Week in Review: March 23, 2014

A couple of real estate deals that intersect politics closed on Friday. 22 Olde Canal Drive, the site of the proposed methadone clinic alongside Stedman Street near the Lowell/Chelmsford line was sold for $1,650,000. The buyer was 22 Olde Canal Drive LLC which, according to the Secretary of State’s website is in the business of owning and managing real estate. The deal was financed by Digital Federal Credit Union with a $3,170,000 construction loan. In December, the Board of Appeals issued Habit Op-Co a special permit to move its methadone clinic from Hall Street to the Olde Canal Drive location. Supposedly one of the abutters appealed that decision but the clinic operators seem to be proceeding with construction of the clinic despite the appeal.

The second noteworthy real estate closing was for 150 Wood Street which is at the corner of Westford and Wood in the outer Highlands. That parcel was purchased by Kazanjian Enterprises for $945,000 and was financed with a $1,400,000 construction loan from the Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank. Kazanjian is to build a new branch of the Lowell Five there as a replacement for the older branch office at the Wood Street Market Basket Plaza. When this proposal first arose it generated some controversy because the Wood Street parcel is the home of the Jerathmell Bowers house, which having been constructed in 1673, is the oldest building in Lowell. However, all involved acted reasonably and the planning board approved a design that would save and at least stabilize the Bowers House somewhere on the same site.

Downtown Parking

The Economic Development subcommittee took up the issue of downtown parking on Tuesday night before the regular council meeting. (I did a report on the subcommittee meeting). It seems that for several councilors a key element of economic development is to not ticket cars that are illegally parked. What happens is that a patron of a downtown business gets a parking ticket, storms back into the business and lashes out at the business owner, saying something like “I got a ticket while I was in your store/restaurant/bar; I’m never coming back here again.” The distraught business owner then complains to anyone who will listen, including city councilors. Reasonable people would ask “why did the person not put a quarter in the parking kiosk?” but the councilors talked about everything but that in a search for loopholes to pacify the complainers.

The end result of the meeting was to have the city’s Parking Authority hire an expert to do a study of the situation and to offer some recommendations. It’s not hard to predict what the expert will say: enforce the parking ordinance as written to drive long term parkers into the garages and leave the curbside spaces free for short term parkers. In other words, do what we’re already doing now but enforce the ordinance more aggressively. There might be a twist or two but one thing is certain, the conclusion of the report will not be what the council wants to hear. For a preview of the type of analysis that will be contained in the report, check out Corey Sciuto’s recent blog post on this topic. Corey has been a downtown resident since 2006 and is a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association so he has eight years of firsthand experience with downtown parking. His analysis is excellent and should be read by anyone trying to understand the issues involved.

Criticism on John Leahy

Through the decades city councilors have mostly refrained from publicly accusing each other of ethics violations mostly because they ascribe to the “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” guideline. Rita Mercier departed from that practice at Tuesday night’s meeting by attacking fellow councilor John Leahy for what she alleged was his violation of the state ethics law. Her complaint against Leahy was that he did not file a written disclosure that his brother-in-law George Ramirez was a candidate for City Manager prior to submitting last Friday his five names of candidates to be interviewed. While it’s true that Leahy did not file the form until Monday, no one in the city who follows politics did not already know of the relationship between Leahy and Ramirez so the exact timing of the filing was a pretty minimal technical violation. Consequently, the enormity of the attack didn’t make a lot of sense, however, Councilor Mercier may have alluded to another motive during her comments. She was upset that no other councilor had selected a single one of the candidates Leahy did other than Ramirez. On Tuesday night, Leahy kept his composure and explained his general reasons for selecting the way he did, offering a rational explanation for his choices. The whole episode was very strange and suggests that there is more going on here than we are yet able to discern.

Rita Mercier was not alone in attacking John Leahy. Chris Scott on the Column Blog has some posts critical of Leahy. On the other hand, Jack Mitchell on Lowell Live Feed came to Leahy’s defense.

St Patrick’s Day Breakfast

The political week began early on Monday with the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast which continues to be a magnet for statewide candidates. In attendance were gubernatorial candidates Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman, Don Berwick, Joe Avallone and Charlie Baker; Lieutenant Governor candidates Mike Lake, Steve Kerrigan, James Arena-DeRosa and Leland Cheung; Attorney General candidates Maura Healey and Warren Tolman; and Treasurer candidates Barry Finegold, Deb Goldberg and Tom Conroy. Typically the Lowell breakfast occurs before the one in South Boston so statewide candidates use Lowell to try out their routines. This year the Boston breakfast was on Sunday, the day before Lowell. Perhaps that’s why much of the statewide comedy seemed a bit uninspired.

Local politicians who made it to the podium this year have adopted the PhotoShopped picture as the standard gag (in other words, they take a picture familiar in another context and superimpose the face of a local political figure onto it). Some are funny; some are not. Too many of them tend to drag them all down and there was a little of that this year.

The highlight of the morning came when emcee Eileen Donoghue asked former City Manager Bernie Lynch if he wanted to say a few words. Lynch, who was sitting in the crowd, leapt to his feet and bounded up to the podium to a collective gasp of the 400 people in attendance. Some gasped in dread; others in delighted expectation; but everyone gasped. Pulling a sheath of papers from his coat pocket, Lynch tossed some barbs at a few of his tormentors and would have kept going had Donoghue not chased him from the podium. Lynne from Left in Lowell was in the crowd and recorded some video of Lynch’s performance.


Each successive Lowell St. Patrick’s Day breakfast makes me miss Ken Harkins more. Ken was the original emcee of the breakfast and he certainly had a way with the crowd, mostly by skewering the politicians in attendance. I have a couple of videos of him from the 1989 breakfast posted to YouTube. The links follow and that seems like a good place to end this post.



3 Responses to Week in Review: March 23, 2014

  1. Joe says:

    I think John Leahy made a massive political blunder by not simply putting Kevin Murphy in his top 5. If he had done that then there would be no teeth on those who are currently biting him. The attacks on him are becoming both more frequent and more public. To me this means one thing…..the Murphy supporters are getting nervous and Ramirez has a shot at winning.

  2. Joan Huot says:

    I could not even begin to guess who might come out on top in the Manager selection, but I do know that I cannot vote for Leahy again. The minute Ramirez applied, Leahy should have excused himself from any participation in the process. Ethics is often in the eye of the beholder, law not withstanding. My in-laws are considered immediate members of my family , as they are in most of the families I know. We do draw the line at some cousins, though. LOL

  3. Joe says:

    Thanks for posting the Ken Harkins videos. This is what this event was and still should be……funny. I can’t imagine a better year for material then this year yet it was still a dud. The breakfast is a day that political junkies mark on their calendars but I feel that is changing. Is anyone looking forward to this event next year?
    P.S – There were many funny jokes from Harkins but the pit bull joke was my favorite.