Left In Lowell

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November 16, 2013

Blogs Pan Panhandling Ordinance

by at 10:00 am.

I find it interesting, this disconnect between the strong opinions of the blogs and a number of the public (if my facebook feed is any indication), and Councilors (and councilor-to-be Belanger, who has not acquitted himself well in my opinion…I’m sad to be right about him) about panhandling.

Dick sums it up pretty nicely - he understands the impulse to push these people into the shadows (or into other parts of the city) but that doesn’t solve any problems nor does it show a blink of compassion for people who might, actually, be down on their luck, and for whom a $50 fine might be insurmountable punishment. The Capt has a new post against the ordinance as well, and remembers how the Council also voted to push out the visible homeless camps - which if the first hand accounts of many folks are true, merely served to push these people deeper and keeps them further from the help that was being offered to them prior. I personally know of a hidden camp of some sort near my house, though I don’t know if it’s currently occupied.

Kad has his say already, twice. He is a downtown resident and customer, and also quite on the other side of the aisle from me politically, so it’s not like we’re all in some sort of echo chamber. Kad and I have had some doozies of disagreements at times. :)

New bloggers Aurora and Chris already aired their opinions as well (previously linked). So, to count - a long-time townie, myself, a downtown resident, brand new residents - all of us see this ordinance for what it really is.

And what is that? Knee-jerk governing.

This is the same sort of impulse that passed the homeless camp ordinance for which every person involved patted themselves on the back. See? We cleared those camps and solved the problems! Case closed! Except they are not solved. This same impulse passed the breed-specific pit bull ordinance, which subsequently got overruled by a state law banning breed-specific rules, thank goodness. You see this in the perennial “pedophiles in the library!” or “spend down the free cash on more cops because, public safety!” issues that come up.

Mr. Lynne walked by while I was writing this post. He works in Boston, taking the commuter rail in and walking to work from North Station. He walks through the Common and the Public Garden, among other places. He remarked, I probably walk by more panhandlers in one morning than these guys ever see in Lowell. And yet Boston is a pretty prosperous place to which people flock, and patronize their businesses.

Governing by optics, governing by outrage machine, or whatever you want to call it, is one of the worst sorts of governing that exists. Because it takes a serious problem, and proposes bad solutions, or non-solutions, or damaging solutions, in the name of expediency or convenience. This panhandling ordinance is also the worst kind of scapegoating. Let’s face it - our downtown businesses are often struggling. Whether it’s the lack of easy parking, the economy, the general struggles of any downtown, the fact everything closes at 5pm and no one is open on Sundays except restaurants, a lack of disposable income by many of the people who live downtown (elderly and affordable housing), or what have you, we’ve seen a lot of businesses shuttered, or moving, and empty storefronts are a little too common.

But clearing out panhandling won’t fix your lackluster business, Mr. Belanger.

Of course, aggressiveness or harassment by a panhandler is another thing all together - and I would think that existing rules probably prohibit anyone from such aggression (hence why we have the legal term “harassment”). Why we need a special rule for downtown banning it all together - other than as a knee-jerk reaction to a much larger problem of homelessness and addiction and the general, inescapable fact that we’re a city, dammit! - is beyond me.

November 12, 2013

AtB: Handling Pans

by at 3:19 pm.

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.

November 7, 2013

AtB: Post Election Edition

by at 12:37 pm.

(AtB is a designation I just made up, short for Around the Blogs. I’ve made a new category for it as well.)

Some great post-election blog posts you don’t want to miss, if you haven’t seen them. Let’s start with the blogfather, shall we?

Election by the numbers: Dick is posting a series looking at the precinct by precinct turnout. He starts with the post, “Election day gold, silver and bronze“.

This post looks at which candidates finished first, second or third in each of the city’s 33 precincts. The first entry (“1-1″) identifies the ward and precinct. That’s followed by the last name of the candidate who finished first along with that candidate’s vote total within the precinct. The same information is repeated for the second and third place finishers. At the end of each line, the name of the polling place for that precinct is listed. At the very end of the post, I’ll summarize the results:

He also has posted a second in the series, “Precinct by precinct turnout: 2011 v 2013.”

In the 2011 city election, just 9946 people voted. In the 2013 election, that number rose 16% to 11581, an increase of 1635 voters. The following table shows where those additional votes came from

The numbers by precinct and percent increase are quite interesting.

We also have some musings on turnout and winning from kad barma (with some strong words):

inevitably, those who backed losers and are coincidentally frustrated by the identities of the winners are agonizing over the low turnout and teasing themselves with dreams of the fruits of an engaged populace, but it would be worthwhile for such folks to remember that bigger sample sizes tend merely to dial in the sigmas

Greg at the New Englander uses a lot of mathy terms and stuff to look at the results:

There were 71,502 total votes cast in yesterday’s City Council election. With 11,581 unique voters doing the casting, that means the average person voted for 6.17 candidates.

