New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s State of the City Address 2021

The following is a transcript of New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s Oct 21, 2021, State of the City speech:

“City Council President Lopes, members of the Council, and residents and friends of New Bedford, let me begin by offering my thanks to Rick Kidder and the Chamber of Commerce for hosting this event again, and for their support of small businesses in our region, especially during these trying times. I also wish to thank our sponsors for their reliable support of the Chamber and their commitment to the betterment of Greater New Bedford.

Last year, I came before you to report on an unfolding public health crisis, the likes of which the city and world had not experienced in over a century. In a matter of weeks, nearly every facet of our lives was upended by a rapidly spreading coronavirus. All of a sudden, it was threatening the lives of the most vulnerable in our society, throwing millions out of work, and shuttering schools.

At that point, we were still trying to figure out what exactly was happening. How could we make ourselves and our loved ones safe? When could people get back to work? Are my kids learning? Will there be vaccines available? When will things get back to normal?

All of this uncertainty was intensified by the scale of the loss. To date, over four hundred New Bedford residents have died from Covid-19. They were parents, sisters and brothers, and aunts and uncles. They were public figures like former Mayor Fred Kalisz, and they were friends and work colleagues, and all were part of the fabric of our City. Each of us knows at least one person who succumbed to the disease. The loss and hardship are impossible to quantify, and will always remain with us.

Given the City’s older-than-average population, its higher incidence of underlying health conditions, and our large industrial work force for which working from home was not realistic, the overall challenge here was taller than most.

I am proud of the way our City has responded. Our collective efforts have avoided a far worse outcome.

The key was that we confronted the reality of the situation. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves, or wish the problem away. We responded even before we knew exactly what we were facing, not waiting for the state or anyone else to tell us what we should do.
There was a long list of innovative steps we took that were tailored to the specific needs of New Bedford, some of which garnered national attention. These included our becoming the first city in the country to offer free masks to every resident who wanted one, and establishing workplace regulations that helped stave off major outbreaks in our seafood processing plants.
Suffice it to say, we avoided a much worse scenario because we didn’t hesitate, we were creative, and we worked as a team – city employees, health care workers, and residents, altogether.

I am grateful for their efforts. I would like to salute in particular the Health Department, under the leadership of Damon Chaplin; Emergency Management, headed up by Brian Nobrega; and Emergency Medical Services, directed by Mark McGraw, along with Travis Rebello in the Fire Department, who was responsible for testing and protective equipment. They have worked tirelessly to enable us to understand what we’ve been facing and to form our response. They’ve done it exceptionally well.

Pressing on with the City’s Business

But as I said in last year’s address, the task before us was not simply to react to the crisis, but also to press on with our work of building of a stronger, more vibrant City once the pandemic ended. It would have been more natural to simply hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. We didn’t do that. We didn’t let the pandemic become an excuse for not doing the work we’re expected to do.

I’m pleased to report that much has been accomplished.

Thanks to the dedication of our Police Department, Neighborhood Task Force and residents who’ve taken personal responsibility for their neighborhoods, crime in New Bedford continues to fall. In 2020, as violent crime skyrocketed in cities across the country, it dropped in New Bedford some 5%. Property crime fell 21%. This continues a record of success over the last five years in which crime overall in the city has fallen 39%, one of the sharpest declines in the country.

At a time when pressure on American police departments intensified, our police were able to diffuse potential civil unrest in the City without a major violent incident, in stark contrast to cities across the U.S., and even here in New England. Meanwhile, our Fire Department skillfully responded to a spate of house fires, many attributable to the effects of the pandemic.

The School Department was faced with the unprecedented challenge of ensuring the safety of students and staff, while minimizing the pandemic’s disruption of the education of our city’s schoolchildren. School districts across America struck the balance in different ways, and in the Northeast, the prevailing wisdom in urban districts was to rely exclusively on remote learning. Superintendent Anderson, with the support of the School Committee, followed the public health advice, which said that the risks could be managed. Of the 10 largest school districts in Massachusetts, New Bedford was the only one that operated in at least the hybrid format the entire school year. Compared to most of the state’s urban school districts, New Bedford did not experience as dramatic a decline in test scores, while still protecting student health.

We were reminded of this commitment to student success when earlier this year, the latest graduation numbers came out, showing that the four-year graduation rate at New Bedford High School had reached 88%, up from 58% less than 10 years ago. This represents one of the largest increases in the country, and the opening of opportunity for thousands of our city’s young adults.

That’s not all. We pulled together an all-out effort to ensure a full counting of our city’s residents for the 2020 Census. Despite swirling uncertainty in Washington about the ground rules of the census, the count identified thousands of additional residents, such that for the first time in over a half century, New Bedford’s population is officially over 100,000, confirming what has become increasingly true: New Bedford is a city people want to live in.

