– Lowell Politics and History

Councilor Belanger on refugees coming to Lowell

At the Lowell City Council on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, Mayor Rodney Elliott made a motion requesting the City Manager have the Chief Financial Officer and Superintendent of Schools produce a report regarding the costs incurred to educate newcomer students.  Besides Mayor Elliott, Corey Belanger was the only City Councilor to speak on the motion.  The following is a verbatim transcript of what Belanger said:

By Councilor Belanger:  Thank you Mr. Vice Mayor [Councilor Leahy was in the Chair].  I think this is a great motion.  And to get to Mayor Elliott’s points, that Lowell, we’ve always been a city of immigrants.  That is our foundation.  We have many nationalities here.  I visited many of the schools and it’s encouraging to see how diverse we really, really are, all the way to a young age.

But we got a problem that’s serious and it’s going to get far worse, of refugees, undocumented or illegal aliens, which ever term you choose to use, are pegged for Lowell.  We are on that list.  Many of which are unskilled and uneducated.  And they’re on their way.

There is no denying a child an education in this city, under no circumstances.   I get it.  But nonetheless, it costs money.  These children cost two to three times more to educate than an English speaking student, child.  Someone has to bear that cost.  So what the Mayor’s alluding to is that, you know, a tab, a number, if you will.  We need to know how many of these students are hitting our school system.

Now the Superintendent of Schools was on the radio just last week.  We have about 100 to 200 families from the Congo pegged for Lowell.  From Central America, the crisis on the border, six planes have landed at Fort Devens.  Don’t know what’s going to fall out there.  Strong possibility we’ll get some of those families in Lowell, as well.  This is going to affect our school system dramatically to an already ongoing problem that the mayor’s more enlightened than I.

Someone needs to pay for this.  All’s we can do is keep a tab on the situation and enter these kids into the system but nonetheless we need to know the correct amount and my strategy – I’m only one councilor on this – but we need to involve Congresswomen Tsongas.  OK, she needs to carry, to stand up for her city, OK.  Now if the President, by all means with all due respect, wants to have failed immigration policies, then let him pay for it.  OK.

The school department is going to be looking for more money in the coming years to pay for all of this and they’re not going to be wrong.  These things cost money.  We’re going to have to get teachers, English as a second language teachers and what not.  That’s what we need.  That’s what we’re going to do.  But I’m not going to be looking to tax the homeowners of Lowell to pay for it.  I think that’s wrong.  I’m sorry.

So, I think we need to get on this problem sooner rather than later.  It’s going to get very, very serious.  Where our schools are going to be bursting from the seams.  There’s going to be a middle school congestion to say the least in the next two to three years as we were briefed by the superintendent.  So we do need to keep a tab on the situation.  I’m sorry.  I hope I don’t come off to be offensive.

But I’m merely standing up for the taxpayer’s of Lowell that these children it costs money to educate them and it should not be on the backs of the Lowell taxpayers.  That’s my point.  Thank you very much, Mr. Vice Mayor.

Magna Carta at Museum of Fine Arts

In the year 1215 a bunch of English nobles staged a tax revolt against the king and threatened his overthrow. Attempting to buy time, the king agreed to sign a petition they composed that set out their rights and privileges in relation to the monarchy. As soon as the crisis passed, the king renounced the document and England soon plunged into civil war. Through the passage of time, however, political theorists in the Western World have embraced this petition, called the Magna Carta, as one of the foundational documents of our democratic system of government.

Although multiple original copies of the Magna Carta were created 800 years ago, only four survive. One of them is on display at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts until September 1, 2014. The property of the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincolnshire, England, this Magna Carta is part of a temporary exhibit at the MFA that highlights the influence of the Magna Carta on America’s founders. Other items in the exhibit include paintings, marble busts and documents on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society including copies of the Declaration of Independence hand-written by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

The MFA is a quick trip from Lowell, either by car or public transportation. If you are all interested in history or government you should really find the time before the end of the summer to get down there and view the exhibit. The document itself is in fine shape with almost microscopic-sized hand-written text still legible (if you understand Latin) with the original folds in the paper still visible. To help preserve the documents, no photography is allowed inside the exhibit room.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Israel’s dilemma: how much is too much by Marjorie Arons Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

gazaPresident Obama said again today that Israel has a right to defend itself against the 1500 missiles Hamas has recently lobbed from Gaza into Israel and tunnel incursions to kill and capture Israeli citizens. But this morning he expressed concern about “the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.” The Hamas missiles haven’t been particularly effective (mostly terrorizing rather than killing Israelis), so Hamas and pro-Palestinian activists criticize Israel’s response as not being proportional.