Assume a bell-shaped, normal distribution. Imagine you could insert a candidate into the race with completely random traits, name recognition, likability, etc.

He then goes on to look at the statistical changes chances of surpassing the various candidates.

Chris of the excellent new blog Learning Lowell has an election wrap up post with some observations, “End of an (Election) Season.”

Secondly, buried in a Sun story with more on-the-street interviews is one voter’s perspective that his friends don’t vote because they don’t know who to vote for–there’s no (D) or (R) next to their name. This is something that I haven’t experienced before, as every city I’ve lived in has had partisan elections.

So go check ‘em out. It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with all the blogging in Lowell (even with the loss of Nutter). I like to say an embarrassment of riches. I’ve seen a lot of political bloggers come and go in the state of Massachusetts (we used to be a tight-knit set, meeting occasionally and doing stuff together!) and we lost a lot of them over the years, but in Lowell, most of the bloggers have stuck around. Either we’re a dedicated crew, or maybe just gluttons for punishment. I think this only bodes well for Lowell’s future!

November 6, 2013

Perspective

by at 8:42 am.

Here are some next-day observations I have about yesterday’s election results.

We did see increased turnout. 11,581 is still a pathetic number of registered voters (20.6%) voting to select our local government. I’m not satisfied. Obviously not just on who got elected to Council, but also just on the fact that less than 30% (which is also not a non-pathetic number) are the deciders on who serves on our Council and school committees.

Name recognition, funding, and city connections still win elections. I note that the only first-time candidates who make it on the council (besides Franky who worked hard during what was a huge change election, and Murphy who basically knocked more doors than humanly possible) are longtime city names, generally townies. I think this is bound to change, as the very old demographic which are the “strong city voters” are…well, old. This is going to continue to put downward pressure on turnout, which is a big problem. If we get to the point of 4-6,000 voters turning out in local elections, that will be very disappointing, of course. But that older townie demo consistently pushes the big connected names onto the Council. (I know Rourke worked hard, but did he have the campaign apparatus that Derek did? I tend to doubt it. The hardest-working candidates aren’t always the one to win, if they don’t have those deep personal connections to the strong city voter.)

Newcomers who are “blowins” (as in, no long standing familial and friend connections in Lowell among the strong, older, city voters) did pretty spectacular considering. In particular, Derek should be toutin’ proud of his 12th place finish, precisely 350 votes behind 9th place. If he runs again, with the same vim and vigor and as a seasoned campaigner, he not only makes the Council, he probably gets up higher in the ranks. A strong 12th place can mean a 5th or 6th placement the second time around.

I am heartbroken for the Cambodian community. I hope they, and the engaged younger southeast Asian voters people like Van Pech bring to the table, use this loss to make themselves stronger. Don’t give up. You are a huge demographic in this city, and you are part of this city’s future. A good way to bring this about is to do some voter education and registration in the meantime, before the next election season starts, and keep running candidates!

The same can be said of the younger (what the pundits term “new Lowell”) voters and candidates who back people like Stacie Hargis and Derek Mitchell. Don’t give up, get active! You are the future. The past is just making a last gasp right now, but it can’t sustain itself much longer.

We seem to wave back and forth every single election. The 2005 election which elected Ramirez and ousted Cox. Then the Kaz/Lenzi 2007 Empire Strikes Back election. Then ousting them in favor of Murphy and Descoteaux in 2009. Then a reprieve (I guess Kaz really pissed people off in the previous Council) in 2011. Now we’re seeing The Empire Strikes Back Part II with the Dailey-backed (I cant’t wait to get my hands on the finance reports) Belanger and Rourke. That means in two years we’re due for a flip again - here’s hoping professional city management can survive til then.

Speaking of professional city management, this new Council is not guaranteed going to get rid of Lynch. There are only four definite no’s on a new contract. The rest are all lean-yes (Rita Mercier and John Leahy), or definite yes. They need to hear from constituents that Lynch is doing the job the city wants. Don’t be shy on calling them over the next year (contract is up in August).

Also speaking of contract/no contract, it’s plain to me that voters (who are not attentive to the blogs or other outlets) do not vote based on the core values of city management. On the one hand, it’s plain that the people of Lowell really like Lynch a lot. They’re happy with the direction of the city. They’d be pretty pissed, I think, if the Council gets rid of him. On the other hand, ink-master Elliot gets to rank #2 (the ink, I’m convinced, is why he gets to #2). Voters have not connected the basic issues at stake in these elections - frankly, because the Sun doesn’t want them to, and fails to educate them on this. The voter demo that shows up still gets the paper. This is only going to last so long, as the younger voters (people under age 50) are a whole different animal, but for now, we’re stuck with the awful paper blog of record and its agenda.

