Monthly Archives: September 2013

Lowell Elections in 2013

Well, I am glad that the Preliminary Election is over and eighteen people will be facing off in the General Election. Congratulations to each of you. It is not too early to say that anything can happen. Some candidates may have peaked in the Preliminary while some candidates may be in their “comfort zone.” I do not count out anyone, especially since the difference between ninth place and fifteenth place was somewhere around five hundred votes, I believe. That is not a very large difference and some of the candidates who did not place as well as they wanted have been hitting the highways and byways of the city doing Visibility, Canvassing, and Telephones. Now, as an English teacher, I know that those three things should not be capitalized but I am trying to draw attention to them. Whoever successfully does all three will move up. Except Rita Mercier of course. I have to give it to Rita, she is an indefatigable campaigner. Last night I saw three candidates at the football game, Rita was one, Stacie Hargis was another, and Eric Gitsheir was the third. Rita did not need an audience, she just put on a show. It can safely be said that everyone loves Rita.

Eric and Stacey were there, obviously not giving into disappointing Preliminary Elections results. Stacey told me, in the words of the song, that she is stronger and is going to move up. I believe her. Eric seems like a very nice guy, and I wish him the best. Veasna Noun is upbeat and positive. Those two qualities will become the gist of his campaign. So I look forward to a well-fought battle for the first nine places. Marty Lorrey asked me to place a sign in my yard and I of course said “yes.” I now have four signs in my yard, and it is not a large yard so they occupy a bit of space. With the new color in paint that I will be applying as we repaint the house, it should be an interesting color contrast.

Well, what else is going on? There is a wide-spread belief that this vote is about the City Manager, who I believe has done a very credible job. He should live in Lowell, but he has been good for Lowell, exercising discretion when needed and basically leading the city along the right path. Make no mistake, this election is about the City Manager. His goals, his opinions, and his handling of the issues of the day. I do not agree with everything he has done, but he has been there for Lowell, he understands Lowell, and he should continue on in Lowell.

I was once selected to be the Town Manager of Cavendish, Vermont, but I had to turn it down after a week because it meant moving and we were not going to move out of our favorite city. My wife was born and raised here, except for a few years in Chelmsford as a student in junior high and high school. So, we chose to stay here because this is, as everyone now knows, “the center of the universe.” Lowell has been a good place to raise our four children, all of whom can call Lowell their hometown. Part of me would have liked to be involved in a small town again but part of me is fully satisfied with our decision to stay. Besides, where else can you have sirens going off every fifteen seconds?

My only regret in the Cavendish, Vermont thing was that I might have been able to return to Lowell, after a few other immersions, of course, as City Manager in Lowell. That would have been perfect but my life took me back to Wang and eventually into teaching. Stranger things have happened. I went into education, spent three glorious years as a teacher at Notre Dame Academy and fifteen at Lowell High School. Illness caused me to retire. I have no regrets, and greatly enjoyed my years as a teacher. So, life has been good. I know more history about Lowell than a lot of people, and that is nice, and I am up to my own personal top levels in business. I own a business, as I have told most of you, in landscaping and right now I am booking for the fall clean-ups.

So those are my meanderings for today. Soon, as soon as the fall clean-ups are done, I will be spending more time bringing you history. Like what beverage did George Kouleheras like to buy his dates on Fridays at Page’s? Important things like that. The answer was a five cent Coke. That is in the archives at the Mogan Center. And, why did we lose all of those mill girls boarding houses? That answer is in the Homer B. of Union National fame, archives. He thought any advancement was good for the city, and in the 1960’s that was widely believed to be true. I remember my brother-in-law telling me that his vote that he most regretted was his vote to expenad the Connector and have it go through Belvidere. Fortunately, that vote did not pass. And, that was in the car on the way to pick-up a staffer. So that was a personal conversation that I trust he would not mind me sharing with you now.

