Lowell Week in Review: January 8, 2017

New City of Lowell Website

Congratulations to all involved in the launch of the new city of Lowell website. It has a great look with plenty of pictures. It also has a responsive design which means it automatically rearranges itself to better fit the screen of your tablet or cell phone (rather than shrinking the desktop version down to near invisibility). I especially appreciate the Like Lowell page which serves as a clearinghouse for special events and visitor information. (More on that in coming weeks).

Meeting minutes and agendas are easy to find, and “council packets” are available for download as a single PDF file. I tested that system for this coming Tuesday’s meeting. It is a relatively brief agenda. One motion of interest was a joint one by Corey Belanger and John Leahy asking that Skanska (the city’s architect/consultant on the Lowell High School project) “provide a report outlining the rejection of the South Common as a viable location for new high school.”

South Common

South Common

South Common

According to a Grant Welker article in Friday’s Sun, the High School Building Committee is contemplating three sites: the existing downtown high school; practice fields adjacent to Cawley Stadium in Belvidere; and LeBLanc Park which is adjacent to the Wang School in Pawtucketville. The article also states that Regatta Field and South Common have been ruled out as possible school sites.

This fascination with the South Common as the site of a new high school is nothing new, especially for Councilor Belanger. In an April 19, 2014 Sun article, Belanger is quoted as saying “If the high school stays [downtown], we are going to doom the downtown forever” and said his preferred location for a new high school was the South Common.

In response to that article, I wrote a blog post asking If Lowell High moves, what’s to take its place? Here’s the gist of what I wrote:

My biggest question, though, is what do the South Common proponents intend to put on Kirk Street once the existing high school is gone? Lowell High is by far the largest employer, the largest concentration of people, and the largest physical footprint in downtown Lowell. If it is moved elsewhere, what is to take its place? From now on, anytime someone says “let’s move Lowell High to the South Common, Prince Spaghetti, Cawley Stadium, wherever,” the first response should not be a critique of the proposed new location; it should be this question: What is to go on Kirk Street? Is there a plan? Or is there just some vague hope that “if we vacate it, they will come.”

For now, other than saying that abolishing a 20 acre, 160 year old public park (the South Common) is a bad idea, I’ll withhold further comment on this motion until its makers elaborate on their reasoning at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Besides the regular council meeting, there will also be a Finance Subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m. Topics to be discussed are “Hamilton Canal District Overview including Master Plan Review; Parking Garage; and Ongoing Projects.” Back in December at a meeting at Western Avenue Studios, staffers from the Department of Planning and Development mentioned that the latest proposal for the Lord Overpass redo would be presented to the city council in January. If there is to be such a presentation, it doesn’t look like it will happen this week.

January 7, 1979: Vietnam Invades Cambodia

Yesterday was an important anniversary for many of our Cambodian neighbors. That day in 1979 is seen as the anniversary of the Vietnamese Army advancing into Cambodia and ousting the Khmer Rouge. This event is at the root of much of the divisiveness that exists in Lowell’s Cambodian community today. As a friend wrote on Facebook yesterday, some Cambodians see Vietnam’s action on January 7, 1979 as an invasion; others see it as a liberation.

The broader Lowell community got a glimpse of these conflicting passions back in March when hundreds of members of Lowell’s Cambodian community attended the March 29, 2016 city council meeting to protest the planned visit by General Hun Manet, son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.  After that meeting, I posted an essay on recent Cambodian history that included several paragraphs about the Vietnamese invasion and its aftermath.

While it is impossible for me to fully understand the past experiences of so many of our Cambodian neighbors, I do hope we all find opportunities to work together for the best interests of Lowell regardless of our positions on national and international issues.

All Politics is Local

Speaking of our positions on national issues, the headline in yesterday’s New York Times – “Putin Led a Complex Cyberattack Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Finds” – was pretty devastating.  The basis of the article was a joint report of the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA that was made public an unclassified version of the report right after the leaders of those three agencies briefed President-elect Trump on their findings.

One of those delivering the report was James Comey, the director of the FBI. That would be the same James Comey who many accuse of favoring Trump in the election. And wasn’t the CIA the same agency whose leader a number of years ago delivered to President George W. Bush an assessment that the case for weapons of mass destruction being in Iraq was a “slam dunk,” which, as President elect Trump is so fond of mentioning, was a completely bogus finding? Also related to the Iraq War, isn’t the New York Times the same newspaper that published breathless articles by Judith Miller about the certainty of Iraqi WMDs, only we now know that those articles were fictions fed to Miller as part of a purposeful propaganda campaign waged by Vice President Cheney and his staff to build support for their intended invasion of Iraq?

