On the campaign trail with … Scott W. Lang

By AARON NICODEMUS, Standard-Times staff writer

This article appeared on September 09, 2005 in the Standard Times
NEW BEDFORD — Scott W. Lang got into the mayor’s race late, but he is intent on making a serious run at Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr.

“I wouldn’t be in this race if I didn’t want to win it,” he said while campaigning last week. Mr. Lang said he waited and watched the other candidates over the summer, hoping they would provide a serious challenge to the mayor.  When he became convinced they would not, he took out his nomination papers, about two weeks before the filing deadline.

Mr. Lang, 54, has long been a behind-the-scenes type politically, helping out in a number of local, state and national Democratic campaigns. But before this race for mayor, he had never run for political office himself. And he seems to have gone into this campaign without asking for help from some of his closest friends and business partners.

His two partners at his law firm, Margaret “Mardee” Xifaras and Peter Bullard, had already committed to another candidate, Matthew A. Morrissey, by the time Mr. Lang threw his hat into the ring. (Mr. Bullard is now supporting Mr. Lang). Ms. Xifaras, of Marion, is a member of the Democratic National Committee; Mr. Bullard, of New Bedford, is brother to John Bullard, a former mayor who is supporting Mr. Morrissey.

This is the most ridiculous, paranoid charge,” Mr. Lang said, noting that he has not personally represented the city’s firefighter union since 1985. William Straus, a state representative from Mattapoisett and a member of the law firm of Lang, Xifaras and Bullard, has been the attorney for the union since then. The city’s firefighters, after meeting with four challengers to Mayor Kalisz, endorsed Mr. Lang last week.

If elected, Mr. Lang said he intends to be a full-time mayor.

“I’m not going to close my law practice if I’m elected mayor,” he said. “I fully expect the other four lawyers in my office to carry on the business of the law office. If I’m elected, I’ll be a full-time mayor.”

Mr. Lang held his first political fundraiser this week and will hold at least one more before the Oct. 4 preliminary election. Other candidates, including Mayor Kalisz, have been holding fundraisers for months.

And yet Mr. Lang seems to be ramping up a respectable campaign in a hurry. He’s got a downtown campaign office full of blue and white campaign signs, teams of workers to distribute them, a campaign coordinator who is connected to an established political family in the city and the endorsement of the city’s firefighting union.

More than all that, though, his reputation as an attorney, college professor, labor negotiator and sponsor of youth activities gives him name recognition that none of the challengers (save perhaps former state Rep. Mark A. Howland) has.

Mr. Lang moved to a wealthy West End neighborhood in New Bedford 27 years ago with his wife, Marguerite “Gig” Lang. They have three children who attended public schools. He spent 12 years as an assistant district attorney (appointed by then-District Attorney John Tierney), has been an adjunct professor of labor law and political science at UMass Dartmouth since 1992, and has been a mediator since 1990. He estimates that he and his wife have sponsored 60 youth sports teams over the years, although he has never coached them. “I’ve always been a cheerleader,” he joked at a recent coffee hour.

Mr. Lang makes no secret of his connection to former Mayor Rosemary Tierney and her husband, retired Judge John Tierney. They are longtime friends, he said.

But he bristles at suggestions from other candidates, namely Dennis G. Dallaire Jr., that former City Councilor Paul Barton has asked for certain positions in a new administration to be set aside for Tierney people. Mr. Barton is Mr. Lang’s campaign coordinator.

Nobody has said to me, ‘I’ll work for the campaign for a job,'” Mr. Lang said. “I’m not making commitments to anybody. People involved in my campaign are here to make New Bedford a better place, and that’s it. Anybody who’s supporting me is a reflection of my campaign. They’ve got to be above board, ethical, friendly and take this seriously. I don’t expect anything but that type of conduct.”

The city’s firefighting union, Local 841 of the International Association of Firefighters, has endorsed Mr. Lang.

He’s been a longtime friend of the members of this union,” said union president Jim Allen, noting that Mr. Lang has represented the union as its attorney. After four of the eight challengers to Mayor Kalisz made their pitch to the union, Mr. Allen said the union’s 232 members voted to endorse Mr. Lang.

Mayor Kalisz recently criticized Mr. Lang for running for mayor on behalf of the city’s unions, in an attempt to obtain “unjustifiable compensation for police and fire fighters.”