Meanderings on the City Council Race

Well, when you have to eat crow, you have to eat crow. Dan Rourke did very well in the election as did Rodney Eliot. I strongly believe that Rodney Eliot will be the leading candidate for the next Mayor’s slot and I wish him well. I was a little worried about his dealing with the School Committee, especially when the Committee will be choosing the next Superintendent of Schools, a job near and dear to me. I just do not see Mr. Eliot and I agreeing on who should get the job. I supported Patrick Murphy because I was fairly certain that he would be able in his dealings with the School Committee. There is an election that we have to get through over the course of the next few weeks, but based on the Councilor’s second-place finish in not just this preliminary election but also last election’s final result that saw him taking second place behind the indefatigable Rita Mercier, I think that Mr. Eliot in all fairness should be given his chance to be the next Mayor.

I heard on WCAP, the statement that everything was not decided. They said that candidates like Derek Mitchell and Stacie Hargis must be wondering about their election chances now. I do not know Mr. Mitchell, but I must say that he did better than I thoght he would. I know Stacie Hargis, and she is a fighter. Being one of only two women on the ballot, she will undoubtedly run an aggressive campaign over the next few weeks. I cannot see either of these two people giving in. And Mr. Doyle has promised to campaign heartedly against the City Manager. That should be interesting.

For those just tuning in, the real issue here is the City Manager. He hangs on by one or two votes, and his backers and his detractors are campaigning very hard, keeping their eyes fixed on the Manager’s seat. I personally would hate to see the Manager as the main issue.

To me, taxes are the main issue. Lowell has never had a Prop 2 1/2 vote to raise taxes because, in my opinion, every year we have circumvented the need for such a vote by assessing properties higher than their actual value. During the worst of the Depression, and I believe that is exactly what it was, assessments on individual houses stayed at their pre-Depression levels or went up, I believe. Few assessments, I feel, went down to reflect the actual value of the property in that depressed market. Thus, the people next door to us, who bought at the height of the “fever” in house prices, paid more than they could ever get in today’s market. I am not saying that there is a conspiracy here, I am just saying that in times of falling house prices, our assessments stayed the same or went up. Also, a personal pet peeve is the fact that businesses are taxed at the second highest rate in the state, just behind Boston. Lowell is the fourth largest city in the state, so why are we the second highest taxed city. Should the second highest tax rate in the state be the second largest city in the state? We have steadily lost ground to neighboring Chelmsford. Industries that used to call Lowell home now call adjacent cities home. And, in my opinion, that is an issue the new City Council is going to have to tackle. So I restate that we need this election to be about issues. Mainly taxes, is my guess.

So I am eating crow tonight. I apologize to Mr. Rourke for making his brochure the target of my last article. It certainly looks like he will become Councilor Rourke and I wish him and the Golden family the best. They have run an excellent campaign.

Councilor Rourke?

This is just an opinion on some things that are passing for politics. I must admit that, when I saw how many signs went up for Dan Rourke, I was impressed until a friend told me that the candidate was the cousin of a State Representative. Then, things became a bit more focused for me. But, I was still interested and my interest was piqued by the knowledge that certain close friends were very involved in Mr. Rourke’s campaign.

You see, I had not heard one word from the candidate himself as to what was causing him to run or why he was doing it. I finally got a brochure in the mail that was supposed to explain these queries. In the brochure there were many pictures of the candidate and even one of the candidate and his cousin, State Representative Tom Golden. No specific issues were hghlighted, just a general overview of the candidate’s reasons for running. I quote:

“I am committed to making our community the best place to work, live, and raise a family. I respect our proud past, unterstand the issues facing our communities today, and have a vision for the future. Leadership is about bringing everyone to the table to find solutions.”

