“Cozy” is how I would describe the New Bedford city council chamber–with curtains decorating the window and an angel topping a Christmas tree in the corner. It could have been someone’s living room. But, you know, with cameras.
The women occupied the front row; men took up the rear. Councilors sat in high-backed reclining chairs, each with his or her own personal desk.
Today there would be no long debates or drawn-out votes on new ordinances. Instead, “Councilors, I’ll open the floor for nominations of council president pro tem,” announced city clerk Dennis Farias.
“I move to nominate Councilor-elect Joseph Lopes,” declared Councilor Linda Morad.
Farias nodded. “Would Councilors-elect [Debora] Coelho and [Ian] Abreu please escort Councilor Lopes to the podium?” As the trio crossed the floor, a smattering of applause greeted Lopes when he took his seat.
The adulation was short-lived.
“We are adjourned,” he slammed a gavel on the wooden desk. While it was only five minutes into the meeting–and would have been a contender for shortest meeting on the books–this was actually a pause to swear in councilors elsewhere.
I can only imagine the pomp and pageantry that took place off camera, for two hours elapsed before Councilor Lopes smashed the gavel again to reconvene.
As it turned out, it would be his final gavel to smash.
“I would like to nominate Linda Morad” for council president, Councilor Coehlo stood to deliver a glowing portrait of her nominee.
“She is a lifelong resident of New Bedford. She dearly loves her family. She attended local public schools,” Coehlo rhapsodized as Morad stared stiffly with her hands clasped.
Councilor Dana Rebeiro suddenly shot her arm in the air. “May I–?” she began.
“We’re only having one person speak,” Councilor Lopes rebuffed her. Rebeiro hunched over in disappointment.
The vote was unanimous in Morad’s favor, and amidst polite applause she wended her way to the podium, giving hugs and shaking hands along the perimeter of the room.
Standing with her palms flat on the desk, President Morad gave a steady but intense pep talk to her councilors.
“We are the seventh-largest city in Massachusetts. Being a city councilor in New Bedford is a big deal. YOU are the face of government here.”
She reached for a political cliché. “Just like a family, which we are, we won’t always agree. But hopefully we can work together.”
Then, she turned to her right. “I have a couple more pages of my speech. Were you able to get those?” The clerk pushed a hefty stack of papers toward her and Morad thumped them loudly on the desk for effect.
Councilors cackled at the joke.
“Just a few more words if you don’t mind,” she deadpanned.
“Madam President,” the clerk segued, “the next item is the drawing of seats.”
A seating chart lottery?! What a rare event to witness. I always wonder how a council seating chart gets birthed and I’ve never seen an actual random assignment. My curiosity will finally be satiated!
“Colleagues, I communicated with you today that Councilor [Hugh] Dunn is not with us tonight,” Morad explained. “Councilor Dunn is interested in moving his seat, so I respectfully ask that we consider tabling this item until our meeting on January 11.”
What?! No, I won’t be watching then!
“The ayes have it,” Morad announced as the deferment passed.
Sigh. I came so close.