Elections & Results
See historic Lowell election results and candidate biographies.
This post was scheduled for last week during “Preliminary Election Week” but somehow failed to appear so I’m posting it today.
Here are the results of the 1973 Lowell City Council preliminary election:
|6.||M Brendan Fleming||7078|
|18.||John M Murphy||3016|
The incumbents seeking reelection were Sampson, Kennedy, Howe, Dunfey, Gallagher, Farley, Fleming, and LeMay – who had finished tenth the previous election but joined the council when Paul Tsongas resigned after being elected County Commissioner. Incumbent Phil Shea did not run for reelection; he had been elected state representative mid-term and while he did not resign from the council at that time, he didn’t seek reelection to the council in 1973.
In the 1973 general election, the winners were incumbents Gallagher, Howe, LeMay, Farley, and Kennedy. They were joined by former Mayor Robert Maguire, School Committee member Victor Forsley, and newcomers John Slavin and Brian Delaney.
The Lowell City Council continues its every-other-week summer meeting schedule, however, the agenda for its regularly scheduled September 12 meeting was so long that the Council, in a rare move, opted to hold a special meeting the following Tuesday (September 19) to complete the items on the agenda. My own schedule prevented me from watching either meeting live, so I caught them both yesterday on the Lowell Telecommunications YouTube channel.
Together, the two meetings lasted six and a half hours. No single issue dominated. Instead, it was a cleanup of lingering items. Many of those involved traffic control and street maintenance, which are the topics this Council collectively seems most enthused about. But a couple of things did stand out.
There was an informational report from the City Solicitor on some Accessory Dwelling Use (ADU) issues. The primary one was the procedure for limiting the amount of rent that can be charged for ADUs to 70 percent of the city’s Fair Market Rent which the Council had voted to include in the still-pending ADU ordinance. According to the City Solicitor, any limitation set by the city on the amount of rent that may be charged runs afoul of the state’s rent control law.
The state law makes imposing any limit on the amount of rent that can be charged very difficult which should not be surprising given that the statute is called the “Massachusetts Rent Control Prohibition Act.” Essentially, if the municipality limits the amount of rent a landlord can charge for a unit, the municipality must pay the landlord an amount equal to the reduction in rent so that the loss is borne by the taxpayers and not the property owner.
The Council has discussed how the city of Salem has limited the amount of rent that can be charged for ADUs. The Solicitor explained that Salem filed and had enacted a Home Rule Petition in the legislature that side-steps the rent control prohibition.
I found it difficult to follow the Council discussion on this issue mostly because it is secondary to the issue of whether ADUs will be allowed or not. I do believe a motion to prepare a Home Rule Petition modeled on Salem’s was defeated, but I’m not sure where the reduced rent requirement stands. However, on the agenda for the upcoming September 26 meeting, Councilor John Leahy has a motion to reconsider the proposal that was defeated last week, so perhaps this forthcoming discussion will shed more light on the matter.
A response to a motion by Councilors Wayne Jenness and Vesna Nuon for an update on the city’s Housing First strategy was extraordinary in its negativity.
“Housing First” is a strategy to reduce homelessness by providing permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible. The strategy also provides services and community-based supports to help people keep their housing. The Housing First approach proceeds from the assumption that stable housing is a prerequisite for effective psychiatric and substance abuse treatment.
The motion response stated, “Housing First is on hold in Lowell” and that Lowell is “gridlocked into a process that is no longer working due to the barriers listed below,” listing things like lack of staffing, lack of land for new housing, and lack of incentives for developers (none of which are unique to Lowell).
The response went on to state that “solutions are now beyond the scope of the city alone” and said the only way this can move forward is if the federal government, state government, and the surrounding towns step up and do their part.
Councilors Jenness and Nuon pushed back (too gently, in my view) and City Manager Golden, who had initialed the report so had clearly seen it, backpedaled, saying that the program was not on hold.
Other Councilors came to the defense of the report, repeating the “the Federal government, the state and the surrounding towns aren’t doing their share” mantra while adding “if the homeless don’t want to help themselves, there’s nothing we can do for them” line. Not surprisingly, these were the same Councilors who, when the potential use of the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center as a shelter for migrant families was discussed, opposed that on the grounds that the ICC should instead be used to house the city’s homeless population.
Yes, the federal government should do more, state government should do more, and the surrounding towns should do more. The housing crisis we have now is the predictable result of a century of state laws that cede local control of zoning to each municipality with the predictable result that every community that can enact exclusionary laws that keep people out will enact such laws. Of course, the places that can’t enact such laws because their existing housing predates zoning laws are the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities like Lowell.
