NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — While the key sponsor and organizer of the annual Whaling City Festival, the New Bedford Police Union, said they won’t be able to hold the festival this year, another previous organizer says he hopes to make it happen anyway.
The New Bedford Police Union has sponsored the carnival for multiple years and had scheduled it this year for July 11-14 at Buttonwood Park.
The union cited several reasons for canceling the event in a posting Tuesday morning on Facebook, saying “unforeseen circumstances” and a staffing shortage have impacted their ability to sponsor the event.
The union will be returning security deposits from vendors, according to the post.
But city resident Mike Sylvia, a fan of the festival who has played a role in organizing, and has volunteered for it for several years, said he plans to resurrect the festival.
Sylvia said he is working out the formalities with the city and is getting in touch with all the vendors. He said he is “very optimistic” the festival will take place.
The announcement canceling the event came from New Bedford Police Union president Hank Turgeon:
“Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, including the severe and ongoing staffing shortages within the City of New Bedford’s Police Department, the 2019 Family Fun Festival Carnival & Circus cannot take place as we had hoped. The City of New Bedford has chosen to operate its Police Department without a full complement of officers, and unfortunately, this decision has negatively impacted the Union’s membership and resources.”
Amid the original cancellation announcement and reasons cited by Turgeon, the mayor’s office and police chief announced “significant investments” in the police department, from buying 11 new police cruisers to upgrading radio equipment and facilities.
Eyewitness News talked with Mayor Jon Mitchell about the union’s Facebook post and cancellation of the festival after that announcement.
“I also learned the union pointed the finger at the city, which to my mind is complete nonsense,” Mitchell said. “The manning levels in the police department are what they were last year; they’ve had their own internal issues with their executive board, which are well publicized by now.”
The police union’s treasurer and a key organizer of the festival, Sgt. Joshua Fernandes, is on leave. He’s accused of tracking his ex-wife with a dating app, stealing and damaging her minivan, and slashing her friend’s tires. His attorney says he’s struggling with PTSD, and earlier this month, a judge ordered him to get treatment.
Eyewitness News reached out to police union president Turgeon on Tuesday, but we have yet to hear back.