Let me be clear: I didn’t vote for Trump. I don’t like him. I’m not going to “give him the benefit of the doubt.” But neither am I going to fall into the “affirmation not information” trap of embracing stories I agree with while disregarding those with which I disagree. “Fake news” got a lot of media attention after the election, but I think a bigger problem is twofold: the national media, both mainstream and social, is more about entertainment, ratings, and profits, than it is about conveying unbiased information. Problem two is that we, as consumers of that information, tend to agree with news that aligns with our own beliefs and disagree with those that differ with those beliefs. (How many who condemned Clinton’s use of a private email server now brush aside reports of Russian cyber support for Trump, and vice versa?). I’m not suggesting that we all crawl into an information hole and disregard national news. I am suggesting that when we consume such news, we make full use of our critical thinking skills and constantly remind ourselves of our own biases.

In the meantime, our mantra should be “all politics is local.” At the local level, both with politics and with media in all its forms, we have a better ability to assess the credibility and motives of those staking out positions on various issues, and we can have a bigger impact on the outcome of government policy.

With that in mind, remember that there will be a city election this fall. If you’re not already doing so, start paying attention to the city council and the school committee.

As I navigated around the new city website, I found a “Meet the City Council” page which provides each councilor with his or her own webpage. I enjoyed reading each councilor’s biographical information and contrasting them with those of their colleagues. So if all politics is local, knowing something about your elected representatives is a good place to start. Here’s what the city’s new website says about each of our city councilors:

Corey Belanger – Councilor Belanger, a life-long resident of Lowell, lives in the city’s Belvidere neighborhood. He attended the Lowell Public Schools and has owned a small business in the downtown for 12 years. Corey served on the Zoning Board of Appeals from 2003 to 2013, serving as Vice Chair from 2010-2013. An active member of the community, Corey is one of the founders of Winterfest and serves on the City of Lights Parade Committee and the Lowell Festival Foundation Advisory Board (the fiscal agent for the Lowell Folk Festival). Councilor Belanger’s top priorities are public safety, economic development and the future of Lowell High School.

Rodney Elliott – To be published.

Edward Kennedy – Edward J. Kennedy served on the Lowell City Council for four terms from 1978 to 1985. In 2011, he was elected to a fifth term on the Lowell City Council and has remained. In January 2016 he was elected Mayor. Mayor Kennedy is a lifelong resident of Lowell and resides in the Belvidere section of the City. He is a graduate of Boston University and holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Framingham State University. He is self-employed as a commercial real estate appraiser.

John Leahy – John Leahy resides in the Belvidere section of Lowell with his wife Joni and their three children Delane, Madeline and Jack. He is the son of Daniel and Gloria Leahy. John has four siblings: Dan, Mark, Kathleen and Lynda. Councilor Leahy is a graduate of Bishop Guertin High School and UMass Lowell where he earned a bachelor of science degree in Business Management. Councilor Leahy has owned and operated Leahy Painting for more than 25 years. Councilor Leahy served on the Lowell School Committee from January 2001 to January 2011. While on the School Committee Councilor Leahy served as Vice Chair for the 2006-2007 term under Mayor William F. Martin. Councilor Leahy has served on many boards and civic organizations including Celebration of Life Jamaica and Lowell Mental Health. Councilor Leahy has coached for Lowell Youth Soccer, Shedd Park Baseball and Lowell Lacrosse.

James Leary – To be published.

Rita Mercier – Rita Mercier is the wife of the late Ralph Mercier. She has four children. Rita currently works for the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department. She was born and raised in Lowell, the daughter of the late Rita and Leo Rospond. On January 7, 2002, Rita Mercier became the third woman ever elected Mayor of the City of Lowell, Massachusetts, since its inception in 1826. She has topped the ticket in eight elections. She has worked tirelessly to make Lowell a destination city and to provide the seniors with a new Senior Center, completed in 2003. Councilor Mercier has served on numerous subcommittees including Auditor/Clerk Oversight, Parks and Recreation, Public Safety, Neighborhoods/Traffic, Environmental, Council Rules, and the Youth. As Chair of Parks and Recreation, she led the development of ten park renovations. Currently, Councilor Mercier is Chair of the Community Services and Parks and Recreation Subcommittees and is a member of the Arts and Culture, Flood Issues, Neighborhoods, and Youth Services Subcommittees. On the statewide level, Councilor Mercier served as Committee Organizer for Committee to Elect Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson for President in Brooklyn, New York, Senator Edward Kennedy Re-election Committee, and Committee to Protect Jobs and The Use of Convenient Containers (The Bottle Bill). Councilor Mercier is a member of the Ladies Auxiliary at the East End Club and Honorary Member of the Post 662 VFW Honor Guard and an Honorary Member of the Greek American Legion. Councilor Mercier also has served on the Board of Directors of several area organizations, Friends of the Council On Aging, Lowell Plan, and the Merrimack Valley Economic Council.

