– Lowell Politics and History

Richard Howe Register of Deeds 2018

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Lowell Week in Review: July 22, 2018

Franco American School – f/n/a Ayer Mansion

Franco-American School

Just a few weeks ago, several hundred people in evening wear visited the Franco-American School at 357 Pawtucket Street for the Coalition for a Better Acre’s big annual fund raiser. They got to see the building as it was. Now, the building has been transformed into a construction site as its highly-anticipated conversion to a residence is underway.

Because of its proximity to an early bridge across the Merrimack, this parcel has always been an important place in this region. An early owner was Phineas Whiting who maintained a house and a general store on the lot. In 1859, a descendant of Whiting sold the lot to Frederick Ayer for $9,000. By 1876, Ayer had replaced the original wood frame Whiting home with the ornate three-story brick mansion which still stands along Pawtucket Street.

In 1899, Frederick Ayer and his family moved to Boston and the Ayer Mansion in Lowell sat vacant until July 15, 1908, when Ayer conveyed the property for $1 to members of Lowell’s St. Jean Baptiste Parish. These parishioners then formed a corporation called L’Orphelinat Franco-Americain and operated an orphanage on the site. In 1912, a four-story brick wing was added to the back of the home.

In 1964, the corporation’s articles of organization were amended, changing the corporate name to Franco American School of Lowell Inc. which operated until June 2016. In 2017, the corporation sold the property to a limited liability corporation called Franco American Holdings which involves TMI Property Management and Coalition for a Better Acre.

4-story school addition

The work now underway will convert the front part of the property – the Ayer Mansion – to 20,000 square feet of professional office space and the rear portion of the property – the four story addition from 1912 – into 53 residential units including five newly constructed rooftop units.

The Grotto

As a condition of the sale, the new owner agreed to preserve and improve the Grotto and the Stations of the Cross that have long been located on the rear portion of the property. These will be reoriented towards the Northern Canal which forms the rear boundary of the property. The sketch below is from a plan submitted by the LLC to the Lowell Conservation Commission. It shows some of the details of the renovated Grotto and the new location for the Stations of the Cross (small boxes with an “x” inside each).

The building renovation and the restoration of the Grotto are both great projects. I’m hopeful that the Grotto portion will be a catalyst for a revival of the Northern Canal Walkway which was once one of Lowell’s most popular “promenades” and could return to that status because of this project.

Friends of Tyler Park

Congratulations to the Friends of Tyler Park for presenting an outstanding outdoor entertainment event on Thursday night. With music by the very popular band, Take Two, free hot dogs and snacks, and face painting for the kids, plus the beautiful weather that night, this free concert drew hundreds of people to this Olmstead-designed park on outer Westford Street. While there were plenty of neighborhood residents in attendance, it seemed that just as many of the spectators were from other neighborhoods in Lowell and from surrounding towns.

The next Tyler Park concert is August 16 at 6pm and the Friends of Tyler Park will have their annual spaghetti supper fund raiser on Wednesday, October 17 at 6pm Mt. Pleasant Golf Club, 141 Staples Street. More information is available on the group’s Facebook page.

Since I live just a short distance from Tyler Park, I attend most of these concerts anyway, but Thursday I did double duty as a candidate for office, asking everyone I met for their support in my re-election campaign for register of deeds. Other candidates I encountered there that night were Lori Trahan (Congress) and Ed Kennedy (State Senate).

Greater Lowell Technical High School

Another candidate at Tyler Park was Fred Bahou, who is running for reelection to the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee. This is an historic year for that body because it is the first time its committee members will be elected under a new system that resulted from a challenge to the Constitutionality of the former method of electing its School Committee members.

From its inception, the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee had eight members: four from Lowell; two from Dracut; and one each from Tyngsborough and Dunstable. Candidates ran in their own local municipal election, unrelated to the election of committee members from other communities. So Lowell representatives were elected in the Lowell city election and Dracut representatives were elected in the Dracut town election, and so on.

The Constitutional challenge alleged that this system violated the one-person one-vote principal. For instance, with a population of 110,000, each of the four Lowell committee members represented 27,500 people, while the sole Dunstable member represented just 3,400 people which gave the vote of each person in Dunstable disproportionate weight.

Under this new system, candidates for Technical School Committee will appear on the state election ballot along with governor, US Senator, state senator, register of deeds, and all the other state offices. On this same ballot in the city of Lowell and the towns of Dracut, Dunstable and Tyngsborough, the office of Technical School Committee will also appear. All of the candidates for the committee, regardless of their community of residence, will appear on this ballot in all of the communities in the district. That means voters of Lowell will be able to vote for candidates from Dracut, Dunstable and Tyngsborough and voters in those towns will be able to vote for candidates who live in Lowell.

