Lowell Week in Review: March 28, 2018

City Manager Selection

This Tuesday night the city council will meet at 5 pm to interview the three finalists for the position of Lowell City Manager. The three applicants are State Senator Eileen Donoghue, MIT assistant dean James White of Marshfield, and Linda Millsaps, the director of a North Carolina local government think tank. Forty-five minutes has been allotted for each interview.

At last Tuesday’s council meeting, Rita Mercier called the interview process a charade and advocated skipping the interviews and just taking a vote. Councilor John Leahy also said he was willing to dispense with interviews, but all the other councilors who spoke strongly supported the interview process. As Ed Kennedy put it, even if we all think we know who we’re going to vote for, it’s important to follow the process.

I concur with those who want the interviews to happen. Four years ago, it was pretty clear that Kevin Murphy would be selected by the council to be city manager, but his interview was nonetheless valuable in several respects. First, the masterful job Murphy did in his interview confirmed the judgment of the councilors who were inclined to support him. Also, Murphy used the interview to lay out his agenda for the city should he be selected. In that interview, he said the three pillars of his administration would be economic development, public safety and education. For the duration of his time as city manager, he did what he said he was going to do in his interview.

Looking at it another way, there have been times when the front-runner for the manager’s position had a poor interview and the council chose another applicant. As unimaginable as that would be this time, it’s another reason why it’s important to follow the process.

Eileen Donoghue, who most believe will be elected Lowell City Manager on Tuesday, is a native of Holyoke, Massachusetts and is a graduate of UMass Amherst. I believe she moved to Lowell while attending Suffolk University Law School in Boston and made her home here. It was as an attorney that she first came to the attention of many in Lowell. In 1994, she represented Rev. Paul Manning in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge. The priest faced sex-abuse charges arising out of an incident in the Woburn, Massachusetts, parish at which he was then assigned. However, Manning had earlier spent many years at St. Margaret’s Church in Lowell and retained a large number of devoted friends in this city, many of whom attended every day of his trial. Manning was acquitted by the jury, and for her efforts as his attorney, Donoghue gained the respect and gratitude of many in Lowell. (In an interesting footnote, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case was Martha Coakley).

Besides her legal activities, Donoghue had become very active in community life in Lowell. She first ran for city council in 1995 and finished fourth, joining re-elected incumbents Steve Gendron, Bud Caulfield, Matt Donahue, Richard Howe, Larry Martin and Grady Mulligan, and fellow new-comers Rita Mercier and Peter Richards. Donoghue was reelected to the council in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2005 and served consecutive terms as mayor in 1998-99 and 2000-01.

In the spring of 2007 when Marty Meehan announced he would leave Congress to become Chancellor of UMass Lowell, Donoghue entered the race to succeed him. In the Democratic Primary, Donoghue lost to Niki Tsongas with 19,821 votes for Tsongas to 17,385 votes for Donoghue (although Donoghue won Lowell, 5,444 to 2,897).

Because of the Congressional race, Donoghue did not run for re-election to the council in the fall of 2007. However, when Steve Panagiotakos announced in 2010 that he would not run for re-election to the State Senate, Donoghue ran for that office, defeating Chris Doherty in the Democratic Primary and Republican James Buba and unenrolled candidate Patrick O’Connor in the general election. Donoghue was re-elected to the state senate in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and remains a candidate for reelection this year, pending the outcome of the city council’s vote on Tuesday.

Whoever the council selects on Tuesday will be Lowell’s seventeenth city manager under the Plan E form of government. Here are the past city managers:

  1. John Flannery – Dec 1944 to 1952
  2. Ulysses J. Lupien – Dec 1952 to Nov 1953
  3. Frank Barrett – Nov 1953 to 1961
  4. Cornelius Desmond – Oct 1962 to October 1963
  5. P Harold Ready – Oct 1963 to Oct 1966
  6. Charles Gallagher – Nov 1966 to August 1970
  7. James Sullivan – Sept 1970 to 1974
  8. Paul Sheehy – April 1974 to Oct 1975
  9. William Taupier – Oct 1975 to June 1979
  10. B Joseph Tully – June 1979 to Dec 1987
  11. James Campbell – Jan 1987 to Oct 1991
  12. Richard Johnson – Dec 1991 to Sept 1995
  13. Brian Martin – Sept 4, 1995 to June 2000
  14. John Cox – July 2000 to May 2006
  15. Bernie Lynch – June 2006 – March 2014
  16. Kevin Murphy – Apr 2014 to Apr 2018

The regular city council meeting is still scheduled for 6:30 pm on Tuesday. If the 5 pm interview session has not finished by then, the interviews will recess momentarily, the regular meeting will open at the advertised time and then recess until the interviews are completed. Although it does not appear on the agenda for the regular council meeting, I believe the council will take a vote to select the new city manager during the meeting. To do that, there will be a roll call with each councilor stating by name his or her preference for manager. Whichever applicant first receives five or more votes will be the next city manager. However, the council and the selectee will then have to negotiate an employment agreement which may take a week or more. Kevin Murphy’s last day as city manager is April 1, 2018 (which is a Sunday). At this Tuesday’s meeting, councilors will also vote to name City Clerk Michael Geary interim city manager until the permanent choice can take office.

