Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
All right, we now know the shape of this new landscape, or at least its beginnings. But how did we get here? To a lot of people, the results of the last local election are inexplicable. So I’m here to explain things.
To do this - indulge me - we have to go back a little ways. For those who weren’t living here then (you nascent blow-ins!), this will be useful, for the rest of us, a trip down memory lane…
Our previous City Manager before Lynch, one John F. Cox, a man I have thankfully not had to mention much in the last several years, was a man selected for the position in 2000 based on his connections. He certainly wasn’t qualified - he was a disgraced former state Representative for a decade or so up until the early 90s, when he was slapped with infractions by the Ethics Commission for accepting lobbyist gifts, and he quietly decided not to run again after that. In 2000, the City Council in its wisdom decided that this was pedigree for managing the city, despite the fact…he’s a lawyer and lobbyist (yes, that too), not a muni manager. Not to mention, ethically challenged.
Cox’s tenure was rife with incompetence and graft. We found out about a lot after the fact, and he left a mess. I sincerely think he was just not up to the job. His budgets were a travesty (and left us in a hole we didn’t even know about until after he left). There was that missing money from the Stoklosa School build (we still don’t know who cashed that check for classrooms that were never built, do we?). He also was the sort of guy who hired friends who weren’t qualified for city jobs, gave choice raises (I saw a list of 7-10% raises he gave to people he had personal connections to as he walked out the door in 2006) and generally, buttered up the union rank and file (often with favorable contracts at the expense of our taxpayer dollar). They loved him.
After the election of George Ramirez in 2005, a man who ran on ousting Cox, a new majority was formed (including a new Mayor Bill Martin, Kevin Broderick, and then-Councilor Eileen Donoghue). They quietly told Cox to leave or they’d vote him out. I don’t know what they were hoping, but I got a hold of the news, and I wasn’t interested in having Mr. Cox go quietly into that good night. Oh no, I wanted an accounting of his tenure, and people had a right to know. The Sun leadership (*ahemCampyahem*) got really mad at me - they knew the information and were sitting on it. Cox was informed this on a Friday afternoon right before a planned two week vacation, maybe to give him time to contemplate, I don’t know. It was early in the new Council’s term, and that could have been coincidence.
While Cox was out of town, a PAC formed. They called themselves the People for Lowell PAC. It really was the People for John Cox PAC, though, and there were a lot of city union folks involved. They started the unfortunately named “I’m for Cox” campaign (read the phrase aloud if you don’t get the unfortunate part) with bumper stickers, flyers, and big signs in some business windows. It was, essentially, a political-style campaign to “save” what is supposed to be a technocratic position.
Hence you can see the union connection here.
Cox decides to resign, effective (if I recall) June 2006, and the hunt is on for a replacement. When Bernie Lynch was interviewed and hired in the summer of 2006, he brought to light things Cox had literally been hiding. Like two audit request letters from the state Department of Revenue. The DoR was uneasy about the state of Lowell’s finances, lack of free cash (turns out, it was in the negative). Lynch also began to slowly turn over and clean out the worst of the graft hires in city government. This of course angered a certain segment of the union folks, because they little liked being held accountable for their jobs, which had been pretty cushy up til then. (You should hear the stories I’ve heard. Seriously. It’s bad.)
There are a lot of great city employees - and a lot of them like working for Lynch - but also a lot of grumbling, which turned to hatred over the last 7 years. Lynch shunted Cox’s assistant City Manager TJ McCarthy sideways, to head the DPW in what appeared on paper not to be a demotion, but really was. (McCarthy eventually moved on.) McCarthy’s city worker buddies were riled about that one. I’m sure they feel he was mistreated. Lynch then elevated Baacke, a city planner dept head, to Assistant CM, and more recently, put the inspectional services (another bad actor in the city) into Baacke’s care. Of course, it was to “streamline” the services - but really, we all know, it was to clean up its act. Anger and hate do not begin to describe what some people who work for the city feel about Bernie.
