Top Ten Lowell events of 2009

I couldn’t find my Lowell list from 2008 so we’ll just skip from yesterday’s 2007 Top Ten to the following inventory from 2009:

(Originally posted on December 29, 2009) It was a busy year in Lowell politics, so I won’t limit myself to just ten items. Here is my list of the top political events in Lowell in 2009:

Incumbents lost in all three local elected boards this November. On the city council, Alan Kazanjian and Armand Mercier failed to win re-election. They (and Mike Lenzi who did not run) were replaced by Franky Descoteaux, Joe Mendonca and Patrick Murphy. On the school committee, Regina Faticanti, the longest serving elected official in Lowell at the time, was not re-election. She was replaced by first-time candidate Alison Lariba. And on the Vocational School Committee, long-time incumbent Mike Hayden was not re-elected with the voters choosing Fred Bahou instead.

A ballot referendum to change the method by which Lowell voters chose their city councilors called Choice Voting was defeated by a total of 6841 against to 5174 in favor.

The world fiscal crisis forced the city of Lowell to make substantial cuts to its FY09 budget including a significant number of layoffs. Arguing that more cuts were needed, a majority of the city council voted to eliminate funding for the position of Assistant to the City Manager (held by Andy Sheehan). The same councilors also voted to eliminate the city’s primary election. At election time, many voters later identified the outcome of these two matters as a cause for dissatisfaction with some members of the city council.

The school committee also made substantial cuts, eliminating more than 120 jobs. In a controversial move (to some), the committee also voted to move the school department headquarters from the Bon Marche building to the newly vacated Rogers School (which was also closed in a cost cutting measure).

Two of the elected officials who lost in November became involved in legal matters prior to the election. Early in the year, a clerk-magistrate in the Lowell District Court issued a complaint against Regina Faticanti for threatening to commit a crime with the alleged victim being Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Scott. Just before Christmas, the case was resolved short of trial with all parties agreeing that Faticanti be placed on pretrial probation with various conditions imposed but with no admission of guilt or any wrongdoing. Back in September, a photograph of the city’s plumbing inspector sleeping at a business owned by City Council Alan Kazanjian emerged in the media along with an investigative report that revealed the inspector performing private work on city time. Then in October, it was disclosed that a building in Chelmsford owned by Kazanjian was tied into the Lowell sewer system despite the city’s earlier denial of a request to do just that. Finally, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office had subpoenaed all records related to all properties owned by Kazanjian, although there have been no further disclosures about the scope or progress of that investigation.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell became the owner of two of the anchor buildings of downtown Lowell, the Doubletree Hotel (which was purchased from private owners in April to become the UML Inn & Conference Center) and the Tsongas Arena (which was transferred by the city to the university in October).

In economic development news, the new Target store on Plain Street opened in October, the official ground-breaking for the Hamilton Canal development occurred in November and by Christmas, the Lowe’s on Chelmsford Street is rapidly taking shape. In addition, the new Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union headquarters opened and a number of new stores, shops and markets opened in downtown. And Elliot’s Hot Dog stand re-opened.

Senator Ted Kennedy died in August after an extended illness. Controversy arose when the state legislature voted to alter the method of filling a vacancy in the Senate. Formerly, the governor would appoint someone to fill the seat until the next state election but in the expectation of John Kerry becoming president in 2004 with a Republican governor in office, the legislature changed the law to have the seat filled by a special election. But this year, with health care reform possibly hanging on a single vote, the governor and legislature decided to change the law once again by allowing the governor to name an interim Senator until a successor could be elected. Governor Patrick appointed Paul Kirk who did, in fact, cast a critical vote on health care reform just last week. As for the special election, after Joe Kennedy, Marty Meehan and Steve Lynch all decided not to run, the Democratic field ended up with Martha Coakley, Mike Capuano, Steve Pagliuca and Alan Khazai with Coakley winning by a wide margin in the December primary. In January 2010, she will face Scott Brown who defeated Jack E Robinson in the Republican primary.

In April, TV trucks from Boston descended on the Pine Street headquarters of the Lowell Health Department to report on the first cases of the H1N1 flu in Massachusetts which were diagnosed in two boys here in Lowell.

Hollywood came to Lowell this summer as Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and a large production company spent several weeks on location filming The Fighter, the story of Lowell boxer Micky Ward.

In March, Lowell issued homeowners cranberry colored barrels and changed the way the cityв€™s trash was collected.

In May, the city of Lowell and the Lowell Spinners entered into a new 10-year lease for Lelacheur Field.

A town hall meeting on health care reform in Chelmsford hosted by Niki Tsongas featured many opponents such reforms and previewed emotional confrontations around the country throughout the summer and fall.

Old media continued to suffer with the Boston Globe being threatened with closure if its unions didn’t make major salary and benefit concessions (which they did). The Lowell Sun forced all employees to take furloughs in February, laid off some employees in April, raised the newsstand price of the daily paper from 50 to 75 cents, and removed The Column from its website in a move preparatory to charging for content delivered on its website.

The influence of new media continued to grow with a number of local candidates making YouTube and other social networking sites major components of their campaigns. A number of new blogs such as MrMillCity, Lowell Shallot, Lowell Handmade and Art is the Handmaid of Human Good all appeared on the scene.