In 1999, I came up with the original idea to make Merrimack Street a two-way street. I based that on what I saw in Ipswich. I was also the first person that I know of to ask that we make an effort to get a “Christmas Tree Shops” in the Bon Marche building. No where in this candidate’s literature does he seem to come up with a list of what our problems are, or how to fix them. In the quote above, nothing is said about how the candidate proposes to right those wrongs that make Lowell, well, Lowell. He does state that he is focused on,

“Economic Development – Fully Funding Public Safety Initiatives – Private and Public Collaborations – Establishing a citywide After School Program”

but he does not say anything about what that development might encompass, how he will “fully fund” in a recession without raising taxes, what in heaven’s name private and public collaborations are, or how to fund a citywide after-school program. Now, I have the greatest respect for the Golden family. They have proven themselves to be almost as much in love with Lowell as I am. This is not meant to be an attack on the Goldens or on Mr. Rourke. Rather, it is a call for a substantial discourse on the issues affecting this city. A staggering amount of money comes to our School Department to run the schools. How do we guarantee that that money continues flowing into the city? Mr. Rourke is not alone in his refusal to talk about how we go about making Lowell great.

Two candidates are being specific. One is Stacie Hargis and one is Ed Kennedy. They are talking about ideas and solutions to our problems. At least it appears that way in their literature.

However, basically the issues this year are being tossed aside by candidates who are willing to hide behind their name, their relations, and their previous employment. No one is able to answer the simple question, “How do we get from Point A to Point B.”

I hope that some start answering questions like that. This election should not just be a popularity contest. Some good ideas have flowed in the candidate’s forums but it just seems to me that candidates are staying away from the issues. One large concern is what happens to Jackson Street. I have only seen Ed Kennedy talk about that. It is also in his literature, if I remember correctly. Prior to this, I had never thought of Ed as issues oriented. I admit I was wrong. I do not agree with Ed on a number of items but he is “fighting the good fight.”

Landscaping

If it is late September, it is time for you to practice your hand at cultivating and growing your lawn. All of the summer’s brown spots need to be dug up and turned over and new seed planted with fertilizer. I recommend Milorganite fertilizer and Pennington seed. If you are doing your full lawn, you will need to hire me to rototill or rent a rototiller. My services come with a guarantee, if you do not get grass, the entire job will be done again for free. So, insofar as possible, you are guaranteed a lawn.

One of my clients is using the opportunity to make a very nice garden in his backyard. Others are just starting to book their leaf clean-up jobs. It is a good time to thnk about October. It is also Hardy Mums time. Market Basket has reasonably priced mums in front of most of their stores. Higher priced but more colorful mums are at any garden centeer. Mahoney’s in Chelmsford and Drew’s Market in Westford have a very nice offering. Plenty of mums and plenty of colors.

In order to make your mums last, you need to plant them. They are annuals that add color to your garden. Place them gently in a hole in the ground that is larger than their root base. It is good to crumble the roots in your hands. Some planters recommend taking a penknife and slicing up the roots. This supposedly makes their roots more absorbent. Crumbling does the same thing. You want to expose part of the root base in order to allow water absorption.

Perennials are inexpensive now. Go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, or your favorite garden center and order yours now. Plant them now and they will bloom next year. It is also time to work over your bulbs. I remember the story told by Brian Martin that my brother-in-law planted five hundred bulbs upside down in Kittredge Park and they had to dig them up and turn them over in order to get that wonderful array of flowers you see at the park every spring and summer. Try to plant with the roots to the ground.

It may be time to bring inside those plants that do not stand up to frost well. We just had our frost warning from the meteorologists and it probably is time to bring in your houseplants. Remember, this is a good time to plant grass, and it will come up in October. Unless we have another October snowstorm, I suppose. But that does not usually happen. Good luck and good gardening. Call me with questions.

Paul Revere’s Bell

There are some stories that must be told, that surface as legends with all of the storytelling being basically unreliable because the person telling the story cannot put his hands on the right book for verification. I find myself in this storytelling bind tonight. I know this story is true but the details are in a book that I cannot find. The book is Mary Stetson Clark’s “The Middlesex Canal.” It is a marvelous book, very well written with a wealth of information on Middlesex Village and the Middlesex Canal. In the book she writes about the Baptist Church the was the only church in the Village. For those of you who have not heard of either of these things, Middlesex Village was a vibrant community, a part of West Chelmsford, now in the Upper Highlands of Lowell but in Chelmsford in 1848, the year of the great fire.

