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Left In Lowell » Voting

Left In Lowell

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May 4, 2014

On Free Speech and Serving the City

by at 7:42 am.

As of last week, former blogger Gerry Nutter had resigned his Election Commission post. In his letter, which he sent out to bloggers as well, he cites work and health concerns as the reason. The Lowell Sun Column (you can go find the link if you really want to read it) decided it warranted a mention (it probably did) and then went on to infer that the real reason might be that some Councilors were working behind the scenes to oust him, going to the new City Manager with complaints.

While Gerry and I don’t always agree on everything, I do believe him. One thing you can’t accuse Gerry of is deliberate dishonesty. I had an email conversation with him when he sent out the news, and he really does think he cannot give the Commission justice due to his other obligations to his health and job.

As to whether, prior to the resignation, certain city councilors did go to the City Manager in a coincidental, but not related bid to get him to resign or fire him, maybe they did. Maybe they just say they did. I don’t know. However, the two are explicitly unrelated, and as Gerry notes on Facebook, no one came to him with any issues, and he did have actual free speech rights to say what he thought about sitting City Councilors even as an Election Commissioner.

Now, for the record, I actually think that the Election Commission is one place where even if you can say something about elected officials or candidates, you probably shouldn’t. The appearance of neutrality and impartiality is important for those who oversee our democratic elections. You all know that I certainly sympathize with Gerry’s frustrations about this Council! But maybe discretion would have been the better part of valor…not because the City Councilors deserve to remain uncriticized, but because of a higher goal of preserving and protecting our elections.

However, some of these same councilors have made hay over members of boards other than Elections Commission saying things on Facebook or elsewhere. It’s like they want to shut up as many critics as possible, and it’s the ones which they have official say over that are the targets they can reach. Can’t shut up the bloggers? Well at least shut up people who are serving, volunteering their own time and effort, on Lowell boards and commissions!

I have an idea for how you can avoid such criticisms in the future…stop pursuing positions and issues which are blatantly ridiculous!

By the way, I suspect that the councilors in question will be much more unhappy with a Gerry Nutter totally unleashed to say what he really thinks about them. Just sayin’.

April 4, 2014

Hire a Pol to Hire a Pro?

by at 10:49 am.

I know I’ve been relatively silent lately. Mostly, I just saw us marching into the inevitable City Manager hire and knew there was nothing to stop the crazy train, so it seemed like while there was a ton of things to say, there was really nothing to say. So now, we’re on the other side of the predicable ending of our tale, and have to deal with the aftermath. All righty, then. I still own a home here, and I still vote here, so I’m still an interested party to the future of Lowell.

So why does this not surprise me? “Retired Cambridge manager Healy will serve as Lowell consultant” reads the headline.

Incoming city manager Kevin Murphy plans to hire former longtime Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy as a short-term financial consultant soon after Murphy becomes manager.

Ostensibly, the excuse is, “because we don’t have a CFO yet.” But a real pro, someone like Bernie, could handle the first month without a CFO, instead of hiring a high-priced (albeit very competent) consultant. Had we hired one of the folks who are themselves experienced in managing a budget, this would probably not be necessary.

So that’s the zero skills side of the new CM hire. What about the hack side?

Well, people are worried. Will Murphy, who has a lot of enemies, start “cleaning out” city hall? We’ve already lost so much talent, both coincidentally and because of the loss of Bernie Lynch. Other cities and towns are actively recruiting Lowell city staff because they know they probably want to jump ship. I won’t say there will be vendetta firings at The Castle, but I won’t rule it out, either. Too many people in the know seem to be worried about it to dismiss the notion.

Here are some of my predictions after mulling over recent events and getting lots of input:
1. Kevin Murphy, or KMurph as some of us have been taken to call him, will be here precisely three years. The exact amount of time it takes to boost one’s pension (the pension is based on your top three years’ salary). Mark my words, in precisely three years we’ll be here again, hiring another City Manager. Anyone who thinks this is not at least a lot about the money is adorably naive.