Our economy has snapped back. Small businesses suffered most during the early stages of the pandemic, but were backstopped by short term lending from the Economic Development Council and by the commitment of our residents to buy-local. Now things are more stable. The fishing industry has rebounded, and our manufacturers are expanding. Most striking of all, despite the implosion of the nation’s restaurant industry, New Bedford has seen seven more restaurants open than close during the pandemic, including Cisco New Bedford, one of the most popular new restaurants in New England.

These would be major accomplishments under any circumstances, never mind in the midst of a global pandemic. I am extremely proud of our city employees, business community, non-profit sector and residents for rising to the challenge.
Together, we have pressed on with our work. We continue to build a city that is more self-sufficient, confident and unified; a city that seizes control of its own destiny and that isn’t a ward of the state or a satellite of some far off major metropolitan area; a city that takes itself seriously as a City; one that can handle the challenges of the moment, and one that is constantly planting the seeds of a better future for its children.

Opportunities Before Us

New Bedford is about to enter an important period. The opportunities knocking on our door are more promising than those the City has had perhaps at any point in the last century.

Some of them are visible now. There is a thicket of fishing boats in the harbor because the commercial fishing industry on the East Coast is consolidating here. Over 150 out-of-state vessels now land their catches in New Bedford each year as international demand for scallops grows. Each of them is a small business in its own right.
We are bringing on-line a new industrial park in time for the surging demand for so-called “green field” industrial space by the state’s leading industries, opening up the possibility of high-paying jobs.

The EPA’s 40-year-long cleanup of our harbor is about 95% complete, and is opening up space for more vessels, and therefore, more jobs on the water, while major port construction projects are about to get underway.

And “for hire” signs dot the City’s landscape, something that is so striking for those of us old enough to remember the days of factory closures and mass layoffs.

Then there are the developments that are about to happen.

After years of advocacy by elected officials and businesses alike, the passenger rail connection to Boston is now under construction in earnest, and the state intends to start running trains in just over two years. The service will offer one more good reason for people to live here.

America’s offshore wind industry will launch next year from the Port of New Bedford, when Vineyard Wind begins to stage the country’s first commercial-scale project. We’ve worked over the last decade to seize a leadership role in this new industry, through the development of new infrastructure and workforce programs, and the promotion of everything the City and Port have to offer. In the next decade, the industry will invest tens of billions of dollars on projects down the East Coast, and we are in a terrific position to capitalize on it.

And finally, recent federal legislation has made available more funding to cities than at any point since at least the Great Society programs of the 1960s. With federal infrastructure bills now before Congress, there is the potential for still more funds to come.

All told, New Bedford is better positioned now than at any point in our lifetimes to thrive. Our proud city, with its glorious past, has long sought to create the conditions for a more successful and sustainable future, one that offers opportunities for a good life for our residents, and reaffirms the City’s image of itself as an important place. Those opportunities to make this happen are now before us.

Launching Out of the Pandemic

But opportunities don’t fall into place on their own. They have to be seized. We in New Bedford know this well. As I’ve said before, more than most places, we’ve had to hustle to get what we want. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a lot more gratifying when you succeed.

But I also believe that in order to make the most of our opportunities, there are three steps we must take in the immediate future.

The first is that we need to get over the hump of the pandemic.

Consider what we’re doing today. New Bedford’s state-of-the-city address is traditionally held in a large school gymnasium, ordinarily with over 500 people in attendance. It is believed to be the highest-attended event of its kind in New England, second only to Boston. The fact that it is being held remotely again this year is yet another reminder that the pandemic continues to permeate public life.

It remains more difficult here than most places because the vaccination rates across Southeastern Massachusetts remain stubbornly low, and especially so in the City.
The unvaccinated have left themselves vulnerable. We’re reminded of this every day, and not just by medical experts. Since the vaccines became widely available, almost everyone in New Bedford who has died of Covid was unvaccinated.

Many chalk up the vaccination decision to a matter of personal choice, like wearing a seat belt. The statistics may say that I’m putting myself at increased risk of harm if I don’t do it, but I’m not harming anyone else.

Analogies like these, however, don’t stand up. Having large numbers of unvaccinated individuals imposes costs on everyone, ranging from absenteeism from work and school, to the lost productivity and learning time that comes with it. Unnecessary medical costs are imposed on employers and taxpayers. And people with serious underlying health conditions remain vulnerable. Just this week, one of the most admired Americans, General Colin Powell, was the latest example of this, and there have been many others.

I’ve said a great deal on this topic over the last few months, and my intent is not to preach. But I have a duty to state the facts, and the fact is, that increasing the ranks of the vaccinated is the way to get Covid-19 under control.

