people.
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 email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.