2. This last “change election” won’t hold in 2015. Anecdotally, I have been hearing a lot of anger over Bernie Lynch leaving (directed at the new Council). But that seems to be nothing compared to the anger I’ve heard around KMurph’s hiring as his replacement. Apparently, KM has made a lot of enemies. Some, I’m sure, are a natural result of being a lawyer across the table from many other local people of various types and perhaps being good at his job. Others…I’m not so sure. He is not a beloved local notable. I don’t even think he’s a polarizing figure - the comments seem to be quite skewed towards disgust and not support. Maybe that’s the circle I run in, but my circle runs in lots of other circles and they’re hearing the same thing.

So, any of the people directly associated with obvious pre-picking of KMurph over all possible professionals will be in trouble in 2015. Any anger which remains and/or is stoked by KM as CM will be directed at them. Anecdotally, I hear of a lot of people who voted Belanger or Rourke because they knew them, only to be pissed off at the ousting of Bernie, and the hiring of a hack politician who has lots of enemies as CM. I don’t know how many voters that translates to, but they lost some. I suspect there will be an “enthusiasm gap” for GOBs (Good Ol’ Boys) next time around. The self-aware GOB will still show up, as they always do, but maybe not all their infrequent voter friends will. Ask the national Democrats what an enthusiasm gap looks like…

As a corollary, the traditional anti-GOB heroes have taken a tarnishing on their shiny hero shields. Big disappointments all around for such notables as Bill Martin and Jim Milinazzo, as well as - I hate to say it - Dick Howe Jr. Love ye, Dick, but I really do think you have a blind spot here. The fact our new CM has to hire an actual professional right off the bat, wasting our taxpayer dollars to fill in the total lack of skills he has for this job, already shows how bad of an idea this is. Do we really think KMurph is going to learn enough this budget season to be able to produce one to the level of a Bernie Lynch or a Robert Healy next year?

I mean, yes, sure, at least KMurph seems to know he’s totally unprepared for the job by hiring Healy; but the fact it’s even necessary shows a complete misreading of what Plan E is supposed to look like.

3. We get a grace year or two to coast on Lynch’s 7+ years of success. If KMurph really only stays three years, and he doesn’t totally eff it up, we might be sort of OK. Granted, there’s some serious pipers to pay in the next few years, as Lynch had pointed out - instead of little moderate rises in taxes over the years, Lynch had put (thanks to the pressures of the Council) all of his pretty amazing budgetary efficiencies into keeping the tax rate the same most of the time. KMurph will not find the same level of budget efficiencies - both because a lot of the low-hanging fruit is picked, and because KM is guaranteed not going to be anywhere near as skilled as lifelong muni manager Lynch was at the task.

So, a good predictor of which path we’re taking - We’re Totally Screwed vs. We’re Treading Water So At Least We Won’t Drown - is whether or not the tax rate goes up moderately to address all the costs going up over time with no efficiencies to offset it, and/or we start eating into free cash and reserves this year or next.

January 13, 2014

Sting Operation for Plan E Government?

by at 11:55 am.

What a difference an election makes. What a difference a week makes. We’re headed in to our first Council meeting where everyone knows the City Manager is handing in his resignation; so now comes the fallout. And that might not be what the was intended by Plan E’s opponents, as we’ll see in a moment.

Jack has an overview of three motions on this week’s agenda of interest to the ongoing saga of what we face now - winding down the Lynch era, the hiring of his replacement, and replacing other outgoing top staff. One is a request for him to consider staying a little longer, at least through budget season, by CC Milinazzo. This is, on its face, a practical acknowledgement of the tight space Lowell is in, with no CFO (and with Lynch leaving, his disinclination to hire one right before heading out, a view shared by his detractors, for their own reasons) and an Auditor retiring, a little stability at the top for the complex and delicate job of managing the budget process might go a long way. It also gives the Council more time to collect resumes and consider a replacement. Of course, Elliott has shown himself to be chomping at the bit to hurry the hiring process along. I leave it to you, dear reader, to wonder why that might be. I’ll start you off: a rush job could equal a bag job?

Another motion on the docket, however, seeks to tie the outgoing Manager’s hands, by newcomer Dan Rourke. “Request the City Mgr. not enter into any contracts or extend any contracts and not to make any appointments or re-appointments to any Boards or Commissions.”

