In this space I wrote about a political house party the other day. Another building block of the local campaign is “the time,” a term with aromatic political roots that is not used as much in Lowell these days, but is familiar to politicos in places like South Boston and parts of Lawrence, Mass. A “time” is an event organized to raise money and muster the loyalists for the effort ahead. The location might be a social club or a restaurant. One government cognescenti told me that “time” as a term for a testimonial for a candidate or elected official goes way back and had some fascinating customs in the past. Last night I attended two events that would qualify as a time for city council candidates.
While I was at the Long Meadow Golf Club, at least 100 people showed up to boost the chances of former mayor Jim Milinazzo, who is seeking to return to the Lowell City Council. I have known Jim since our college years, and have admired his steadfast commitment to the revitalization of Lowell. Coincidentally, as college students we both worked for a while as part-time elevator operators (licensed manual operation, no push buttons—no kidding) in the Cherry & Webb department store that once dominated the corner of Merrimack and John streets. Barely a Saturday went by without one customer saying, Hey, this job is going to take you to high places! I’d say mayor is one of the political heights.
Jim’s event drew a broad mix of Lowell people, from family to professional colleagues and neighbors. State Senator Eileen Donoghue warmly introduced Jim with praise for his devotion to the betterment of the city. She cited his contributions as an urban planner, economic development strategist, and elected official. Sen. Donoghue urged the crowd to organize around the campaign and return Jim to office “because there is so much more we can do in Lowell.” She said she has seen other “Gateway Cities” around the state, and that Lowell is a star in that group, but that the city can go farther in its progress, and must do so to be competitive. When Jim spoke, he mentioned examples of success in the areas of housing redevelopment like the re-making of Shaughnessy Terrace into River’s Edge, and he said the city must realize all the potential in the Hamilton Canal District. He said he was proud of his record in supporting public safety budgets and policies and that people are right to expect a high quality of life in their neighborhoods. Jim Mlinazzo is one of the veterans of the Lowell revitalization, having worked in both public and private sectors, from the city planning department to the Lowell Plan, Inc., and in local banks. In his remarks he recognized former mayors and current city councilors Rita Mercier and Bill Martin. School Committee candidate Steve Gendron was there, as were other former office holders. People signed up for the mailing list and yard sign locations, assuring the candidate that they would not only vote in the preliminary election but also call a few people to urge them to vote. With only a few days to go, the first test is coming up.
Across the city at the Owl Diner, candidate Derek Mitchell piled a crowd into the famous diner that has become as regular a political stop for local and statewide hopefuls as Elm Street in Manchester, N.H., is for presidential aspirants. Derek and his team tilted younger than the supporters at the Milinazzo event, but the energy was high in both places and several people shuttled between both events. My estimate is that this event also drew about 100 people or more—an encouraging sign for civic engagement. Everybody has nine votes, so you see overlap in the events. City Councilor Joe Mendonca was shaking hands at the Owl, as was challenger Corey Belanger. Derek had just finished his remarks at the diner when I arrived, but I got a re-cap from his wife, Lydia, at the front door. Steaming pans of scrambled omelettes, home fries, and bacon were set up for the crowd. Looking around at these mini-rallies you see lots of people who are “do-ers” in the community. They involve themselves in different ways, from non-profit organizations to grassroots media. This election cycle features an extra dose of activism among younger citizens. We’ve seen this in the past with Franky Descoteaux recently and in the 1990s with people like Matt Donahue, Mike Geary, Laurie Machado, Grady Mulligan, Peter Richards. With his experience in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, UTEC workforce development, and now as director of the International Institute, Derek brings strong skills to the table. His emphasis on “ALL” is a theme that is catching on.