Tag Archives: Paul Tsongas

from ‘The Park Bill Becomes Law’: Ray LaPorte’s Story

Here’s another excerpt from the book about the origin and impact of Lowell’s national park that I’ve been working on for the past two years. With luck, the book will be available by the end of 2014. The search is on for a publisher that can distribute the book widely, probably a university press because of the specific subject. The following is from a sidebar feature about Lowell native Ray LaPorte’s experience in Washington, D.C., helping then-Congressman Paul Tsongas get the Park legislation passed. The diary continues through the final votes in Congress. Ray worked for the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission and now lives on Martha’s Vineyard.—PM

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Ray LaPorte, c. 2010

from “The Park Bill Becomes Law: A Staff Diary” in Mill Power: Reclaiming Lowell’s Place and Story

     Ray LaPorte finished his master’s degree requirements in Political Science at The New School in New York City in December 1977, and went home to Lowell for the holidays to figure out what to do next. At 26 years old, he says, ‘the school gig was up’ and he needed meaningful work. He had been away from Lowell at boarding school and college in Worcester, and spent summers at his family’s beach house in Seabrook, N.H. Despite being a fourth generation Pawtucketville neighborhood native, and having played along the Merrimack and its canals as a kid, he did not feel rooted in the place. Bored at Christmastime, he became curious about the Park chatter in the newspaper. His mother urged him to talk to Pat Mogan at City Hall. Without an appointment, he dropped in on for a talk, but Mogan did all the talking.

“’I was spellbound by his enthusiasm, intrigued by the community planning efforts, and dumbfounded at how little I knew of Lowell’s history,’ says LaPorte. ‘When he said that all further action about the Lowell Park legislation was to be in Washington, D.C., I knew where I was headed after New Year’s Day.’

“LaPorte arrived in D.C. with no money, no place to stay, no job, and no plan other than to deal his ‘woeful deck of resume cards around Capitol Hill with enthusiasm and a smile.’ He roamed the halls of the Capitol until he found the office of his member of Congress, Paul Tsongas. The appointment secretary told him to come back the next day, which he did—waiting almost all day until Tsongas returned from committee meetings and floor votes. ‘In a flash, there I was sitting alone with Paul, who was fully engaged in my story, interests and our shared Lowell childhoods and families,’ says LaPorte. A week later he was in place as an intern. Following are excerpts from a diary he kept during the run up to the passage of the Park legislation.

“January 27, 1978: Lunch in the Members’ restaurant with the Congressman. I was assigned to work with legislative aide Fred Faust on Park legislation. We conferred with the House subcommittee staff about final draft language of the Lowell Park bill.

“February 16: Met Karen Carpenter of Human Services Corporation and Pat Mogan at the Health, Education, and Welfare Dept.’s Teacher Corps office; I ran back to office afterwards, so missed a surprise meeting they had with Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus! Got things ready for hearings. Met Lowell City Councilors Ed Kennedy and Ray Lord, City planner Bob Malavich and Lew Karabatsos of the Lowell Museum.

“February 17: Subcommittee hearings from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  A love-in, favorable hearing. The NPS is supportive, but they want to do it their way, meaning scattered sites for Park activities instead of an intensive-use zone covering the core of the city—and less money. Pat Mogan, Lowell City Councilor Sam Pollard, and mill operator Ted Larter were excellent.  . . .”

Lowell in the Early 1970s: Recollections of Fred Faust

Following is an excerpt from an interview with Fred Faust, who has worn a lot of hats and coats in Lowell since he came to town as a radio reporter at WCAP. In 2003, historian Mehmed Ali, then on the staff of Lowell National Historical Park, sat down with Fred to talk about the origin of the national park and the city’s redevelopment. The full transcript of the interview is available—one of many oral histories in transcribed or audio form at the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History, which has an outstanding collection of witnesses to Lowell history. Note that I edited out extra “you knows” to smooth out the statements and deleted Ali’s brief questions and prompts between Fred’s responses. These days, Fred has his own business, The Edge Group, a real estate consulting and brokerage firm. He is one of the first Fellows named to the Gateway Cities Institute of Massachusetts, “which envisions vibrant mid-sized cities driving regional economies.” The excerpt below picks up after Fred explains that he was born in the New York City area and then went to college in 1968 to study communications at Emerson College in Boston. After graduation, he got a job in Lowell.—PM 

 