One wonders if Rourke has a problem with the city unions who have not yet had their contracts finished and signed? Is he implying they should wait potentially months for the process of hiring a new CM to play out? Anyways…

I think it’s reasonable to expect an outgoing CM not to make any huge changes on his way out the door. You know, like the last-minute 10% raises Cox gave his high-level buddies after he was told to leave but before he was officially gone? However, as some have said on social media, if you’re going to literally tie the hands of the City Manager by demanding, or at least requesting (I’m not sure it’s legal under Plan E to strip the CM of powers he has by statute) he not perform the bulk of his job, he should leave this very minute. The CM enters into contracts on a regular basis. Some are big, like the union contracts, which also require Council approval, and some are just every day minutia to keep the city running. If he’s not allowed to manage those, he should just be permitted to stop showing up to work tomorrow, and we can pay him to stay home for two months.

Moreover, I don’t think Lynch is the kind of guy who’s going to upend the whole operation (well, more than it already is with all the top staff moving on) and make sweeping changes or policy decisions on his way out the door. He’s going to wrap his tenure up with the intent of passing on a trim, neat operation for as smooth a transition as possible. A little trust, please? He’s got us this far.

As to appointments to boards commissions, or reappointments…please. Do you really believe that Lynch is going to stack the appointments (most of which, again, require Council approval anyway) with crony picks on his way out? That’s the way the Cox types operate. This has never been Lynch’s manner. This utter nonsense, this psychological projection by some in the city, of their own basest personality traits, onto Lynch, who has never displayed these traits, is starting to wear thin. All right, it was thin to begin with, now it’s rubbing on bone. I really wish those elements of Lowell would engage in a little self-reflection and see them the way the rest of us see them when they do these things.

I doubt Rourke came up with this motion on his own, by the way. It plays awfully well into the hands of the likes of the JMac, Dave Daly, or Vieira types. Raise your hand if you don’t think cousin Tippah had a hand in it? Daly, by the way, is president of an ambulance company with a longtime eye on the contract Trinity EMS currently has with the city of Lowell. The ambulance contract, like a few others, are completely the decision of the City Manager, with no interference allowed by the City Council. There is real money at stake here, this isn’t all about petty revenge.

Then there is the confirmed report that Elliot crashed the weekly department head meeting, making everyone uncomfortable. In at least the last decade, no mayor or councilor has done this. Mayor’s aids sometimes attend, presumably on specific issues or needs. I don’t know, but I can guess Elliott showed up with no polite notice to the CM or any dept heads. It’s a little like if you sold your house, and the new owners show up unannounced the day you’re hauling your stuff out, and start measuring for curtains and painting samples swatches on the living room wall. Sure, notice isn’t some sort of legal requirement. But it certainly announces, “I believe THIS is MY turf now!” It violates, at a minimum, the spirit of a Plan E form of government. And it’s just rude.

But I also believe, calculated. It’s no hidden secret that Elliott is a Plan A strong mayor supporter - preferably, I presume, with himself playing the role of strong mayor. He thinks oversight is equal to verbally beating the crap out of the people you oversee, even if you already have the answer you asked for, if past City Council meetings are any indication. So why would he operate in a weak mayor structure any differently? He’s trying to prove that a strong mayor does things. Like act like a City Manager. Even if legally, he can’t. Pound on chest. Repeat.

This, and the attempt to weaken the CM position temporarily by Rourke’s motion, and a host of other little actions and speeches from these folks, are all geared towards pushing Plan A. They beat the drum of “direct democracy! Voters should choose the person who runs the city!” when trying to outmaneuver the counter argument that Plan E works because your professional hire has muni management education and experience. They can’t come out and say, “we’re against professional city government!” or worse, “we want to hire our friends!” so they say, “From Lowell For Lowell” as if someone who lives elsewhere will never be able to be qualified enough to take the reigns. Notwithstanding their brilliance, high levels of education, or years of muni management experience.

I think though this will backfire. No, scratch that, I think it already is. There’s already a lot of pushback - not just on blogs, though the blogs are pretty much universally panning the current state of affairs, from blogfather Richard Howe to longtime born and bred Cap’n Paul Belley. But also on Facebook, Youtube (OK I’ll admit some culpability for that), Twitter, and, I’m guessing, by phone and by snail mail as well. People liked the direction the city has taken. They liked Lynch’s tenure, and they want more of the same.

