Lowell Week in Review: November 25, 2018

Candi-Dating event at Lowell Senior Center during 2017 city election

2019 City Election

Politics in Lowell never takes a day off, so as soon as the November 6, 2018, state election was complete, thoughts turned to the 2019 city election which will be held next November with a preliminary election, if needed, in September.

You can’t talk about the 2019 city election without reviewing what happened in the 2017 city election which was one of the most unusual in at least 50 years. I say that because last year’s city election was dominated by a single issue, the location of Lowell High School. Never in my memory has the outcome of both the council and the school committee races turned on a single issue like that.

The Lowell High decision remains controversial, but it is unlikely to be revisited in next year’s election. It’s also unlikely that another single issue will be so dominant, so voters in 2019 will make their choices on traditional criteria such as public safety, economic development, constituent services and taxes.

This reversion back to normal could spell trouble for some of the current incumbents who won their seats in 2017 largely on the strength of their pro-Downtown posture. Over the coming weeks, I’ll take a look at what each of the current councilors have focused on during the first year of this term to help assess where they stand electorally going in to the 2019 election.

For now, let’s look at the results of the 2017 City Council race. The following list shows the order of finish of candidates, the number of votes each received and the Lowell High option – downtown or Cawley – that the candidate supported:

  1. Vesna Nuon – 7518 – downtown
  2. Edward Kennedy – 6483 – downtown
  3. John Leahy – 6114 – downtown
  4. Bill Samaras – 6094 – downtown
  5. Rita Mercier – 5730 – Cawley
  6. Jim Millinazzo – 5688 – downtown
  7. Rodney Elliott – 5447 – Cawley
  8. Dave Conway – 4974 – downtown
  9. Karen Cirillo – 4973 – downtown
  10. Sokhary Chau – 4756 – Cawley
  11. Dan Rourke – 4729 – Cawley
  12. Cory Belanger – 4722 – Cawley
  13. Jim Leary – 4666 – Cawley
  14. Joe Boyle – 4170 – downtown
  15. Martin Hogan – 4082 – downtown
  16. Matt LeLacheur – 4055 – Cawley
  17. Dan Finn – 3920 – Cawley
  18. Robert Gignac – 3524 – Cawley

(Recall that Rourke, Belanger and Leary were all council incumbents and Gignac was an incumbent school committee member trying to make the jump to the council).

Now let’s look at the past electoral history of the nine council incumbents:

Vesna Nuon – Finished 1st in 2017. Was elected to the council in his first attempt in 2011 when he finished 7th with 3611 votes. Vesna lost in the next election, finishing 15th in 2013 with 3243 votes. He ran again for the council in 2015 but finished 10th with 3550 votes. Vesna also ran unsuccessfully for the School Committee in 2001, 2003 and 2005.

Ed Kennedy – Finished 2nd in 2017. Was elected State Senator three weeks ago. He intends to serve as both a State Senator and a City Council during 2019, but it is unlikely he will seek re-election to the council next fall.

John Leahy – Finished 3rd in 2017. First ran for the city council in 2011 but finished 11th with 3383 votes. He ran for the council again in 2013 when he finished 9th with 4299 votes. He was re-elected in 2015, finishing 4th with 4566 votes. Prior to running for the council in 2011 he served five terms on the school committee, being first elected in 2001 when he finished 6th with 6734 votes. He was re-elected in 2003 (1st with 5594 votes); 2005 (2nd 2ith 6810 votes); 2007 (3rd with 6253 votes) and 2009 (2nd with 7275 votes).

Bill Samaras – Finished 4th in 2017. First elected to the council in 2013 in his first run for elected office. That year, he finished 6th with 4462 votes. He was re-elected in 2015, finishing 5th with 4540 votes.

Rita Mercier – Finished 5th in 2017. First elected to the council in 1995 in her first run for elected office. She finished 6th that year with 6749 votes. She then finished 1st in 1997 (8886 votes); 1999 (9053 votes); 2001 (9994 votes); 2003 (7948 votes); 2005 (8041 votes); 2007 (7107 votes); 2009 (6882 votes); 2011 (5305 votes); 2013 (6346 votes); and 2015 (6228 votes).

