– Lowell Politics and History

‘The Mills Weren’t Made of Marble’: Lead Editorial, NYTimes, Labor Day, 1992

Since the mid-1970s, Lowell has been the subject of many regional, national, and global media reports (newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, and web) because of its distinctive national park and award-winning urban revitalization rooted in the preservation and celebration of its industrial, architectural, natural, and cultural heritage. The late Dr. Patrick J. Mogan would say, “The buildings are the props around which the story is told,” and the story of an innovative city continues to evolve with new people and fresh ideas about making Lowell the best city of its size anywhere. Other cities are competing in the same arena. It is important to look forward, to be positive and constructive, and to be ambitious for the community’s betterment the way Pat Mogan and his band were driven to make Lowell a better place in their time. Here is the lead editorial from the September 7, 1992 edition of The New York Times – A Labor Day piece about the then-recently opened Boott Cotton Mills Museum.—PM

Youngsters who are made to troop through America’s historic landmarks might reasonably conclude that in the past, rich was typical. Ordinary people are shown mainly as servants, or as slaves, in the sumptuous mansions and town houses that predominate in what are grandly called “heritage tours.”

Labor Day is a powerfully apt occasion to celebrate an exception: the Lowell National Historical Park, set in a gritty Massachusetts city. Here America’s working men and women have starring roles in the epic called “The Industrial Revolution.” A thundering score sets the mood, provided by 88 belt-driven looms in an unusual factory museum run by the National Park Service.

Lowell became America’s first factory town when Francis Cabot Lowell, a Boston merchant, spirited from England the secrets of the power loom. Two years later, in 1813, he and a mechanic fabricated an American prototype. Within a decade the first mill opened in Lowell, ingeniously using split-level canals to turn the turbines that powered the looms.

By 1848, when Lowell wove 50,000 miles of cotton cloth, it was also the laboratory for a “Golden Experiment” that elicited admiring comments from visitors like Charles Dickens.

In their search for labor, mill owners hired young farm women, the “Lowell girls.” Ten companies employed 10,000 women who toiled 13 hours a day, their morals purified by curfews, compulsory religious service and watchful boarding-house matrons.

But the sounds at their workplace, less uplifting, are recaptured in the Boott Cotton Mill Museum, just opened this June, where visitors truly need earplugs to enter the weave room. The noise is bone-jarring. One articulate mill worker, Lucy Larcom, found she could accustom herself to the noise, so it became like a silence. “I defied the machinery to make me its slave,” she wrote in 1889. “Its incessant discords could not drown the music of my thoughts if I would let them fly high enough.” These mills were not, like those in the old folk song, made out of marble nor the machines made out of gold.

By this time, farm girls had been replaced by low-wage newcomers from Ireland, French Canada, the Baltics, Greece and Portugal. It is to the great credit of the Park Service that the harsh face of mill-town capitalism is not ignored. Taped interviews with retired workers evoke the horror of industrial injuries, the squalor of tenement life, the class bitterness that erupted in the great strike of 1912.

This is an American past that many grandparents lived, and still remember. Youngsters who experience even for a moment the gloom of these old mills will better understand why trade unions sprang into being to check rapacious capital.

The Lowell park and museum realize an imaginative scheme put forward in the 1970′s by former Senator Paul Tsongas, a child of Lowell. Restoring the old canals and the long-shuttered mills has given new hope and dignity to a Lowell now entering the post-industrial revolution.

What better time than Labor Day to remember that the toil and pain of ordinary working men and women was the ultimate lubricant for all the machines. “It is the boast of Lowell that it has no aristocracy, either of wealth or talent, or of rank or position,” Charles Cowley, a local historian, wrote in 1856. “It is simply a city of mechanics, who have made the world ring with their achievement.” A proud boast, and warranted.

Political Rambles in the Merrimack Valley

Political bits and pieces from rambles around the Merrimack Valley, Middlesex County and beyond ~

