Left In Lowell

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May 14, 2013

It Was Over, 20 Years Ago

by at 2:25 pm.

The “HEY! LOOK AT ME!!!!!” crowd is about to embark on a full blown grandstanding jamboree, I’m told. Gerry Nutter got wind of it and now it’s blowing my way, too. We are in for a motion from Councilor Elliott, in the near future, proposing that a charter change be put on the ballot. You can count on Councilor Ditto to second Elliott’s offering.

There is some history to this effort. From 1993:
(h/t Dick Howe, Jr.)

Question 2 - Do you support a change in the city charter to provide for an elected mayor as chief executive instead of an appointed city manager? Yes-10,0441. No-6,760.

That question was put on a city election ballot, as a non-binding resolution. But, it never went any further because after 5 Council incumbents were displaced, the appetite for upheaval diminished. (Funny how that works? Huh?)

Also, another question, that year, showed only a slight edge towards a desire to rid Lowell of Plan E.

Question 1 - Do you support keeping the present Plan E form of government? Yes-8,234. No-8,779.

Should anyone assert that Lowell, circa 1993, has any sort of ‘mandate,’ they should take a few data points into account.

As of a Jan.2013, Lowell Voter File (using rounded numbers); there is about 55,000 registered voters. Of those, only 18,800 have EVER voted in a City Election. Guess what? Of that 18,800, only 8,500 were registered to vote in 1993. That not much of a legacy to drive some bullshit “mandate.” narrative Sorry.

But, hey! It never was about changing the Charter, anyways. This is all about Glory Hoggin’. Y’know? In a sad, sorta desperate, I need to scrape bottom for votes, sorta way. Oh, speaking about ’scraping bottom,’ let’s all not forget the “Voter ID” motion that C.Elliott was flaunting. Which, btw, he has withdrawn. Don’t forget voter suppression, when the word manure about ‘increasing public participation’ is piled on to grow the rhetorical weeds used to confuse the discussion.

Charter change? Bring it! But, let’s bring what Lowell wants. To include as many of the 106,000 Lowellians, as there is, yo.

I say, “Bring it!”:

 photo MinorityMap_zpsb4b41861.jpg

I say, “Bring it!” Because Democracy is a numbers game and I know the numbers. You lose. Most definitely in the long run, when your self indulged leaders move to Dracut & Chelmsford, leaving you high and dry with a mismanaged City and a ‘Strong Mayor” whose name you can’t pronounce.

I say, “Bring it!” Because, while you’re looking backwards, the rest of us are looking forwards. And, as you already know in your gut, there are MORE OF US, than there are of you.

Bring IT!

23 Responses to “It Was Over, 20 Years Ago”

  1. Christopher Says:

    There’s no way one can reasonably claim a 20-year old vote as a mandate for doing something now, but I’ve thought all along that the person with the authority and job description the Manager currently has should be elected. That’s just principle for me and should not be construed as commentary on the current holders of any positions.

  2. Jack Says:

    I assume your principle is in an idealized context, where many of the ills that plague parochial politics don’t exist? Or, do you see electing the CEO of the City, as the cure for such ills?

  3. Tax Payer Says:

    Keep the Plan E, only form that works for a City this LARGE!

  4. Christopher Says:

    I suppose letting the people decide might fix anything relative to appointing the manager, but that’s not my focus. I’m not naive enough to suggest any system could be free of political ills. I just think that just like the country and state elects its executive so should the city. It’s just a basic democratic principle I think to let the people choose.

  5. Lynne Says:

    Yeah, I have to say, a strong Mayor scares the shit out of me. Here’s why:

    In Plan E, you hire a guy to do the day to day tasks of managing the budget, negotiations with unions, manage the guys who fill potholes and fix sidewalks and sewer pipes and (now, anyway) the street lights. This guy is far more likely than a politician to actually have a fucking background and/or degree in managing a municipality.

    This takes potholes and sidewalks a bit out of the realm of “panderzone.” I mean, some of the old crowd still call Rita Mercier up to fill a pothole, but those in the know realize it’s way more efficient for you to use See, Click, Fix on your smartphone and submit the location and a photo of said pothole, where the addressing of that pothole will be tracked and, in every instance so far where I’ve submitted (and you can do it anonymously) I have seen issues addressed quickly and without political fanfare. Better for my tax purse.

    Leaving people like Rita with less and less “meat and potatoes” issues to pander to those who call her on her landline. And meaning there are more and more councilors running (ok, with some serious exceptions) on the Big Picture items which are supposed to be the general arena in which Councilors are supposed to play. Councilors who have addressed broad stroke action on climate and energy efficiency, for instance, or performanced-based budgeting.

  6. joe from Lowell Says:

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    The only problem that this solution seems to fix is that Rodney Elliot could get the rest of the council to vote for him.

  7. Lynne Says:

    Got it in one, Joe!

  8. Greg Page Says:

    It’s nice to have a system that gives the person who really needs to make the hard decisions one layer of separation.

    Best example is the medical insurance reform. Everyone knew it needed to happen, particularly the Councilors. Bernie can be the guy to implement the change, everyone can agree behind closed doors that it was needed, and then when some angry constituent calls a Councilor, they can deflect the blame. They have a public heat shield.

    A directly-elected public mayor IS the heat shield. Just ask Rahm Emanuel.

    Lots of systems don’t put the leader in a position to be directly accountable to the whole electorate. Look at Mrs. Thatcher’s labor reforms in the early 1980s, and the subsequent prosperity in the UK. The only people she was *really* accountable to were the 70,000 or so people in her district, and then her fellow Tory MPs…she had enough distance to make the tough calls, and it wound up being a huge net positive for her country.