To those who remain unvaccinated, I say, it’s understandable to ask questions about the vaccines. But I suggest that you put those questions to your doctor. You trust your doctor for advice about medications to help you stay healthy. The vaccines are just one type of medication. Armed with your doctor’s advice, you can make an informed decision.
We all have a part to play in helping all of us over the hump of the pandemic.

As an employer, city government is doing its part. To protect our employees and their families, and those who interact with city government, we’ve mandated vaccinations for city employees. For very similar reasons, I encourage other employers to follow suit. It’s not only a necessary step at this point in the pandemic, but it’s good for business. Sick employees are not productive. Sick customers take their business elsewhere.

Those of us who are vaccinated might consider having a word with our friends who are not. You might tell them, “Look, I’m not trying to impose my values on you, but I want you to know that I care about you, and I’m concerned. We all know someone who’s died from Covid. I’m just asking you to consider getting vaccinated.” Your example may be more powerful than you may suspect.

To launch ourselves from the pandemic, the second thing we need to do is invest our new resources wisely.

Cities that thrive in the long run are cities that are committed to reinvesting in themselves. Upgrading infrastructure, providing schools what they need to improve, strengthening civic institutions, enhancing the appearance of open spaces, and building capacity in economic development and planning agencies, all are what lead to a more livable, competitive and sustainable city.

Making this commitment sometimes has been difficult for New Bedford. The City has long faced the challenges associated with chronic scarcity. Financial decisions too often have been made based entirely on short run implications. Typically, they’ve been framed in binary terms, a choice between spending a nickel this year or not spending a nickel this year. Missing from those discussions has been how we might invest in the conditions that can generate more revenue so that in the long run more than that nickel can be spent on the services that matter, while the burden on the average taxpayer is lightened.

The funding the City has received through the American Rescue Plan, some $64 million plus additional aid passed through Bristol County, affords us a chance to grow the pie, and reset the discussion about the importance of the city reinvesting in itself.

Public participation in this discussion is important, and we’ve benefited from considerable public input on federal stimulus spending through hearings, stakeholder meetings, surveys, written submissions, and media coverage. Although federal regulations restrict the eligible uses of the funds, there are many terrific ideas on the table that can be funded.
In light of those ideas, and based on the City’s existing plans which themselves were informed by public input, I will soon submit to the City Council an outline of how funds should be invested.

The outline will be founded on certain principles. For starters, because we are receiving this funding just once, it should be spent on one-time items, rather than on the creation or expansion of existing programs that would come with future spending obligations. If we used the funding, for instance, to hire more library assistants, we’d have to continue to pay for them after the federal stimulus funds are exhausted, without the money to do it.

Where possible, we should prioritize investments that are strategic, that is, they confer new benefits in the long term that are significant enough to elevate the City’s general trajectory. A great example of this approach is right in our Downtown. After Congress enacted the Community Block Grant Program in the mid-‘70s, cities across the country received large one-time infusions of funds. New Bedford received some $13 million, equal to more than a third of the city’s operating budget at the time. Mayor Markey could have spread the funding around to satisfy many legitimate needs, but upon the advice of WHALE and the City’s economic development agencies, he committed the lion’s share of the funds to build out the cobblestoned streets of the Historic District.

Many at the time opposed the idea, citing the immediate needs that would not be addressed. But as we look back now, with the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly the right decision. The Historic District is the most photographed neighborhood in Southeastern Massachusetts, a magnet for tourists, and an emblem of New Bedford’s heritage. By any definition, that was a strategic investment, and it’s paid off handsomely.

As we consider possible investments of American Rescue Plan funds, we also should make sure that they are stretched as far as possible by leveraging other sources of funds. By that I mean, we should expect that investments that can be supported in whole or part by the private sector, should be not be paid for entirely by federal stimulus dollars. The City could use its funds as a match for private dollars for upgrades to a cultural facility, for example, but we shouldn’t be expected to pay for the entire project.

Similarly, we should spend our American Rescue Plan funds on investments that are not eligible for other public funding. The American Rescue Plan established several new funding streams, including aid to states. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts received $5.3 billion, and we have been working hard to convince the state to spend some of those funds here. We should make sure we’re not spending our money on items for which the state likely would foot the bill. The same reasoning applies to federal infrastructure funds under legislation now pending before Congress. If that funding becomes available for things we’d like to invest in, we should hold off on spending our money for the same purpose.

The more we can stretch what we’ve received from the federal government, the greater the return to the city in the long run. We’ll only receive the funding once, so we need to make it go as far as it can.

The third and last thing I’d urge everyone to consider is that to emerge stronger from the pandemic than when it began, we have to work together, and that can only happen if we strengthen the trust among ourselves.

