Revisiting 2007, 2008 & 2009

The Year in Review Blog post has been a tradition on since its inception in 2007. As I begin writing my 2016 version, I thought a trip down memory lane might be worthwhile, so this week I will repost past Year in Review articles. Today features a trifecta: 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Top Ten Lowell Political Events of 2007

Marty Meehan resigns from Congress to become Chancellor of UMass Lowell.

Niki Tsongas wins Democratic primary in Congressional special election, defeating Lowell City Councilor Eileen Donoghue, and State Representatives Jamie Eldridge, Barry Finegold and Jim Miceli.

Tsongas defeats Republican Jim Ogonowski in a surprisingly close special Congressional election.

Superintendent of Schools Karla Baehr opts out of a renewal of her contract to seek the state Commissioner of Education job.

Radio station WCAP (980 AM) sold by long-time owner Maurice Cohen to Clark Smidt and Sam Poulten who vow to retain the station’s local focus.

Changes on the Lowell City Council as Alan Kazanjian and Mike Lenzi are elected to replace Eileen Donoghue and Joe Mendonca (who had replaced George Ramirez who had resigned midterm to take a position in the Governor Deval Patrick administration).

The School Committee is shaken up as newcomer Dave Conway tops the ticket and Baehr-critic Regina Faticanti finishes a strong second while five-term incumbent Kevin McHugh is defeated.

Cancer claimed the life of Paul Sullivan, who began his media career at WLLH as the host of “Morning Magazine” and who became a force in local and state politics as a Lowell Sun columnist and later a talk show host on WBZ radio.

The collapse of the real estate market continued, with home sales down and foreclosures up, and the resulting credit crisis threatening to bring down the entire economy.

The Boston Red Sox win the World Series (again with a team filled with former Lowell Spinners: Jonathan Papelbon, John Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brandon Moss.

Top Ten Events of 2008

The Lowell School Committee hired Dr. Chris Scott to follow Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr as Superintendent of Schools.

The future of the Tsongas Arena and LeLacheur Park is murky, due to questions about who will own the arena and manage the baseball park.

Changes in local media as “Sunrise” ends at WUML, George Anthes leaves the air on WCAP but goes on cable TV with “City Life,” and Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch and Republican activist Cliff Krieger launch their own blogs.

The most controversial issues for the city council were procedural: changing from weekly to biweekly meetings; a residency ordinance proposal that died a quick and quiet death; an initial defeat of the City Manager’s proposed reorganization of the Office of Cultural Affairs.

One of the most dangerous intersections in Massachusetts, Plain-Chelmsford-Powell, was reconfigured, and the University Avenue Bridge was closed for emergency repairs.

Register of Probate John Buonomo was caught on tape allegedly taking cash from copying machines at the Cambridge Registry of Deeds Office; state Senator James Marzilli is facing charges arising from several incidents in Lowell.

The national election took much of our attention with Hillary Clinton winning the state Democratic primary in February, but Barack Obama defeating John McCain in November’s presidential election.

Gasoline topped $4 per gallon earlier in the year, however, the price fell it $1.65 by Christmas.

Foreclosures continued up while home sales and house values declined.

The Patriots lost in the Super Bowl; the Dracut Middies won the high school crown; and the Celtics won the NBA championship for the first time in 20 years.

Top Lowell political events of 2009

It was a busy year in Lowell politics, so I won’t limit myself to just ten items. Here is my list of the top political events in Lowell in 2009:

Incumbents lost in all three local elected boards this November. On the city council, Alan Kazanjian and Armand Mercier failed to win re-election. They (and Mike Lenzi who did not run) were replaced by Franky Descoteaux, Joe Mendonca, and Patrick Murphy. On the school committee, Regina Faticanti, the longest serving elected official in Lowell at the time, was not re-elected. She was replaced by first-time candidate Alison Lariba. And on the Vocational School Committee, long-time incumbent Mike Hayden was not re-elected, with the voters choosing Fred Bahou instead.

A ballot referendum to change the method by which Lowell voters chose their city councilors called Choice Voting was defeated by 6841 against to 5174 in favor.

The world fiscal crisis forced the City government to make substantial cuts to its FY09 budget, including many layoffs.