Let me explain this another way. I once had a teenage acquaintance whose mother wanted badly to be friends with her daughter. Partly to make up for the harshness of the other parent, which is understandable. At 16, this girl got the old family car, with its gas, registration, and repairs all paid for by her mother. Her mother found out later, that this girl was getting into drinking. She never took the car keys away - not as punishment, not even for the girl’s own safety. It’s not that this mom wanted bad consequences for her kid. It’s just that she was incapable of saying no to her, because she wanted her daughter as her friend. Never mind that she was going down an irresponsible path that did lead her into far worse places later on.
Cox is the non-disciplining mother. Lynch is the guy who finally took the keys away from the irresponsible. And like petulant teenagers in a rage, they hated him for it.
There have been attempts ever since to oust Lynch. In 2007, the next election, Cox allies Kazanjian and Lenzi ran and won - with union muster, and money…lots of it. If I remember, Kazanjian spent over $70,000, the most anyone has ever spent by far for a Council election here. Lenzi wasn’t far behind at around $40-50,000. The usual for a first time candidate is less than $10,000 generally!
Alas, they couldn’t get rid of Lynch. Partly because he was under contract and the terms took him past the next election. Partly because Lynch was actually quite popular outside of the disgruntled circles of city government. Lenzi, who literally accomplished nothing of note at all while a Councilor (go check his lack of motions! except the one which put the Council on an every other week schedule…governatin’ is hard work!), did not run again. Kazanjian lost, hoisted on the petard of his own scandals during his tenure as Councilor. (He failed to realize he’d get a lot more scrutiny as an elected official than he ever got on the Lowell Zoning Board.) In case you’re curious, Dick has a great post on 2009’s election.
In 2009 we got Franky Descoteaux, Joe Mendonca, and Patrick Murphy. A clear majority for professional city government and fact-based policy. Disgruntles called them a “rubber stamp” - as if Murphy was ever anyone’s rubber stamp. A lot got done with this crew. In 2011, we got the last crop of Councilors (well, Broderick won, but resigned mid term, so that brought in John Leahy). That brings us up to date.
So who are Corey Belanger and Dan Rourke? Belanger ran in 2011 and came in #14 of 17 candidates, not a stellar placing. But just over 200 votes behind #9, because - well, the vote totals are so darn tiny in local elections. Rourke was of course a first time candidate in 2013.
In 2013, Rourke placed #4, and Belanger a pretty safe #7. So what happened? Well, who do you think was motivated to get out the vote? Who do you think beat down the doors as hard, or harder, than the very hard work Stacie Hargis’ or Derek Mitchell’s campaigns did? The disgruntled city unions, of course.
This isn’t hearsay, I’ve talked to people who have first hand knowledge. When you have as tiny a percentage of the registered voters show up in local elections as Lowell does, a little anger goes a long way. A lot of anger changes everything. And while the rest of Lowell was very excited about Derek and Stacie, fresh faces who obviously have a great deal to offer, and the smarts to get it done, there is a segment of Lowell who hates Bernie so much they were motivated even more. I don’t like saying this, but positive emotions like hope and change don’t motivate like negative ones do. Heck, this blog was started in 2005 because of the abuses I’d seen in local government with John Cox at the helm, and I made no secret of this.
So who wins now that Bernie leaves? The disgruntled city union folks who feel like they would have gotten a way better deal with Cox had he stayed (of course, by now, we’d have been under state receivership like Springfield was), giving them and their relatives cush jobs and raises, than they got with the hard-nosed Lynch who treated his job - shock of shocks - as being the guy negotiating on behalf of citizens and taxpayers of Lowell. It wasn’t like Lynch gave nothing to the unions. He negotiated in good faith. But he didn’t give them enough. He changed their - gasp - plush health benefits to another plush benefit plan! And woe of woes, in a terrible downturn with Local Aid money frozen, he didn’t give them 3% annual raises!
