The political power of Lowell’s Mayor

Forty years ago in the aftermath of a disruptive city election that saw three incumbents defeated, the Lowell Sun’s Frank Phillips, now a long-time senior political writer for the Boston Globe, gave his analysis of the political power and the potential political power of the office of mayor in the Plan E form of government. That January 1972 mayoral election turned out to be one of the most divisive in the city’s history, going 106 ballots over three days. Ellen Sampson was ultimately elected. While a full account of what happened in that election must wait for some additional research by me, Phillips’ view of the office of mayor of Lowell still has great relevance today. Here is some of what he wrote back in November 1971:

The role of the mayor is often described on the basis of a figurehead position. He is the man who is on hand to greet important people or appear at the local fireman’s annual ball.

But he does have some important functions, many times overlooked. He is the chairman of the school committee – its seventh voting member – and in Lowell, where the board has y times been divided, the mayor’s vote is often the key to many important education decisions.

As chairman of the council, the mayor also appoints the subcommittee – their chairmen and members. He, too, selects the city representatives to such boards as the regional drug program and he wields the gavel over the council meetings – (which can be of great political advantages during heated and important debates).

So he’s not totally a figurehead. He has the edge of appointment making to key positions and he is chairman and a voting member of the school board.

3 Responses to The political power of Lowell’s Mayor

  1. Marie says:

    This mayoral power to lead the school committee has just been dealt a blow in our sister city of Lawrence. With schools in receivership – the receiver has the power of both the school committee and the superintendent. The receiver takes over on January 1, 2012. So important that in Lowell – it’s a much different story! See my blog posts about Lawrence schools.

  2. George DeLuca says:

    It’s important to not underestimate the importance of the Mayor’s leadership role, especially as relates to facilitating a strategy for Moving Lowell Forward on all fronts.

    The City is arriving at a fork in the road at a crucial time in Lowell’s history. Who on the Council is the most qualified consensus builder? Let’s be honest, who on the City Council has the time to dedicate to the job and do it right? It’s really not a figurehead position, its a crucial one that requires a deep and focused connection with each of the City’s neighborhoods, residents, the City Manager, fellow City Councilors and School Committee officials. This is a full time effort if you’re doing it right. That would make it a position not a status.

  3. Joe S says:

    I pretty much agree with George, other than it needing to be a full-time position.

    First of all, the City will have an opportunity to advance Education if it can adopt the State Education initiative for Gateway Cities. That will require the program to be advanced throught the Legislature and adopted (including some matching funding or equivalent effort) by the City. The mayor can lead on this initiative.

    Secondly, there needs to be a full court press to make the City attractive to investment and new residents, as that will be key to expanding the tax base. But it must be considered an investment, so wise choices on expenditures will trump the clarion call for reducing costs. The mayor can lead the charge.