Lowell Week in Review: January 10, 2016

Smith Baker Center

Donald Trump Rally

Last night I finished reading Foreign Correspondent: A Memoir by H.D.S. Greenway who wrote for Time, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe in a career that spanned five decades. Greenway’s specialty was reporting from war zones and he visited plenty of them, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

After his time in Bosnia in the early 1990s, Greenway consulted academics in search of an explanation for why neighbors who had lived peaceably for so long suddenly turned on each. Here is what he learned:

“Among human beings, the stress and fear of losing something, whether it be social position, livelihood, sometimes racial dominance, or one’s very life, brings forth xenophobia [i.e., intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries]. . . In times of stress, or when a threat is perceived, people tend to define themselves more narrowly, sharply distinguishing friends from enemies . . . Economic difficulties play a big role in provoking hostility toward ethnic minorities. . . Another common phenomenon [is] ‘the egoism of victimization.’ So caught up does each group get in its own sense of hurt that it cannot conceive of the hurt it could be doing to others.”

That made me think of the Donald Trump rally in Lowell last Monday night. I didn’t go, but I watched his speech live online. His folksy, relaxed, almost conspiratorial (with the audience) style was very powerful. Had he gone to law school, he would have been a tremendous trial attorney. Coincidentally, I was reminded of a trial attorney saying as I watched Trump speak: “If the facts are on your side, pound the facts; if the law is on your side, pound the law; if neither is on your side, pound the table.”

I witnessed a lot of table pounding. Let me share two examples. To get car manufacturing back to the U.S., Trump will “impose” a 35% tax on every Ford imported from Mexico. Everyone cheered but are they also willing to pay 35% more for their next automobile? Probably not, but it sounds – strong. The second example is Iraqi oil. Trump promised “to take it.” He never explained how we would do that. I think that was the Bush administration’s purpose in invading Iraq and we know how that worked out. But no matter, Trump sounded – strong.

I doubt many in the Tsongas Center were there in search of substantive solutions. Some, I assume, were there for the spectacle; others were drawn to Trump’s “not a politician” incarnation; still more were there to assuage their sense of grievance described so well by Greenway above. Here’s a random Facebook post that illustrates that third group:

People may think [Trump] is nuts, but if you get past it and listen to what his ideas are, you might just say, Wow, he’s right. I don’t hear any other candidate out there saying they would tax Ford motor company 35% for each car they bring into this country if they move to Mexico. And tell me you’re not tired of paying billions for all the Illegal immigrants in this country. You go to work every day so they can have everything for free. At least Donald wants to do something about it. Your kids have to pay $50,000 to go to college. They go for free. You’re paying for them to go. So maybe you all should just listen a little bit.

The mainstream media seems to have latched on to this view, too. On Friday, political reporter Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post (“These are the towns that love Donald Trump”) wrote:

“[Trump] is increasingly defined by the rallies held in cities that rarely see presidential candidates . . .[These towns] lag behind the country and their home states on a number of measures. Their median household incomes are lower, and they often have lower rates of homeownership or residents with college degrees. Even though most of these cities have sizable minority populations, the crowds at Trump’s rallies are nearly entirely white.”

In “The Upshot” data analysis column in the December 31, 2015 New York Times, Nate Cohn (“Donald Trump’s Strongest Supporters: A Certain Kind of Democrat”) similarly wrote:

“[Trump’s] very best voters are self-identified Republicans who nonetheless are registered as Democrats. It’s a coalition that’s concentrated in the South, Appalachia and the industrial North . . . In many of these areas, a large number of traditionally Democratic voters have long supported Republicans in presidential elections. . . Mr. Trump appears to hold his greatest strength among people like these – registered Democrats who identify as Republican leaners . . .”

“Registered Democrats who identify as Republican leaners” – yes, that covers a wide swath of Lowell politics, and not just when it comes to Donald Trump. Fortunately, we won’t have long to wait to see how Candidate Trump does with actual voters. The Iowa Caucus is on February 1; the New Hampshire Primary is on February 9; the South Carolina Primary is on February 20; and the Massachusetts and all the other “Super Tuesday” primaries are on March 1.

Maine Looks to Lowell

No, I’m not talking about Gov. Paul LePage’s controversial comment that the heroin flowing into Maine was being brought from Connecticut and New York by “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” who “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave . . .” (Gov. LePage, who has endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for President, subsequently apologized to the women of Maine before blaming the media for “implying” his remark was racist).

I am talking about an article that appeared in the Bangor Daily News on January 1, 2016 (“What Maine can learn from how Lowell, Mass., welcomed immigrants, rebuilt its city”).