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“I came up to …Lowell…and worked in news at WCAP. I was somebody who grew up in the suburbs of New York City, and then spent time in Boston in college for four years. So Lowell was very different for me. On the bad side, obviously, it had a huge chip on its shoulder in terms of the economic status of the area. And people seeing the whole history of the mills, and the deterioration of the economy, and the loss of textile industry—they took that in a very personal way. When you would ask people about Lowell and what the serious issues were, the first thing in everybody’s mind was unemployment. And the area I had been from, in New Rochelle,  there were certainly affluent sections; it was working class, too, but not to the extent of what was in Lowell. So I’d never really been in a real working-class city before, and one that considered itself a little bit down and out. When I was working at the radio station one of the stories I was assigned to cover one night was a meeting at the Smith Baker Center with Pat Mogan, and a professor from the University of Pittsburgh, and Brad Morse who was the Congressman at the time. And that was the first time I heard about the National Park concept. I hadn’t known anything about Lowell’s history. Didn’t know what these big red brick buildings were, or why there were canals running along and perpendicular to the streets. And all of a sudden everything made sense to me. And as somebody who was interested in planning and urban ideas, it just really made some connections, and I thought it was a very neat idea.

I started as a reporter. I had just graduated from college. In 1972, the Rialto was a bowling alley. Again, I was interested in history and politics, and urban areas. I quickly had to find my bearings in a very complex political climate like Lowell, which you’re forced to do right away, because everybody is calling you on the phone, the city councilors, the school committee people, wanting to make sure they get the best kind of coverage. So one of the things you had to do is sort out the players and the interest groups. I remember being completely amazed going to the city council meetings, and the school committee, because so much a part of the meeting was rhetoric. It seemed like somebody could speak for an hour and a half on a pothole. And everything was politics, but for somebody who was reporting it was a fascinating kind of learning experience. I think I was a reasonably fast study and saw the lay of the land, and met a lot of interesting people and started to become familiar, more familiar with the community.

“A lot of [the political alliances] generated from the mayoral races. Who was in and who was out. I remember when I was around, at that point Ellen Sampson was the mayor. There weren’t too many women mayors. She was  a character, or maybe a caricature in and of herself. There were in Lowell at that time the young, newer, reform types: the Paul Tsongases, the Dick Howes at that point. They had just come off replacing Charlie Gallagher as the City Manager. Paul Tsongas would be leaving the council shortly thereafter to run for Middlesex County Commission on a reform slate. And then there were the Sam Pollards, the Ray Rourkes, the more traditional politicians whose work was sort of based more on old alliances and constituent services and so forth. And at the same time there were starting to be, thanks to Pat Mogan and the Model Cities folks, very different kind of ideas for redeveloping Lowell and for focusing pride on the history of the city, which again at that time was just about completely covered up. So there was the old group and the new group. The old group also consisted of a lot of downtown business people who had hung around, weren’t really making much money, were basically complaining about everything. You couldn’t get anybody to agree on anything at all. There were a substantial number of buildings in tax title in those days. I believe Paul Sheehy at that time was the City Manager. And it was just hard to get any momentum going or to overcome the psychology of failure.

“There were different ideas of how to bring Lowell back. There was everything from monorails to urban cultural parks, to taking down the downtown, putting up new buildings. And Lowell wasn’t very demanding when it came to development, which was scary because of some of the existing buildings that were here, and the potential loss of integrity. I came in just after Merrimack Manufacturing was taken down, and the boarding houses on Dutton Street were taken down. And that clearly evoked some concern in the community. I remember walking by and watching for a while as they took the flat iron building down where the Central Bank is today [Central and Prescott streets], and thinking, what a shame, that’s such an attractive building. And certainly at that point I was not into historic preservation, but it was an attractive building, and it seemed a waste to be doing that.

“There didn’t seem to be particularly coherent plan. The urban renewal at that point was urban renewal. It was handled by the Development Authority, which again had a lot of older established industrially oriented members. And one of the things that started to happen in Lowell, and I believe under Paul Sheehy, was that Frank Keefe was hired as the Director of Planning and Development. I remember asking Frank, ‘What’s a planner do?’ And he said, ‘A planner is a clear thinker.’ And Frank well defined that. He had great grasp of all kinds of ideas, projects, complex projects, and he, Pat Mogan, Brad Morse succeeded by Paul Cronin [as the congressman], and certainly Paul Tsongas defined the new ambitions for the community. Each played a role in a very different way of trying to get the community to a critical mass to accept some new ideas and grasp what the real potential of an Urban Cultural Park, and then a State Heritage Park, and a National Park were all about, and get past this terrible image that everybody had in the back of their minds that Lowell was a ghost town, a mill town, with the highest unemployment rate in the state, etc. etc.” . . .

