Lowell week in review: November 3, 2013

The polls open in 72 hours. The sprint to the finish line in the city election is upon us. Here are some observations from this past week.

Sun council endorsements

The Lowell Sun’s endorsement of eight city council candidates generated as much of a buzz about which candidates were not endorsed as about the ones that were. For the record, the incumbents who were endorsed were Ed Kennedy, Rita Mercier and Joe Mendonca. The challengers who were endorsed were Dan Rourke, Jim Milinazzo, Stacie Hargis, Derek Mitchell, and Corey Belanger.

Incumbents who were not endorsed were Rodney Elliott, John Leahy, Marty Lorrey, Bill Martin, and Vesna Nuon. Challengers who were not endorsed were Eric Gitschier, Bill Samaras, Van Pech, Genevieve Doyle and Fred Doyle.

Most noteworthy about the endorsement was the very mixed message it sent. Accurate or not, there’s a perception in the city that there are two distinct groups of council candidates. Factors that contribute to that perception range from positions on whether a city manager should have a contract to whose signs are grouped together in certain yards.

The eight candidates endorsed by the Sun are almost evenly split between those two groups (I’ll leave it to each reader to decide the distribution). The candidates who weren’t endorsed can be similarly split. So what message is the newspaper sending? There was an opportunity by the roster of candidates endorsed to embrace a clear vision one way or the other. Instead, the message was distinctly mixed, more suggestive of tradeoffs by those individuals participating in the endorsement process than a unified institutional embrace of a coherent strategy for the city’s future (“If I can’t have Rodney Elliott, then you can’t have Bill Martin.”)

The Sun also made endorsements for the Lowell School Committee and the Greater Lowell Regional School Committee.

Someone else who sees two distinct groupings among the council candidates is Kendall Wallace. After cataloging all of the good things happening in the city right now (“Maybe it’s because these are, in fact, the best times for the city government and for the city as a whole that I have seen in decades. “), Wallace, in this week’s Saturday Chat, says this:

We need people to come out and vote. We need people to know the candidates. Read The Sun’s election tab that profiled the candidates. Know who supports professional management and who would not support keeping this administration intact. If you think we are headed in the right direction, then back the candidates who feel the same. If you don’t feel we are on track, support candidates who support that position.

Contract for City Manager

In two articles on consecutive days this week, Lyle Moran wrote about each council candidate’s position on contracts for city managers. I summarized and linked to the two articles in a blog post. Chris and Aurora of Learning Lowell also have a post called “Second Thoughts on Sun Debate” that provides more information on where the candidates stand on this issue

I think it’s important for a city manager to have a contract, preferably a long one. Rather than cause complacency, a contract provides the kind of job security that allows a city manager to look beyond the results of the next council election and pursue strategies that have greater long term benefit for the city. I suspect one of the reasons Lowell’s political culture is so ambivalent about contracts for city managers is that most of our city managers have been former elected official who had long before becoming city manager grown used to living with the relative job insecurity of holding elective office (i.e., the voters could oust you every two years). Having learned to live with that uncertainty plus having the self-confidence in your ability to win people over that is almost a pre-condition to running for office makes the former-elected-official-as-city-manager more willing to roll the employment dice on a contract-less position than would someone who by education and job experience is a trained governmental administrator. Those in the latter category treat holding managerial positions in government as part of a career and are understandably desirous of a reasonable degree of job security.

Public Safety

Some argue that public safety, not city manager contracts, is the big issue. That topic came up at last week’s city council meeting (as it does at most city council meetings) when the public safety subcommittee reported back to the full council on its findings on police deployment strategies. My blog post on the city council meeting captures much of what was said.

While the debate over the best approach to public safety will undoubtedly continue past the election, perhaps having the election over with will make that debate more productive than it has been over the past month. Another factor that might be beneficial would be the selection by the city manager of a permanent police superintendent, whomever that might be. Back on October 24, the city manager hosted a “listening session” to allow the community to share its ideas about what characteristics the new police superintendent should possess. Fortunately for us, Chris and Aurora of the Learning Lowell blog were both in attendance and filed a report on their website.

Flyers at the front door

Here’s what arrived in the mailbox or doorstep this week from city council candidates:

Marty Lorrey – “Wants to deliver for you again” (Wed)
Bill Samaras – “A Proven Track Record” (Wed)
Ed Kennedy – “Qualified, Experienced, and Dedicated” (Wed)
Corey Belanger – “A new voice for a better Lowell” (Thurs)
Rodney Elliott – “Common bonds to solve common problems” (Friday)
Stacie Hargis – “It’s time for a fresh perspective” (Friday)
Jim Milinazzo – “Moving Lowell forward” (Friday)
John Leahy – “Community Commitment Service” (Friday)
Bill Martin – “Honest, Fair Leadership You Can Trust” (Saturday)
Dan Rourke – “A New Generation of Leadership” (Saturday)

Plus literature dropped on Saturday at our door by

Dan Rourke – “A New Generation of Leadership”
Derek Mitchell – “Vote for ALL of Lowell Nov 5th”

Also in the mail from school committee candidates:

Dave Conway – “Building our schools, building our community: (Wed)
Jim Leary – “Please consider me for one of your 6 votes” (Thurs)
Connie Martin – “keep our schools moving forward” (Friday)

Bill Samaras has a notable ad in today’s Sun. It’s a photo of him and Ed Davis, the just departed Boston Police Commissioner who served as Police Superintendent in Lowell before that. In the ad, Davis says that Samaras will bring the same commitment to safety to the city council that he demonstrated at Lowell High.