  9. Eleanor Rigby Says:

    As I’ve said ad nasum the only change I would like to see is district councilors vs the at large system we have now. I believe this would increase voter participation but leave the CM in charge of day-to-day operations. Worcester, which also has a modified Plan E, does elect a Mayor instead of one being elected by the council but they retain the CM.

  10. Jack Says:

    I lean towards ER, and I would like to stagger terms. I’d like to see Councilors have longer terms, maybe every 3 or 4 years. Also, if they were staggered, we could focus on the specifics some more.

    When this motion comes up, I’d like to see it go to subcommittee. Thus, allowing other ideas to be tested, via non-binding resolution, as well.

  11. JohnW Says:

    How many Lowell City Councilors in the past 20 years would be qualified to run a city the size of Lowell? Maybe a few (if that). This is a scary proposition.

  12. Tax Payer Says:

    Jack get of the Ed Kennedy bashing unless you have something concrete your public sector vs private sector on Gerry’s website is a joke like you

  13. Jack Says:

    I must be getting ‘warmer.’
    *grins*

  14. Greg Page Says:

    A split system w/some at large seats might be good, but with districts you’re going to get fiefdoms. In our current system someone can be a challenger without being antagonistic - they’re not really challenging any particular person. also no guarantee of better ethnic/gender diversity with districts.

  15. Jack Says:

    Gee, Greg. You seem very certain about the ‘fiefdoms.’ Then, on the other hand “better ethnic/gender diversity” is a role of the dice?

    Are we seeking “better ethnic/gender diversity?” Eventually, maybe. For now I’d be stoked, if we could get the city vote turnout to 20,000.

    As the neighbourhood group leaders loom larger, it may be wise to simply cut to the chase and elect our spokesfolks.

  16. Eleanor Rigby Says:

    “A split system w/some at large seats might be good, but with districts you’re going to get fiefdoms. In our current system someone can be a challenger without being antagonistic - they’re not really challenging any particular person. also no guarantee of better ethnic/gender diversity with districts.”

    One of the problems with the current system is the councilors are not challenged directly for their rhetoric and votes, that’s because challengers are not running against any “one” councilor. As for fiefdoms, they already exist. With district representation there is someone from each section of the city instead of a collection of councilors that are traditionally from one or two sections of the city, which also coincidently seem to get the most attention from the city.

  17. Bill Says:

    Jack,
    I would always put my faith in the collective wisdom of the voting public. Under the Plan E charter the” Executives are the councilors who MAY hire an Administrator.”. A City Manager must “cowtow” to at least a majority of 5 councilors. Trust the people! I promise they’ll hire the best candidate. Voters are careful in the election of only 3 people(The President,The Governor & The Mayor) After that they vote ethnically,socially or for the guy next door. I don’t recall an election when the winner didn’t represent the most commonly acceptable positions. We vote for “ourselves” because we are really “We the People”

  18. Jack Says:

    Bill,
    I’m not against the theory. I am against the reality of Lowell, as it is today.

    With only 10% of the population voting, I feel the outcome of a strong mayor race would reflect suspect parochial interests and political clans.

    The ‘crowd sourcing‘ that you refer to, works best when the “crowd” has a large enough population to washout the muck of local politics.

    You know math well enough to understand why I reject your proposal. The voting behavior you propose is NOT a ‘linear relationship,’ in my humble opinion.

    I assert that a ‘horizontal asymptote‘ exists. If voter turnout dwells below that threshold, then we need to diffuse the trend towards ‘mob rules’ amongst the representative gov’t (Plan E) that selects our Chief Executive.

    Of course, should we enliven the sense of civics to the degree that we get a fuller breadth of Lowell diversity engaged, I’m convinced many (not you) of the “strong mayor” advocates will fall silent. Or, Bernie Lynch leaves office. Which ever comes first.

  19. joe from Lowell Says:

    I can live with fiefdoms. I’d rather have some King of the Lower Highlands looking out for the people there than nobody looking out for the people there.

    “You have an interesting idea about that zoning change. Have you ever seen the sidewalks on Queen Street? Maybe we can work together….”

  20. Greg Page Says:

    @JFL totally fair point. A Lower Highlands Rascal King might mean better things for residents there, even if it would discourage challengers. But the way around it is a hybrid system like a lot of cities have…you could have everyone inside a district w/a single Councilor representing them, and then have some at-large seats set aside, too…then you’d get the accountability stepped up and no one would ever have to take on Tammany.

    I brought up the diversity thing b/c people sometimes say that district reps would = diversity, case closed. If neighborhood diversity is what they mean then yes, of course…but if they’re just referring to the demographic makeup of the body, it’s not that simple. The city isn’t balkanized enough to guarantee those sorts of outcomes (and I would think most people see that as a positive..we’re more of a mosaic than a paint-by-numbers).

  21. Lynne Says:

    One name to gainsay Bill: Lantigua. ‘Nuff said.

    You can get graft-gifting idiots who get into and stay in a Mayor’s office just as much as you can get a not-so-professional City Manager.

    RE districts: I’d like a mix. Maybe 5 at large, 4 districts, or the opposite. Can’t get too granular on districts as the smaller an area a district covers, the more likely you have unchallenged races…

    But it frustrates me that people do not run “against” someone who clearly needs actual opposition. Ie, Rodney.

  22. Eleanor Rigby Says:

    Lynn:
    But it frustrates me that people do not run “against” someone who clearly needs actual opposition. Ie, Rodney.

    Because of he at-large makeup of the council it is rare for that kind of campaigning to happen. The only time I recall it happening in my memory is when Tarsy Poulios ran a campaign and his theme was “Shame on you Bobby Kennedy”.

  23. Laura Says:

    You can get a Mayor Lantigua (Lawrence) or you can get a Mayor Driscoll (Salem). I prefer Plan E govt but would not freak out if it changed. I think the bigger problem is at large councillors.

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