Ever since people first clustered together for shelter, cities have been the place where the poorest congregate. It would be nice if that were otherwise but it’s not going to change, so when you govern a city you have to deal with life the way it is, not life the way you’d like it to be.
One of the things that has distinguished Lowell from many other Gateway Cities in Massachusetts over the past half century is the persistence of those in government to keep trying to make things better, and if something fails, to try something else. There have always been those who raise the white flag and say, “there’s nothing we can do about this problem” but they usually remain in the minority and the city has moved forward. The short debate on this Housing First memo made it clear that that struggle continues today.
The Council passed an Erik Gitschier motion to “Look into the feasibility of demolishing the Smith Baker Center” which is probably a timely thing to do. I say that as a proponent of historic preservation, but razing the structure now is the natural and probably consequence of decisions made by the City Council a decade ago.
The building was constructed in the mid-1880s as the First Congregational Church. Although City Hall and the Library had not yet been built – they were completed in 1898 – the area was already fully built out with the lot for the church being a very un-churchlike square rather than a more traditional rectangle. Consequently, the interior of the building has a unique layout with the first floor containing a maze of rooms with ceilings of normal height and the second floor being a magnificent hall with a stage at the center and wraparound stadium-styled seats.
Throughout much of its existence, the pastor of the church was the Reverend Smith Baker who was much liked and respected in Lowell and throughout New England. Rev. Baker died in Lowell in 1917 and is buried in Lowell Cemetery.
The structure continued as a church until 1968 when the First Congregational Church merged with Christ Church United (at East Merrimack and High Street) and vacated the building across from City Hall. The City leased and eventually bought the building and used it as the city’s senior center until April 2003 when the current senior center on Broadway opened. The name “Smith Baker Center” was attached early in the city’s occupancy.
Besides serving as a senior center, the upper hall was used as a performance venue hosting such notables as John Updike, Maya Angelou, Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and others (mostly writers and poets with some musical performances).
At about the time the senior center moved from Smith Baker to Broadway, city planners identified the “creative economy” as an economic development strategy. A catalyst for this was the arrival in Lowell of hundreds of artists who were priced out of quarters in Charlestown and Somerville by soaring prices of that era’s real estate bubble. Lowell wisely altered its zoning code to permit “artist live/workspaces” and the arts community developed considerable momentum. Embracing the concept that culture can drive economic activity, City Planners and related organizations tried to build on that. The Smith Baker Center was seen as a valuable asset with potential as a smaller-sized performance venue in the 600-seat range, something the city lacked. In 2011 and again in 2015, the City issued requests for proposals that sought bids to redevelop the building as a cultural center and a performance venue.
The Coalition for a Better Acre put together a viable proposal that would leverage worldwide interest in Jack Kerouac to fund the building’s redevelopment with community spaces on the first floor and an active performance venue on the second. At the time, the state of repair of the building was such that the needed renovations were feasible and affordable, but that window was closing fast.
However, a snag arose when the city insisted on reversionary conditions in any conveyance to CBA. Here’s what that was about: Marty Meehan had recently become the Chancellor of UMass Lowell and had embarked on a building and expansion boom of the University’s footprint in the city. This involved purchasing quite a few properties from private owners and making them part of the University’s real estate portfolio. Because the Commonwealth does not pay property taxes to the city for state-owned real estate, these parcels were removed from the property tax rolls.
Ignoring all the benefits flowing to the city from having a vibrant University in its midst, reactionaries on the City Council vigorously opposed any further conversion of properties to a non-real estate tax paying status. This not only tainted the city’s relationship with the University, a situation that persists today (witness recent Council comments on the ICC’s potential use for migrant housing), it also stifled development by nonprofits like CBA.
As a result of this mindset, the city insisted that any conveyance to CBA of the Smith Baker Center contain reversionary language that if the property ever ceased being used as a performance venue, ownership would revert to the city. This provision was fatal to CBA’s funding since no lender would finance a project with such an ownership contingency. The city’s insistence on that reversionary clause killed the last hope of saving the Smith Baker Center.
Even then, the outside envelope of the building was failing. Absent immediate and costly repairs, the deterioration would accelerate to the point where there was no scenario in which it made fiscal sense to save the building. There’s a term for this: Demolition by Neglect.
So yes, the building is beyond the point of saving and should be demolished. The more important question is what should take its place. When St. Peter’s Church on Gorham Street – a victim of Demolition by Neglect by the Archdiocese of Boston – was demolished, the CBA eventually stepped in and constructed affordable housing which seems to be doing quite well. Something similar should be done with the Smith Baker lot, however, given the level of “planning” coming from this City Council, my guess is it will be made into a parking lot.
