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The Insulation of Ordinariness

After reading today’s New York Times article about Ohio supporters of President Trump who are staying the course with him despite all the chaos associated with his presidency, I’m re-posting my thoughts about his victory that appeared on this blog on Nov. 16, 2016.

It would be a mistake for me to claim that he can’t win another term. He has triggered something in tens of millions of people (more than 60 million voted for him) that is emotionally loaded and not going away. But he’s also got a coating of familiarity that cannot be overlooked. He likes glitzy hotels, fast food, beauty pageants, TV wrestling, casinos, Twitter, and junk news. He’s not pretending in this. He really likes all those things. He hasn’t had one “arts” evening at the White House even though Kanye and Kid Rock have visited. And he swaggers. Some of us may think he’s a fool, but he’s got amazing stamina in his current role. Has he been sick one day since taking office? Right now, he’s running the House Democrats around in circles, insulting them once an hour as they chase him with a butterfly net.

The Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who don’t want to see him repeat in 2020 better speak up, organize, and write checks for the cause. The media and polls may be as wrong this time as most of them were in 2016. The 2018 U.S. House results were encouraging, but not the U.S. Senate results. Don’t bet your own house on Trump losing.–PM


(Nov. 16, 2016)

In company with our readers, I have been thinking about the election results and reading articles left-right-and-center for a week. How did Donald Trump manage one of the epic upsets in American political history? Why did so many people who analyze government and politics for a living miss what was going to happen?

I get the appeal of his blunt talk about making America a “winner” again, in economic and military power. I get the effectiveness of pinning the blame on certain groups of people for the troubles on Main Street in Middle America. Aside from that, however, Trump benefited, in my view, from his massive exposure as a TV personality, a TV character, really, which I believe provided a kind of insulation of ordinariness. In other words, the obnoxious uncle who comes to Thanksgiving dinner and says gross things and acts weird may get excused as “That’s just uncle Sherman” because he is so familiar and is known for saying and doing thousands of things over the years, many of them not so bad. The out-of-bounds behavior is diluted in all the other stuff that has been seen and heard by people who know him. Years of weekly TV exposure made Trump, for some people, a person/character whom they could relate to in an almost non-judgmental way, a family way. He just “was” or “is.” My family regularly watched his show “The Apprentice” because my son liked it when he was about 12 years old. Around our house somewhere is a Donald Trump action figure in a suit. When the string in the figure’s back is pulled, you hear “You’re fired!”

Has Trump done something to change the campaign paradigm with his success or was he simply a “perfect storm” candidate who was the right person for this combustible moment competing against an opponent with lots of baggage? Will he be the start of more celebrity politicians with 100 percent name recognition going in to a contest? There are precedents such as Reagan, Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Al Franken, and even General Eisenhower in the 1950s, all outsiders in their own way coming in to the political sector from the entertainment world or for “Ike” the military. Trump’s Republican opponents were relative nobodies compared to his celebrity status. Jeb Bush is a Bush, but who really knew much about him?

I can’t prove this, but my hunch is that his ultra-familiar presence is the reason he was excused for statements and actions that would have finished a conventional candidate. Trashing a P.O.W? Disrespecting a Gold Star family? Refusing to release tax returns? Bragging about sexual assault? Somewhere I read that his followers “took him seriously but not literally” while his foes took him literally but not seriously. That may be too glib a way of describing what happened, but there’s a kernel of truth in it. Otherwise, how did he get a pass from so many people? It’s too broad to say they were all “deplorable.” I know some good folks who chose him because he held out the possibility of blowing up the hardened political spoils system. And some people just felt, “Let it fly,” I’m sick of the whole thing in Washington, D.C. And for most of them the other choice was a non-starter. Not everyone spends a lot of time thinking about politics. But most people know they can vote, take action, and maybe make a difference once in a while. Tens of millions of people are happy about the outcome. There is something to be learned here.

At the start of his administration, however, it does not look like he is going to “drain the swamp” of influence peddlers and cash-distributors and will instead blow up social and environmental programs with the assistance of the Republican-controlled Congress.

City Council Preview – May 21, 2019

This week’s City Council  agenda begins with the continue discussion and public hearing on the establishment of an ordinance creating a “Monument Committee.”  It ends with another Executive Session.

“The Monument Committee shall establish policies governing the naming or dedication of public spaces, whether they be inside public buildings or on public grounds.  The policy would include a standard application process; naming or dedication criteria; design guidelines; insurance and maintenance requirements; renaming or rededication requests; and associated fees.”

It is not clear to me if the City Council makes the final decision.  The proposed ordinance does state that if the “naming or dedication relate to park land, the Monument Committee shall make recommendations to the Board of Parks.”  That statement implies that if it does not relate to park lands, the recommendation will be made to another entity.

MOTION RESPONSES                                                                                      

Tree Planting Schedule: Motion (3/26/19) by Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager provide City Council with citywide spring tree planting schedule.”  The response was submitted by Diane N. Tradd, Assistant City Manager/DPD Director and Shannon Cohan, Superintendent of Parks. The DPD provided an explanation of the tree maintenance procedure and that “The Parks Department currently has plans to plant 17 trees in the next several weeks, many of these tree planting locations were determined in coordination with the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust.”