Now, I’m a pro-union sort of gal. I believe in the right to organize, for workers to get their fair share. I think the decline in the American median wage has a lot to do with the loss of worker negotiation power, due to the decline of unions. But we can’t pretend unions aren’t bad actors from time to time. And when you have years of hiring abuses like we’ve seen at both the local and the state level (ask me about Panagiotakos and the pay-to-play scandal, sometime, I think we ought to be airing that out soon), the union becomes a protection racket like no other. I’ve often said that the Lowell GOB (Good Ol Boy for newbies) network in Lowell acts an awful lot like a mini mafia.
After all, there is a fine line between a union fighting for better wages and working conditions, and Jimmy Hoffa. And here endeth the tale.
The current gentrify-du-jour being a no-panhandling ordinance on tonight’s Council agenda, it’s no surprise some bloggers around here are writing about it.
Downtown resident/consumer kad has quite an equitable point of view: fine, cleaning stuff up is great, and we all want successful downtown businesses but…
i think, if anybody’s asking me, the problem is first in perceiving these people as something, like bathroom waste, in need of “clean up”. we often ridicule other people for believing that “their shit don’t stink”, and, i think, here in lowell, we’ve got more than a few people who want to lay in a lifetime supply of febreeze and renuzits and just keep clouding the air with a bunch of sociological perfume in complete denial that we have a significant population of people who are challenged to “make it” in any way, shape or form recognizable to us in our centrally-heated, indoor plumbed luxury accommodations.
He also has a second post. As for my own opinion on the panhandling ordinance, I’m rather of a mind with kad - I sympathize with the downtown businesses and residents, but I worry that we’re shuffling the less fortunate out of our way so we don’t have to see them, and be uncomfortable. And the idea of fining a homeless person $50 for panhandling - whether he buys food, or booze with his proceeds - is patently stupid. Good luck collecting, or making your point. These are already people who are outside of the system and marginalized.
Chris at Learning Lowell is also on the subject of panhandling.
Aurora and I discussed it, and she summarized our opinions thusly:I have a couple of concerns about it. I’m worried about a lack of commitment to outreach about the law and alternative options to panhandlers, creating a larger gulf between police (and social services) and the homeless population, and logistics of paying the fine. I’m also not sure what happens if the perpetrator cannot or will not pay a fine. Is this going to get people thrown in jail? Finally, I worry it will just “push” the problem to other areas of the City without addressing root issues.
A little bit older now, but I haven’t linked to it yet was Dick Howe’s “The ‘Cambodian vote’ in the 2013 city election”. In it, he looks at the numbers and tries to see how last Tuesday’s results for the Cambodian Council candidates happened:
My first theory was that the number of active Cambodian voters may be a fixed number that with the 2011 turnout of 9,946 was sufficient to win a seat but proved insufficient when the 2013 turnout rose to 11,581. Looking at the ward by ward performance by both Nuon and Pech in both 2011 and 2013 disproved that theory. Both made substantial gains in wards that have the most Cambodian voters (Wards 2, 3, 4, and 7). However, that same comparison shows that both Nuon and Pech, but especially Nuon, lost a substantial number of votes from 2011 to 2013 in the wards that have the fewest Cambodian voters (Wards 1, 6, and 9 – both also lost ground in Ward 8 which has a substantial Cambodian population but has other issues that will be a subject of a future post).
There are some great comments there, too.
Dick also has his always-valuable Week in Review. And of course, there are a ton of other posts from this last week on his blog on culture, history, and the arts.
Greg has a quick, but interesting post about the oft-ignored School Committee race. He says, “There will be time later on for more analysis, but for now this may suggest there is a “Challenger Bump” enjoyed by School Committee candidates, followed by a time of great vulnerability (first re-election attempt).”
Finally, there is an awesome Jen Myers post on her Room 50 blog about the recent visit of former, first female President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. Jen always brings events to life with her photography.
