Lowell Week in Review: May 7, 2017

Mayor Jim Milinazzo, Memorial Day, 2010

Jim Milinazzo opts out

The announcement by Jim Milinazzo that he would not seek reelection to the Lowell City Council brings local politics to the forefront this week. With all eight of his council colleagues apparently running again, having a “vacancy” in the incumbent lineup changes the dynamics of the race.

My dad, Richard P. Howe, Sr., who was elected to the city council twenty consecutive times, always said that in order to replace an incumbent, a newcomer has to actively make the case for change. Simply running on your resume and perceived popularity is most often a losing strategy since the incumbents get much more exposure and are far more familiar to voters. But in a vote for nine race, adopting a campaign strategy that criticizes incumbents might seem unwise since people who vote primarily for one of the incumbents might also give you a vote, but not if you’re attacking their most favored candidate.

My own observation is that most candidates grossly underestimate what it takes to run a winning race and how difficult it is to win a seat on the city council. Jim Milinazzo’s electoral career provides an example of that. Before running for city council, Milinazzo had served as the city’s planning director, as the executive director of the Lowell Housing Authority, and as an executive at a local bank, all positions in which he did well and which gave him a high public profile. Yet the first time he ran for Lowell City Council he finished tenth. That was 2001 and all nine incumbents ran and were reelected.

Milinazzo ran again in 2003 with better results. He finished third that year, the only non-incumbent to win. (The ninth incumbent, Dan Tenczar, did not seek reelection). Milinazzo slid to seventh place in 2005, ninth place in 2007, and rebounded to fifth place in 2009, when he was also unanimously elected mayor by his colleagues.

Being mayor can be a precarious position electorally, as Milinazzo found out in the 2011 election in which he finished twelfth. (In that same election, two incumbent school committee members, Jackie Doherty and Alison Laraba, both lost and a third, John Leahy, finished eleventh in the city council race).  Milinazzo returned to the city council in 2013, finishing a strong fifth and was reelected again in 2015, finishing sixth.

Personally, I was disappointed by Jim’s announcement. I have agreed with him on most issues, and have admired the way he forcefully speaks out on controversial topics when some of his colleagues adopt the more politically-palatable tactic of silence. Had he run again this time, he would have been an extremely strong candidate, but the demands of this position as Executive Director of the Revere Housing Authority apparently keep him from devoting what he sees as the necessary attention to the city council and so he has opted not to run again.

Robert Gignac opts in (to city council race)

Perhaps the person aided most by Jim Milinazzo’s announcement is Robert Gignac, an incumbent school committee member who on Monday announced his candidacy for city council. Gignac, a 28-year old Centralville home owner, was first elected to the Lowell School Committee in 2011 (the same year Mayor Milinazzo and several incumbent school committee members lost). In 2013, Gignac drew the short straw when all six school committee incumbents ran for reelection with former city councilor Stephen Gendron as the sole challenger. Gendron won; Gignac lost. But Robert came back in 2015, finishing fifth in a twelve person race.

Because of the public exposure that flows from being an incumbent school committee person and the fact that he has been on the city ballot in each of the last three elections, I say that Gignac benefits most from Milinazzo’s departure. But history tells us that making the leap from school committee to city council is no sure thing.

School Committee members running for City Council

Jim Leary is a rare example of one who made a seamless electoral transition from school committee to city council. He topped the school committee ticket in 2013, then finished ninth in the 2015 city council race (aided, perhaps by longtime council incumbent Bill Martin’s decision not to seek reelection that year). But others have been unsuccessful in using a school committee seat as the launch pad for a council run. Here are some examples:

2015 – Dave Conway, who finished third in the 2013 school committee race, finished twelfth in the 2015 city council election.

2011 – John Leahy, who finished second in the 2009 school committee race, finished eleventh in the 2011 city council election (although Leahy was elected to the council in 2013 and remains there now).

2005 – Joe Mendonca, who finished fifth in the 2003 school committee race, finished tenth in the 2005 city council election (although Mendonca joined the council mid-term when George Ramirez resigned, and was elected to the council in his own right in 2007).

1997 – Robert Hoey, who finished sixth in the 1995 school committee race, finished twelfth in the 1997 city council election (Hoey returned to the school committee in 2015 and is presumably seeking reelection this year).

Going back even further for examples of school committee members running for council, in 1987, Gerry Durkin won and Dave Allen lost. In 1985, Kathy Kelley won. In 1981, Gus Coutu won. In 1977, Kathryn Stoklosa lost. In 1975, Wayne Peters won. In 1973, Victor Forsley won. In 1967, James McMahon and Paul Robinson both lost. And in 1965, Tom Crowley won, and George Kouloheras lost.

Candidate Lineup

To the best of my knowledge, with the exception of Councilor Milinazzo who is not running for reelection, and School Committee member Gignac, who is running for city council, all the remaining incumbents on both city council and school committee are seeking reelection.

