In our democracy one of the revered institutions is the New England town meeting, the equivalent of a political common where voters gather to make decisions together under the one person-one vote rule. In the state houses, city and town halls, and our national congress representatives who are elected by us conduct our public business. Even more grassroots than the town meeting is the political house party, an informal institution of our republic. I have been to dozens of these get-togethers over the years, the earliest being in the summer of 1972, when my brother and his wife hosted young John Kerry in Dracut during his campaign to be the Democratic candidate for Congress in our district. Aside from a candidate shaking hands with voters at the train station or knocking on a resident’s door while walking a neighborhood, the house party is the bottom step in campaigning.There is no filter between the candidate and voter other than the politician’s own authenticity.
I was fortunate to be at a house party last night for Bill Samaras, who is running for City Council in Lowell. The event in the Highlands neighborhood was hosted by Charles and Effie Nikitopoulos, who are long-time friends of Bill and his wife, Joyce. More than 40 people attended, many of them familiar to me as active citizens of the city. On the table and counters of the dining room and kitchen were platters of delicious Greek specialties and other appetizers and desserts. The candidate moved easily from room to room, talking to everyone and asking for support. After about an hour, Charles guided everyone into the living room and introduced his friend, saying that he admired his willingness to try to contribute in a new way after retiring from his position as headmaster of Lowell High School. “He walked out of that door and looked around and said, There are still some things to be done.”
Bill Samaras spoke briefly about his motivation for running for office. He believes that Lowell has all the ingredients to take its success to the next level, building on the good things that have happened in the past 40 years. He spoke about the teamwork that helps to make Lowell High School a stand-out school, and mentioned the national recognition by US News and World Report magazine. He said the high school’s pluralistic student body mirrors the multi-ethnic personality of Lowell now, and that his experience in the micro-society of the school would translate well to a city councilor’s responsibility to represent the entire community. He said that people in every part of the city deserve to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods, a fundamental expectation of any healthy community. He also spoke about the importance of a constructive atmosphere in City Hall and the need for productive collaboration between the city manager and the council, functioning as a board of directors with oversight and responsibility, without acrimony. Finally, he asked for people’s help and their votes in the preliminary election next week, the first electoral hurdle. At this house party was another candidate for council, Van Pech, a young Cambodian-American activist who was a student at Lowell High School during Samaras’s years as headmaster—and Bill said he was so happy to see Van engaged in the community as a leader in his own right and praised him and wished him good luck in the election.
And there it was: democracy in the living room, the way it goes on all over New England and across the country as men and women stand up one by one to say they are ready and willing to serve for a time as a representative in their communities. People applauded the candidate. The crowd un-gathered itself, and people dispersed toward the coffee and desserts.The candidate circulated. Donation envelopes went into the basket next to the dish of strawberries and cut cantaloupe. People picked up the campaign brochure. Charles said he had yard signs for anyone who needed one. Conversation buzzed in the rooms.