First, I would like to draw your attention to the kind and inspirational thoughts of Paul Marion:
I am so encouraged by the many photos of campaign volunteers, especially so many younger people, that have been posted during this campaign season in Lowell, Mass. We don’t know what the results will be tonight after 8 pm, but I have to believe that our civic culture has been transfused with goodness in the past ten months. Individuals with the courage to put themselves forward as candidates help to renew the political system in each cycle. Those who volunteer to work in the campaigns, those who write checks to support the efforts, those who study the candidates’ records and policy positions, those who report on the process, and those who vote—all of the citizens who “engage” make our democracy stronger. When you vote today, look forward, look upward, look deeply into the community as you make your selections. Today, Election Day, we give the consent of the governed.
Second, a rally cry from #juicegirl
“In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote,” David Foster Wallace.
Next, a report from the field:
November 5th, 2013 at 12:20 pm e
Ward 7-1 in the acre had about 110 votes total in the prelim. They are already at 90. That’s a pleasant jump.
Here, is a comparison, Precinct by Precinct, of the very high turnout of 2009 to the very low turnout of 2011.
Lastly, some data for context. What does turnout look like, this century.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about Voltaire.
A lot of people know Gerry Nutter and I don’t often agree. A lot of people would say we have a lot in common - though I will say, our styles are quite different as is the thought behind that style. Sometimes, I feel that Gerry has tried to make connections that he had no evidence for; I do try to stay within the realm of what I know and connecting dots that actually are connected.
However, in being hated by the likes of a Rita Mercier or a Rodney Elliot, I suppose, we have a great deal in common. (Of course, for Rodney, smacking Gerry around at tonight’s Council meeting really isn’t about Gerry, is it?) I think Mercier voted for Gerry more to shut up his blog than for her obvious personal affection for him. (She can, after all, pick up the phone and talk to him. She never bothers for me! Because she knows it won’t do much good. My opinion is formed by what she says on the floor and how she votes, not by her liking or not liking me…and boy does she not like me!)
Anyway, besides no votes from ranty Elliot and Councilor Ed “Ditto” Kennedy, Gerry’s nomination for Elections Commission passed. So, congrats, Gerry, do a great job and show them that you don’t have to have zero public opinion in order to have the ability to care about an impartial and fair elections process. Lest we forget, the Elections Commission isn’t actually nonpartial - this is why there’s two Dems and two Republicans! *sigh* But, despite Elliot’s silly reading some words of Gerry in his worst rhetoric on the floor of the Council, none of them could shake the fact that Gerry does have integrity and he does care about this city. Good luck!
“Sometimes I question my belief that reporting on all the crime will move the city forward, but man that’s awfully low turnout in the areas with the most crime… What’s the best way for a reporter to show that voting can help fight crime just as much as calling police?”– Rob Mills (Lowell Sun Police Reporter) on Jack’s facebook 10.12.13.
I am one of those that believes that more people participate in local elections the better chances we have in addressing social and economic issues that impact our City. If only a small minority votes and selects the leadership, the elected officials are primarily responsible to those who elected them.
How we can come up with solutions to crime, dirty streets, economic development challenges, quality schools, and housing code violations when a few evaluate the situation and make decisions for the rest?
Yes, I guess I am one of those that believes that not only I must exercise my civic duty but I must help my neighbor learn to exercise hers. I cannot do it by myself, I do need my village.
I know I a preaching to the choir here on LiL but I am committed to talking municipal election with 5 people who I know did not vote and convince them that understanding the issues, learning about the candidates and voting on November 5th will empower them and improve their quality of life.
I hope some of you join me in this effort and let’s Double the Vote.
In a diary, down blog, CM Lynch responds to considerations/perceptions of LiL commenters. I’ve pulled the Manager’s comment, out & up, to give it broader presentation. Of course, in a stand alone fashion, it is a bit out of context. So, if you’d like, please click HERE to get the full scope.