As for other items on Tuesday’s council agenda, please check back on Monday morning for Mimi Parseghian’s City Council preview post.

State Senate Election

Whether Eileen Donoghue is elected city manager or not, the First Middlesex State Senate District (the seat she now holds) will be on the ballot this fall. The district is made up of the city of Lowell and the towns of Dunstable. Groton, Pepperell, Tyngsborough and Westford.

In the 2016 Democratic Primary in which Donoghue ran unopposed, there were 5,323 votes cast in the district. Here’s the breakdown of votes cast (as opposed to votes received by Donoghue) by community:

  • Lowell – 4,235
  • Westford – 336
  • Groton – 218
  • Pepperell – 237
  • Tyngsborough – 236
  • Dunstable – 61

In the 2016 general election, in which Donoghue also ran unopposed, there were 73,955 votes cast in the district. Here’s the breakdown of votes cast (as opposed to votes received by Donoghue) by community:

  • Lowell – 37,346
  • Westford – 14,071
  • Groton – 6,812
  • Pepperell – 6,848
  • Tyngsborough – 6,845
  • Dunstable – 2,035

The above figures, however, are potentially misleading when analyzing the district for this year’s election. In the 2016 Democratic Primary, there were no contested statewide election which tends to keep primary turnout down. And the 2016 general election was a presidential election year which generates the highest turnout of any election.

A better comparison for this year’s fall elections might be to the 2014 Democratic Primary and general election. While Donoghue was unopposed in both of those elections, the Democratic Primary featured a contested race for governor (Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman and Don Berwick) and a contested gubernatorial election in November (Baker v Coakley).

Here are the turnout numbers for the First Middlesex Senate District communities for 2014:

In the 2014 Democratic Primary there were 10,870 votes cast in the district. Here’s the breakdown of votes cast by community:

  • Lowell – 6,351
  • Westford – 1,530
  • Groton – 765
  • Pepperell – 1,332
  • Tyngsborough – 668
  • Dunstable – 224

In the 2014 general election there were 45,581 votes cast in the district. Here’s the breakdown of votes cast by community:

  • Lowell – 21,268
  • Westford – 9,303
  • Groton – 4,512
  • Pepperell – 4,583
  • Tyngsborough – 4,521
  • Dunstable – 1,394

And whether Donoghue is running for reelection or not, the field of candidates will not be set until May 1, 2018 which is when the nomination period closes. Thus far, a number of individuals have taken steps to become candidates.

On March 6, 2018, former Lowell City Councilor Bill Martin converted his still-in-existence council campaign account to one for state senate with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Martin has a balance of $13,104 in the account which he can now use in a state senate campaign.

On March 16, 2018, John Drinkwater who lives on Remington Street in Lowell opened a state senate campaign account with OCPF. (Because it was a brand new account, there was no balance in it).

City Councilor Rodney Elliott has also taken steps to run for state senate (collecting nomination signatures). He has $21,949 in his city council OCPF account which could be used in a state senate race.

Also, City Councilor Ed Kennedy is thought to be considering a run for state senate. He as $15,221 in his campaign account.

On the Republican side, John MacDonald, who has been in the race for several months, had an end of 2017 balance of $7,836 in his campaign account according to OCPF.

Lowell High student leader Sophia Marsden speaking at Chelmsford March for Our Lives (photo from Hope Anderson)

March for Our Lives: Chelmsford

[I was unable to attend yesterday’s March for Our Lives in Chelmsford, but asked someone who was – Hope Anderson of Solidarity Lowell – to share a report and some photos from the event:]

An estimated 1,400 people, some from Lowell, came out in force on Chelmsford Town Common yesterday in support of action against gun violence. Student leaders from local high schools, including Lowell High School, led the march around downtown Chelmsford, chanting “We want change!” A speaking program, which preceded the march, featured the student leaders, survivors of gun violence, activists including representatives from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), who encouraged the crowd to convey their message to legislators. Groups participating in organizing the march, in addition to the student leaders, included Solidarity Lowell, Indivisible Westford, and Indivisible Acton.

