Understanding Local Politics in Lowell

Following Lowell politics is a chore; understanding Lowell politics is even tougher. In last Sunday’s Week in Review post, I touched upon some of the political forces in the city and how they manifested themselves in the City Council’s debate on the State Senate’s Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill. It’s a topic I took up a few years ago in the “Counter Revolution in Lowell” section of my Lowell Political Year in Review: 2013 blog post.

Here’s what I think is going on in Lowell: Politicians shape their policy decisions to satisfy those who vote in elections. That is true in national and state politics, but it is especially true at the local level. And while politicians will sometimes take bold stands in the face of activism that erupts over a particular issue (for instance, how the council in the face of a large and vocal crowd not only defeated a motion to oppose the state senate’s transgender anti-discrimination bill, but substituted in its place a motion supporting the same bill), longer term policy decisions are made to satisfy not those who show up for an occasional issue dear to them, but those most likely to vote in the next city election.

We all know that in local elections, that means the residents of Belvidere. The precincts in that neighborhood have the highest percentage of residents registered to vote and the highest percentage of registered voters who participate in local elections (which is one reason why so many city elected officials reside in that neighborhood).

My premise is that Belvidere residents tend to be much more conservative in their politics than are voters in the rest of the city. As evidence of that conservatism, compare the precinct vote totals in several recent statewide elections for the two biggest Belvidere precincts (Ward One, Precincts Two and Three) with two precincts in the Highlands (Ward Four, Precinct One and Ward Eight, Precinct Two) and with the city as a whole.

2012 US Senate election with incumbent Republican Scott Brown being challenged by Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Citywide – Warren got 19678 (59%) to Brown’s 13905 (41%)

Ward 1, Precinct 2 – Brown got 1130 votes (58%) to Warren’s 827 (42%)

Ward 1, Precinct 3 – Brown got 930 votes (53%) to Warren’s 826 (47%)

Ward 4, Precinct 1 – Warren got 657 (63%) to Brown’s 377 (36%)

Ward 8, Precinct 2 – Warren got 609 (58%) to Brown’s 445 (42%)

2013 Special US Senate election to fill seat vacated when John Kerry became Secretary of State. The candidates were Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez.

Citywide – Markey got 5656 (57%) to Gomez’s 4150 (42%)

Ward 1, Precinct 2 – Gomez got 435 (55%) to Markey’s 349 (45%)

Ward 1, Precinct 3 – Gomez and Markey both got 354 votes (49%)

Ward 4, Precinct 1 – Markey got 168 (60%) to Gomez’s 110 (39%)

Ward 8, Precinct 2 – Markey got 167 (55%) to Gomez’s 135 (45%)

2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley:

Citywide – Coakley got 10364 (51%) to Baker’s 8915 (44%)

Ward 1, Precinct 2 – Baker got 862 votes (57%) to Coakley’s 601 (40%)

Ward 1, Precinct 3 – Baker got 720 votes (53%) to Coakley’s 601 (44%)

Ward 4, Precinct 1 – Coakely got 361 votes (56%) to Baker’s 237 (37%)

Ward 8, Precinct 2 – Coakley got 352 votes (50%) to Baker’s 327 (46%)

2010 Special US Senate election to fill seat vacated when Ted Kennedy died. The candidates were Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley.

Citywide – Brown got 10559 (52%) to Coakley’s 9571 (47%)

Ward 1, Precinct 2 – Brown got 943 votes (61%) to Coakley’s 600 (39%)

Ward 1, Precinct 3 – Brown got 740 votes (56%) to Coakley’s 565 (43%)

Ward 4, Precinct 1 – Brown got 312 votes (52%) to Coakley’s 284 (47%)

Ward 8, Precinct 2 – Brown got 349 votes (55%) to Coakley’s 278 (44%)

I’m still working on the 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial elections but I’d say the above results help make my point: the voters in Belvidere are more conservative in their politics than are voters in the rest of the city. Because those same voters go to the polls in overwhelming numbers in city elections while voters in other neighborhoods stay home, those seeking and holding elective office at the local level tend to shape (or at least shade) their positions to match the political philosophy of those most likely to vote.