Jim Milinazzo – Finished 6th in 2017. First ran for the council in 2011 when he finished 10th with 5718 votes. Ran again the next year (2003) and was elected, finishing 3rd with 6559 votes. He was re-elected in 2005 (7th with 5959 votes); 2007 (9th with 4908 votes); and 2009 (5th with 5711 votes) but lost in 2011 (12th with 3365 votes). He ran again for council in 2013 and finished 5th with 4608 votes. He was then re-elected in 2015, finishing 6th with 4434 votes.

Rodney Elliott – Finished 7th in 2017. First ran for the council in 1995 but finished 12th with 5392 votes. He ran again in 1997, finishing 7th with 5898 votes. He has been re-elected every year since, finishing 9th in 1999 with 6031 votes; 6th in 2001 with 7531 votes; 8th in 2003 with 5570 votes; 4th in 2005 with 5989 votes; 7th in 2007 with 5203 votes; 9th in 2009 with 4805 votes; 2nd in 2011 with 4114 votes; 2nd in 2013 with 5301 votes; and 2nd in 2015 with 5420 votes.

Dave Conway – Finished 8th in 2017. Conway first ran for city council in 1987 when he finished 18th with 3395 votes. Twenty years later he ran for school committee when he finished 1st in 2007 with 6453 votes. He was re-elected to the school committee in 2009 (1st with 7355 votes); 2011 (3rd with 4808 votes); and 2013 (3rd with 6349 votes). In 2015, he ran for city council but finished 12th with 3218 votes.

Karen Cirillo – Finished 9th in 2017 in her first run for office.

Assuming all but Ed Kennedy run for re-election, a big question will be, who else is running? You can’t beat someone with no one, so there would need to be some credible challengers in the race to pose a threat to the remaining incumbents. I’ve heard of five or six possible candidates (who I won’t name now). Several would be strong challengers; others not so much. Nomination papers don’t come out until June 1, 2019, but a credible candidate should have a campaign underway by St. Patrick’s Day, so we won’t have too long to wait.

Counting the Votes

This past Monday night, Eda Matchak, the city’s Director of Elections, spoke at the Lowell Democratic City Committee meeting. Her primary purpose was to recruit election workers for coming elections, but she also answered questions about the mechanics of voting and ballot-counting in Lowell. (Eda explained that the State recommends recruiting poll workers from the local Democratic and Republican committees and she had already spoken to the Lowell Republicans).

She said there is a great demand for workers because election day is such a long day with some working 22 hours straight from setup until the final vote is counted. Individuals can work for the entire day or just late afternoon and evenings.

Eda also explained that the city’s voting machines are from 1998 but that they are in good shape and work pretty well under normal circumstances. She said that newer models are slower in accepting ballots that are fed into them so spending $100,000 plus for new machines might not achieve the desired result. She said the problem they encountered in the primary election was the high heat caused problems with the machines, but that in the November election, the problem was damp ballots. It rained most of the day and people tended to drip on their ballots while voting and the absorbed moisture on the ballots caused problems for the machines.

Screen shot of Cultivate (Leicester marijuana outlet) website

Marijuana

The state’s first two retail marijuana stores opened this week, one in Leicester, the other in Northampton. The media gave these store openings very big play, perhaps more than they deserved. Most of the customers I saw interviewed appeared to be existing marijuana users for whom buying the drug legally (for a change) seemed the attraction more than the drug itself.

One thing is clear: there’s a huge amount of money to be made in this business. When a retail marijuana store finally opens in Lowell, councilors will welcome the revenue stream that accompanies it.

Face painting at 2018 City of Lights festival

City of Lights

I didn’t make it to the parade but was downtown yesterday afternoon. There was a line at the face-painting booth on JFK Plaza but the retail booths at the same location didn’t have many customers when I was there. Overall, there were more people walking around downtown than on a normal Saturday afternoon. The videos I saw of the parade on Facebook showed a good crowd for the marchers and the lighting of City Hall.

Lowell Democratic City Committee Holiday Party

Next Sunday, December 2, 2018, is the Lowell Democratic City Committee Holiday Social at the Blue Shamrock, 105 Market Street in Lowell, from 2pm to 4pm. The cost is $10 per person. Everyone – even non-Democrats – is invited.

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