“Social Service Agencies Are Destroying the City” – Councilor Corey Belanger
A letter to the editor printed in the Sun on Wednesday caught my attention. It was from Stephen Swindells and it criticized Councilor Belanger for blaming social service agencies for violent crime in Lowell. Here is some of what Mr. Swindells wrote:
But what scares me even more than the shootings are City Councilor Belanger’s comments. This fear is what really prompted my response to the article: “Social service agencies are really destroying the city.” Really? Mr. Belanger really owes the social-service community an apology for blaming his ignorance on agencies and the people who work in them for the woes of the city. It was a cheap shot with no basis for this reasoning. . . . Belanger would like to gather up all the homeless and drug and alcohol affected along with these agencies that offer support, put them on a boat, send it to the middle of the ocean and sink it. Oh, but then who would he have to blame the woes of the city on?
I had to play a bit of catch-up to find the original comments that had prompted this letter. Assuming it was something said at the September 9, 2014 city council meeting which, because it fell on the night of the primary election, I was unable to watch. I scanned through the replay and found no such comments.
Then I discovered that Belanger’s remarks were made to a Lowell Sun reporter in a story that appeared in the September 10, 2014 edition. Written by Hiroko Sato (“Man shot in Lowell; officials ‘fed up’”), the article did a number of things. It reported on a man being shot outside of City Hall very early in the morning on Tuesday (September 9). Then it covered some of the discussion from that Tuesday night’s city council meeting on Council Dan Rourke’s motion to purchase the ShotSpotter gunfire locator system by using state and federal grants. Then the article had comments from Mayor Rodney Elliott and Councilors Rita Mercier and Corey Belanger about the Tuesday morning shooting. Here are some of the quotes the article attributes to Belanger including his comment at the end that “social-service agencies are really destroying the city”:
Belanger is worried Lowell could become as crime-infested as some other cities without quick action, prompting residents to move elsewhere as has happened in the past. “Before there is another mass exodus, we have to curtail this in a real hurry,” Belanger said. . . . Belanger said the high concentration of social-service agencies in Lowell, including homeless shelters and drug-rehabilitation facilities, help attract criminals. Although he believes those agencies are important, surrounding smaller communities should also host some of those facilities to share in the burden, Belanger said. “We are tired of being 100 percent of the solution. Social-service agencies are really destroying the city,” Belanger said.
When the editor of the Lowell Sun last week attacked historic preservation in Lowell (see below), the historic preservation community immediately mobilized and fired back, both with a public response from Fred Faust and a lot of behind the scenes expressions of outrage. I haven’t detected any similar response from the social services community to these comments. Aside from Mr. Swindells letter, there seems to be silence. Maybe there’s a hope that Councilor Belanger will move on to another target next month. For example, back in July his diagnosis of the city’s problems was non-English speaking children coming into the Lowell Public Schools. I transcribed his remarks in full back then but here’s the gist of what he said:
But we got a problem that’s serious and it’s going to get far worse, of refugees, undocumented or illegal aliens, which ever term you choose to use, are pegged for Lowell. We are on that list. Many of which are unskilled and uneducated. And they’re on their way. . . So, I think we need to get on this problem sooner rather than later. It’s going to get very, very serious. Where our schools are going to be bursting from the seams. There’s going to be a middle school congestion to say the least in the next two to three years as we were briefed by the superintendent. So we do need to keep a tab on the situation. I’m sorry. I hope I don’t come off to be offensive. But I’m merely standing up for the taxpayer’s of Lowell that these children it costs money to educate them and it should not be on the backs of the Lowell taxpayers.
Lowell Sun’s Attack on Historic Preservation
Thursday I took the train into Boston for a meeting and when I disembarked back in Lowell late in the afternoon I could see that the formerly massive Hood Smokestack had been greatly reduced in size. When it was shattered by a bolt of lightning earlier this month, the tall smokestack’s fate was sealed. That didn’t prevent Lowell Sun’s Jim Campanini launching an attack on historic preservation in an op-ed piece in last Sunday’s newspaper. Many of those supportive of historic preservation made known their displeasure with the column. These included Fred Faust, the former Director of the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, who called the Sun piece “vindictive and unbalanced” in a response he left on this website. Today’s Sun carries a letter to the editor from Lawrence Curtis, the president of WinnDevelopment which has done more than $100 million in projects in Lowell including the Boott Mills, Loft 27, Counting House Lofts, and others. Calling Lowell “the national model for preservation and economic development” and “the envy of other Gateway Cities”, Mr Winn concludes by asking:
Does [Campanini] really believe that a “no rules” approval system would have resulted in what Lowell has become today? Just last year, The Sun did a fabulous centerpiece on the four million or so feet of historic mills redeveloped in this city. The Sun should celebrate this economic-development success, not attack those who helped make it happen.
Back in the early 1990s, I served on the Lowell Historic Board for a number of years. There was always friction between developers who wanted to minimize their costs and preservationists who were strict constructionists when it came to design decisions. The Historic Board with its varied makeup seemed to strike a pretty good balance between the competing interests, but often the board’s decisions were delegated down to the administrative level so the details could be ironed out. My experience was that this is where much of the friction occurred. While the “ironing out the details” piece might be in need of some tweaking, the wholesale assault on historic preservation is off base. The attack is typical of many in contemporary America – getting something for nothing. When a government program benefits you, it’s a wise expenditure; when it inconveniences you, it’s socialism. The Federal government has invested millions of dollars in downtown Lowell in exchange for the city’s acceptance of historic preservation guidelines. I don’t remember anyone – building owners, businessmen, politicians, or newspaper editors – turning down a penny of that money. We all took the dough, we all knew the commitment, but there’s always someone willing to conveniently forget such a promise, especially when money is involved.