Looking at how that dynamic translates into specific policies and votes will have to wait for another day.

4 Responses to Understanding Local Politics in Lowell

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think its really time to elect council members by district. That would insure representation for different areas of the city, and also a more true representation of political will. Of course it won’t change, because the councilmembers like it just the way it is…the same names appearing over and over.

  2. Linda Copp says:

    This is a very accurate analysis of the political situation on the local level. People throughout the city need to participate by exercising their right to vote if they want their voices to be heard. Your vote is your power, your voice and when counted it changes outcomes and ultimately, quality of lives. This article clearly, shows where the disconnect comes from on a number of issues facing us all on both the local and national level. Lowell is a very diverse population yet, many voters who share similar backgrounds and concerns and who live primarily in specific sections of the city lose their power when they do not go to the polls. Why? Because locally, candidates will represent the concerns of those who do show up to vote and when their base holds different positions on the issues than those who do not vote, the non-voter loses. Elected officials can not do anything for anyone if they do not get elected. I can not stress this more. If you feel you are being undeserved then you need to participate by speaking out and then demanding change by voting. Voting is vital to the fabric of our democracy and the defense of our freedoms to choose. The more of you who vote, the more powerful your vote becomes. There truly is power in numbers and one by one, those numbers will make all the difference to our towns, our cities and our nation.

  3. C R Krieger says:

    Yes, I agree about the views of voters. Looking at the Gubernatorial election it seemed to me to be the areas on the borders of Lowell that tended to go with Charlie Baker and more of the center (central) precincts that went for Martha Coakley. So, it isn’t just The Belvidere. It is also Ward 5, Precincts 1 and 2; Ward 6, Precincts 1, 2, & 3; Ward 8, Precinct 3; Ward 9, Precinct 3; Ward 11, Precincts 2 and 3. Ward 9, Precincts 1 and 2 the margin was less than 10%. Same for Ward 3, Precinct 1 and Ward 8, Precinct 2.

    It isn’t JUST The Belvidere with regard to going for the more conservative, vs the more Progressive candidate. Although one might argue that Martha Coakley wasn’t a fair test.

    My map forwarded under separate cover. :-)

    Regards — Cliff

  4. Brian says:

    Worcester has 6 at-large councilors and 5 district councilors. Lowell could do 5 at-large with 4 district councilors. The issue I see is that the Belvidere councilors want the status quo when we need major disruption. Every citywide motion or ordinance is parsed with how it will affect Belvidere. Councilors govern from a Belvidere Mindset while the urban neighborhoods struggle. It’s similar to how at the macro level suburban reps, including reps that live in suburban neighborhoods in cities, have more power in the state legislature and thus the gateway cities struggle.

    Case in point the rebuilding of the Branch St liquor store and apartment building that burnt down. The owner went before the city to rebuild at a similar scale and was turned down by the city. City officials argued that it was too dense of a neighborhood and that the size of the building contributed to the fire’s death toll. Well duh, the more people that live in a building the more can die in a tragedy. But by that logic we shouldn’t allow people to live in the mills because hundreds could die in a fire. Of course that’s silly because we have modern fire codes and sprinkler systems to prevent such tragedy.

    The owner, by law, had the right to rebuild at the same scale within a year after a fire. It’s now being rebuilt as a one story liquor store. I’m sure they’ll be plenty of parking. The owners attorney says the size was reduced because of cost but I’m skeptical. Maybe it’s easier to pocket the insurance money than fight city hall.

    The Belvidere Mindset looks at density as dangerous, dirty, and something we need to rid the city of. The optimal is a free standing home with 2.357 car spaces and some grass. A district councilor from the Lower Highlands might have been able to bring a different perspective by saying they need more affordable or market rate housing on Branch St. Or that the businesses on Branch St rely on everyday purchases from residents who don’t own cars.

    The Belvidere Mindset is quick to champion Cambodia Town but rules against projects that contribute to its essence and vitality. Its really a shame.