After over a year of negotiations between the New Bedford City Council and the office of Mayor Jon Mitchell, the Home Rule Petition to award line of duty death benefits to the families of New Bedford Police Sgt. Mike Cassidy and other frontline city workers who died of COVID-19 is finally on its way to Beacon Hill for the state legislature and Governor Charlie Baker's approval.

Sgt. Cassidy was a well-known and respected member of the New Bedford Police Department. His 27 years of service, and his life, came to an abrupt and tragic end in April 2021 when he passed away after being hospitalized for COVID-19. He was 52 years old.

"He was a hero," Ward 3 City Councilor Hugh Dunn, who wrote and sponsored the petition, said on SouthCoast Tonight on the evening following its unanimous passing by the council.

"He was one of the best of the best of New Bedford's police. He has Red Cross awards. He's been awarded by the United States Senate. He kept us safe in the city council during our meetings, for better or for worse," Dunn said.

Dunn also pointed out that Cassidy didn't take any time off during the pandemic, that he was out on the front lines.

"He was not working from home. This guy was doing bookings and he was out there on the streets doing real police work, and unfortunately he got COVID and he passed," he said. "It's a tragedy. It should have never happened – but he lived up his commitment to the city."

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Line of duty death benefits are awarded to the family of a municipal worker who is presumed to have died from work-related injuries and amounts to 100 percent of that individual's pension. Because there is no legal presumption of COVID-19 deaths to have occurred in the line of duty, Sgt. Cassidy's passing left his wife Debbie Cassidy and his young daughter with just 70 percent of his pension.

Dunn spearheaded the negotiations with the Mayor's Office and crafted the petition with language that would get both his fellow councilors and Mayor Mitchell's approval. Mitchell rejected the first home rule petition that the council passed last year and with a letter citing what he described as multiple "flaws" with the language in the petition that would need to be addressed.

Though the council's support for the awarding line of duty death benefits for frontline city workers who die of COVID was always unanimous, state law regarding Home Rule Petitions require the approval of both the local legislative and executive branch. Thus, a veto override by the council was not an option.

The petition now must make its way through the state legislature and be approved by Governor Baker to become city law. Dunn also told SouthCoast Tonight that Baker made a commitment to Sgt. Cassidy's family that he will work to expedite its passage. State Rep. Chris Hendricks (D-New Bedford) and Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) have each taken a leadership role to usher the petition through their respective legislative chambers on Beacon Hill.

Montigny was not able to give a timetable on the petition's passing but expressed confidence that it would be approved as soon as it possible.

"Knowing the governor's character without even knowing whether he made those commitments I see no reason why he wouldn't (sign the Home Rule Petition)," Montigny said on SouthCoast Tonight Friday evening. "It's the responsibility of the local and state government to back it up and buttress it."

Listen to Councilor Dunn's full interview with Chris and Marcus on SouthCoast Tonight at the 33:00 mark below. 

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