Middlesex Village was an affluent community in those days. It had a blacksmith shop, a tavern, an hotel (now referred to as Bachand Hall), and one of the Baldwin houses. There was also a field where the militia practiced for the Revolutionary War because, as you know, Chelmsford Miniutemen traveled miles to Concord to fight the British in the battle for Concord that the British were ill-prepared for and under-emphasized. All that remains of the Baldwin house is the front steps which are still in place in Hadley Field. Those steps go up to the basketball courts and the skating area.

A wealthy town, unable to see that by supplying the raw tools for the nascent railway, they were causing the demise of their beloved canal, they were able, around 1800 to purchase a bell from Paul Revere. Yes, the Paul Revere of the Revolution. They wanted it to place it in the steeple of the First Baptist Church in the village. The church’s location was approximately where Eastern Photo is now.

This is where I get a little hazy on the date. Sometime in 1886, the church was afire, and of course, they did not have the marvelous fire department they have in Lowell today, so the church burned to the ground. One of the last items to hit the ground was the marvelous bell, made, again, by Paul Revere. The church members wanted a good home for the bell and, pardon me for saying it, their prayers were answered.

Almost directly across the river and within hearing range of the people of the village, a new church was being constructed. A delegation was sent over to negotiate the placement of the bell. It was easier to do because it was a Revere bell. It was accepted by, and placed in the steeple of, the new Congregational Church on the corner of Mammoth and what is now the VFW Highway. That large red church has, for one hundred plus years, used Paul Revere’s bell to call its faithful to church on Sunday. In it is the largely unknown Revere Bell.

Now, any mistakes I have made were made because I chose to talk about the legend and not the history of the bell. But my father researched the entire bell story as part of his book, “This Enchanted Land: Middlesex Village.” The bell that rings for the past two hundred years in the Baptist Church and the Congregational Church are the same bell that Paul Revere made in his foundry. Get a good picture of that church. It is famous.

And listen for the bell. It is famous also.

Meanderings on Syria

I do not believe that the interests of the United States of America would be strengthened by an attack, no matter how “surgical” it might be, on Syria. The Russians (I still call it the Soviet Union) are right in one important regard, and that is that without United Nations Security Council support, the attack should not take place. At this time, that support is not there. Part of the problem is just being a little realistic, Syria is a militarily strong nation that is being torn apart by a vicious Civil War, and the rebels, like the Sourtherners in the United States Civil War, want other nations to provide weapons and intervention. It is not, in my opinion, a war that the rebels will win. The Syrian military has shown that it will use gas warfare against the rebels, and the world is rightfully indignant at this violation of the principles of the Geneva Convention. Even Nazi Germany refrained from using chemical weapons in WWII. There are, however, many ways to show our contempt for the government of President Assad, who was a man whom the United States considered a solid supporter in the past.

Economic sanctions are certainly doable and necessary in order for us to show our disgust. Unfortunately, other nations will fill the void left by the lack of American products in the Syrian economy. The selling of weapons systems to the Syrian government is something that I believe is still taking place and stopping it is paramount. I would not be at all surprised to learn that, while we talk of bombing them, we are taking on our own weapons systems which are now in the hands of the Syrian Army. Purchased and paid for by the Syrian government. Our own soldiers were attacked by the Japanese military’s proliferation of American-made weapons and the use of American steel products in WWII.
Even old automobiles were melted down into ammunition.

We cannot continue to act as if we are sanctioned to police the world. We are still at war, the longest war in our history, in Afghanistan. I voted for this President for a variety of reasons, but one of the largest was his goal of bringing American troops home from that war. Thusfar he has not delivered.

The most effective use of sanctions includes working with the World Trade Organization. Putting a noose around Assad’s neck by refusing to trade as a World Community with Syria would be far more effective than bombing indiscriminately. Granted, the WTO is weak by its nature but it has the support of the world community, and it is recognized by every member of the United Nations Security Council.