However, to prevent Lowell’s much larger population of voters skewing the result entirely in favor of Lowell candidates, the election winners will be determined by a combination of the number of votes they receive and the town in which they reside. To illustrate, assume there will be two Lowell seats and one Dracut seat to be filled in this year’s election. Assume further there are six candidates: four from Lowell and two from Dracut. Their hypothetical order of finish in terms of total votes is as follows:

  • Lowell candidate #1 – 10,000 votes
  • Lowell candidate #2 – 9,500 votes
  • Lowell candidate #3 – 9,250 votes
  • Dracut candidate #1 – 9,000 votes
  • Lowell candidate #4 – 8,500 votes
  • Dracut candidate #2 – 8,000 votes

With these results, the winners would be Lowell candidate #1; Lowell candidate #2; and Dracut candidate #1. Even though Lowell candidate #3 received more votes than Dracut candidate #1, Dracut candidate #1 would win the “Dracut” seat.

At least I think that’s how it is going to work. Hopefully we’ll learn more about this process prior to November 6, 2018. But for those interested in local election procedures, this is a very interesting development.

Charlie Gargiulo and his family was forced from their Austin St home by Urban Renewal.

Lowell Walks: Moody Street

Thanks to the 85 people who joined us for yesterday’s Lowell Walk. The topic was Moody Street and the tour was led by me, Craig Thomas of Coalition for a Better Acre, and Charlie Gargiulo, one of the founders of the Coalition for a Better Acre.

During the tour we talked about:

  • Paul Moody
  • How the construction of the JFK Civic Center and its plaza next to City Hall in 1966 blocked off that end of Moody Street
  • The Moody Street feeder, an underground canal that runs 1500 feet underneath Moody Street and City Hall plaza, connecting the Western Canal with the Merrimack Canal at Lucy Larcom Park
  • The theaters, clubs and cafes in the area, one of which hosted Billie Holiday’s final performance
  • The history of the Northern Canal Apartments
  • Future plans for Smith Baker Center and the Ayer Mansion by Coalition for a Better.

Next week is the Lowell Folk Festival, so no walk that weekend and we’ll also take the following Saturday (August 4, 2018) off. Our walks will resume on Saturday, August 11, 2018, at 10am with a walk featuring downtown art galleries.

Richard Howe for Register of Deeds

This week I posted a new video on the Declaration of Homestead on my Facebook page. Please watch the video and, if you haven’t already done so, “like” the page on Facebook.

Thanks to everyone who has signed up to support my campaign, especially those of you who have requested a lawn sign. Name recognition and visibility will be very important in this race, so lawn signs will be a big help. If you would like one for your yard or would like to help my campaign in other ways, just signup online.

Elizabeth Warren: tribune for the downtrodden or capitalist to the bones? by Marjorie Arons-Barron

“I’m a capitalist to my bones,” Senator Elizabeth Warren this week told a New England Council audience of business leaders, adding, “We have to make markets strong so everyone can do better.”

Addressing an arcane and often dry subject, she made an impassioned pitch that good bankruptcy laws are essential to well-functioning markets. She was intent on showing she could meet the needs of big business as well as those of what she usually describes as the “hammered” middle class.

Did she pull it off?  That depends on which constituency you identify with. One banking lobbyist told me, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good political rant.” He particularly noted the absence from her speech of any mention of the vast regulatory changes imposed on banks by the Dodd-Frank law.  Still,  the general thrust of her presentation was most compelling.

Warren is one of the nation’s leading experts on bankruptcy law, and stressed that bankruptcy has far-reaching implications even if it isn’t your own business that’s going under.  All markets have winners and losers, and bankruptcy law is about protecting losers.  She opposes bailouts, especially those with no strings attached.  A lot of big banks, she said, believe in free markets – but not for themselves.

The goal should be preserving  money to protect creditors, resolving disputes affecting all constituencies at the same time. That means owners, investors, creditors, employees, pensioners,  buyers, sellers. Division of assets should be as fair as possible. Those who take the risks and reap the benefits of success should also pay the price of failure. And,  finally, Warren wants an end to gaming the system by forum shopping, seeking judges in Delaware and the Southern District of New York. To that end, Warren is joining forces with former Enron-scarred Texas General and now Republican Senator John Cornyn to require such cases to be heard by the closest jurisdiction.

On a range of related issues, Warren has stood up to the banks, credit card companies, and student loan companies, the big guys with armies of lawyers and lobbyists. Warren’s expertise in financial areas combined with her passion for the underdog makes her a considerable force, which is why the Republicans love to use a caricature of her to spur donations to the GOP.  Donald Trump loves to beat up on her, calling her goofy and deriding her claim to Native American ancestry from her Oklahoma family.  While she rests in the Bernie Sanders wing of the party and has passionate enthusiasts who hope she’ll run for President in 2020, it’s hard to see at this time how this former Harvard professor from the 02138 zip code could garner wide support in the red state swath of the heartland, which tends to vote against their own economic interests.

