NEW BEDFORD - Four of the six candidates for Ward 3 city councilor gathered for a community forum at the Painters/Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Labor Council office Tuesday evening. 

The two absent candidates were Kathy Dehner, who couldn't find coverage for her shift at work, and Jill Marie Ussach, who was not invited due to her Republican party affiliation. The New Bedford Democratic City Committee hosted the event.

After each candidate introduced themselves, topics of discussion ranged from thoughts on state minimum wage to a federal "Millionaires Tax" to whether New Bedford should declare itself a sanctuary city.

Mark Zajack and Guy Larock said they would oppose any such vote, while Bethany Fauteux said she would vote yes. Hugh Dunn said the city is doing fine with the way it's already handling the matters, though wouldn't commit to a "yes" vote.

"I believe that right now, if it's not broken don't fix it," Dunn said. "We're doing the right thing right now."

On another local level, the issue of housing drew a healthy dose of discussion toward the end of the 90-minute event.

All candidates agreed that absentee landlords continue to pose a problem to vulnerable residents as well as the city's image.

"I find pride in my property and that's what we need to have our landlords do," Larock said. "There is a problem, obviously, with people that have these rundown places that are charging incredible rents and we need to hold these people accountable."

Dunn suggested that the city build upon the recent passage of the absentee landlord ordinance and strengthen enforcement across the city.

The correlation between the rise in homelessness and the lack of affordable housing was also brought up.

Fauteux suggested people keep an open mind and attempt to understand the circumstances of others before passing judgment.

"We have a lot of stereotypes, especially in this city, that divide our city," said Fauteux. "That when you see a poor person it's because 'they went down the wrong path in life' and 'oh well, that's not my problem.'"

Zajack touched on the idea of previous city officials to utilize abandoned mills and factories to provide more options to residents.

"We have buildings we can make an effort with," Zajack said. "We can turn them into housing and efforts have been made over the decades to try and create more affordable housing in New Bedford."

Each candidate also offered some personal goals they'd like to accomplish if elected. Dunn plans to work with City Council President Joseph Lopes to establish an opioid committee to combat the drug's presence in the city, Fauteux hopes to act as a liaison between the community and city government to show them they have a say in their city, Larock would like to work with public safety officials to increase community policing and improve safety among city parks while Zajack will take a good look at the future of the Building 19 property and potential cleanup needs for the site.

The Ward 3 preliminary election will be held March 28th, when the field is narrowed down to two. Those candidates will face off on a runoff election April 25th.

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