“Sticks, stones, rocks and bolders” are being hurled around NH in the US Senate race even as across-the-border locals turned out in Dracut to financially support GOP Scott Brown vs incumbent N. H. Senator - Democrat Jean Shaheen…  Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera embraced Steve Grossman for Governor literally and figuratively yesterday at the LDCC breakfast, on Facebook and Twitter noting that he would be good for Lawrence…..  Many political observers see Barbara L’Italien as the hardest working candidate in the Valley – she has personally canvassed and knocked on thousands of doors in Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury while attending events from festivals to ribbon cuttings while visiting businesses, NPOs, senior centers, fireworks and, of course, Market Baskets…. The federal regulation lines continue to blur with Super PACS such as Forward Massachusetts pushing the envelope with a not-so-arms-length campaign connection as it pumps $$$ for his election run against Congressman John Tierney…  Firefighter unions are a campaign gold mine for candidates – their support means boots on the ground, money…  State Rep Diane DiZoglio who carried their water in the House is reaping rewards now as she is strongly challenged by N. Andover’s Phil DiColegero – BTW, Phil won the straw poll at the LDCC breakfast yesterday…  Rumor has it that Middlesex DA challenger Democrat Mike Sullivan is raring and ready to announce former Republican Gov Bill Weld’s support… is that a sufficient off-set to Governor Patrick’s strong endorsement of incubent DA Marion Ryan? That race is “hot” but even “hotter” is the AG’s race… Maura Healey vs Warren Tolman… Healey and Tolman are very visible and very active in the Merrimack Valley – both have dedicated supporters…  just yesterday, Healey was seen at Lowell’s Owl Diner with Rep Dave Nangle while Tolman was in Lawrence being embraced by Rep Marcos Devers… the Casino Bill continues to be a big issue here in the Valley… even though community folks brought defeat to the SLOTs in North Tewksbury, the candidates’ stances still resonate locally… State Senator /Treasurer candidate Barry Finegold was always against casinos; Gov candidate Don Berwick has the support of many anti-casino activists like Tom Larkin; Maura Healey and Lt Gov candidate Mike Lake are also opposed to casino while GOPer Charlie Baker would – if the casinos are defeated at the ballot – “find a way” for a Springfield gambling operation… Merrimack Valley women voters in the September 9th Primary are expected to be a influential force for candidates… what do you think?

State Treasurer candidate senator Barry Finegold having breakfast at Lowell Owl Diner today with his kids - Ava, Ella and Max

Photo: Continuing our tradition of weekend breakfast with Ava, Ella and Max at the Owl Diner in #Lowell this morning!








Candidate for State Senate 2EM Barbara L’Italien and State Rep candidate Phil Decologero

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera embraces Steve Grossman for Governor…

St. Patrick Cemetery Tour – Saturday, September 27, 2014

This is a cross-post from our friends at Lowell Irish…

St. Patrick Cemetery Tour – Saturday, September 27, 2014

St. Bridget Chapel, St. Patrick Cemetery, Lowell, MA

Please join us on Saturday, September 27 for our annual tour of St. Patrick Cemetery.  The tour starts at 10 am at the front office and takes approximately 1 hour.  The Cemetery is located at 1251 Gorham St. Lowell, MA. Wear comfortable walking shoes.

St. Patrick’s Cemetery was started in 1832 by the pioneer Irish who settled in the Paddy Camps of early Lowell.  Those who could afford it were able to erect stones in memory of their loved ones which reflected their culture and  faith.  The earliest stones, made of slate, have some of the most unique iconography in any early Irish graves found in this country, a series of shamrock stones.  As the population grew and flourished, the slates were replaced by marble and later granite stones.  The tour will include stories of Irish Civil War veterans and the high crosses and sculptures from wealthy Irish business owners of the later 19th century.

The tour will follow the Irish in Massachusetts Conference being sponsored by UMass Lowell September 24-26.  Read more about it here:

Lowell Week in Review: August 31, 2014

The City Council and Downtown

Instead of travelling to a distant location for a summer vacation I stuck around New England and made short trips to cities like Boston, Salem, and North Adams in Massachusetts, Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Portland, Maine.  Anytime I go to such places I always compare my experience to that of a visitor to Lowell.  In all of these places I spotted an assortment of panhandlers and others who were idling the day away just as there are in Lowell.  But in those other places there was also a critical mass of other people which caused the panhandlers and idlers to fade into the background.  In downtown Lowell, there are so few people conducting business or shopping that the panhandlers stand out more than they do elsewhere.

Trying to chase away panhandlers is not a winning strategy.  It will lock the city in an unwinnable fight that diverts attention from larger issues.  And the biggest issue of all, perhaps, is how to get more people of all types into downtown Lowell?  For all the talk of “economic development” by the city council, there have not been a lot of new ideas put forth.

Dan Rourke continues to push for an expansion of wifi service in the downtown which is on the right track.  City Manager Kevin Murphy has floated two strategic initiatives – transitioning downtown into a “college town” and attracting more Southeast Asian businesses and consumers into downtown but not much has been done to implement either of those strategies.  Part of the reason is that no councilor or councilors have emerged as champions of either of these initiatives.  One thing Kevin Murphy made clear when he was interviewing for city manager was that he as manager would work for the council.  Their priorities would be his priorities.  With no one pushing either of these ideas through motions, subcommittee hearings and requests for reports, these plans have been placed in a politically-induced coma.

Instead, we get golden oldies like panhandlers and parking every two weeks.  Sure, both of those things are problems but they won’t be solved with the approach currently being pursued by the council (as I wrote two weeks ago, “Bon Marche isn’t walking through that door, fans.”).  They will be solved, or more accurately, they’ll take care of themselves, if the council and the city sets its gaze on a big picture strategy for downtown that makes sense and is achievable.

In the last election those who voted made it clear they wanted certain city councilors in the front seat; I doubt they wanted those councilors to have their eyes glued to the rear view mirror with gazes locked onto last week’s outrage with no one looking forward towards the horizon, contemplating the path the city should take heading into the future.