Public and private trust has been deteriorating in America for some time, and the pandemic has laid bare many of society’s fault lines. Some of it is that we don’t see one another face-to-face as much. And I’m not just talking about the pandemic. To borrow a phrase, we’ve been “bowling alone” for a while now, as membership in clubs and leagues, participation in elections, and church attendance have steadily dwindled since the 1960s. The rapid proliferation of social media and mobile devices in the last decade as a basis for communication have accelerated these trends. The major upshot of it all is that we don’t know one another as well as we used to. The less often we can look people in the eye and spend time in their presence, the less we can understand where they’re coming from.
The contraction of traditional local media and the growing reliance on social media platforms for news has only made these symptoms worse. It’s harder to know what to believe, or what matters most.

It’s more difficult not to become calloused with cynicism about the motivations of others, much less to establish common purpose with them.

We of course can just resign ourselves to these trends. We can conclude that it’s kind of like the weather; there’s nothing we can do about it.

Or we can step back and recognize that there is something we can do. I’m not suggesting that we here in New Bedford can reverse technologically-driven social changes across America and the world over. But we can make a conscience effort to reduce their negative impacts here.

A starting point may be to discipline ourselves and pause for a second, and entertain the possibility that maybe the other person behind the social media profile might not intend me harm. Maybe that person isn’t trying to take advantage of me. Maybe those on Facebook who reflexively find fault with everyone have stuff going on in their lives that drive them to say outrageous things. Maybe empathy is a better response than a tirade aimed back at them. After all, the intentions of most people are decent, so maybe there’s just an honest disagreement. Maybe we should strive to give one another the benefit of the doubt.

We’re never going to agree all the time, nor should we. But there are some things we can all agree on: that we should live in a city that is safe, where our children can develop into responsible citizens, where the opportunity for a rewarding career is widely available, and where everyone feels like they belong.
If we agree on the goals, we can achieve them together, as long as we understand that when we don’t agree on the means of getting there, we still need to listen to other points of view. We might learn something along the way, and probably respect one another a little bit more.

That’s what builds trust, and trust is the glue that holds us together.

And only together can we succeed.

Thank you, and God bless our great City.”

Massachusetts Correction Officers In Vaccine Mandate Showdown

Matt Murphy
State House News Service

With Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for executive branch employees in effect Monday, hundreds of correction officers could be in violation of the policy following a decision by a federal court judge to deny their request to block the vaccine order.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Hillman on Friday denied the request made by the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union for a preliminary injunction to stop Baker from enforcing the vaccine mandate. The decision came just two days before the union’s 3,300 members faced a Sunday deadline to show proof of vaccination or face disciplinary action, including suspension and possible termination. The union’s attorney James Lamond told the court in a separate filing on Friday that 40 percent, or about 1,411 correction officers were unvaccinated as last Wednesday.

Hillman, in his ruling, said the union failed to demonstrate that Baker had violated the Contracts Clause of the Constitution because the union still had the opportunity and was in the process of challenging the change to its collective bargaining agreement. Furthermore, the judge ruled that the courts have already established that it is not a fundamental right to refuse a vaccination.

The precedent for that opinion dates back to a 1905 Supreme Court case centered in Massachusetts and involving the smallpox vaccine. “Even considering the economic impact on the Plaintiffs if they choose not to be vaccinated, when balancing that harm against the legitimate and critical public interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19 by increasing the vaccination rate, particularly in congregate facilities, the Court finds the balance weighs in favor of the broader public interests,” Hillman wrote in his ruling.

Baker last week activated 250 members of the National Guard to prepare to address possible staffing shortages in the Department of Correction as a result of the vaccine mandate. The MCOFU is not the only union that has challenged Baker’s executive order on COVID-19 vaccine for state employees. The State Police Association of Massachusetts sued in state Superior Court to block the mandate from taking effect on Monday and also lost.

Early voting for New Bedford’s municipal election set

Early voting for the city’s municipal election will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 23 at the city’s main public library downtown, the Board of Election Commissioners announced.

Registered voters will be able to cast ballots that day, next Saturday, at the main facility for the New Bedford Free Public Library system, downtown at 613 Pleasant St.

New Bedford voters are casting ballots this year for the city’s Assessor-at-Large, three of the six elected School Committee members, all five Councilors-at-Large and all six Ward Councilors.

Polling locations citywide will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2.

Another option for voters looking to cast ballots ahead of Election Day is absentee ballots, which are available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday – Friday in the Election Office in City Hall, at 133 William St. Parents or family members can apply for an absentee ballot on behalf of children attending college out of town. Those ballots must be returned to the Election Office by 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 2.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot in the Election Office is noon Nov. 1. The office is in Room 114 on City Hall’s first floor.

