“Meanderings with the Mayor” by Jim Peters

Frequent contributor Jim Peters shares the following essay:

I have supported Patrick Murphy very strongly for two campaigns now. I must admit that I did not support him when he ran against my sister-in-law, Niki Tsongas, but I did support him two years ago, when he came in eighth for the City Council, I supported him this past election, when he came in fourth, and I strongly supported him when he told me he was going to run for mayor. Recently, we met at a local eatery we both frequent, and had a nice talk about what his goals are, where he sees his tenure going, and how he hopes to accomplish getting there.

Patrick Murphy is an enigma. He has a genius for politics, especially for where he wants to invest his time, but he also works very hard as a bricklayer. He campaigned for office and told people, truthfully, that that was his job. As mayor, he has cut back on it a bit, but he still works with his cousin in the trade. They did a wonderful job on my front steps, removing the old brick steps and putting new steps in place. He does not say much, although he has a reputation for fostering many motions for City Council debate and action. He was supported in his quest for Mayor by Kevin Broderick, Marty Lorrey, Bill Martin, and Vesna Nuon. He sees the mayoralty as a way to bring ideas to the forefront, and strongly expressed his interest in making the mayor’s position into an active and visible, and transparent, vehicle for furthering his city agenda.

As a courtesy, the mayor’s seat was made unanimous on a motion by Rita Mercier. The mayor expressed gratitude for that magnanimous gesture. He seems certain in his movements and sincere in his convictions. I greatly enjoyed our discussion. As many of you know, I worked hard to save the Textile Avenue Bridge. Patrick was with us, but he maintained that the bridge could not be paid for from city coffers. This past week, Chancellor Marty Meehan informed all of the city that the bridge could not be saved. Marty did a great deal of work trying to keep the bridge, too. In the end, it is just sitting in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Jack Kerouac may have written about it, but in the end, it impeded progress.

“Lowell is the Center of the Universe” somebody once said in describing Paul Tsongas’ affinity for his boyhood hometown. While stationed in the Peace Corps in the sands of the Carribean, he longed to get home to Lowell to run for office. He did and won many seats many times. I believe that, to the Mayor, Lowell is a work in progress. Last week he met with the Police Department extensively and he is very interested in stopping crime in the downtown area after 1 o:clock in the morning. Patrick is, in my opinion, deliberative like Paul Tsongas. He thinks before speaking. He is not inclined to talk if there is nothing to say. But, when he does speak about things that are close to him, he becomes animated and seems physically and mentally drawn to his vision for the city. I asked him what part of the mayoralty was the most challenging by its nature, and he said immediately, that the Chairmanship of the School Committee was extremely important. He intends to devote a great deal of time to doing what he feels is best for the schools.

Patrick’s parents were both school teachers in Lowell. Dan Murphy started out in the Flats, got his high school education, worked for a time, went back to school and received his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study. You have to see the Murphy’s working to understand how close they are as a family and how dedicated they are to one another. The entire family helped Patrick campaign throughout all of his campaigns. Father Dan followed Patrick along, talking to him and putting up lawn signs where they were given permission. His mother, Joan, was there, too, at least whenever I walked with them. They were a formidable group, and their infectious affection for brother and sister and mother and father was a marvel.

The Mayor is working on upgrading the city website with Councillor Kevin Broderick. They want it to be an enticement that pulls people into the city to see it as it is currently, and to view its immense history. “We want to be proactive about trying to find businesses that want to locate here,” he said. Businesses would alleviate some of the tax increases that are currently carried by the residential taxpayer. Businesses would also create jobs, bring in an aggressive and astute population, and those people would presumably help the educational system maintain its high standards, I maintain.

He sees using the University as part of the overall picture in Lowell. He wants to establish internships for students which would bring people who are educated and ambitious into local government at limited or no cost to the city. He has met with Chancellor Martin Meehan in various contexts and they both seem to share an enthusiasm for Lowell that transcends any differences they might have. Meehan’s whirlwind changes at UMASS-Lowell are churning faster and faster it seems. The Mayor is interested in being part of it by having the city use the educational resource that is UMASS-Lowell to an optimum value.

In his vision, the Mayor seems to see the university as a catalyst to bring about change. Students could devote time to the city to computerize records or perform research as part of their courseload. He hopes that students would be interested in doing that. He acknowledges that some of it would be hard to accomplish but sees a beneficial utilization of resources as a result of a partnership.

Part of this is using UMASS students as the web designers for the webpage previously mentioned. They would be sharp, they would know what to do and how to do it, he explains, and they would work for course credit. UMASS students currently work under the tutelage of police officers in desktop jobs in the city. This would apparently be an extension of that movement. It provides, I believe, invaluable assistance to the city at no cost.

Patrick Murphy is the youngest Mayor in the history of our Plan E form of government. While it is true that his position is largely ceremonial, it does not seem to me that he sees it that way. He seems to see the Mayor’s position as one of vigor, and the more he puts into it, he seems to think, the better off the city will be. Just this evening he was discussing with me his desire to make the youth of the city part of the solution. Rita Mercier apparently asked him once how many motions he was drawing up for a Council meeting. He smiled and replied, “Eight.”

Now, if I can just convince him of the need for three separate but essential museums for the city, I will be happy. Here, in my opinion, is a mayor who wants to do well, has his own agenda, and intends to do his best to carry it out. He enjoys the Council, and served for the first two years at no pay, donating all of his city paycheck to charity. He had to accept the paycheck this time around because the Mayor’s job takes some hours away from his bricklaying position. But, let me tell you, from personal experience, if you need a good bricklayer look in his direction. In my opinion, he is also terrific at that.

3 Responses to “Meanderings with the Mayor” by Jim Peters

  1. Marie says:

    Jim – Thanks for this look at Mayor Patrick Murphy. I agree with you that he has the “right stuff.”

  2. Greg Page says:

    What’s exciting to see is the substance that Murphy brings to the position…his tenure as mayor is not going to *just* be about presiding over the CC and SC, or attending ribbon-cuttings and funerals, but about bringing up real policy questions about what’s best for the city, and looking at structural reforms that will have an impact way beyond the next two years.

  3. Joe S says:

    Agree with Greg, but I would add the support of all of us will be necessary to better shape those policies and make them happen.