Even before the final vote was counted a few weeks ago, speculation as it always does had turned to who will be the city’s next mayor. Talk is that Patrick Murphy and Rodney Elliot each have three committed votes with one or more others being noncommittal in the hopes that a stalemate will lead to a compromise candidate. I have my own guess as to what will happen this Inauguration Day, but I’ll keep that to myself for now. While most mayoral contests in the recent past have been decided long before the councilors-elect walk into the chambers that day, not all mayoral elections go as anticipated. Such was the case on January 5, 1970.
The 1969 city election was a tumultuous one that saw the election of five new councilors. Incumbents Tom Crowley, Bob Maguire (who had served as mayor the preceding term), John Cox and Ray Gilbride all failed to win reelection while Ed Early had not run after having been elected state representative the year before. The four incumbents who won reelection that year were Ellen Sampson, Richard Howe Sr, Armand LeMay, and Sam Pollard. Joining them were newcomers Brendan Fleming, Phil Shea, Paul Tsongas, John Mahoney and Leo Farley.
Not long after the election, Howe (my dad) had gained the support of three of the new councilors – Fleming, Shea and Tsongas – while LeMay gained commitments from Mahoney and Farley. Both Sampson and Pollard were non-committal.
That changed the week before the inauguration when Sampson privately told my dad that she would vote for him. With five first ballot votes seemingly in hand, our extended family all arrived at the Monday morning ceremonies in a celebratory mood. As an eleven year-old seventh grader, I was old enough to understand (and clearly remember) what happened next.
When we arrived at city hall, my mom and my younger brother and sister headed into the council chamber to secure some seats while my dad and I carried all of the family’s winter coats into the otherwise empty council cloakroom. While we hung the coats in my dad’s wooden locker, Mrs. Sampson swept into the room. Her first words were “Dick, I’m not going to vote for you.” I was stunned so I can imagine how my dad felt. He told me to go join the rest of the family so I got to break the bad news to all of them. As I subsequently came to understand it, Sampson’s grievance was that my dad had supported the appointment of someone she disliked which was (1) not true and (2) probably just a pretense for some other reason, but the bottom line was that she reneged on her commitment.
There are no secrets in city hall so when the councilors elect walked in to take the oath of office the crowd in the chambers was tense. Soon it was time to elect a mayor. On the first ballot, Howe received four votes (Howe, Fleming, Tsongas & Shea); LeMay had three (LeMay, Mahoney & Farley); while Sampson had two (Sampson & Pollard). The second ballot was a repeat of the first. On the third ballot, Pollard voted for LeMay (giving him four votes) while Sampson voted for herself. On the fourth ballot, the same thing occurred, only Sampson voted for Pollard instead of herself.
On the fifth ballot, Leo Farley, voting first (they vote in alphabetical order) stunned the crowd by switching from LeMay to Howe who then received the four votes he had carried from the beginning, making Richard Howe Sr the new mayor of Lowell.
At the post inaugural luncheon, held at the Towne House Motel (which was located where the 99 Restaurant now stands at Chelmsford Street and Industrial Ave, I overheard my dad thank Farley for his vote and Farley reply that he didn’t like the game that was being played and decided to put a stop to it. I’m not quite sure what game he was talking about, but I didn’t care because I and the rest of the Howe family was quite pleased with the result.