And I do think that the most important core issue at stake in our elections lately is legitimately “contract or no contract.” In other words, are we hiring/keeping professional technocrats as City Managers or do we go back to hiring unqualified hack former politicians (often ones with ethics problems) who not only can’t do the job, but also use the position for personal and political gain for their friends? The whole worm turns on what attitude our city council has towards the city manager position. We all know what names are bandied about to replace Lynch every couple of years (state Rep. Murphy, former state Sen Panagiotakos, etc). Those people would be short-lived and disastrous for the city. Is Pangy a fairly smart dude? Sure. Is he qualified to run a freaking city? Hells NO. And his hack history isn’t that great either. (Frankly, our entire House delegation could leave tomorrow and I’d be super happy. Thank goodness we have Sen. Donoghue at least!)

The Mayor selection is a little stickier than the CM contract, in my opinion. I have some thoughts on that but prefer to leave the details to others. Those chips will have to fall where they fall. However, I will state one thing: Can you imagine super-negative Elliot as the Chair of the School Committee? I urge the next Council to seriously consider the damage someone like him can do on the most important job of Mayor, chairing the SC. Also, I don’t think we should reward such negative behavior with a mayorship. It sets a bad precedent. And the worse precedent that if you wait long enough, it becomes “your turn.” Bollocks.

My last thoughts are this: I’m taking serious consideration as to how we engage more voters in these elections. I’m tired of a tiny minority of this city (myself included) deciding for 100,000 people who should run their local government. It’s time for a non-partisan “League of Lowell Voters” to find ways to reach the non-city voter and get them engaged. Again, I have some ideas for that. Unfortunately because this blog is so “partisan” (not just in the liberal sense but in the supporting a certain type of candidate sense) that any effort I make will get a Gerry-Nutter-for-Election-Commission type welcome. I know I’ve made some enemies (fairly and legitimately - by truth telling!) but seriously, I’ve had it up to my eyeballs on the turnout issue. Anyone else feel the same way? If enough people are mad as hell and won’t take it any more, something could be accomplished.

November 4, 2013

It’s Hard To Take The Sun Seriously

by at 8:35 am.

The Sun has an editorial urging Lowellians to vote, tomorrow.
(I can’t find an active link)

While many regard the citywide election as a referendum on the city manager’s performance over the past two years, The Sun strongly believes Bernie Lynch, who has achieved financial success with his management team, is not the primary issue. Public safety, education, economic develop­ment, and taxes and fees are the major concerns.

Lowell needs city councilors who can push petty politics aside and make decisions based on equality and fairness to its 106,000 citizens, rather than analyzing how each vote affects the manager’s agenda. Too much weight has been given to the manager’s job security, rather than to the people’s hopes and dreams for a better Lowell.

Strong leadership and forward thinking will get Lowell to the next level of improved gover­nance from which all good things come, not coun­cilors looking over their shoulders protecting City Hall. Protect the citizens.

I find it striking that The Sun feels that the City Manager has his own agenda, yet dismisses the notion that the CM’s contract is an election issue. You’d think that IF a City Manager was inflicting a city with an agenda, that would be an issue. No? The way The Sun juxtaposes the sentence, “push petty politics aside and make decisions based on equality and fairness to its 106,000 citizens” … “rather than” … “analyzing how each vote affects the manager’s agenda,” it’s clear the CM’s “agenda” is contrary to “equality and fairness. ” I’d argue THAT is an issue!

Except, as LiL readers know, it is a conjured issue. It is conjured by the purveyor of political pornography, known as Jim Campanini.

Let me give you some context. Some of you may know, that the Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee deferred taking a vote, until today, on selecting the school’s next Superintendent.

While the Greater Lowell Technical High School Commit­tee plans to select a new superintendent tonight, new infor­mation has come for­ward in a finalist’s history that points to yet another alleged incident of domestic violence in his past.

Roger D. Forget Jr., a Bourne resident who serves as principal of Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, had a restraining order filed against him by his ex-wife on his teenage daughter’s behalf in December 2003, according to court records from Palmer District Court that came to The Sun in an anonymous package over the weekend. …

In the December 2012 court documents that School Committee member Ray Boutin provided to The Sun this year, Forget’s wife allegedly told police her husband had previous restraining orders filed against him when she filed her claim, which she eventually withdrew.

Forget in October declined to answer a reporter’s question about his wife’s statement, and also dodged School Committee member Erik Gitschier’s direct question on the subject in finalist interviews last Monday.

Certainly, if a Superintendent candidate has issues, as reported in the public records, that should be considered by the GLTHS SC. It’s unfortunate that such a concern got this far into the process. Those of us that are more cynical, like me, tend to think the process used by our elected, here at the GLTHS & other Lowell authorities, allows for sandbagging. Meaning, intentionally allowing flawed candidates through, so it looks like a wide net is cast, BUT in practice, we actually have few true options.

