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.