Finally, let us visit John Kerry. Many of us remember the day that John Kerry threw his military decorations in the Potomac to protest the Vietnam War. Many of us hoped that that was the sign of a man who would strike a moral code and declare war to be the wrong way to fix international terrorism. Instead, we watch a man on television who is defending and demanding that we recognize and support the misguided goals of the United States president. If Mr. Kerry wants, I have dozens of books on the United Nations, a group the U.S. formed at Dumbarton Oaks, CA., in 1943 to 1945, which he can read that describe many of the international laws and mores which prohibit the use of force as a first offense.

I hope we reconsider what could be a heinous act. Strangely, I find both Republicans and Democrats to be against the action. Let the U.S. look first for peaceful means to right this incredible wrong that has been perpetrated on the Syrian people. Let’s try to get Assad out of there by not backing his economic or military goals. I strongly believe that he has American-built weapons systems. Let’s stop giving him those for starters. Too often, it is our own weapons that are used against us.

Then let’s take a look at America’s role in the world. I believe that too many bodies, maimed or lifeless, are being returned from Afghanistan. We do not need to ship bodies home from Syria. These veterans are our heroes. We should be protecting them, not putting them in harm’s way.

Thoughts on Vesna Nuon

As most of us know, Veasna Nuon came here from Cambodia when Chester Atkins, then the Congressman from this district, got permission to allow Cambodians to settle as legal immigrants in the United States. All was not cheery and friendly when the first Asians got here. There was a fair amount of grousing about the Asian influx in Lowell, which I felt was kind of funny since Lowell is, and seems that it always will be, an immigrant’s destination city. At the time, a number of Lowell’s citizens looked on the Cambodian influx as an affront. They did not anticipate a thriving, culture driven, and business inspired, culture. That, however, is what they got.

Veasna was one of the early immigrants who studied hard to become an American citizen. He had to learn English, which is one of the hardest languages to learn, according to Miss Rita Sullivan, my English teacher in Lowell High School. From early on, after acquiring his citizenship, he was vitally interested in politics. He ran twice for School Committee, coming close, but not quite making it. Finally, two years ago, he ran for City Council and won. He has been a good, in my opinion, City Councilor, fair in his dealings with everyone, willing to listen, and voting with the Manager on most issues. Now he is engaged in a no-holds-barred effort to undermine his candidacy by a person who would like to see the City Manager take a hike. In 2009, he failed to file his election financial reports. That mistake is haunting his re-election campaign. In addition, in 2013 he is being pressed for a quote that someone said that he uttered, telling people not to vote for Rita Mercier. Based on my reading of the complaint in the local newspaper in its political column, Mrs. Mercier has been told by four people that Veasna has told Cambodians not to vote for Mrs. Mercier. When I approached him, he flatly denied ever alluding to that in any way.

He and I sat in his front yard on Sunday the first of September, and he stated unequivocally that he did not ever make that statement and that he tried to call Mrs. Mercier and tell her that, but she did not answer the telephone or return his calls. It seems to me that, if Mrs. Mercier had heard it from only four people, as the newspaper said, she would have taken his calls and given him a chance to explain. A lot is lost in translation, and I cannot even guess what is being said in a Cambodian conversation, despite the fact that my next door neighbors are fluent in Cambodian and try to teach me some of the Khmer language.

This is what I have heard. Veasna told me that he never told a single individual not to vote for anyone. He certainly would not anger Mrs. Mercier’s many supporters by saying something negative about her. The local newspaper knows that that would be political suicide. So why did they run it? I never can say why the newspaper runs any of its “stories.” I do not believe, based on what I read in the newspaper, that anyone really went to Veasna to get his side of the incident. Again, he insists that he did not say to anyone, especially the Cambodian community, anything derogatory about Rita Mercier. As you all know, it is tough not to love Rita. She is a Lowell institution.

I would say that we get off of this bandwagon. The charge was made, it was refuted, and there are certainly more pressing projects to pursue in the city.