Arguing that more cuts were needed, a majority of the city council voted to eliminate funding for the position of Assistant to the City Manager (held by Andy Sheehan).  The same councilors also voted to eliminate the city’s primary election.  At election time, many voters later identified the outcome of these two matters as a cause for dissatisfaction with some members of the city council.

The school committee also made substantial cuts, eliminating more than 120 jobs. In a controversial move (to some), the committee also voted to move the school department headquarters from the Bon Marche building downtown to the newly vacated Rogers School on Highland Street (which was also closed in a cost-cutting measure).

Two of the elected officials who lost in November became involved in legal matters prior to the election.  Early in the year, a clerk-magistrate in the Lowell District Court issued a complaint against Regina Faticanti for threatening to commit a crime with the alleged victim being Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Scott.  Just before Christmas, the case was resolved short of trial with all parties agreeing that Faticanti be placed on pretrial probation with various conditions imposed but with no admission of guilt or any wrongdoing.  In September, a photograph of the city’s plumbing inspector sleeping at a business owned by City Councilor Alan Kazanjian emerged in the media along with an investigative report that revealed the inspector performing private work on City time.  Then in October, it was disclosed that a building in Chelmsford owned by Kazanjian was tied into the Lowell sewer system despite the City’s earlier denial of a request to do just that.  Finally, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office had subpoenaed all records related to all properties owned by Kazanjian, although there have been no further disclosures about the scope or progress of that investigation.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell became the owner of two of the anchor buildings of downtown Lowell, the Doubletree Hotel (which was purchased from private owners in April to become the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center) and the Tsongas Arena (which was transferred by the city to the university in October) and renamed the Paul E. Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.

In economic development news, the new Target store on Plain Street opened in October, the official ground-breaking for the Hamilton Canal development occurred in November, and by Christmas the Lowe’s on Chelmsford Street is rapidly taking shape.  In addition, the new Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union headquarters opened and a number of new stores, shops and markets opened in downtown.  And Elliot’s Hot Dog stand re-opened.

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy died in August after an extended illness.  Controversy arose when the state legislature voted to alter the method of filling a vacancy in the Senate.  Formerly, the governor would appoint someone to fill the seat until the next state election, but in the expectation of John Kerry becoming president in 2004 with a Republican governor in office, the legislature changed the law to have the seat filled by a special election.  But this year, with health care reform possibly hanging on a single vote, the governor and legislature decided to change the law once again by allowing the governor to name an interim Senator until a successor could be elected.  Governor Patrick appointed Paul Kirk who did, in fact, cast a critical vote on health care reform just last week.

As for the special election, after former Congressman Joe Kennedy and present Congressmen Marty Meehan and Steve Lynch all decided not to run, the Democratic field ended up with Martha Coakley, Mike Capuano, Steve Pagliuca and Alan Khazai with Coakley winning by a wide margin in the December primary.  In January 2010, she will face Scott Brown who defeated Jack E Robinson in the Republican primary.

In April, TV trucks from Boston descended on the Pine Street headquarters of the Lowell Health Department to report on the first cases of the H1N1 flu in Massachusetts, which were diagnosed in two boys here in Lowell.

Hollywood came to Lowell this summer as Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and a large production company spent several weeks on location filming The Fighter, the story of Lowell boxer Micky Ward.

In March, the City administration issued homeowners cranberry colored barrels and changed the way the city’s trash was collected.

In May, the City government and the Lowell Spinners minor league baseball club entered into a new 10-year lease for Lelacheur Field.

A town hall meeting on health care reform in Chelmsford hosted by Niki Tsongas featured many opponents of reforms and previewed emotional confrontations around the country throughout the summer and fall.

Old media continued to suffer with the Boston Globe being threatened with closure if its unions didn’t make major salary and benefit concessions (which they did).  The Lowell Sun forced all employees to take furloughs in February, laid off some employees in April, raised the newsstand price of the daily paper from 50 to 75 cents, and removed “The Column” from its website in a move preparatory to charging for content delivered on its website.

The influence of new media continued to grow with a number of local candidates making YouTube and other social networking sites as major components of their campaigns.  A number of new blogs such as MrMillCity, Lowell Shallot, Lowell Handmade, and Art is the Handmaid of Human Good appeared on the scene.