Anyone with questions on their voting status or polling location, or who would like to request an early or absentee ballot for themselves or a family member, can call the Board of Elections at (508) 979-1420.

Researchers: Evidence Insufficent To Back THC Concentration Cap

By Colin A. Young
State House News Service

There is strong demand among marijuana users for products with high concentrations of THC, the main psychoactive compound that provides many of the drug’s cognitive effects, but Cannabis Control Commission researchers said there is not enough scientific evidence of the risks of high-potency products to recommend setting a limit.

Instead, a report released Thursday by the commission’s research department suggests that marijuana regulators should increase their research and data collection capacity to make it easier to base future decisions regarding THC limits on solid evidence.

The CCC’s research team said the concentration of THC in North American cannabis has increased over the last 25 years, citing a study of federally-seized marijuana that had an average of 4 percent THC in 1995 and an average of 12 percent in 2014.

In legal markets, they said, there are signs of a similar rise but also of a leveling off, and that higher-THC products are growing in market share. Massachusetts retailers regularly offer marijuana flower with THC concentrations in the 20 to 30 percent range, and the THC levels in concentrates can approach 85 percent.

Fulfilling a legislatively-mandated study of high potency marijuana products, CCC researchers looked at sales data for vapes and cannabis concentrate products — which “typically have higher THC concentrations as compared to buds,” they said — and found those products to account for 23 percent of medical market sales and 27 percent of adult-use sales in May 2020. Those product types were the second-largest category of sales, behind traditional marijuana flower.

“Higher concentrations of THC outside of a medical cannabis setting are associated with greater harms for some populations. Among non-medical adult-users (‘recreational’), consumption of products with high THC concentrations is likely associated with greater risks, but current evidence is incomplete,” the CCC’s research department, led by research director Julie Johnson, wrote in its report. “Among non-medical youth users, the use of highly potent THC products carries risks … Among medical cannabis users, evidence is currently insufficient to draw conclusions regarding high THC concentration and effect on the human body.”

The CCC already restricts the dosage of THC allowed in edible marijuana products, capping each serving at a maximum of 5.5 milligrams of THC and limiting each package to no more than 20 servings. All marijuana products legally sold in Massachusetts are required to include information on the amount of THC and other compounds contained.

The research team was hampered by the fact that most of the research conducted on cannabis — which remains wholly illegal and under the most restrictive drug category at the federal level — has historically used cannabis grown by the University of Mississippi, which could be of poor quality, is low in THC and “does not mirror the array of products and THC concentrations sold at cannabis retailers (or in the illicit market) or the variety and regional differences in cannabis,” the CCC team said.

The study was further limited by the CCC’s available sales data, which the researchers said includes “no knowledge of what percentage of products under the ‘potentially high THC products’ category, such as concentrates and vape products, are high THC.” Instead, the researchers wrote, they opted to “stratify products by product category as an imperfect tool to examine demand for higher THC products (e.g., concentrates, vape products).”

The CCC’s study was mandated by the Legislature in its 2017 rewrite of the legalization bill approved by voters in 2016. The law specifically called for the CCC to study “the effects of marijuana and marijuana products with a high potency of tetrahydrocannabinol on the human body and recommend whether there should be restrictions on the potency of tetrahydrocannabinol in marijuana and marijuana products.”

Though it said it could not directly study the effects high-THC products have on the human body as the Legislature had assigned for various practical and political reasons, the CCC’s research team “analyzed medical and adult-use sales data by cannabis product category and conducted a high-level scoping literature review, including literature reviews and meta-analyses of relevant scientific and gray literature that reports on health effects of high-THC cannabis.”

The Department of Public Health reviewed the report, the CCC said.

The CCC pointed to “articles for policy options and analysis pertaining to cannabis THC concentrations limits” that it reviewed, and said the papers identified “multiple policy mechanisms that could impact THC concentrations in the legal market, including, tax based on concentration, concentration related price floors, THC concentration limits, initial restrictions on edibles and high-THC products, dose/serving size labeling requirements, and data collection requirements to monitor trends and harms.”

While those ideas exist in theory, CCC researchers said there has been no specific assessment of those policy options and that the potential unintended consequences have not been studied.

“Therefore, Commission staff do not find sufficient evidence to recommend a concentration cap, especially in light of potential unintended consequences discussed below,” the researchers wrote before explaining that a THC concentration cap could encourage people to turn to the illicit market for super potent products.

Massachusetts bill proposed to fine jaywalkers $200

Massachusetts Rep. Colleen Garry (D) has sponsored a bill that would hit repeat jaywalking offenders with a hefty $200 fine.

Current law stipulates that jaywalkers in Massachusetts be fined $25. Rep. Garry’s bill would double that fine to $50 for second-time offenders and then double it again to $100 for the third offense and any after that.