Others running for city council include Matt LeLacheur, Dan Finn, Karen Cirillo, and Paul Ratha Yem.

Others running for school committee include Dan Shanahan, Noelle Rowe Creegan, and Gerry Nutter. UPDATE: Today’s Lowell Sun contains news that Tim Blake, a middle school principal in Leominster, is also running for Lowell School Committee.

If I’ve missed anyone who is running, please email me at DickHoweJr[at]gmail.com and I’ll immediately add you to the list.

2015 City Election Results

For some historical perspective for this year’s race, here are the council and school committee results from 2015:

City Council

  1. Rita Mercier – 6228
  2. Rodney Elliott – 5430
  3. Edward Kennedy – 4797
  4. John Leahy – 4566
  5. William Samaras – 4540
  6. James Milinazzo – 4434
  7. Daniel Rourke – 4390
  8. Corey Belanger – 4158
  9. James Leary – 4011
  10. Vesna Nuon – 3550
  11. Joseph Mendonca – 3416
  12. David Conway – 3218
  13. Paul Ratha Yem – 3020
  14. Jordan Gys – 2652
  15. Pan So – 1840
  16. Cheth Khim – 1674
  17. Martin Hogan – 1216
  18. Robert Merrill – 824

School Committee

  1. Stephen Gendron – 4778
  2. Jackie Doherty – 4186
  3. Connie Martin – 4119
  4. Robert Hoey – 3872
  5. Robert Gignac – 3897
  6. Andy Descoteaux – 3772
  7. Dennis Mercier – 3623
  8. Ben Opara – 2392
  9. Christopher Roux – 2271
  10. Kamara Kay – 2232
  11. Patrick Farmer – 2078
  12. Dominik Lay – 1968

Upcoming City Council Meeting

This Tuesday’s City Council meeting was supposed to be the big vote on the future of Lowell High School. Because various studies essential to casting that vote have not yet been completed, the vote is now scheduled for the June 13, 2017 council meeting, although that could change too. However, there are at least five “request permission to address the council” individual citizen petitions regarding Lowell High on the council agenda for this Tuesday.

The council will also vote on a $11mil loan order as part of the city’s capital plan. This money will be used for at least 15 items ranging from sidewalk paving to the purchase of new vehicles.

There are also eleven council motions on the agenda:

  1. Samaras – Req. City Mgr. update City Council concerning negotiations with Gervais Volkswagen regarding bike trail.
  2. Samaras/C. Belanger – Req. City Mgr. update City Council regarding lighting in downtown.
  3. Belanger – Req. City Mgr. provide all information to City Council needed to make a decision regarding the Lowell High School Project at least 14 days prior to any such vote.
  4. Belanger/C. Elliott – Req. City Mgr. updated Council regarding hazardous waste day in the City.
  5. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. find ways and means to install a handball court at the North Common and when completed dedicate it to the memory of Luis S. Espinoza as follows: “Luis S. Espinoza Handball Court”.
  6. Rourke – Req. City Mgr. have Law Department draft ordinance to regulate local “Pub Crawls”; which would include public safety measures.
  7. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. have DPW look at corner of Draper Street and Glenellyn Road to clean-up wooded lot in the area.
  8. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. work with DPD on a plan for Merrimack Street and report back to the Council.
  9. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. ask Verizon when double poles on Viola Street will be removed.
  10. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. work with the Police Dept. to enforce no parking on sidewalks.
  11. Kennedy – Req. City Mgr. have the Traffic Engineer re-examine the intersection of High and Rogers Street for possible installation of a 4-way stop sign.

Bob Forrant (center, purple rain jacket) leading Lowell Labor Walk

Lowell Walks

Thanks to Bob Forrant for leading yesterday’s Lowell Walk on Labor in Lowell. Despite dreary weather conditions, 73 people participated in the walk.

Lowell Walks continues next weekend with the spring tours of Lowell Cemetery. The same tour will be given on Friday, May 12, 2017 at 1 pm and again on Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 10 am. Both tours begin at the Lawrence Street gate of the cemetery.

The summer season of Lowell Walks will kick off on Saturday, June 10, 2017 at 10 am from Lowell National Park Visitor Center. That walk, which will be led by me, covers the history of the Western Canal and its surroundings. On each Saturday morning after that except for July 4th and Folk Festival weekend, there will be another Lowell Walk. Please consider joining us.

4 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: May 7, 2017

  1. Michael says:

    Richard, I am curious about whether there are still any buildings or projects existing in Lowell or surrounding towns that were built as part of the WPA government program. Thank you.

  2. Jason says:

    I have seen the WPA markers on sidewalks in Pawtucketville around St. Jeanne d’Arc school. There is also one on the exterior of the Gorham St firehouse.