Written by Linda Silka who for many years taught at UMass Lowell but who now teaches at University of Maine Bangor, argues that immigrants are key to reviving an urban economy in decline, citing Lowell’s experience as an example.

One place we can look is Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell has confronted many of the struggles faced by other parts of New England: a declining economy and population loss. This has changed in recent years as the city has become diverse in its immigrant population. Businesses developed by new immigrants are burgeoning. For example, 350 Asian-owned businesses have been started creating thousands of jobs to people of all races and backgrounds.

Lowell is one of only seven communities in the U.S. — and only one in the Northeast — selected to be featured in the report by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: “Helping Immigrants Become New Americans.”

Silka went on to write

All of this is very much about how we learn from each other to create a vibrant economic future. And it is also about how we do so without losing the past. Maine is sometimes negatively described as a state with an illustrious past but not much of a future. It is sometimes seen as emptying out — as losing its population, its strategies for growth and its way forward. Lowell was likewise described in this discouraging way: as having an eminent past as a birthplace of America’s industrial revolution but as having become an emptying, dying place.

I tend to agree with Silka. New arrivals enliven our community and many start small businesses that help drive the local economy. I know there are many here who disagree with that view (see “Donald Trump Rally” above) but that’s the way this descendent of immigrants sees it.

Lowell Five heading to Tewksbury

The Lowell Sun’s Chris Scott in his Column blog reports that after several years of contemplating staying in downtown or moving to the Hamilton Canal District, the Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank has decided to move its corporate headquarters to Tewksbury.

I can’t fault the Lowell Five; a bank’s duty is to its shareholders, not to the community. The Lowell Five is just following the doctors, lawyers, and others who have displaced from downtown to the neighboring suburbs.

Fortunately Lowell has other banks that see a different path to success. I’m thinking of Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union which not long ago built its new corporate headquarters building on Fr. Morrissette Boulevard and which has long been and remains an active partner to all in the Acre neighborhood, especially as part of the Working Cities Challenge grant.

Enterprise Bank & Trust Co

I’m also thinking of Enterprise Bank. Not long ago, Fred Faust featured Enterprise founder George Duncan in a blog post which addressed the question of locating a bank in downtown Lowell. Here is some of what Duncan said:

“I was highly invested with the rebirth of the downtown. I drank the same Kool Aid that people like Paul Tsongas and Pat Mogan drank. There was really no compelling reason to build a bank in downtown Lowell. In a lot of ways it would be much easier to have gone out and build an operations center on some big piece of land and not cope with many kinds of urban issues. . .”

When asked about the future of Lowell, Duncan links the continuing commitment of the bank and other businesses to further progress downtown. He is positive about Enterprise Bank’s continued growth and Lowell as well. “Given all that’s going on with Middlesex Community College, the UMass Lowell and the Hamilton Canal Gateway, I feel Lowell is really about to pop. It’s going to be based on innovation, new businesses and start-ups. I see new people moving into city as well. I think the culture is going to grow and change. That will be a benefit to the city as a whole.”

Going forward we have a big empty parking lot. Eventually, if the bank continues to grow and prosper I can see us building a large corporate headquarters on that parking lot next to Old City Hall.”

So thanks to Jeanne d’Arc, Enterprise, Washington Savings Bank, and others that see their corporate future as part of downtown Lowell.

Smith Baker Center

Tuesday night the city council will be asked to accept the proposal of Coalition for a Better Acre to purchase the Smith Baker Center for $300,000. In a letter in support of this vote, City Manager Murphy calls Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA) “a highly regarded nonprofit community development corporation” which will purchase the property under a separate entity that would be fully taxable for property tax purposes.

Also according to the letter, the CBA proposes rebranding the Smith Baker Center to honor Jack Kerouac and to develop it as both a performing arts center and a community center that would provide adult education classes, youth programs, workforce development programs, practice rooms, office space for arts organizations and meeting space for community groups.

When the future of the Smith Baker Center came before the council a year ago, Councilor Leahy was cool to the use of the facility as a performing arts center because “there’s not enough parking.” When the DPD Director replied that there were 3000 parking spaces within a quarter mile, Leahy responded “people don’t want to walk that far.” One of the reasons I’ve talked and written so much about making Lowell a more walkable city is that if a community is friendly to pedestrians, walking a quarter of a mile is not an impediment of any kind. It should not be an issue when it comes to voting on this proposal.

Foreclosures Up

One of the things that may be driving some people to the Donald Trump column is the elusiveness of the economic recovery. We keep reading and hearing of how well the economy is doing yet many feel more squeezed than ever. An increase in the number of foreclosures contributes to this. For 2015, the number of new foreclosures (“orders of notice”) was up 38% from the number in 2014 (347 up to 479). Of these, 210 were in Lowell, a 65% increase from the 127 in 2014, but area towns are not immune from this trend either.