Furthermore, you’re technically allowed to cross as long as you’re at least 300 feet from a crosswalk in the Commonwealth, but under this proposed bill, crossing anywhere outside a crosswalk would be subject to fines.

The onus on the bill seems to be directed at distracted pedestrians: if you are on your cell phone (or wearing headphones/earbuds) while jaywalking all those fines would double. It seems that we live in a society where people are so addicted to their phones that they can’t drive or cross the street without using them.

Politicians, of course, always think punishing residents financially is a way to resolve the issue. Funny how their solution directs monies into the state’s pocket.

Absentee ballots available for New Bedford municipal election; last day to register looms

Absentee ballots are now available for the Nov. 2 municipal election, the city’s Board of Election Commissioners announced.

It’s a busy week ahead of Election Day, as the last day to register to vote is Wednesday, Oct. 13, and confirmation of early voting dates is on the New Bedford City Council agenda for Thursday night.

Election Commissioner Manuel DeBrito Jr. said residents unable to go to the polls on Election Day now can vote by absentee ballot, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday – Friday in the Election Office in City Hall, at 133 William St. Parents or family members can apply for an absentee ballot on behalf of children attending college out of town. Those ballots must be returned to the Election Office by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2.

The front doors at City Hall will be open until 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, ahead of the voter registration deadline, so people can enter the building and register with the Board of Elections in Room 114 on the first floor.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot in the Election Office is noon Nov. 1. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2.

New Bedford voters are casting ballots in this year’s municipal election for the city’s Assessor-at-Large, three of the six elected School Committee members, all five Councilors-at-Large and all six Ward Councilors.

If you have any questions on your voting status or polling location, or would like to request an early or absentee ballot for yourself or a family member, please call the Board of Elections at (508) 979-1420.

Voter registration deadline coming up for New Bedford municipal election

There’s just one week left to register to vote in New Bedford’s municipal election on Nov. 2. The voter registration deadline is next Wednesday, Oct. 13. The front doors at City Hall will be open until 8 p.m. that day so people can enter the building, at 133 William St., and register with the Board of Elections in Room 114 on the first floor.

Oct. 13 also is the deadline for voters to make any address or name changes on their registration.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2. Early and absentee voting will be offered, with dates to be released once finalized.

New Bedford voters will cast ballots Nov. 2 for the city’s Assessor-at-Large, three of the six elected School Committee members, all five Councilors-at-Large and all six Ward Councilors.

If you have any questions on your voting status or polling location, or would like to request an early or absentee ballot for yourself or a family member, please call the Board of Elections at (508) 979-1420.

Trump Backs Diehl A Year Ahead of GOP Governor Primary

Colin A. Young
State House News Service

Former President Donald Trump gave his “Complete and Total Endorsement” to Geoff Diehl on Tuesday evening, staking out the former state representative and U.S. Senate candidate’s turf as the Trump candidate in the 2022 contest for governor of Massachusetts.

“Geoff is strong on Crime, Election Integrity, our now under siege Southern Border, loves our Military, and has a big focus on taking care of our Vets. Geoff Diehl will be an outstanding Governor for the state of Massachusetts,” Trump wrote in a statement released by Diehl’s campaign.

The former president shared his support with Diehl, one of three Republicans to have filed papers to seek the party’s nomination for governor next year, in a phone call, Diehl’s camp said. Though the note was an endorsement of Diehl, the first 60 percent of it was an attack against Gov. Charlie Baker, a Trump opponent who has not said whether he will be a candidate in next year’s gubernatorial contest. The former president said Baker “is definitely not an American First or Make America Great Again kind of guy.”

Trump received 1,090,893 votes from Massachusetts (about 33 percent) in the 2016 general election and 1,167,202 votes in the 2020 general election (about 32 percent). He’s never been wildly popular with Bay State Republican pols and especially not with Baker, who voiced support for removing Trump from office in January. Baker said a month ago that he “would certainly hope” for the support of the Republican Governors Association if he opts to seek a third term next year, but brushed aside talk of Trump getting involved on Diehl’s behalf in a potential Republican primary.

“Look, that’s so far down the road it’s not even on my radar at this point in time,” he told WBZ’s Jon Keller. “When I think about 2022, at this point my primary thoughts are about some of the stuff you and I talked about — putting the federal money to work in a way that can do good things for the people of Massachusetts, and continuing to be a fiscally disciplined state that generates a surplus and doesn’t spend more than it brings in, which is what we’ve been doing, and getting as many of those people are still on the sidelines back to work.”

Massachusetts Senate Mulls Instructions For Sheriffs On Jail-Based Voting

By Matt Murphy
State House News Service

With the Senate on the verge of voting to make balloting by mail permanent and same-day registration a part of the electoral process in Massachusetts, advocates and some lawmakers are fighting to make sure the expansion of access clearly extends to eligible voters behind bars.

