Roots of Plan E in Lowell

An excerpt from Cotton Was King in a chapter written by historian Mary H. Blewett, longtime professor at now-UMass Lowell:

” . . . The movement for the adoption of Plan E [city manager-council government] was headed by Harvard-educated Yankee lawyer Woodbury  F. Howard. City government under Plan E would consist of nine councilors elected at-large by proportional representation. The majority of the councilors would then select a city manager to administer the city. Howard deftly got backing for the new charter from those groups discouraged from political activity under the old charter [Plan B, strong- mayor government]. The committee for Plan E featured prominent Greek, French, and Yankee names plus several Irish ones along with a lone Polish name. The reform movement implicitly opposed ethnic divisions and explicitly condemned partisan politics.

“A special election was held in November, 1942, to vote on the new charter. Despite the strong opposition of the city employees led by Hubert L. McLaughlin, former city solicitor under [Mayor George T.] Ashe, and from the local Democratic leaders, [James J. ] Bruin and [William C.] Geary, the new charter won by a small margin. The victory margin came from heavy voting in French Ward Six and in Republican Ward Eight with significant support from traditionally Democratic wards, indicating strong disenchantment with the Ashe conviction and the local party.”[Mayor Ashe was convicted in Nov. ’42 on charges of “conspiracy to defraud dealing with kick-backs on city purchases” and bribery related to a City construction contract.]

“Woodbury Howard became mayor in 1943 because of his identification with Plan E and the election of four other reform councilors who voted for him. The key choice of city manager, however, went to ex-city treasurer, Democrat John J. Flannery, the personal candidate of Councilor Joseph J. Sweeney who as acting mayor had replaced Ashe. On the vote to choose the manager, reform sentiment vanished and the Democrats won on a straight party vote, five to four.  . . .”

—from “The Mills and the Multitudes” by Mary H. Blewett, Chapter XI in Cotton Was King: A History of Lowell, Massachusetts (Lowell Historical Society, 1976)

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