Gerry Nutter on Hamilton Canal District
Councilor Belanger has been a frequent critic of the pace of Trinity Financial, the developer of the Hamilton Canal District, for not moving fast enough with the project. Gerry Nutter addressed Councilor Belanger’s complaints in a blog post earlier this week, writing
To publicly accuse Trinity Financial of not working with a private business who wants Trinity to take a loss, wants the State and UMASS Lowell to change their plans after the State invested in this building and site (and from what I hear, this particular business has been dragging their feet on moving for over a year) is another case of an inexperienced Councilor shooting off his mouth before getting all the facts or purposely ignoring the facts for political gain.
Then Gerry got a response to a query he sent to Trinity Financial. Here’s part of it
This [criticism] comes as a surprise to us. Our company is extremely proud of the work we have accomplished in Lowell to date and the support we have received from the community. We are currently working on a number of things to move the project forward, some of which are known and others which we cannot currently disclose.
Some great news emerged today in a Sun story by business editor Dan O’Brien who reports that the logjam that has characterized the acquisition of the National Park Service’s Dutton Street parking lot may have finally broken loose. O’Brien does a good job of charting the complexity of this part of the project. If you read the article, you have a better understanding of why the process has taken as long as it has.
I wish the Hamilton Canal project was further along but I’m pleased with the progress that’s been made to date in light of the significant obstacles that have confronted the development. First, we had the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression yet the project kept moving forward, probably with more development there than in any similar sized city in the Commonwealth. The Appleton apartment complex is a beautiful building that’s been in place for several years. Lowell Community Health Center occupies a large space. On the last day of 2013, a developer of the Hamilton Mills put in place $39 million in financing and commenced renovations immediately. Just turn onto Jackson Street to see all that’s going on.
Some of the pieces aren’t within the developer’s control. The cornerstone of the development, the state’s new judicial center, has yet to break ground although the $272 million in funding is supposedly in place and the plans for the building are nearly complete (I’ve seen them – it will be an impressive structure). My understanding is that the biggest obstacle has been this National Park Service land swap (Congress has made it very difficult for the National Park Service to give away its land for private development – that’s not an unreasonable stand if you consider places like Yosemite and Yellowstone) so with that seemingly resolved, the pace of the process should quicken.
18th Middlesex Update
Early Monday morning I spent an hour with Fred Bahou on the City Life show on Lowell Cable TV (along with co-hosts John McDonough and George Anthes and co-guest, Marie Sweeney). Fred is the unenrolled candidate for the 18th Middlesex State Representative District. He will face Rady Mom, the Democratic nominee in the November 4, 2014 election.
Fred has owned and operated the Windsor Shoppe, a neighborhood variety store at the corner of Westford and Windsor Streets in the upper Highlands for as long as I remember. His store is a popular stopping place for people throughout the neighborhood in search of coffee, lottery tickets and other things. As a successful retailer, Fred is amiable and can carry a conversation on any topic. As a veteran of the Greater Lowell Vocational School Committee, he’s very knowledgeable of education issues and funding. He would be a formidable opponent for whoever had won the Democratic Primary.
Coincidentally, I had spent Sunday morning with Rady Mom at the Tewksbury Democratic Town Committee Unity Breakfast at the Tewksbury Country Club. The event was very well attended with a high level of enthusiasm. Democratic activists from Tewksbury, Wilmington, Billerica and Andover heard from Democratic nominees Steve Kerrigan (Lt. Gov); Deb Goldberg (Treasurer); Seth Moulten (6th Congressional District); Barbara L’Italien (seeking state senate seat now held by Barry Finegold); Jim Miceli (seeking reelection as state rep); and Marian Ryan (unopposed in general election for DA). Niki Tsongas, who was escorting Kerrigan and Goldberg around the Merrimack Valley also spoke as did Rady Mom. He was very well received by the crowd and should gain some grass roots volunteers from the crowd.
Grass roots volunteers I believe are key to Rady Mom winning the 18th Middlesex Rep seat. With limited time and opportunities for the two candidates to meet and persuade voters, the key to victory for Mom, at least, will be to identify his voters and to get them to the polls on Election Day. If he does that, he wins. The numbers are in his favor. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign organization did that city wide in 2012 and she beat Scott Brown by 17% in Lowell. It’s not an easy task, however, so there’s no telling who will win this race.
Salute to Women and the Media in Lowell
On Tuesday I attended the “Salute to Women” at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center because co-blogger Marie Sweeney was one of the honorees. One of the highlights of the event was getting a chance to speak with Latoyia Edwards, the evening news anchor at New England Cable News who was another of the honorees. Latoyia once worked at Lowell’s own News Center 6 which produced a 30 minute newscast each day from its studios on Washer Street in Lowell. Latoyia was one of a long line of excellent journalists who appeared on the program through the years. I remember her showing up at my dad’s law office to interview him about the prior evening’s city council meeting (for those new to the city, my dad, Richard P. Howe Sr., was a city councilor from 1966 to 2006). Latoyia would come in carrying her very large by today’s standards TV camera and tripod, set them up, test the lighting, test the audio, hold the microphone and conduct the interview, all by herself. She would then go back to the studio and edit the piece for that evening’s newscast. Each of the three reporters who staffed the station at any one time would do several stories each day covering Lowell, Chelmsford and Tewksbury. The newscast would be done live at 5:30 pm and would be repeated at 7:00 pm and at 7:00 am the following morning. It really was a golden age of local news in Lowell with people paid to report the news by four separate outlets – the Sun, radio stations WCAP and WLLH, and Newscenter 6. I think the competition provided citizens with a more balanced view of city affairs than is the case today.