Suffice to say, the CM’s remarks are engaged in the topics currently floating in the Bubble, as the City election approaches, Nov. 5th. #GOTV
Staying out of all of the other back and forth that I shouldn’t be involved with….to Joe’s points which I think are legitimate. First the quick one, I’m not aware of anyone in the professional municipal management world that has moved into the world of finance (e.g. Wall Street) though I am aware of a couple that went to a rating agencies but that was more for their knowledge of municipal finance as they were Treasurers. Career Managers pretty much stay till retirement and/or go into consulting, teaching, interim work, or doing government relations. On the issue of how big should reserves be…the standard is between 5-10%, though some communities go beyond. I’d like Lowell to get a bit higher than our current level but certainly not at the expense of services that are required. A more pressing issue is our OPEB liability, retiree health insurance. We just put $8 million aside for this but we still have an unfunded liability of about $500 million. We really should be on a funding schedule for that or we’re simply passing the burden of payment onto future taxpayers. Unlike capital debt which should be paid overtime as future taxpayers use the facility retiree benefits are paid out now, or in the near future. Its the biggest ticking time bomb for most governmental entities.
I would have hoped that people would see that the administration is willing to spend money and take other steps to make for a better community….which career managers are also judged on. We’ve built reserves back to a good level and held the line on taxes but also invested in infrastructure (I think at this point over $170 million), increased spending on schools, increased spending on maintenance, expanded recreation programs to pre-2000 levels, leveraged resources for social service and cultural programs, become more supportive of community and organizational diversity, and I could go on about the administration’s achievements. Which, by the way, are the results of great work by department heads and employees. AND, we have invested in public safety, both fire and police. We’ve added resources to both. We never laid off uniformed personnel and in fact after the crunch of the recession started adding positions back into departments. We’re currently reviewing all of the information on this and hope to have a full report out within the next week which explains this. Some civilian grant funded positions have gone away but even there we are working to reinstate with other grants or city funds. These positions allow our police department to be more effective and keep patrol officers on the street. Finally, on the much debated use of OT, the philosophy we have used is to use added overtime resources to target officers into certain areas at specified times for maximum effectiveness. This notion of “smart policing” is being adopted in numerous communities that have recognized that a single officer only provides limited coverage during high activity times while that same level of funds buys coverage many times over meaning more officers on the street. That said, there is a place for added staff in a a carefully planned and managed manner to insure we get the best people not just more people. For instance, we have 11 new patrolmen coming on within the next month.
In the end, we need to recognize the perceptions of the community regarding safety but we shouldn’t fan it. We do need to look at the numbers to see how we’re doing and how we should be using our resources and developing our strategies. On the numbers we have made great progress in knocking back crime over the past several years. But, lower isn’t as good as none, which is what we need to strive for. Plus, we see trends that need our attention now rather than waiting for the problems to become less manageable…and, the police are working at that with their use of resources and strategies, and with their requests to me for added resources and supportive policies.
Thanks for letting me weigh in…..
Gerry Nutter laid it out, by the numbers. (I’ll provide graphs, below the fold.)
Additionally, during those years that City Manager / Administration proposed and the City Council approved the use of about $17.87 million in one time money in Free Cash, nearly $6 million per year to sustain spending levels as opposed to making necessary cuts.All while being supported by the Editor at the SUN.
In October 2006 after removing that City Manager and with the appointment of a new CFO the City discovered that the budget that was now 1/3rd under way, was rife with miscalculations. Free cash to pay for services was estimated to be $3.5 million but in the end it was -$2.2 million, a difference of $5.7 million. Other local receipts were over estimated by about $2 million. The FY06 budget ran out of money for utility bills and they were moved into FY07 for payment making the already inadequate utility account doubly so
That is all fact, it supports and highlights the need for professional management along with a strong balanced council. Combined with the positive numbers I showed last week highlighting the upward direction the city is heading, why is this election being focused on stupid, petty garbage like OLD vs. New Lowell.
This week’s “The Column” opted to be cute by half with this treatment.
MONTHS AGO, outgoing Mayor Patrick Murphy held an event at The Old Court. Those who attended, including one veteran politician, observed that Murphy packed the room with young, exuberant 20-somethings whose apparent desire to get involved in politics signaled a “new Lowell,” an awakening of sorts.