Guns and Violence

Yes, it’s getting scary.  The old narrative was that shootings in the city were largely self-contained and unless a wrong doer was a particularly bad shot, innocent people didn’t have much to fear.  The new narrative is bullets flying on the Lowell Connector at Thorndike Street at 5 in the afternoon and a guy stopped for running a red light responding by opening fire on a police officer.  The common thread through all of this is guns.  Why do we have to accept as a given that bad guys will always have guns?  Why doesn’t a city councilor make a motion to have the police provide the ownership and possessory history of each gun that they’ve seized?  Where are they coming from?  In a rational world, that’s one of the first questions we’d want answered. We don’t live in a rational world, however.  We live in a world in which politicians at all levels live in mortal fear of the gun lobby and so we’re foreclosed from pursuing a strategy that could have a greater impact on this problem than any other.

As for the wrongdoers themselves, yes, we can and should lock these guys up but at some point they’re going to get out of jail.  That’s part of the problem now; a bunch of guys locked up a few years ago have wrapped up their sentences and hit the streets with no skills or prospects other than a return to crime.  So when they get out, they arm themselves and the cycle continues.  Maybe if we did more to help them get jobs and housing and stay off drugs and alcohol after their release the incidence of them reoffending would be reduced and we’d all be better off.

Methadone Clinic

Driving out Westford Street to Drum Hill yesterday, I noticed a woman in a fluorescent vest standing at the corner of Westford and Stedman Streets.  On the way back, she was still there, standing next to a couple of guys seated at the bus shelter at that intersection.  Could she be an employee of the methadone clinic further up Stedman Street?  Has the clinic staved off closure by instituting a shuttle service from the bus shelter on Westford Street to the clinic?  Perhaps, but we undoubtedly will hear more on this issue in the coming weeks.

Primary Election

The State Primary Election is just a week from this Tuesday so the next nine days should see some pretty intense campaign activity especially in the 18th Middlesex District where five candidates are chasing the Democratic nomination and the right to face unenrolled candidate Fred Bahou in November.  The five candidates are Brian Donovan, Jim Leary, Rady Mom, Dave Ouellette and Paul Ratha Yem.  (Chris on Learning Lowell has a great post today on the candidates in this race.  Please check it out).

There’s no clear front runner due in part to overlapping bases.  That can be seen in a walk around the Daley School were a handful of houses have signs for two candidates in this vote for one race.  Today or tomorrow I plan to make the rounds of all the neighborhoods in the district and later this week will write an assessment of the factors I see as influencing the outcome of the race.  If you missed the August 19 KhmerPost USA-sponsored debate you can still catch it online from LTC and another debate, this one sponsored by the Lowell Sun and UMass Lowell, will be held this coming Thursday, September 4 I believe at University Crossing.  I’ll list the location and time once I’ve confirmed them.

The 18th Middlesex race won’t be the only one on the ballot on September 9.  Here’s a rundown of the offices that will appear on the ballot that day:

U.S. Senator – Edward Markey – unopposed.  Markey was elected last June to fill the term of John Kerry who became Secretary of State.  Markey must now run for a full six year term.

Congress – Niki Tsongas – unopposed.  Tsongas was elected in 2007 and is a candidate for re-election this year.

Governor – Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman and Don Berwick.

Lieutenant Governor – Steve Kerrigan, Mike Lake and Leland Cheung.

Treasurer – Barry Finegold, Deb Goldberg and Tom Conroy.

Attorney General – Maura Healey and Warren Tolman.

Secretary of State – William Galvin, unopposed

State Auditor – Suzanne Bump, unopposed

Middlesex County District Attorney – The current District Attorney, Marianne Ryan, is running for re-election.  She is being challenged by Michael Sullivan who is the current Middlesex County Clerk of Courts.

State Senate – Eileen Donoghue – unopposed

For the Republicans:

US Senate – Brian Herr

Congress – Ann Wofford

Governor – Charlie Baker or Mark Fisher

Lieutenant Governor – Karyn Polito

Treasurer – Mike Heffernan

Attorney General – John Miller

Secretary of State – Dave D’Arcangelo

State Auditor – Patricia Saint Aubin

There are no Republican candidates in either the 1st Middlesex State Senate (that I know of) or the 18th Middlesex State Representative races.

The Primary Election is on Tuesday, September 9, 2014.  Polling places will be open from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.  Remember to check the list of polling places on the Lowell Election Commission website since a majority of the locations of voting places have changed since the last election.

Blog Admin

Now that our new blog format has been in place for a couple of months, we’re focusing on some of the new features like the Curated Calendar.  Look to the left for the “Upcoming Events” box and click the “View All Events” link to see the full calendar.

Also, if you miss our former “blog rolls” as a means for navigating to other websites, it’s available on the “Community Links” tab on the upper menu bar.  We’re working on a major upgrade to our “election results” feature which should be available in advance of this year’s state election in November.

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