Those serving sentences for felony convictions in Massachusetts are ineligible to vote while incarcerated, but every year thousands of residents are held on misdemeanor convictions or while awaiting trial and remain eligible to vote.

“We’re in a historic moment,” said Kristina Mensik, campaign director for the National Council for Incarcerated & Formerly Incarcerated Women & Girls. “The fact that we are already seeing legislation sent out of Ways and Means shows us that Senate leadership is paying attention to this issue and prioritizing equity in our elections.”

The voting rights bill that the Senate will consider on Wednesday includes some reforms that would direct sheriffs and other correction officials to help incarcerated and eligible voters learn their rights and apply for and cast ballots by mail.

The Democracy Behind Bars Coalition, however, is pushing for adoption of an amendment (1) filed by Sen. Adam Hinds that would more explicitly spell out the steps correction facilities must take to educate and facilitate voting among the eligible incarcerated population.

Advocates organized a conference call on Monday morning to make their case for why the participation of incarcerated citizens in the electoral process is important for democracy, particularly in Black and brown communities where high rates of incarceration have taken their toll.

Advocates were joined by all three Democratic candidates for governor – Ben Downing, Danielle Allen and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz – as well as Hinds, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, and Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia.

Chang-Diaz has also filed amendments that would facilitate the registration of incarcerated voters and those preparing to leave prison.

One amendment (8) filed by the Jamaica Plain Democrat would direct jails, prisons and facilities run by the Department of Youth Services to enter into memorandums of understanding with the state to become automatic voter registration sites. A second amendment (9) would make pre-registration to vote part of the reeentry process for anyone preparing to be released at the end of their sentence on a felony conviction.

Mensik said the next four weeks ahead of November municipal elections in Massachusetts marks an important time for advocacy for the Democracy Behind Bars coalition.

Hours ahead of the debate on the VOTES Act in the Senate on Wednesday, the Joint Committee on Election Laws will be holding a hearing on standalone legislation (S 474) filed by Hinds that is reflected in his amendment.

A constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2000 prohibited anyone incarcerated due a felony conviction from voting in elections for governor, lieutenant governor, state senator, state representative, governor’s council, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, attorney general and all members of Congress.

That amendment passed with 64 percent of the statewide vote.

Andrea James, founder and executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated & Formerly Incarcerated Women & Girls, said that by advancing that amendment to the ballot the Legislature “robbed our people of the right to vote.”

“Constitutions are meant to give people access to freedom and liberty and the right to have their voices heard,” James said, describing jails and prisons as “places of pain, trauma and further disruption in our communities” that are used to avoid dealing with larger social problems.

“The only way were going to get some breakthrough is to allow every person to vote,” she said.

The bill (S 2545), as written, would ensure that incarcerated individuals who are eligible to vote are provided with the information and materials they need to cast a ballot.

Jails and prisons would be required to display and distribute information on voting rights and procedures, according to Senate leaders, and facilities would be required to assist anyone who is incarcerated and eligible in registering, applying for and returning mail ballots.

Mensik said the coalition is pushing for passage of Hinds’ amendment (1) to be as specific as possible on what is required of sheriffs and Department of Correction (DOC) supervisors.

“We cannot leave it up to (house of correction) and DOC officials to take the needed steps to make sure people can participate,” Mensik said.

The coalition wants to make sure sheriffs provide eligible voters access to ballots and information on the candidates so they can make informed decisions. Advocates also want to make sure ballot applications are returned on time and that “jail mail” delays do not inhibit someone’s ability to vote.

Mensik said the coalition is also pushing to make sure the guidance that Secretary of State William Galvin first sent out last year regarding eligibility and instructions for processing ballots from jails is reissued so that local officials are aware of the rules and don’t improperly discard valid votes.

“The reality is election officials reached out to me after that guidance came out and they thought the law had changed,” Mensik said.

Keeda Haynes, of The Sentencing Project, said 25 states since 1997 have taken steps to expand voting eligibility for incarcerated citizens

“Democracy doesn’t stop at the walls of jails,” Hinds said. “We continue to serve our constituents regardless of their carceral status and we must take the steps to ensure everyone eligible to vote in the Commonwealth has that right recognized and protected.”

Massachusetts Legislators Push to Rename Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day

By Katie Lannan
State House News Service

Indigenous people and other activists calling for the state to rename Columbus Day got support in their push Tuesday from some Italian-Americans who said they, too, think Massachusetts should make the change.

State law calls for the governor to annually proclaim the second Monday in October as Columbus Day, “to the end that the memory of the courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America, may be perpetuated.”