Congratulation to Lowell National Historical Park on yesterday’s grand opening of its new exhibit, “One City, Many Cultures” which is in the Mogan Cultural Center alongside Boarding House Park. Here’s the text at the entrance to the exhibit space:
Cities are cultural crossroads. We come to cities to collaborate and share, to live, to work, and sometimes to begin life again.
This place we now call Lowell has been a crossroads of this human experience for thousands of years, a place where people have brought ways of thinking, being, and living. Sometimes that process has been exciting. Sometimes it has been marked by conflict. Sometimes it has provided opportunities for change.
This exhibit explores the meeting of people and the shared experiences that create the communities that make up Lowell today.
Beginning today, the One City, Many Cultures exhibit is open daily from 11am to 4:30pm.
For those interested in Lowell history, here are some events that may be of interest:
The annual fall walking tours of Lowell Cemetery will occur next weekend. The same tour will be offered twice, once on Saturday, September 30, and again on Sunday, October 1, both at 10am from the Knapp Avenue entrance (77 Knapp Ave on your GPS). The tour takes 90 minutes and involves walking around the cemetery as I tell stories of the people buried there. There will be quite a few new stories on this year’s tour, so even if you’ve come before, please join us again.
On Sunday, October 8 at 10am, I will lead a walking tour of the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. The tour will begin at Lowell National Park Visitor Center at 246 Market Street. It will cover recent developments in the Hamilton Canal District but will emphasize the history of what was there previously. This tour is part of the Lowell City of Learning “Learning Festival ’23.”
On Friday, October 6 at 4:15pm there will be a walking tour of St. Joseph’s Cemetery at 96 Riverneck Road, Chelmsford. This tour will be led by Kurt Phaneuf, a longtime participant in the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival.
Living Madly: Goldfinches
By Emilie-Noelle Provost
Late summer has always been a relief. By this time of year, I’m sick of hot, muggy weather. I’m tired of air conditioning, and of eating salad for dinner because it’s too hot to use the stove. I long for cool breezes and early sunsets. I look forward to the first brisk morning when I’ll actually need a sweater.
Sometime in late August or early September, I can feel a change in the air. The flowers in our garden have mostly gone to seed. The nights become cooler. The sounds of the crickets chirping outside our screen porch grows louder. The tree frogs make themselves known. They’ve been there all along, but somehow, suddenly they are a presence, their delicate peeps and trills join together to form a seemingly endless chorus that stretches from tree, to tree, to tree.
We turn off our air conditioner at night and open the windows. I rarely sleep as well as I do in the later summer and early fall, snuggled beneath our comforter with fresh, cold air filling the room.
The goldfinches are a sure sign that fall is on the way. I almost always hear the birds before I see them. Their high-pitched tweets and peeps carry across the house as they perch in rows along the powerlines above our garden. One by one, they land on the dying cosmos and echinacea blooms, their tiny feet gripping the flowers’ stems as the plants sway in the wind. Sometimes the finches will stay for up to thirty minutes, pecking at the dry seeds, their yellow plumage a cheerful complement to the garden’s late season greens and browns.
I’ve seen as many as six goldfinches in our garden at once. They chirp to one another quietly as they move from flower to flower, occasionally retreating back to the powerline to rest. As long as the seeds last, they come several times a day. Sometimes they’re already in the garden when we wake up in the morning. If Rob spots the tiny birds and I’m nearby, he’ll motion for me to come to the window to see them, always careful not to make any noises that might scare them away.
In the late summer, getting things done begins to feel possible again, like someone has taken their finger off of the pause button. The stagnant days of July and early August give way to the bustle of back-to-school shoppers and the optimism that new beginnings always seem to bring. Even those of us who have been out of school for years can feel the excitement in the air. As the days get shorter and the temperatures cooler, the urge to start new projects—and finish old ones—becomes hard to resist.
Summer seemed to fly by in a flash this year. In some ways, it almost feels like it never really got started. When the weather wasn’t so hot and humid that you could barely move, it was raining, and raining. Days passed when we barely left the house except to mow the lawn, which never seemed to stop growing.
The long hot days of summer are great for some people. But for me, mid-August through the end of October is the best time of year. The lines at the ice cream stands are shorter. Fresh, local produce is inexpensive and available everywhere. I can drink hot tea at my desk again in the afternoon, and for a little longer at least, I’ll be able to wake up to the songs of goldfinches in the garden.
Emilie-Noelle Provost is the author of The River Is Everywhere, which was released on March 14, 2023, and The Blue Bottle, a middle-grade adventure with sea monsters. Learn more about Emilie and her work at emilienoelleprovost.com.
