A Look Back ~ Tewksbury and Some Merrimack Valley Neighbors

In taking a look back over the year 2013 in Tewksbury and other Merrimack Valley environs – the issues of politics, economics, quality of life, culture – traditional and pop, education and sports – are all vying for attention.

Across the Merrimack Valley the stand-out event – in my opinion – is the election of Mayor-elect Dan Rivera and the defeat of the seemingly unbeatable incumbent Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua. The hope and the promise seen in the Rivera election bodes well for the City of Lawrence and its citizens but also for the region. While it will take the cooperation of all Lawrencians to close the door on this chapter of Lawrence history, there are many potential  partners ready to step up and lend a hand. Next weekend U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren will swear-in Mayor Rivera. The Rivera administration can be tranformational.

The forward motion and national acclaim of UMass Lowell is and will be felt not only in the City of Lowell where the landscape and mind-set is rapidly changing. Ripples become torrents along the river that threads through the Valley. A satellite campus is a sure thing for Haverhill and Lawrence  already hosting a Northen Essex CC campus is a UML school-based partner. While the global focus thrives at UML – the Chancellor and his administration know the importance of the Valley where thousands of supportive alums live and work and where alums of the future seek excellence. The economic impact of UML cannot be ignored and will be a part of the Valley’s growth and development in 2014 and beyond. UMass Lowell knows how to partner.

The issues of town finances and quality of life clashed in a big way this past summer when out of the blue – at least for residents and our neighbors in Andover and Tewksbury –  Penn National Gaming (PNG) made an offer and promise of millions to the Town of Tewksbury in exchange for approval of a SLOTS Gaming Parlor for the Ames Pond area of North Tewksbury. And the Board of Selectmen took it! Residents in opposition with little time, meager resources, struggling for answers and information mounted a grass-roots campaign against the pros and millions of dollars of ads, promises, media hype and high-profile teasers. Gaining victory with nearly 62% of the vote – an overwhelming number of the attendees at the Special Town Meeting, the NO SLOTS folks gave a boost to other towns in the Commonwealth who were against SLOTS and CASINOS. The ripples are still being felt.

More on Tewksbury – this town of nearly 30,000 people has been a hotbed for the news media this year. The fed focus on taking down the owner of the infamous Motel Caswell property drew an outcry of violation of civil liberties – as local press covered the police calls, drug raids and clamor over homeless families in residence. The Magistrate of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts concluded “no dice” – the motel was not subject to forfeiture and that its owners were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing. Political pundits continue to study Tewksbury voters who unlike their city-neighbors are more conservative and didn’t go over the top for either Elizabeth Warren or Ed Markey. The state-of-the-art but frugally built Tewksbury High School has been in operation for a full year now – a challenge to the ongoing flight of students to Shawsheen Tech. To the delight of alums and fans the tenacious high school football team is the ruling champion of Division III. The 2013 Redmen have won more games that any football team in the school’s history. The Tewksbury Public Library – a community treasure – succeeded in its goal to host 100 authors in a year. Guest authors included Andre Dubus, III, Dick Howe, Kevin Cullen, William Martin, Bob Forrant and Dan Kennedy who covered topics from social media, Whitey Bulger and ghosts to local history, living longer and labor history. The year ended with Tewksbury being a Twitter sensation, a hot topic on HuffPO, a item on tv and radio and social media across the country. Pop Diva Beyonce in Boston for a concert decided to visit and doing some shopping at the Tewksbury Walmart! Shoppers got gifts – $50 gift cards from Bey… her largesse totaled $37,000 and lots of photos and applause… Hey there Walmart shoppers – it’s Beyonce!

What does 2014 have in store for Tewksbury, Lawrence and the Merrimack Valley? I predict another year of hot political campaigns as four Commonwealth constitutional offices have no incumbent running… the Merrimack Valley will play a pivitol role in the final outcomes. Stay tuned.