Less than two weeks before that holiday arrives, the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight heard testimony on a pair of bills (H 3191, S 2027) that would instead have the governor proclaim that day Indigenous People’s Day “to acknowledge the history of genocide and discrimination against Indigenous peoples, and to recognize and celebrate the thriving cultures and continued resistance and resilience of Indigenous peoples and their tribal nations.”

Supporters of the bills pushed back against the notion that the Italian navigator Columbus truly discovered the Americas, lands that were already populated, and said the switch would recognize the resilience of Indigenous people who endured colonization.

Mahtowin Munro, who is Lakota and spoke on behalf of United American Indians of New England and the statewide Indigenous Peoples Day campaign, said Indigenous people have been asking for the replacement of Columbus Day since the 1970s.

“Nearly all of us were falsely taught as young children that Columbus discovered America,” she said. “Indigenous people were not discovered by anybody since we were already here and were certainly not lost. We did not need to have civilization or spirituality brought to us since we already had many civilizations and beliefs.”

Faries Gray, sagamore of the Massachusett Tribe of Ponkapoag, said Indigenous people throughout the Americas view Columbus as “a terrorist” and celebrating him with a holiday teaches children “that it’s acceptable to do this to Indigenous people.”

Alex DeFronzo, an Italian-American East Boston resident, said Columbus documented in his writings “his legacy of genocide against the Taino and Carib peoples, sex trafficking of Indigenous women and girls and enslavement of hundreds of Indigenous people.”

“The Massachusett and Wampanoag people for over 8,000 years before the arrival of European colonizers took care of this land in a sustainable way,” DeFronzo said. “I think if we’re going to honor and celebrate one or the other on the second Monday of October, it’s obvious which is worthy and which is not.”

The only person who testified against the bills during the hearing, Christopher Spagnuolo, described Columbus as a “complicated historical figure” and said there can be different interpretations of his diaries.

Spagnuolo said the first national observance of Columbus Day, in 1892, was “to atone for a racist crime” — the lynching of a group of Italian men in New Orleans, one of a series of acts of violence and discrimination in the country’s history against Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans.

“Removing Columbus Day sets a bad precedent,” he said. “It elevates one culture while marginalizing another. It is hurtful to all immigrants that view the day as a celebration of being accepted in America after decades of experiencing racism, prejudice and violence. Columbus Day symbolizes the immigrant experience in the U.S. and the struggle for acceptance, human rights and dignity.”

He suggested a compromise that honors Italian-Americans in October and Indigenous people in November, which is recognized as national Native American Heritage Month.

Heather Leavell, who co-founded Italian Americans for Indigenous People’s Day, said her group empathizes with the feelings of Italian-Americans who view the day as a symbol of their ancestors overcoming adversity.

“But things are much different for us today,” said Leavell, a Bedford resident. “Our culture is celebrated, especially throughout October, which is officially recognized as Italian-American Heritage Month in the commonwealth. We enjoy a level of status and recognition in society that native people do not, and we have a responsibility to use that platform we now have to ensure we are not repeating the same patterns of abuse that our ancestors endured.”

The timing of the hearing makes it unlikely that the bill — which would still need a committee vote, multiple votes in both branches of the Legislature and approval from Gov. Charlie Baker — could become law before this year’s holiday, on Oct.11.

Last session, the committee killed the bill by including it in an order for further study.

Several Massachusetts communities have already taken action to locally observe or declare an Indigenous Peoples Day. Sen. Jo Comerford, who filed the Senate version of the bill, said six cities and towns in her district have done so, and Somerville Rep. Christine Barber, a committee member who said she hopes the bill advances, said that the change to Indigenous Peoples Day in her city has been an “incredibly helpful way to educate people and to raise awareness about Indigenous people who continue to live in our community and whose land we’re on.”

Comerford, a Northampton Democrat, told her colleagues that they could “spend this hearing and dozens more” recounting the stories of other explorers and adventurers who, unlike Columbus, were not honored with a state holiday.

Having the ability to create holidays and to “elevate certain historic figures and groups” gives lawmakers “an awesome responsibility…to get it right, not to disseminate false information, not to engage in historical revisionism,” she said.

Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley, a lead sponsor of the House bill with Rep. Jack Lewis, said Hawaii, South Dakota, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont have all permanently replaced Columbus Day with holidays recognizing Indigenous people. The Boston Democrat said that since 2018, eight states and Washington, D.C. have issued proclamations recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, while Alabama and Oklahoma celebrate both holidays.

“Who we choose to celebrate demonstrates whose contributions we value in Massachusetts,” she said. “As we rightly criticize states and localities that cling to racist monuments of the Confederacy, Massachusetts should lead by recognizing that Columbus Day promotes a troubling racial history and instead we should show our support for indigenous neighbors by declaring this holiday.”

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