Influence at Boston City Hall – a Lowell Connection

Last Saturday, the Globe led with a story by Mark Arsenault and Andrew Ryan about the remarkable rise of Sean O’Donovan, (“Fast track from nobody to City Hall player”) an attorney with “a modest office” in Somerville who handled mostly personal injury cases and OUIs. The article claimed that when O’Donovan’s high school classmate and law partner, Eugene O’Flaherty, was appointed Corporation Counsel of Boston by Mayor Marty Walsh, O’Donovan suddenly became the go-to guy for access to city hall. Not having any dealings with Boston City Hall, I can’t comment on the story, but O’Donovan’s name should be a familiar one to people who follow Lowell politics.

O’Donovan was last in the news back in September 2008 when he sought the Democratic nomination for the office of Register of Probate. The incumbent, John Buonomo of Somerville, had been arrested in early August for stealing money from government-owned, cash-operated copy machines. Buonomo was running for re-election that fall and with the period for collecting nomination signatures already passed, his would be the only name to appear on the ballot in that September’s primary election. After his arrest, Buonomo resigned from the office and withdrew his name from the ballot.

To choose a nominee in such a case, the Democratic town and ward committees for the entire county would meet in a single caucus that would be held on September 24, 2008. I did not attend the caucus, but someone who was there called me with several updates which I immediately posted. The candidates that evening were the aforementioned Sean O’Donovan; Maria Sheehy of Lowell; Tara DiCristoforo of Medford; and Tom Concannon (former mayor) of Newton. Here are my blog posts from the evening of September 24, 2008:

Register of Probate: 8:30 p.m. update

Here’s the top four finishers on the first ballot in Waltham:   O’Donovan – 23.7%   DiCristoforo – 20.5%   Sheehy – 18.5%   Concannon – 12.4%   There about to vote on the second ballot.  As I understand it, anyone who receives less than 15% on this ballot will be dropped from future ballots. If the current numbers hold, that means only O’Donovan, DiCristoforo and Sheehy will advance to the third ballot.

Register of Probate: 9 pm update

The results of the second ballot:   DiCristoforo – 154   O’Donovan – 126   Sheehy – 100   No one else received more than 15% so only these three candidates will advance to the third ballot.  The other candidates received a total of 108 (there were 5 less votes cast on the second than on the first ballot).  There were 488 votes cast on the second ballot.  If they all participate in the third ballot, a candidate would need 245 votes to win.  It will probably go to a fourth ballot. UPDATE: Unfortunately, Maria Sheehy did not survive the third ballot.  I don’t have the figures yet, but only DiCristofaro and O’Donovan will advance to the fourth ballot.

Register of Probate: Final Results

Tara DiCristofaro will be the Democratic nominee for Middlesex Register of Probate.  Since no Republican will appear on the November ballot, that means she will be easily elected to a six-year term in that office.  She ran for this office in the election that John Buonomo won and he hired her to work as an Assistant Register after he was elected.   So congratulations to Tara DiCristofaro.

UPDATE: On the fourth ballot, DiCristofaro recieved 303 votes (68%) to O’Donovan’s 142 (31.9%). An interesting Greater Lowell subplot played itself out this evening.  Apparently, the nine delegates from Dracut supported Somerville’s Sean O’Donovan from the beginning (and not Lowell’s Maria Sheehy).  On the third ballot, the one on which Sheehy was knocked off, O’Donovan received 138 votes to Sheehy’s 124.  Had the nine Dracut votes gone to Sheehy instead of O’Donovan, Sheehy would have gotten 133 votes to O’Donovan’s 129, so she, not O’Donovan, would have advanced to the fourth ballot.  Given DiCristofaro’s big lead and ultimate victory, however, it probably would not have made a difference in the final result.

From Donald Trump to Sean O’Donovan, there’s always a Lowell connections.

4 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: January 10, 2016

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love your blog thanks for taking the time to write it. I doubt your remember me. I sold a home for you about 25 years ago

  2. Brian says:

    The biggest winners with Lowell 5 moving to Tewksbury are the human resource departments of Enterprise Bank, Jeanne d’Arc CU and other downtown businesses that want to hire and retain the best talent. It’s cheaper to build in the burbs for a reason. The suburban office park corporate model is fast becoming a relic of the past. You would think the shareholders would realize this. Oh yeah, they live in Dunstable. Goodbye Lowell 5.

  3. Gary says:

    The name should remain “Smith Baker Center”. When something is named for someone it should be named for life…..here in Lowell we seem to have a habit of renaming things after 20 years or so

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