Housing authorities have been much in the news lately, whether it’s in Chelsea, Dracut or Lowell, but that’s not necessarily a new phenomenon. I recently came across a 1973 Lowell Sun column by Carolyn Miegel that touched upon an alleged housing authority controversy and then provided a glimpse into ethnic politics in the city as it existed nearly 40 years ago.
The 1973 controversy arose when Lowell Housing Authority chairman Armand P. Mercier (yes, the same Armand Mercier who finished 10th in this year’s city council election) was also hired as the part-time executive director of the Dracut Housing Authority. Upon this hiring, Lowell City Councilor Brendan Fleming charged that this created a conflict of interest for Mercier and urged City Manager Jim Sullivan to demand Mercier’s resignation from the Lowell position. According to this column, Sullivan and a few councilors “rebuked” Fleming and the issue seemed to die.
But to Miegel, the issue did not die. She speculated that Fleming’s attack on Mercier may have alienated the city’s Franco-American community in the coming city election. Here is some of what Miegel wrote:
Approximately 10,000 Franco-Americans vote in this city, many of them registered Republicans who traditionally have not voted in primary and in the general election provide a strong political force. Some say that ethnic groups don’t vote as blocs anymore in Lowell and that may be true to some extent. What happens to Fleming in some city wards in November could provide a clue as to whether that’s true or not.
The subsequent election results ratified Miegel’s speculation. Fleming, who had topped the ticket as a first-time candidate in 1969, had slid to ninth place in 1971. In the election held just after this column was written, he dropped to 14th place and failed to win re-election (although he returned to the council in the next election and served for many more years).
Finally, I find it ironic that a 1973 political column speculated that “ethnic groups don’t vote as blocs anymore in Lowell” when in this recent election, many attribute the victory of Vesna Nuon to the solid and focused support of Cambodian-Americans in the Acre and the Lower Highlands. As Harry Truman used to say, “the only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”