New Bedford mayor lays out economic, educational goals in State of the City Address

Mayor Jon Mitchell painted a vibrant future of New Bedford as he gave his annual State of the City address Thursday, March 8, 2018. (WJAR)

Mayor Jon Mitchell painted a vibrant future of New Bedford as he gave his annual State of the City address Thursday.

"Not once, but twice in the last five years, New Bedford, Massachusetts, a city that has suffered from decades of chronically high unemployment, led the entire United States -- out of nearly 400 cities -- in the year-over-year drop in its unemployment rate," Mitchell said. "There are over 4,000 more people in the city working today than there were five years ago."

Mitchell went on to say the city must stay competitive in order to attract talent to the region.

"In an America where the biggest cities are becoming more congested and expensive and in some cases more violent, a city like ours can offer a more manageable alternative," he said.

The mayor addressed the South Coast Rail project, which is slated to begin connecting New Bedford to Boston in 2022.

He also spoke at length about what needs to be done to the school system.

"The quality of instruction must continue to improve," Mitchell said. "Support for English Language Learners and other high-need students must be beefed up."

The district was released from state monitoring last year, but it is now in search of a superintendent after Pia Durkin announced her resignation.

"We need to make sure our next superintendent is community engaged, engaged with our schools, engaged with our staff to make sure we have an environment bred for success here in New Bedford," City Councilor-At-Large Ian Abreu said.

Mitchell said he will work with the Bristol County District Attorney's Office to urge district judges to keep repeat offenders off the streets.

"We will continue to address the roots of criminal activity," he said. "Chief among our efforts will be to increase the pressure on unscrupulous landlords. Despite much improvement in the area, we still have landlords who are too willing to allow criminals to move into their rental properties."

Mitchell has proposed to city council a measure that will lower the threshold for a property to become designated a "problem property" and shift the costs of police response onto the property owner.

The mayor also spoke about the opiate epidemic in the region and drop in overdoses during the last year.

Mitchell said within the month, the police department will receive the results from a year-long review of the department. It was the first review conducted in about 20 years.

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