Then again, I’ve been wrong before, and Warren would certainly bring vigorous and informed debate to a presidential race… if  the electorate had an appetite for substance over slogans.

Lowell Round-Up: July 20, 2018

Mimi Parseghian reviews this week in Lowell politics:

Lowell Round-Up: July 20, 2018

By Mimi Parseghian

Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting resulted in the Lowell School Superintendent, Salah Khelfaoui, being put on administrative leave. That action was a result of three motions co-introduced by School Committee members Jackie Doherty and Connie Martin:

  • For good cause, request the Mayor and the City Solicitor prepare a Notice of Termination pursuant to Section 5 of the employment contract between the Superintendent of Schools (Salah Khelfaoui) and the Lowell School Committee. The Notice shall be reviewed and approved by the Committee prior to service upon the Superintendent.
  • Effective immediately, place the Superintendent on paid administrative leave.
  • Effective immediately, appoint Jeannine Durkin as Acting Superintendent of Lowell Schools.

The motions all passed on 4-3 votes.  Voting in favor of the motion were Mayor Bill Samaras (Chairman of the School Committee); School Committee members Jackie Doherty, Connie Martin and Gerry Nutter.  In opposition were School Committee members Bob Hoey, Andy Descoteaux and Dominik Lay.

Prior to the discussion and vote, members of the public who had registered in advance had an opportunity to address the School Committee.  All the speakers were against these motions and firm supporters of the Superintendent.  There were many eloquent and passionate speakers who not only expressed their support but had strong criticism for the School Committee’s actions.  The speakers were mostly concerned parents, teachers or educational professionals.

Also addressing the meeting were Paul Georges, the long-time President of the United Teachers of Lowell (American Federation of Teachers) and an Attorney from the Massachusetts Association for School Superintendents.  The former discussed the collaborative efforts between the union and the Superintendent and the latter mentioned that if these motions go forward, questions will be posed in another setting.

Unfortunately, a lot of us, including me, do not closely follow the goings on with the School Committee.  Besides, School Committee member Gerry Nutter’s lengthy and detailed list of what he perceived to be unacceptable financial practices, I really did not get a full understanding of why at this time, these actions were being taken.

The public dismissal of any individual is painful to watch.  Could it have been done differently?  After the vote to put him on administrative leave, Superintendent Khelfaoui picked up his papers, shook the hands of his staff that was sitting next to him, proceeded to shake the hands of the three School Committee supporters and was followed out to the sounds of applause from his supporters who had filled the galleries.

The next step is for the City lawyers to draft the notice of termination with cause.  That will be voted on by the School Committee at a later meeting.

One of the major themes mentioned on Wednesday night was the habit that Lowell has fallen into of having their school superintendent leave under acrimonious situations.  We were reminded that for the past 10 years, we have had 4 school superintendents.

Furthermore, late July is not a good time to search for a new superintendent.  Also, will our recent history make it difficult to attract quality candidates?

When former Superintendent Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr (2000-2008) left, the Sun covered her farewell reception.  Her are a couple of sentences from that article:

“Baehr admitted that Lowell can be a tough place between the politics and the challenges presented by the media, but a place she enjoyed thoroughly.

‘There are politics everywhere, Lowell just enjoys it more than most places,’ she said.”

You can catch replays of the meeting on your local access television station, Channel 99 or stream it on the Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) webpage.


Thursday’s New York Times published an op-ed piece by author Ben Yagoda regarding “whataboutism.”  We may not be familiar with the use of the term but we all know quite well what it means.  Let’s say, you are involved in a discussion and you make a point about a public figure’s actions.  The person who is arguing with you then says, “what about so and so,” usually referring to someone whom you support.

The author points out that the word is now in the Oxford English Dictionary.  Here is the definition: “The technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”

You cannot have a decent conversation, especially on social media without someone employing this tactic. It makes for a terrible exchange of ideas and creates more divisiveness.


Lowell is lucky to have quite a few professional and amateur photographers who post outstanding images of the City. One of my favorites is Somewhere in Lowell. If you do not already follow that site on Facebook, I would strongly suggest you check it out.  The pictures are of Lowell but they represent the daily ebb and flow that only residents would recognize and appreciate.

Howe Blog and Globe on the Mungo Wavelength

Not exactly a scoop, but a funny coincidence at least. Surprise of the day: on the Boston Globe posted a preview of this coming Sunday’s Globe Magazine photo-essay and article by Peter Simon about two communes in Vermont that rose up in the late 1960s and lasted about two years. One of the communes is Total Loss Farm, the subject of my Howe blog post (see below) about writer Raymond Mungo’s stopover in Lowell in 1969 on his recreation of Thoreau’s weeklong river trip up the Concord and Merrimack. Mungo was a founder of one of the communes. Here’s the link to the well-illustrated Simon piece in the Globe.

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