Mr. Allen also fired back, “Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a complete fabrication and false accusation by the mayor. When Scott met with our members, the first statement he made was that he would not guarantee us any pay raises at all. What he did offer was respect, trust, open communication and a commitment to resolve issues. These are the things we look for and the things we are not getting from Mayor Kalisz.”

Other unions that have endorsed Mr. Lang are the United Auto Workers Union and Fish Lumpers Union, Local 1749.

Out on the campaign trail, Mr. Lang is dressed in a suit and tie. As he talks to people, he fishes out campaign buttons or bumper stickers from his various pockets.

Because he is relatively well known, Mr. Lang is able to convince people not only to put a bumper sticker on their car or a sign on their lawn, but to volunteer for his campaign. They know him because he has represented them or their friends, or through a mutual acquaintance, or because his children and their children played on the same Little League team.

I’m definitely going to support you,” said Maria Monteiro, after Mr. Lang knocked on her door in the West End. “My husband, Russell, has already got a sticker on his car.”

When asked by a voter what separated him from other candidates, Mr. Lang said, “I’ve got electability.”


He said this to resident Kathryn Grover, when she asked why Mr. Lang would be the better mayoral candidate over Matthew A. Morrissey, one of nine candidates.

“My resume is two miles long, and I’ve been here for 27 years. I’ve got a lifetime of experience. We need to make changes now, we can’t wait until some of these other guys earn their experience,” Mr. Lang said.

He tells people that he will work to build New Bedford, “From the neighborhoods up, not from City Hall down.” He is concerned about the city’s high crime rate, its high dropout rate and its lack of clear plan for economic progress.

“We have a city that has lost its way with leadership,” he told about 30 people at a coffee hour last week. “There’s a lack of pride, a lack of respect. Some of the streets are literally lawless. We’ve got absentee landlords and a city infrastructure that is literally falling apart before our eyes. People in the neighborhoods know this, and they feel the city government has let them down.”

Mr. Lang’s basic criticism of Mayor Kalisz is that he has concentrated too much on the “frosting,” without focusing on the cake.

“Someone has got to address the crime, the dropout rate and the high unemployment,” he said. “We don’t have to accept mediocre plans for our future.”

Juliane Morales, a 16-year-old student at New Bedford High School, told Mr. Lang that even good kids are approached by gangs like the West End Posse, trying to get them to join.

“There’s influence everywhere. You can’t get away from it,” she said. “Drugs, sex, gangs, it’s out there.”

When asked by Mr. Lang what should be done, Ms. Morales and her mother, Laura Morales, and another neighbor, Mary Lobo, said there is a void for activities for 14- to 18- year-olds who are not interested in sports.

“What is there for the kid who just likes to read?” asked Laura Morales.

Mr. Lang said that he would find something for these kids to do, including summer jobs paid for by the city.

And he said the crime issue will be his top priority.

“We’ve got to break down this system and start over again, neighborhood by neighborhood, family by family, house by house. This will become an unlivable place if we don’t do something.”

Although he’s only been a candidate a short time, Mr. Lang has already generated his share of controversy.

He has been particularly confrontational with Mayor Kalisz on the city’s crime problem. Mr. Lang has accused Mayor Kalisz of “playing pre-election political games” by discussing plans and locations for a new public safety building without having any funding sources lined up. This week, he criticized Mayor Kalisz for allowing laptops in police cars that do not conduct basic functions like looking up license plates or receiving all-points bulletins.

Mr. Lang has also criticized Mayor Kalisz for his association with former city solicitor George Leontire, and Mr. Leontire’s involvement with the Home Depot proposal made for the Fairhaven Mills parcel on Coggeshall Street. Mayor Kalisz responded to the criticism by insinuating that Mr. Lang, who has represented various labor unions including the city’s firefighters, would “give away the keys to the city” in the tense and hostile negotiations with the city’s police union.

“Mayor Kalisz has already given away the keys of the city to connected developers,” Mr. Lang said at a recent coffee hour. “I would negotiate these contracts in good faith. I want employees to feel they’re valued.”

At his first coffee hour with about 20 people, Mr. Lang said New Bedford should stop settling for less.

“New Bedford deserves better. We don’t have to accept mediocre plans,” he said. “Let’s strive to be great and have someone tell us we can’t do something, instead of just accepting less.”