Also, Paul Belley has a new blog post about the city election on his Captain’s Log website.

“The Cambodian vote”

The Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association had a large crowd at its 29th Anniversary celebration on Saturday night. There are more than 7000 people with Cambodian surnames registered to vote in Lowell. I’m not sure many of them voted in this year’s preliminary election, but Cambodian people were a big component of the coalitions that helped Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey win Lowell by double digits in the last two US Senate elections. I also believe they were decisive in Vesna Nuon’s election to the council two years ago. How Vesna and also Van Pech do this Tuesday relative to their performance in the preliminary will be an important measure of the willingness of the Cambodian people to engage in the local election.

The Column

The Sun’s political column today leads with the Greater Lowell Vocational High School superintendent process and then jumps past Tuesday’s election to speculate on who might be the city’s next mayor. According to the Column, the two front runners now are Rodney Elliott and Ed Kennedy with Marty Lorrey the dark horse.

Election night news and returns

For election returns on Tuesday night, please tune in to Lowell cable channel 8 on LTC (or www.ltc.org if you’re outside the city). State Senator Eileen Donoghue will anchor an LTC production live from the Blue Shamrock. She will be joined by former State Senator Steve Panagiotakos, the Lowell Sun’s Chris Scott, and me to discuss the election and to analyze the returns as they come in.

First Annual Lowell Social Media Conference

Mark your calendars for Saturday, December 7, 2013 for the First Annual Lowell Social Media Conference at LTC (246 Market St) from 10 am until 1 pm. The event is free but advance registration is requested. (Register by emailing me your intent to attend at DickHoweJr@gmail.com). One of the topics of discussion will be the use of social media in the city election. For more information, check out my blog post about the event.

2013 SOFC Fantasy Draft

Finally, it’s often been said that the most effective political commentary is satire. Following the city council fantasy draft on the Sons of Franky Cabot website this week strongly supports the accuracy of that statement. If you want to know what this election is really about, check out their entire series of posts on the council candidates. Be sure to scroll all the way down to Round 1, Selection 1 and start there to get the full effect.

5 Responses to Lowell week in review: November 3, 2013

  1. Jack Mitchell says:

    This ad is brilliant on the part of Samaras. Factions within ‘shady Lowell’ have been beating the snot outta Samaras, while concurrently playing up the achievements of Ed Davis, via ‘community policing.’
    Samaras does the ju-jitsu, flaunting his opponents own spin, right back at them.

  2. Joe S. says:

    The very important issue of Public Safety has become a political football this season. I was a bit disturbed by Councilor Kennedy’s assessment of 300 hours (of new hires) for 200 hours of overtime. In doing that he avoids the related costs of benefits, and the effectiveness of having flexibility for the use of hours. The costs are not only for health care, pension contribution and some items related to police duties, but also includes the post-employment health care benefit which adds about $450,000 to the City’s unfunded liability for each hire. He should know better, but maybe he thinks we don’t.

    As far as improving public safety, it seems Derek Mitchell has a more complete approach – getting to the bottom of the crime issues, which are predominantly driven by drugs and gangs. Yes, we need more staffing for public safety, but that alone is not enough.

  3. Kathy says:

    Here is what I think is an interesting side note to the political hypocrisy and backstabbing that is currently occurring in Lowell:
    I was walking my dog in the South Common Saturday afternoon, watching a group of little kids taking turns kicking a soccer ball while Sammy sniffed around the grass. While I was walking, I saw a man in jeans and a baseball cap come down the hill carrying a bunch of soccer balls. He tossed the balls to the kids, they seemed to talk for a few seconds, and then he walked back up the hill. Each of the kids now had a soccer ball and were running around the field happily kicking and tossing them. After heading up the hill with Sammy, I saw the same guy with a bunch of basketballs, talking to a couple of mothers who were watching their kids shooting hoops. There were a lot of kids and only a couple of basketballs. The man then tossed the basketballs to the kids, who started dribbling and shooting for the baskets. Some kids yelled thanks. The guy waved, walked to his car, and drove away. The car had blue police plates with the number 10 on it. I thought the guy looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him until I saw the license plate. If this is the kind of thing that the city manager does on his days off, I am even more in favor of keeping him in the job than I was before.

  4. Dennis Boland says:

    Hope things turn out well for our voters of Lowell…..so far the city is doing very well …the city councils I am very happy with them……the city is in good shape…..we could use a few new young one…..and Patrick murphy I did like him…he is smart…..young…bring in young voters…but he came on to strong..if he waited another year before mayor….he will be a number one…..but things did not turned out to good for him…..and the manger should have something in writing for him to stay…he kept the city money shape….taxes low….but he have to try to hold his feeling about being wrong…..he should say…will do better next time…..if I show my feeling everytime I am wrong…I would have been fired…..job is a job…..so good luck everyone on Tuesday…..to keep Lowell moving ahead….for our family

  5. Linda Copp says:

    There is much that could be said in response to the many aspects of Richard Howe’s blog as always it was thoughtful and representative of the many factions of the city and the voting public in flux. However, I would like to make this comment regarding just giving the office of Mayor to someone simply because they have been serving a long time and are due. This rationale diminishes the office by supposing that it can be earned just by virtue of showing up for a long period of time rather than to have a Mayor chosen to move the City forward driven by the desires of all the people voting for the City Councilors in the most recent and current year. It trivializes the citizens impact and import in this decision making process.