How can it be “proportional” if a weakened Hamas has as its main strategy the deaths of Palestinians? How else to explain the placement of its missile equipment in homes, schools and hospitals, then telling civilians not to heed Israeli warnings to leave?  Clearly, and cynically, the more bodies pile up due to Israel, the better the standing of Hamas in the world.

Indeed, the Hamas Interior Ministry has sent directives to social media to refer always to any Gaza casualties as “innocent civilians” and the retaliation against all Hamas missile attacks as Israeli aggression.   It’s only now that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is fighting on the ground (to eliminate the tunnels Hamas has built to infiltrate between Gaza and Israel) that Israeli soldiers have been dying.  So is that a good thing because that’s a move toward proportionality? The reality is that Hamas’ shooting missiles into a civilian population is a war crime, and embedding its extremists in its own highly populated civilian centers is a war crime as well.

Hamas propaganda has had an impact in France, London and elsewhere, prompting nasty but predictable anti-Israel demonstrations. The Imam of Berlin called for the annihilation of the Jews (see this chilling video clip from the Middle East Media Research Institute). Iran has faulted the leaders of  other Arab nations for remaining silent on the matter. But on Egyptian television, commentators, fed up with Hamas, said that while they would die for the cause of the Palestinians, they wouldn’t give up an eyebrow for Hamas. Some in Saudi Arabia, fearful of jihadists, are now openly supportive of Israel, and officials in Yemen, Tunisia and Turkey have been unusually subdued.

It’s unfortunate that Israel’s obduracy in building more and more settlements in the West Bank has limited its ability to use the increased economic growth of that area to persuade potential Hamas critics living in Gaza to stand up and demand the same kind of economic opportunity. The poverty rate in Gaza is twice as high as in the West Bank, according to the World Bank. 2011 and 2012 saw economic growth in the West Bank. Since then, especially now that the Palestine Authority is collaborating with Hamas, the economy has slowed.

Sadly, despite the nuanced differences in the 2014 replay of this familiar drama, there is a sense that this mini-war will wind down, perhaps within a couple of weeks or less, with a patchwork cease-fire; many of the Hamas rockets and tunnels  will be eliminated or temporarily blocked only to be resupplied and re-dug.  New peace conversations may be initiated, and eventually they will fail.

Four or five years from now, if not before, the situation will be right back where it is today. And that’s where it will stay, until all the nations in the Middle East accept Israel’s right to exist and confidence-building steps are taken locally so rational Israelis and rational Palestinians are secure enough to take risks for peace.  Increasingly I fear this is unlikely to happen. The extremists in the Palestinian territories and their enablers outside continue to exercise a veto over the peace process. And from polling data it is clear that many silent majority Palestinians have not lessened their commitment to drive Israel into the sea. These risks are real, and the United States and Europe must not let that happen.

Even if there were to be a willing and able Palestinian partner for peace who could deliver on all the outstanding issues, I have increasing doubts that a similar willing and able hand could be found in Israel. Both sides have a vested interest in the status quo, but the status quo is not sustainable. And so it goes.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

Lowell City Council Meeting: July 22, 2014

Meeting opens with Councilor Mercier requesting a moment of silence for the seven victims of the Branch Street fire. Mayor Elliott joins in with heartfelt remarks on effect of the tragedy and on the way the entire city pulled together in response to it. He presents commendations to the Lowell Police Department and the Lowell Fire Department and thanks all the agencies, organizations and individuals who did so much to assist the victims making special recognition of the Red Cross, City Manager Murphy, and a number of city departments. Councilor Mercier then thanks Mayor Elliott for recognizing everyone else but then commends Mayor Elliott for his leadership throughout this ordeal.

Several non-controversial public hearings on utility requests.

Communications/Motion Response

Regarding school department moving back into downtown, Councilor Belanger is pleased that the school department is moving back to downtown but he criticizes the plan to put the Family Resource Center into a ground floor space on Merrimack Street that might otherwise be used for a for-profit retailer. Mayor Elliott comes to the defense of the school department, saying one of the criteria of the RFP was that it be ground floor and centrally located. He also says it’s a very busy place and having it on the ground floor is important. Councilor Kennedy reminds everyone that the School Committee responded to a council request that it move downtown so we should praise them for it. He adds that maybe in a year or two retail space will be so sought after that the building owner would welcome relocating the Resource Center but for now it would be best to leave it as is.