I have long said that, despite the opposition projecting their own personality faults onto me, I have never been about supporting Bernie Lynch. I have been about supporting the hiring and retaining of professional, experienced, fair and honest City Managers. Full stop. I am easy to please, really I am. Hire another professional. Here’s a quick hint: you are unlikely to find such a candidate residing currently in Lowell. The number of people with experience like Bernie had when he was hired is very small. The pool is limited. You might even want to consider someone who lives far away (outside of practical driving distance) - then they’ll have to move here to take the job, right? Lowell has a lot to offer a transplant, even a City Manager. They’ll WANT to move here. That was the whole point of professional city government in the first place! To make Lowell a better place to live and work.

So overextend away on the whole Plan A thing. The more the better. Because the more they politicize the situation we’re in, the more they prove the downfalls of a Plan A strong mayor government, no?

January 8, 2014

Ask Yourself: Who Wins?

by at 10:15 am.

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.

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 10, 2013

Voter Preregistration, DUH!

by at 11:03 am.

When it comes to voters’ rights, we have all heard that in many (often regressive) states, young people, women, and minorities are finding it harder to vote. Whether that’s because of voter ID laws so strict as to cause married women not to pass the legal muster (because they have changed their names, and because their state requires their maiden name on a license not a middle name, which they might have used to register to vote), or getting rid of laws intended to allow college students to vote in the state which they’re attending college, we all know - Republicans seem to side on making it harder to vote, under the guise of preventing practically non-existent voter fraud. And Republicans in states previously subject to the Voter Rights Act are proving why that Act was still so sadly, utterly relevant.

These efforts have attracted the attention of this amazing 12-year-old in North Carolina. Her immediate concern? The dissolution in NC of a voter preregistration law, which allowed high school students aged 16 and up to preregister to vote. Since your 16 and 17 year olds are still firmly in high school (hopefully), you can have voter drives and more impressive educational outreach while they are still young, increasing eventual participation at age 18 and beyond. (This is the argument behind the UTEC’s “Vote 17″ movement, to help form the habits of voting early in local elections to increase participation for a lifetime.)

Now that you’ve watched that, think about this: We don’t have youth voter preregistration in Massachusetts. Why not? We’re a progressive state that likes to talk about how great we are with enfranchising voters, but we’re not on the list of states that do this. (We can also talk about our lack of same-day registration, and some other voter enfranchisement laws we could pass to live up to our “progressive” moniker.)

Talk about brain-dead simple things we could do to help young voters get excited to vote. Why, why does Massachusetts not have this sort of law in place? According to this Globe article, it was proposed this year (and in a past session as well, passing the House). It appears that a final bill about voting out of the Joint Committee on Election Laws excludes preregistration. Why our House can pass such a common sense law but it gets stripped out when the Senate gets involved is beyond me.

This would be a great issue on which UTEC could to use its considerable experience with Vote 17…and if they could get youth orgs in other cities and towns on board, imagine what they could do for the 2014 session! We need to lobby our own state Senator Eileen Donoghue to work on this issue on behalf of the future voters of our state!

(Some relevant history on pre-reg bills in the MA legislature: “Why take baby steps for election modernization when we need a giant leap?”, about the Joint Committee on Election laws’ final voting bill in Sept in which “…conspicuously missing are provisions to require post election audits and pre-registration for 16 year olds, two reforms passed by the full House in 2011-2012″…

and “SCOTUS may be rolling back voting rights, but…” about this summer’s lobbying efforts for voting rights, including preregistration.)

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

Change…Is Inevitable

by at 7:30 pm.

Derek Mitchell, who as mentioned in my previous post came within 350 votes of a Council seat, a notable accomplishment for a new candidate, gave a speech at Fuse Bistro last night after the returns were in.

I watched Derek run his campaign, from his kickoff to last night, watched various speeches, and witnessed Derek learning to be a really great candidate in a very short timeframe. That is not an easy task. (Speaking in front of crowds by itself is not an easy task!) He was good last night, and what he said was potent and energizing. His campaign volunteers were enthusiastic to the end and I know we’ll be seeing them around too.

I am looking forward to great things from him. I really, really hope he runs again. Here is an excerpt his campaign posted from his speech last night.


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.

October 15, 2013

Win for Free Speech

by at 7:40 pm.

“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!

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