By Alice Ferre
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in South Coast Today.
NEW BEDFORD — Before becoming a state legislator, longtime state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral taught foreign languages and social studies in classrooms. Already involved in politics since his college years, Cabral thought running for public office would further expand the change he was channeling as a teacher.
“When I was in college, I was involved in a number of things on campus and in my community,” the New Bedford Democrat said. “Eventually that led me to get more involved in political campaigns, and I worked on Michael Dukakis’ campaign for governor in 1982.”
“And then when I went back teaching,” he added, “I felt that in order to affect change in a broader sense, in a positive way for my community, I needed to get involved, and I needed to probably run for public office.”
This year, the 28-year incumbent is running for re-election in a district representing the south and west ends of New Bedford, as well as the downtown.
He identifies some of the district’s issues as bringing business opportunities to New Bedford’s harbor; mixed-use opportunities to State Pier; and more off-shore wind power to the region.
Cabral’s agenda includes “creating jobs and creating opportunities for the businesses in the waterfront to grow” and making sure “the mixed-use opportunities at the State Pier happen,” which has been in the works since 2008.
Last July, lawmakers, in an attempt to bring visitors to the pier and connect the downtown to the waterfront, “allowed for up to 20 percent of the square footage on the west side of State Pier … for ‘accessory uses,’” as reported by The Standard-Times.
Cabral also said that he wants to push for more offshore wind use.
“Right now, I’m looking forward the next session to file a legislation to increase the number of megawatts that need to be procured. Right now, it’s 1,600; we would like this to increase by another 1,600 megawatts of wind power.”
Other issues include underfunded education and regional transit authorities in New Bedford.
“There are a number of issues that I believe will be important in the election … that’s universal pre-K and mandatory full day kindergarten,” Cabral said. “And we need to reform and finally pass the ‘Foundation’ budget recommendation in order to help New Bedford public schools, and the child reimbursement formula needs to be fully funded by the state and needs also to be reformed to better reflect the needs of the students but also of the school systems.”
“South Coast rail remains a priority, a major priority,” Cabral said. “And I think we’re on our way to get this accomplished in the next several years, it’s going to require tenacious advocacy and making sure that all the timelines are met and that proper funding is available to accomplish that.”
The South Coast Rail project, which has been in the works for several decades, aims at connecting Boston to the southeastern part of the state. According to the state website, “Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford are the only major cities within 50 miles of Boston that do not currently have commuter rail access to Boston.”
Regional transit authorities, according to Cabral, also need improvement.
“We need to have a service that provides not only during the week but on Sunday, and during holidays, and during the week,” he said. “Those routes need to be extended to perhaps 11 p.m. or even 12 p.m. Right now, the services, some routes are only until 9, others are until 6 p.m.
“Obviously, if you work and you rely on public transportation, if you work on the second shift, how are you going to go back home?”
Safety issues in transportation such as school buses are also a focus of Cabral’s. “I believe that we should have seat belts on school buses. If you require children to fasten their belts in their own personal cars, I think when they travel to and from school they should have the same protection,” Cabral said. “I will be filling in legislation in the next year if I’m successful in my re-election to pursue that issue again.”
Tom Hunt, a former New Bedford School Committee member, attorney and Democratic political analyst, said that he expects Cabral to win the race.
“Mr. Cabral,” Hunt said, “although he’s a veteran of the Statehouse, has not lost his enthusiasm for his job or his issues, and I expect him to be reelected easily next month.”
However, Peter Barney, a Republican activist from New Bedford, said that this year’s elections may hide some surprises.
“Certainly, Mr. Cabral has been there a long time,” Barney said. “Mr. (Robert) Koczera found out that being there a long time might not be an asset this year. It’s actually may be to your detriment.”
Koczera was defeated in the September primary by Chris Hendricks, who is unopposed in November.