Dear Mary Lou
by David Daniel
Dear Mary Lou,
it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me & vice versa. Why I’m writing now—a total shot in the dark—today I drove across one of the bridges on the Merrimack, the big river here where I live in Lowell, Mass—one of 5 in all (bridges, not rivers), but this is the one I take to work & driving across it you feel it clatter & shake the bones. Anyways, I was reminded of another big river back . . . jeez, all those years ago, and I found your Oregon address in an old notebook, so . . . snail mail it is.
I got remembering the night we met, both new arrivals at UO, transfer students, and the dorm council advertised a “get acquainted” pub crawl (something that’d never fly these days). We were strangers from opposite coasts—you a beautiful California girl that I thought didn’t exist outside of Beach Boys songs; me a nose-in-a-book Boston guy—somehow, finding that synch right off. We ditched the pub crawl & you asked, “Wanna get loaded?” and that was the frisson (I think that’s the word). Off we wandered, strangers in a strange town, to discover Eugene on our own.
Which we did over the next days and weeks. You’d give that innocent look, “Wanna get…?” the rest unspoken. We’d toke in your dorm room and listen to records. You were always turning me on to music I’d somehow missed: Pure Prairie Leage, Commander Cody, Poco . . . your Fresno country roots showing.
In the easy groove of being friends we’d wander around the town finding stuff . . . that cozy bookstore w/ tea & comfy chairs, and Mama’s Home Fried Truck Stop, and Taylor’s on the corner of 13th & Kincaid where we’d drink dark beer and eat one of those great burgers they served. Remember the bathroom there? With the plaque: RICHARD M. NIXON Memorial Toilet? These days it’s maybe the TRUMP DUMPER.
I never saw so much rain as in Eugene, rain & mossy roofs—but soft rain, and we’d roam in it sometimes, “no particular place to go” (sez Chuck Berry), or walk “at lilac evening” (Kerouac sez in On the Road, which you knew from Fresno—old Bill Saroyan’s town—and who, BTW, was born here in Lowell, Kerouac, not Saroyan). On foot was the way to see all 3 towns.
I teased you about having thick ankles—“from taking ballet when I was little” you’d say. Then kick it right back to me—“Let’s go get some taa-cos and beeah”—yeah, like that was even close to a Boston accent. Smile.
There was that period when things were getting jangled w/ your boyfriend back in Fresno, and you said one day, in a kinda, I dunno, wistful way, “what we oughta do, let’s make a raft . . . and just float down the river, I hear Jasper is a really nice mellow town.” Crazy, I know. You mighta been reading Huckleberry Finn, (Fuckleberry Hen I think Kesey said) thinking of the Mighty Miss’sip . . . Jasper was actually upriver on the Willamette, not a direction a raft can really float . . . But when you said it we laughed
We never did, of course. Make a raft.
When I got back east, I gave up on college. Too distracting. I just wanted to paint, the way you were always wanting to work with your plants. Some of that musta rubbed off on me, BTW, because guess what? For a while I got into bottle gardens—self-contained mini-rain forests. Almaden bottles were good, soft green glass w/ fluid shapes & little loop handles; or sometimes, big chunky gallon jugs from Gallo mountain burgundy. The work was fussy—couldn’t do it right after drinking the wine—but some of those gardens lasted a long time. When my old lady & I split we agonized over who’d get the bottle gardens. I finally just said, “They’re yours.” What I didn’t know was that she also took a bunch of my favorite LPs. Say la vee. Thing about music and gardens is there’re always more. Life? Mmm—I’m not so sure.
I hear from a mutual friend that you’ve had health problems. If you get this & write back you can tell me about that if you want, but I’m not prying, because, shit, I’m not any younger, and for sure not smarter. Last winter I got Covid pretty bad. Yeah. I know. Knucklehead didn’t get the shots. But I’m mostly recovered now, just a little fog in the noggin.
I’ve got a nice apartment—3 rooms is all I need. And my kids keep in touch. I’m a manager at UPS (did I say that?) and still painting, mostly watercolors. No velvet Elvis yet—saving that for my golden years. You still gardening?
Funny what sets the mind turning, isn’t it? A bridge?! I hope they fix this one like the city’s been talking for years, I don’t feel safe going across it.
Guess I’m starting to ramble here. Anyways, like I said, crossing one river got me thinking of another river & I found your old address & I suppose what all rivers’ve got in common is flow . . . like time.
Yeah. Well … anyways. I do hope you’re well, Mary Lou. Write me if you get this. If you want.
Love & peace, etc.
Your friend, Simon
P.S. Sometimes (not gonna lie), I wonder where that raft trip might’ve led.
David Daniel’s newest book is Beach Town, a collection of stories from Loom Press (Order at www.loompress.com)