I’ve heard the WCAP ‘infomercial’ try to lay the coining of this meme at the feet of Dick Howe, Jr. Of course, JMac only looks in the mirror, so he really won’t know where the phrasing comes from. Gerry Nutter puts it on an attention seeking local media, which includes us ‘big mouthed bloggers.’ I concur. The ‘new/old’ meme has been floating around for several years now. It spun off the chatter about ‘blow ins & grow ins,’ etc. It’s clear, from the way The Column above sidesteps it, that they didn’t do their homework. But, opted, rather, to parrot JMac’s empty headed contortion. JMac & Campi come up short. Funny, in my mind, was the word choice, ” veteran politician,” by Campi. Who hates Dick, Jr. only a little less than he hates Kendall Wallace, to the point Campi will only admit the existence of Dick’s Blog, if he absolutely has to.
Dick, btw, has given witness to Gerry Nutter’s framing of the corporate; desperate to survive, via, bargain basement fire sale journalistic ethics; local media:
In his Sunday Notes today, Gerry Nutter says that all the negativity about city government coming from the Sun and WCAP is designed to suppress voter turnout on November 5. I agree.
About those City Finance graphs:
Some are rushing to their microphone, their computer, the newspaper’s website to give you their spin but I do not have any to give. I just want to deal in facts. I have no idea what last night’s election message was about, except that the great majority of voters in Lowell, 88% or 49,012, do not give a damn about municipal elections or City government. What a shame!
What I do know by looking at the results is the following:
1. It is not about your support of the City Manager
2. It is not about your support of the Mayor
3. It is not about the influence of the Sun and what positive coverage they give you
4. It is not about been friendly with certain “neighborhood leaders”
5. It is not about how friendly you are with certain developers or not friendly
6. It is not about what position you take on fiscal responsibility
7. It is not about style of governing
8. It is not about the LHA
What facts do I have to back up my comments? Well look at this! (more…)
So here it is folks. The pièce de résistance. Official Left in Lowell candidate questionnaire answers! They are on their own web page, which you can find here.
On a side note, I really REALLY like this format. Comparing lots of apples to lots of other apples, and a few places for candidates to show off their knowledge. This could be the format going forward. Also, lots and lots of props to my wonderful husband who whipped the submitted answers into a format that I could literally copy and paste into the page for the data table. Love you hon!!!
Thanks also to our amazing readers for a very large chunk of the questions. Crowd sourcing works!
I am considering reopening up for submissions after the preliminary, since my timeframe was crushed a bit leading up to next Tuesday’s election. The unfair part is that anyone submitting answers after publication is getting an advantage of seeing what everyone else said; but if I were to notate who passed answers in after the prelim, would you want to see more answers from more candidates? Honest question. I’m good either way.
Candidates for municipal elections this fall can rest at ease. The Sun has decided not to ask you to “voluntarily disclose state and federal income tax information.” No, they “have not gone so far.” They “just want candidates to state their annual individudal and/or family income, as well as group associations.”
Most of us who follow politics in the City are aware of candidates’ personal, professional and political affiliations and what “clan” they belong to. It becomes obvious as you see them on the campaign trail and as you speak to them.
Voters have an obligation to educate themselves. I do not think knowing a candidate’s income or source of income in detail is necessary. We know what they all do for work and if they have a track record in the community, which most of them do, we can figure out their affiliation. And if you have time and the inclination, you can see who is supporting them financially.
The great majority of candidates are readily available for you to talk to. You do not need the Sun to filter or interpret what they have to say. Give them a call or find them on social media. They are ready to explain why they are running and what they want to accomplish and of course, ask you for your support. On his blog Dick has a page with contact information for most of the candidates.
For me where one stands on issues is paramount. If you listen closely and read carefully, you can easily figure out what their positions are. For example, regarding negotiating with the City Manager to extend his contract; you can tell who is trying to practice the fine art of triangulation and who is clear and succinct in expressing their views.
By the way is the Sun following Jack on facebook and on LiL and now wants us to watch out for “shady Lowell”? I am not sure.
In calling for all candidates “to be as transparent as possible” the Sun is asking the candidates to disclose some information including “associations that might raise conflict-of-interest issues.” I wonder if a special relationship with selected Sun staff falls under that category.
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