James Milinazzo – Councilor Milinazzo previously served on the Council from 2003 through 2011, serving as Mayor in the 2010-2011 term. In that time he was Chairman of a number of subcommittees including the Economic Development and Housing Subcommittees and served on the Neighborhood and Public Safety Subcommittees, among others. A 1972 graduate of Lowell High School, Jim received his Bachelor’s degree from Merrimack College and Master’s in Public Administration from Suffolk University. Councilor Milinazzo boasts a varied professional career bridging the public and private sectors. He has served as the Director of the city’s Division of Planning and Development, as well as the Executive Director of the Lowell Housing Authority. He served as the Executive Director of the Lowell Plan and the Lowell Development and Financial Corporation, Senior Vice President at Lowell Institution for Savings and MASSBANK, and Vice President at TD Bank and now is Vice President of Business Services at Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union. Councilor Milinazzo lives in the city’s Belvidere neighborhood with his wife Anabel. They have one daughter, Julie Durkin, who is married to Lowell attorney Brian Durkin and teaches history at Chelmsford High School. Councilor Milinazzo spends his spare time playing with his grandson Tyler James Durkin, who was born in April 2012.

Daniel Rourke – Dan Rourke is a lifelong resident of the City of Lowell. He is married to April Rourke. They have two children, Haley and Zachary, and reside in Pawtucketville. He is a graduate of Lowell High School and UMass Lowell with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology. Councilor Rourke is part of a five generation Lowell family, he is the son of Patricia Casey and John Rourke. Councilor Rourke has a long career of diverse work experience in the Criminal Justice and Human Service fields. His accomplishments include effective management of law enforcement and counseling services within diverse statewide organizations. He currently works for the Massachusetts Trial Court as an Assistant Chief Probation Officer. Over the years, he has worked with several police departments in the Merrimack Valley as well as the Middlesex Sheriff’s Department and the Massachusetts State Police. During his career, Councilor Rourke has also worked as a substance abuse counselor and a juvenile caseworker. Councilor Rourke has coached baseball for the Pawtucketville Youth Organization.

William Samaras – Councilor Samaras, elected to his first term on the City Council in November 2013, is no stranger to public service. In 2010, he retired from a 44-year career with the Lowell Public schools as a teacher and administrator, the last 19 as Headmaster of Lowell High School. During his tenure as headmaster, Lowell High was named one of the top urban high schools by U.S. News and World Report and one of the best managed public schools by Boston Magazine. Born in Lowell, Bill was raised in the city’s Centralville neighborhood on Christian Hill. Prior to graduating from Lowell High School in 1959, he worked in his father’s store, Henry’s, on Bridge Street. Councilor Samaras holds degrees from Boston University, Salem State College and Northeastern University. Since retiring from Lowell High School, Bill has held several positions in the Haverhill Public Schools. He lives in the city’s Belvidere neighborhood with his wife Joyce. They have two grown sons Chris and John, and two granddaughters, Caroline and Audrey.

3 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: January 8, 2017

  1. Paul Marion says:

    Here’s the brief Facebook comment I left at Gerry Nutter’s blog this morning. I may have a lot more to say after Tuesday night.

  2. PaulM says:

    Thanks to Gerry for his common-sense remarks about the South Common resurfacing in the high school discussion. I will reserve further extended comment until the discussion Tuesday night other than to say did “we” not vote unanimously about a month ago to put lights on the athletics field to allow a new youth football program to play on the South Common at the request of CC Dan Rourke? And hasn’t the City announced $700,000 in upgrades at the South Common starting next spring with funds obtained by Rep Nangle and the delegation combined with City of Lowell funds? It’s not even Groundhog Day yet and this is starting to feel like the popular Bill Murray movie. Been there, done that. Haven’t we moved on?

  3. Joe from Lowell says:

    Thanks for this. I have been worried lately that the residents of the city’s Belvidere neighborhood might not have sufficient representation on the City Coincil, and this post really put my mind at ease.