85 Eleventh St: Motion (5/16/2019) by Councilor Rita Mercier “Request City Manager have Development Services address neighborhood concerns at 85 Eleventh St. such as boarding house, occupants and status and give a full report to the City Council.  The response was submitted R. Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services.  The property was inspected by the Local Inspector, the Board Enforcement Agent, and the Building Commissioner.  The landlord was notified that “the letting of rooms is not permissible in a single family home to no more than 3 unrelated parties. There are to be no locking devices on the interior rooms. Secondly, permits are to be obtained immediately for all unpermitted work in the structure.”  The occupancy number and situation will be changed and the Inspection Department will monitor.

Edge Private Dorm: Motion (5/1/2019) by Councilor Rodney Elliott “Request City Manager provide a report regarding zoning requirements and police activity at the “Edge” Apartment Complex. The response was submitted by R. Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services and Kelly Richardson, Superintendent of Police.  The 9-page report details the zoning conditions under which the facility was allowed to be built and operate.  It provides the number and type of residents as well as the number and types of calls made to the police.  The Council will need to decide what to do with this extensive information.

First St Corridor Illegal Dumping: Motion (5/7/2019) by Councilor Rita Mercier “Request City Manager have proper department install a sign at the First Street side of hill area under surveillance and install cameras to identify and fine people who are dumping trash there.” Update Motion by Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request the City Manager have the proper department contact Mass Department of Transportation to request the State’s Inmate Labor Program come to Lowell and remove litter along our state-owned roads.” As part of their 2-page response, MassDEP, with their expertise and access to new and better technology, will be initiating a higher level of surveillance of the sites along First Street. We will be continuing this surveillance with MassDEP through the spring, and will keep the City Council updated on the progress of this enforcement.”

Pest Control: Motion by Councilor John Leahy “Request City Manager provide update regarding pest control in the Lowell Public Schools.” The response was provided by Rick Underwood, Director of Operations and Maintenance for the Lowell Public Schools.  Mr. Underwood’s memo is pretty straight forward and he has to be complimented for his directness.  A lot of the problems stem from food storage and areas of food consumption.

Vaping: Motion (5/15/2019) by Councilor Rodney Elliot “Request City Manager/Health Director report on e-cigarettes/vaping regulations and outreach programs to inform public of health risks.” Kerran Vigroux, Director of Health & Human Services provided the information provided in the public education campaign.



Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) : Christine McCall, Senior Planner Yovani Baez-Rose, Design Planner submitted an update on the Open Space Plan on behalf of the Department of Planning and Development. “This plan is a comprehensive update to the 2013 Lowell Open Space and Recreation Plan and has been developed in response to changing needs of the public as expressed during an extensive community outreach process… For final approval of our OSRP, we are required to receive letters of review and approval from City Council, Planning Board, and Northern Middlesex council of Governments (NMCOG). Final approval of our Open Space and Recreation Plan, 2019-2025 will allow us to participate in DCS grant rounds and receive final grant payment.

The second item on the Informational portion of the agenda is a updated Presentation on Lord Overpass reconfiguration.



Authorize City Manager Execute Lease Agreement with Nicholas Sarris as trustee of One Hundred Seven Merrimack Street Realty Trust for 107 Merrimack Street — Career Center.

Authorize City Manager Execute License Agreement with Lupoli Companies, LLC for overhanging signs and lights at 165 Thorndike Street at Thorndike Exchange.

Transfer 175,000, Police Department to purchase two cars and to cover the purchase of fuel for the remainder of FY19.

Transfer 890,000, Law to cover costs associated with Workers Compensation and 111F of the City.


Councilor Rodney Elliott “Request City Manager explore possibility of establishing a resource recovery station for bulk items now being disposed illegally.”

Councilor Vesna Nuon “Request City Manager report on Capital Plan regarding a new fire truck at the Stevens Street Fire Station.”

Councilor Vesna Nuon “Request City Manager Review inspection and enforcement procedures within development services to determine if better efficiency can be achieved through transfer of data via tablets or other electronic means with the aim of improving turnaround time without adding personnel.”

Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager add Ames St. And Mill St. in the Back Central Neighborhood to the Paving List.”

Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager add Western Avenue in The Acre/Highlands to the Paving List.”

Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager have the Proper Department add a “Slow-Children at Play” sign on Mt. Washington Street 0ff Pawtucket Street.”

Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager have the Proper Department look into making the vacant lot at the corner of Merrill Street and Rogers Street into a Car Condo.

Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager have the Proper Department look into making the vacant lot on Elm Street into Neighborhood Parking.

Councilor John Leahy “Request City Manager have the Proper Department provide a report to City Council regarding traffic plan surrounding construction projects in the City over the next five years.