March for Our Lives participants on Chelmsford Town Common (Hope Anderson photo)

Upcoming Community Events

Project Learn community action forum in January

Education Forum

Back in December, I wrote about a “community action forum” on education that was organized by Project Learn. A follow-up session will be held tomorrow night (Monday, March 26, 2018) from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Lowell Community Health Center at 161 Jackson Street. The objective of these sessions is to develop a community action plan to improve education at all levels in Lowell. The event is free, and food, interpreters and child care will be provided. To assist them in planning the session, organizers ask that those planning to attend register in advance.

City of Lowell Open Space & Recreation planning session

City of Lowell Open Space & Recreation Plan

Back on January 24, 2018, about 50 people gathered at the Lowell Senior Center for the first public input session of the 2018 update of Lowell’s Open Space and Recreation Plan. The Commonwealth requires communities to update their plans every five years in order to qualify for certain state funds and, more importantly, because it is a good idea to have a plan. Notes from that January 24 session are now available online.

The next public input session is scheduled for Thursday, May 17, 2018 at 6 pm at the Lowell Senior Center, but in the meantime, the planners at DPD have launched an online survey that all city residents may answer. Please follow this link to the survey page, and share your thoughts on open space and recreation in Lowell.

Earth Day Parade 2017

Earth Day

For many years, individual organizations in Lowell held their own Earth Day events. However, in 2015, UMass Lowell led a collaborative effort to combine Earth Day related events that featured a parade and festival. This year, the UMass Lowell-led consortium has expanded Earth Day to a multiday festival of arts, nature and sustainability.

The main event of this year’s Earth Day celebration will take place on Sunday, April 22, 2018, with a noontime parade from Lowell National Historic Park Visitor Center at 246 Market Street to UTEC Lowell at 35 Warren Street. There, UTEC will host an Earth Day Festival that will last until 4 pm.

Anyone who wishes to participate in the parade, the festival, or related activities should visit the Lowell Earth Day participation page.

As part of the expanded Earth Day Festival, I will lead a free walking tour called “300 Years of History in 300 Yards” on Thursday, April 19, 2018, at 6 pm from the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. The tour will touch on all phases of the history of the area around the ICC, beginning with the Native American settlement, the earliest English colonists, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution on the banks of the Concord River, the growth of Lowell as a textile manufacturing center, the city’s decline and revival.

Lowell Monuments tour

Art Week

Launched in 2013 in Boston, ArtWeek is a week-long celebration of the arts. Because of its great success, ArtWeek has expanded statewide this year with events all over Massachusetts from April 27 through May 6, 2018.

I submitted a Lowell Walk for inclusion in this year’s ArtWeek and was recently informed by the organizers that it was accepted and will be included on the statewide calendar of events which will be launched in early April.

Lowell Walks Monument & Public Art Walk will explore the more than two dozen monuments and public art pieces located on the grounds and in the vicinity of Lowell City Hall. The walk will be held on Saturday, April 28 and repeated on Sunday, April 29, both at 1pm and both beginning at Lowell National Park Visitor Center, 26 Market Street.

History as It Happens Book Talk

On Sunday, April 15, 2018, at 2 pm at Lowell National Park Visitor Center, Paul Marion, Marie Sweeney, Tony Accardi and I (the four original contributors to this blog) will lead a discussion on the history and future of social media in Lowell as seen through our experience with the richardhowe.com blog. After the discussion, copies of History as It Happens: Citizen Bloggers in Lowell, Mass. will be available for sale.

Display from Branding Lowell exhibit

Branding Lowell

Congratulations to Mark Van Der Hyde, Tony Sampas of UMass Lowell, Sarah Black of UMass Boston, and Laurel Racine of Lowell National Historical Park on the launch of the great, new Branding Lowell exhibit which opened yesterday at the Mogan Cultural Center before a crowd of about 70 people.

The exhibit features dozens of panels and display cases featuring seals, symbols, logos and other graphic representations of government, cultural, sports and business entities in Lowell from the city’s founding up to the present. The exhibit will remain up through this summer, so please stop by the Mogan Center and check it out. In addition, t-shirts and coffee mugs bearing vintage Lowell logos are for sale via the Branding Lowell website. Proceeds from these sales will be donated to the Lowell High School graphic arts section.

Eric Foner at UMass Lowell

Eric Foner at UMass Lowell

Eric Foner is for historians what Bob Dylan is for music fans, so when the Pulitzer Prize winning professor from Columbia University came to UMass Lowell last week to speak, I was sure to be in the audience. Foner did not disappoint, speaking for a full hour on the history and continued implications of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, then answering questions from the audience of more than 100 people for another thirty minutes.

At a pre-lecture reception, Foner expressed the delight he felt in his first-ever visit to Lowell, a place he encountered numerous times in his studies and research. I took plenty of notes during Professor Foner’s talk and will write a blog post about his remarks in the coming week.

Eric Foner (right) touring Boott Cotton Mills Museum with Bob Forrant (Bob Forrant photo).