Lowell Week in Review: August 31, 2014

The City Council and Downtown

Instead of travelling to a distant location for a summer vacation I stuck around New England and made short trips to cities like Boston, Salem, and North Adams in Massachusetts, Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Portland, Maine.  Anytime I go to such places I always compare my experience to that of a visitor to Lowell.  In all of these places I spotted an assortment of panhandlers and others who were idling the day away just as there are in Lowell.  But in those other places there was also a critical mass of other people which caused the panhandlers and idlers to fade into the background.  In downtown Lowell, there are so few people conducting business or shopping that the panhandlers stand out more than they do elsewhere.

Trying to chase away panhandlers is not a winning strategy.  It will lock the city in an unwinnable fight that diverts attention from larger issues.  And the biggest issue of all, perhaps, is how to get more people of all types into downtown Lowell?  For all the talk of “economic development” by the city council, there have not been a lot of new ideas put forth.

Dan Rourke continues to push for an expansion of wifi service in the downtown which is on the right track.  City Manager Kevin Murphy has floated two strategic initiatives – transitioning downtown into a “college town” and attracting more Southeast Asian businesses and consumers into downtown but not much has been done to implement either of those strategies.  Part of the reason is that no councilor or councilors have emerged as champions of either of these initiatives.  One thing Kevin Murphy made clear when he was interviewing for city manager was that he as manager would work for the council.  Their priorities would be his priorities.  With no one pushing either of these ideas through motions, subcommittee hearings and requests for reports, these plans have been placed in a politically-induced coma.

Instead, we get golden oldies like panhandlers and parking every two weeks.  Sure, both of those things are problems but they won’t be solved with the approach currently being pursued by the council (as I wrote two weeks ago, “Bon Marche isn’t walking through that door, fans.”).  They will be solved, or more accurately, they’ll take care of themselves, if the council and the city sets its gaze on a big picture strategy for downtown that makes sense and is achievable.

In the last election those who voted made it clear they wanted certain city councilors in the front seat; I doubt they wanted those councilors to have their eyes glued to the rear view mirror with gazes locked onto last week’s outrage with no one looking forward towards the horizon, contemplating the path the city should take heading into the future.

Guns and Violence

Yes, it’s getting scary.  The old narrative was that shootings in the city were largely self-contained and unless a wrong doer was a particularly bad shot, innocent people didn’t have much to fear.  The new narrative is bullets flying on the Lowell Connector at Thorndike Street at 5 in the afternoon and a guy stopped for running a red light responding by opening fire on a police officer.  The common thread through all of this is guns.  Why do we have to accept as a given that bad guys will always have guns?  Why doesn’t a city councilor make a motion to have the police provide the ownership and possessory history of each gun that they’ve seized?  Where are they coming from?  In a rational world, that’s one of the first questions we’d want answered. We don’t live in a rational world, however.  We live in a world in which politicians at all levels live in mortal fear of the gun lobby and so we’re foreclosed from pursuing a strategy that could have a greater impact on this problem than any other.

As for the wrongdoers themselves, yes, we can and should lock these guys up but at some point they’re going to get out of jail.  That’s part of the problem now; a bunch of guys locked up a few years ago have wrapped up their sentences and hit the streets with no skills or prospects other than a return to crime.  So when they get out, they arm themselves and the cycle continues.  Maybe if we did more to help them get jobs and housing and stay off drugs and alcohol after their release the incidence of them reoffending would be reduced and we’d all be better off.

Methadone Clinic

Driving out Westford Street to Drum Hill yesterday, I noticed a woman in a fluorescent vest standing at the corner of Westford and Stedman Streets.  On the way back, she was still there, standing next to a couple of guys seated at the bus shelter at that intersection.  Could she be an employee of the methadone clinic further up Stedman Street?  Has the clinic staved off closure by instituting a shuttle service from the bus shelter on Westford Street to the clinic?  Perhaps, but we undoubtedly will hear more on this issue in the coming weeks.

Primary Election

The State Primary Election is just a week from this Tuesday so the next nine days should see some pretty intense campaign activity especially in the 18th Middlesex District where five candidates are chasing the Democratic nomination and the right to face unenrolled candidate Fred Bahou in November.  The five candidates are Brian Donovan, Jim Leary, Rady Mom, Dave Ouellette and Paul Ratha Yem.  (Chris on Learning Lowell has a great post today on the candidates in this race.  Please check it out).

There’s no clear front runner due in part to overlapping bases.  That can be seen in a walk around the Daley School were a handful of houses have signs for two candidates in this vote for one race.  Today or tomorrow I plan to make the rounds of all the neighborhoods in the district and later this week will write an assessment of the factors I see as influencing the outcome of the race.  If you missed the August 19 KhmerPost USA-sponsored debate you can still catch it online from LTC and another debate, this one sponsored by the Lowell Sun and UMass Lowell, will be held this coming Thursday, September 4 I believe at University Crossing.  I’ll list the location and time once I’ve confirmed them.

The 18th Middlesex race won’t be the only one on the ballot on September 9.  Here’s a rundown of the offices that will appear on the ballot that day:

U.S. Senator – Edward Markey – unopposed.  Markey was elected last June to fill the term of John Kerry who became Secretary of State.  Markey must now run for a full six year term.

Congress – Niki Tsongas – unopposed.  Tsongas was elected in 2007 and is a candidate for re-election this year.

Governor – Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman and Don Berwick.

Lieutenant Governor – Steve Kerrigan, Mike Lake and Leland Cheung.

Treasurer – Barry Finegold, Deb Goldberg and Tom Conroy.

Attorney General – Maura Healey and Warren Tolman.

Secretary of State – William Galvin, unopposed

State Auditor – Suzanne Bump, unopposed

Middlesex County District Attorney – The current District Attorney, Marianne Ryan, is running for re-election.  She is being challenged by Michael Sullivan who is the current Middlesex County Clerk of Courts.

State Senate – Eileen Donoghue – unopposed

For the Republicans:

US Senate – Brian Herr

Congress – Ann Wofford

Governor – Charlie Baker or Mark Fisher

Lieutenant Governor – Karyn Polito

Treasurer – Mike Heffernan

Attorney General – John Miller

Secretary of State – Dave D’Arcangelo

State Auditor – Patricia Saint Aubin

There are no Republican candidates in either the 1st Middlesex State Senate (that I know of) or the 18th Middlesex State Representative races.

The Primary Election is on Tuesday, September 9, 2014.  Polling places will be open from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.  Remember to check the list of polling places on the Lowell Election Commission website since a majority of the locations of voting places have changed since the last election.

Blog Admin

Now that our new blog format has been in place for a couple of months, we’re focusing on some of the new features like the Curated Calendar.  Look to the left for the “Upcoming Events” box and click the “View All Events” link to see the full calendar.

Also, if you miss our former “blog rolls” as a means for navigating to other websites, it’s available on the “Community Links” tab on the upper menu bar.  We’re working on a major upgrade to our “election results” feature which should be available in advance of this year’s state election in November.