Plan E Comes to Lowell

Over the next few weeks I will write about the Lowell City Council elections that took place between 1943 and 1965. The former date is the first election held after the city adopted the Plan E form of government; the second date is the first year covered by my Lowell Municipal Elections: 1965-2015 (available through print-on-demand). 

Today’s story is about the adoption of Plan E which was done by a referendum vote on the November 1942 state ballot. However, just two weeks before that vote, the city’s mayor (under the Plan B “strong mayor” form of government) went on trial for and was convicted of corruption charges. This may have played a role in the outcome of the referendum. 

The following are my notes from newspaper accounts from that time: 

October 19, 1942 – Trial of Mayor and Purchasing Agent begins in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge before Judge Vincent Brogna. Mayor George T Ashe, Purchasing Agent Walter S Connor, his brother John Connor, and a Dorchester businessman named John F McKeon were all indicted for conspiracy. Ashe was represented by Atty Joseph P Donahue. The evidence involved alleged kickbacks from McKeon to Ashe for the purchase of six paving machines and for padding bills sent to Lynch Wallpaper and Paint which employed John Connor. There was an additional charge of bribery against Ashe involving repairs to the Varnum school, but that was to be tried separately. The jury began deliberations on Monday, October 26, 1942 at 11:20 am and returned guilty verdicts against all four defendants at 9:10 pm. )Coincidentally, the trial was covered for the Lowell Sun by Frank E Barrett, who later became city manager of Lowell). City Solicitor P Harold Ready reported that under the city’s Plan B charter, there was no provision for removing the mayor for conviction of a misdemeanor (which this was) whereas a felony conviction resulted in automatic removal from office. Sentencing was continued to November 5, 1942. On that day, Judge Brogna sentenced Ashe to one year in the House of Correction, but stayed the sentence pending appeal on the condition that Ashe relinquish the office of mayor. Ashe essentially took a leave of absence pending his appeal. President of the City Council Joseph Sweeney was named acting mayor. Brogna sentenced the other three defendants to six months in the House of Correction. I’m not sure of the disposition of his appeal, but Ashe began serving his sentence on December 22, 1942. He was released on November 15, 1943. (Perhaps he combined the conspiracy conviction with a change of plea and concurrent sentence on the bribery offense).

November 4, 1942 – Wednesday – 34,000 people voted in state election. Also on ballot was referendum to adopt Plan E. Newspaper: “Plan E was the most controversial local issue in many years. It was opposed by organized city workers, but was adopted with general support in every ward in the city with Republicans and Democrats flocking to its standard and its promise of better government in the years to come.” The vote was 16,477 for Plan E, 14,135 against. This is the start “of a crusade to clean up a city which for years has been strangled by rotten, cheap and sometimes petty politics.” Atty Woodbury F Howard led the pro Plan E organization. Atty Hubert McLaughlin led the anti Plan E organization.