Councilor Leahy asks about a report on pedestrian safety on Andover St. The traffic engineer investigation found insufficient need for crossing lights for pedestrians.

Extensive discussion mostly be neighbors about a house being constructed on Alma St.

Petition to address the council by Ellen Collins on DeMoulas situation. She has a PowerPoint presentation. She requests the council publicly support Arthur T DeMoulas and the associates of DeMoulas Supermarkets who have been fired recently.

Vote authorizing School Department to enter into lease for Bon Marche building, etc, for school administration offices. Councilor Mercier questions how much thought and planning went into this proposal. Asks whether various alternative schools could have been consolidated to free space for the headquarters in a building with better parking and without rental payments. She says despite her concerns she feels no alternative than to vote for it. Passes 9 to 0.

Report of Finance Subcommittee meeting held earlier tonight. Topic was proposed ordinance amendment regarding water and sewer fees. Amendment establishes procedure to address and abate as needed estimated water bills. Subcommittee recommends referring it to a law department for drafting of the ordinance after which a public hearing will be held.

Report of Public Safety Subcommittee meeting held earlier tonight regarding several topics: Narcand (an antidote to heroin overdoses) will be available on Lowell Fire Dept vehicles in early August; regarding curfew ordinance, it was referred to solicitor’s office to explore ways to strengthen it; regarding synthetic drugs, they heard about public education; and strategy to combat violent acts presented by leadership of police department.


By Councilor Mercier to have the council tour the Lowell water treatment facility. She says the plant is in disrepair with equipment failing regularly, at least that’s what she has heard. She says she has heard that since she filed the motion, the staff there is doing repairs. Still, she would like to have a tour made available for city councilors so they can assess for themselves the state of the facility. Passes.

By Councilor Mercier to have council provided with copies of a sanitary survey conducted by the state two years ago of the Lowell water treatment facility. Passes.

By Councilor Kennedy request RFP for back water study of flooding risks in Claypit area and other areas of Pawtucketville. Passes.

By Councilor Belanger for a citywide cleanup before the start of the Lowell Folk Festival. Passes.

By Mayor Elliott requests report on costs to educate new comer students to Lowell Public Schools. Says purpose of motion is to get a grasp on the costs associated with ELL and those issues. Student population in LPS in last four years has had significant increase in number of students that puts a great demand on resources. A report from School Supt reflects students who come into this country with refugee status demand many resources which takes resources from mainstream classrooms. In past year, there were more than 250 additional “new comer” students. The city and the schools can no longer keep pace with this trend. The city added additional money. Says Lowell has never turned its back on anyone. We are a city of immigrants. Says the difference is the cost of the level of services we are required to provide now than the cost of what was required in the past. He says there are limits on how much we can handle. He says if the trend continues we will jeopardize our ability to educate our existing students. He wants governor and even the president to come to Lowell and see the demands placed on the system by new comer students. It’s an unfunded mandate that falls disproportionately on cities like Lowell. Doesn’t see how we can sustain this without a massive influx of funding from the state and federal governments because we’re not on the right track when it comes to funding our schools.

Councilor Belanger concurs Lowell is a city of immigrants but we have a problem that’s serious that is going to get far worse with refugees and undocumented and illegal aliens on the list to come to Lowell. They don’t have well developed skills. Says we need to know how many of these students are coming to our schools. Six planes of children from the southern border have landed at Fort Devens and we’re likely to get many of them. There’s also 100+ children from the Congo coming to Lowell. Says we need to get Congressman Tsongas to stand up for her city. Says if the President wants to have failed immigration policies then he should pay for it not the homeowners of Lowell. Says we have to get on this right away. I don’t mean to come off as offensive; I’m merely standing up for the taxpayers of Lowell. It’s very expensive to educate these children and it shouldn’t be on the backs of the taxpayers of Lowell. Motion passes.

Meeting adjourns at 9:43 pm.

[NOTE: The above are my notes taken while watching the city council meeting and are not a verbatim transcript. However, because of the inflammatory nature of Councilor Belanger's remarks regarding immigrants coming to Lowell, as soon as the video replay of the meeting is available online, I will produce a verbatim transcript of those remarks for the public record].

[NOTE-2 (July 24, 2014 at 9:15 pm) I just finished transcribing Councilor Belanger's complete remarks.  The verbatim transcript can be found HERE].