That said, let’s go back to Campanini playing the part of Larry Flynt.

The ‘cloak and dagger’ operations around Roger D. Forget Jr. has been swirling the bowl for weeks now. The bubble within the bubble, specific to GLTHS, has been chewing this up. Why NOW did The Sun provide this last dagger?

What it looks like to me, The Sun is not playing ‘journalist’ here. They are playing assassin. The story of Forget, appears on the very day that the GLTHS SC is supposed to vote. Coincidence? Of course, The Sun will claim that it only received this “anonymous package over the weekend.. .” But, let’s mull this over. The trouble around Forget has been bubbling for weeks, if not months. The Sun would know of such things. (Of course, The Sun cannot field enough decent reporters to ferret such things out, so maybe that is why they are reporting in such a kneejerk manner.)

I can’t argue against anyone that would point out my bias. I think that Jim Campanini is hurting Lowell and ruining our only local, daily newspaper. So, with that filter, think for yourself and wonder, is The Sun trying to alter the outcome of today’s selection by the GLTHS SC?

I think they are. And, I think they are doing it, as they pontificate of our election tomorrow. Ignore them, say I.

November 3, 2013

Learning Lowell - A Busy New Blog

by at 10:30 am.

Lynne introduced LiL to Learning Lowell.

Suffice to say, they have been chugging, steadily along.

City Manager contracts across MA
Several counselors and candidates have expressed a belief that contracts for executive officers in a city are inappropriate. Mr. Leahy mentioned that he believed contracts were appropriate for school executive leadership, but not for city managers. I was curious, and did a quick internet search.

Sun Debate: Taxes, Inspections, Elections, and LHA
This is the second post about the Sun debate. The first is here.

Sun Debate: City Manager, School, and Safety
The Sun Debate was about a week ago, but I’ve just finished watching the third at http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_24385207/crime-takes-center-stage-round-1-lowell-city. I’ve seen a few folks comment on the Sun’s follow-up articles, but the videos give much more context. The same pool of questions were used in each debate, although moderators sometimes didn’t address every question or varied the phrasing. This will be the first of two parts recording the questions and our reactions. The second is here.

“What do you want in a police chief?” asks the City Manager
Last Thursday, City Manager Lynch, CFO Tom Moses, Solicitor Christine O’Conner, HR Director Mary Callery, and Executive Assistant Lynda Clark held the public listening session to discuss attributes the public desires in a new Police Superintendent. Unfortunately, this session competed with both the first of the three Sun Candidate Forums and a Red Sox World Series game–something the City Manager apologized for. It perhaps contributed to the slim turnout of about half a dozen. This meant Aurora and I composed a third of the focus group! A streetworker from UTEC, a reporter from the Sun, a fellow from the Senior Center actually just there to get photos, and a long-term resident rounded out the group. I’ll try to summarize what was discussed, but I’m largely working from memory.

Please consider putting Learning Lowell into your blog routine.

October 27, 2013

Learning Lowell

by at 11:16 am.

When one door closes, another one opens. To the embarrassment of riches that is the Lowell blogosphere (it’s turning into a thing here!) we welcome to our blogroll newcomers at Learning Lowell.

With several posts already examining the local election - musings from grow-ins trying to learn the ropes (amazing, to see brand new residents get so deep into local politics so quickly!) - it promises to be a great new addition to the conversation. (And yes, we’re sorry, we’re probably guilty of “assum[ing they] already know the decades of history these people have.” And yes, “for a town with such a history of new groups moving in, sometimes it isn’t the most accessible.” I agree - though, of course, putting all the long history of context in every politics post is really difficult. I’m always available by email, comment, or coffee to answer any question you guys might have on any post we do here! :)

So, put them on your list of blogs on your regular reading list!

October 20, 2013

A Blogger’s Sin

by at 1:11 pm.

Thou shall not impede The Sun’s meddling in local affairs.

In the role of “activist newspaper,” The Sun is legend.

In the wait-your-turn political culture of Lowell and nearby Lawrence, Kerry was a carpetbagger trying to cherrypick a seat in Congress.

In the general election campaign, Kerry was lashed relentlessly by The Sun, which questioned his patriotism, his loyalty to the district, and his financial backers. He blew a huge lead and lost to the Republican nominee, Paul W. Cronin, a former state representative who had served on Morse’s staff.

Suddenly, the fast track to political glory vanished beneath the feet of the war hero turned war protester. …
-snip

(more…)

October 6, 2013

Back To The Future?

by at 10:25 am.

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.

xxx

About those City Finance graphs:
(more…)

October 2, 2013

LTC Live Candidates Forum Oct 9

by at 4:14 pm.

LTC is putting together a live City Council candidates’ forum on Oct 9, 6:30pm! It will air on Comcast Channel 8 and online at LTC.org.

Facebook event here.

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