“Revenge or Really?” a poem by Tooch Van

Tooch Van, a friend and a member of Lowell’s Cambodian-American community, shared the following poem:

When Khmer Rouge Soldiers did not kill me was
a mistake of their mission that night, this what I believe of it.
I am in debt to my parents/ family and other Cambodians and their families who died in the genocide.

The responsibility of sharing,
my family story and what happened in the Killing Field is the obligation of mine
Even though, struggles and challenges every time I share it, but I still shall continue sharing it until my last breath.

My own Children: Winston & Franklin and younger generations like you and your children and grandchildren deserve to know & to learn
what happened in the Killing Field (Cambodian Genocide) is not only from the written materials or prints but also from a power of sharing through weaving words into a form of story of telling.

Today my true aim is not to get you to lament of me and my family or their Cambodians family stories of those who died, but to get you to learn about how the genocide impacts
the lives of real people/survivors lives like ME!

In hoping that you pick up the torch of responsibility and courage
To continue passing on to others through a power of sharing:  either through poems, films, books, songs or short stories,
in order to prevent the genocide from happening again.

And in hoping you enrich yourself with
your personal integrity, morality, critical thinking, as well as a compassion for others, every time you make a decision.

If you do that, you will be the one who is the source of inspiration and hope, you are  the one who will do your part of sharing social responsibility, and you will be the one who will make a difference in our community.

City Council Preview May 14, 2019

For the third week in a row and for the ninth time this year, the City Council agenda will end with an Executive Session to discuss the election lawsuit.

The first item to be presented and discussed are FY 2018 Audited Financial Statements; FY2018 Management Letter from the auditors Powers and Sullivan; and  FY12018 SEFA (Reports on Federal Award Program.

The management letter points out one material weakness, one that is already being addressed: the deficiencies in the internal control of the School Department. There are a number of recommendations as well as an update on the status of last year’s recommendation, some of which have been addressed and others that were incomplete.


Amend Ordinance, Chapter 9 Boards, Commissions, and Committees by Establishing a Monument Committee.

Amend Ordinance; Create One New Full-Time Grant Funded Position in the Career Center, Project Manager and Establish Salary.


Bucks Bar Crosswalk Motion (4/23/19) by Councilor Rita Mercier “Request the City Manager have the proper Department put a crosswalk across Chelmsford Street to Buck’s Bar at 165 Chelmsford Street.  The response explains the Traffic Engineer’s decision that she “does not recommend installing a mid-block crosswalk at this location, without performing a speed and traffic study to determine if this would be a safe location to cross Chelmsford Street.”

Neighborhood Impact Team Motion by Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager re-establish the collection of city officials who meet with Neighborhood Groups to tour neighborhoods to identify areas that need restoration in order to revive the integrity and vitality of the area.”

The Neighborhood Groups have been notified and the schedule has been set: May 18, Centralville – Bridge St. Area; June 1, Back Central; June 15, Acre – Fletcher St and Broadway; June 29, Highlands – Cupples Square.


Tobias Marx, Parking Director, wrote that the City has received Pre-Approval from National Grid for install Massachusetts Electrical Vehicle Charging Stations. The five locations: City Hall; Leo Roy Garage, George A. Ayotte Garage and Lower Locks Garage. The City is now coordinating to complete the installation by May 31 to be able to receive the full rebate.

Conor Baldwin, Chief Financial Officer, provides a 7-page memo, the response letter from the City’s Finance Department to the outside auditors’ reports.


Three of the four votes are funds transfers that usually begin to occur this time of the year and the fourth is a request “to apply for, accept and expend Funds in the form of a Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP) under the Sustainable Materials Recovery Program (SMRP) for use in the City of Lowell Recycling Program administered through the Department of Public Works.



Councilor Rita Mercier “Request to authorize City Manager hire an expert in construction and procurement methods, including construction industry labor relations, to conduct and submit to the Council a Comparative Study Analyzing the lawfulness, usefulness and propriety of utilizing a Project Labor Agreement in connection with the Lowell High School Project in order that it be accomplished on budget, on schedule, and with reduced operation and maintenance costs; study should evaluate the adoption of a Project Labor Agreement , to the extent it might satisfy the underlying goals of the Massachusetts Public Bidding Law (Ch. 149, Sect. 44A-44H).

Councilor Rodney Elliott/Councilor David Conway “Request City Council Discuss Project Labor Agreement to ensure local trades are hired for Lowell High School Construction Project.

Councilor Jim Milinazzo “Request City Manager prepare a report on the status of the bridge reconstruction project on Newhall Street which spans the River Meadow Brook.

Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager have the proper Department install a “15 Minute Parking” Sign at 262 Middlesex Street.

Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager have the proper Department replace the, “No Left Turn ” Sign for Elm Street in front of the X-Tra Mart Gas Station on Gorham Street.

Councilor Karen Cirillo “Request City Manager have the proper Department work with the theater and arts community to have a Lowell “Letter Reading” Event.

Councilor Vesna Nuon “Request Mayor present Citations to 2019 Teacher and Paraprofessional of the Year at selected Council Meeting.

Councilor John Leahy “Request City Manager provide an update regarding program for Police Details to be filled by LPD Retirees.


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