Politics

The death of George McGovern is something of a milestone for me. I cast my first presidential vote for him in November 1972. The voting age had been lowered to 18 that year in deference to the 18-year-olds who were being drafted to fight in Vietnam. Sen. McGovern opposed the continuation of the Vietnam War, which was the main reason I supported him. I agreed with most of the policies he advocated for on the domestic side, and in general I believed he was an honorable and decent man. Watching TV yesterday, I caught the last part of the movie “Primary Colors,” about the Clintons in 1992. There’s a scene in the kitchen with Libby (Kathy Bates) turning over the opposition research about Gov. Fred Picker (Larry Hagman) to Gov. Jack Stanton (John Travolta) and his wife Susan (Emma Thompson). Libby is distressed when Susan and Jack say they have to use the dirt that she dug up on Picker. Libby says she won’t allow it because “we don’t do that,” or words to that effect, and she reminds Jack that he told her it was going to be different with them—that they would win because their “ideas are better.” In the movie, that remembered conversation happens in 1972, when the characters were working in the McGovern presidential campaign.  It’s dizzying to think of all the twists and turns of idealism and cynicism and hypocrisy in that one short scene. Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Recall that Picker, in the movie, replaced Sen. Lawrence Harris (the Paul Tsongas character) who has withdrawn from the race due to illness. Stanton had been saying Harris was going to cut Medicare payments for the elderly. Clinton did attack Tsongas with ads in Florida claiming Tsongas would cut the budget in ways that would hurt senior citizens.

Another convergence with the news of Sen. McGovern’s death was when my fellow blogger Marie posted about the locally famous bumper sticker: “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts,” which began to be seen after the Watergate scandal blew up and Richard Nixon became the first president to resign from office. Skip ahead to the Clinton (Jack Stanton) presidency and the impeachment and eventual acquittal of Bill Clinton, which some observers said was partly a pay-back for the impeachment of President Nixon in 1974, leading to his resignation. And Sec. of State Hilary Clinton (Susan Stanton) had been a staff member on one of the committees investigating Nixon. What a tangled web, for sure.

The summer of 1972 was an intense political period in Lowell. Marie Sweeney was working for Helen Droney in the Democratic primary campaign for Congress; I was volunteering for a newcomer, the anti-Vietnam War candidate John F. Kerry. It seemed like every political-body and his brother or sister in Lowell and Lawrence was either running in that race or working for a candidate. That summer I had a job in the shipping-and-receiving department of Cherry & Webb’s women’s clothing store on Merrimack Street (corner of John and Merrimack). The store was full of Paul Sheehy supporters, so I got the evil eye from some employees as I made my rounds delivering coats and dresses. Skip ahead to the present, and long-time US Sen. John Kerry, unsuccessful Democratic nominee for the presidency in 2004, has been playing Gov Mitt Romney in debate preparation with President Obama.

On Oct. 2, 2007, an overflow crowd waited at Lowell Memorial Auditorium for Bill Clinton to arrive by car after his private plane had mechanical problems. The former President was due to speak on behalf of Niki Tsongas, who was running to be U.S. Representative from the Fifth Congressional District after Congressman Martin T. Meehan left office to assume the Chancellorship of UMass Lowell. An an ex-president, Clinton became one of the most popular political figures in America. Here’s the YouTube clip of the event.

The wheel turns and turns, and sometimes we are on it.

 

‘agapetime’ by Dimitri Hadzi (commentary)

We Built This City

by Alex Duran

Placed next to the canals that powered the city, paid for by the leaders who bettered it, and honoring the people who helped create and continue to transform it, agápetimé is a symbolically intricate contribution to the Lowell Public Art Collection. In 1988, Paul and Niki Tsongas commissioned artist Dimitri Hadzi to design a work honoring their parents. The meaning of the resulting sculpture, however, extends beyond any one family. This work pays homage to all those whose contributions, though not always recognized, built this city from the ground up.

People may not remember the names of the owners of the mills. They may not even know Lowell’s namesake or who founded it. But they do know the legacy left by its settlers. They know Jack Kerouac, a descendant of French Canadians. They know Paul and Niki Tsongas, descendants of Greek, Irish, and French families. Many have heard stories of the sweat, labor, and low pay of the immigrant families that allowed for the expansion and profitability of Lowell’s mills. They often forget the Southern slaves, as essential as local workers to Lowell’s success, who labored over the cotton that was used to make fabric in the mills. Now, hopefully, they remember who built this city every time they walk by this sculpture outside Middlesex Community College at the Lower Locks canal complex.

The title “agápetimé” is derived from two Greek words: “agápe” means love and “timé” means honor, an important virtue in ancient Greek culture. Though this artwork seems to present a wholly new and abstract sculpture from every viewing angle, it also evokes a human narrative that confirms its title. Two taller figures reaching ten feet in height face one another, one with an “arm” that reaches like an affectionate hand toward its companion. The smaller figure is placed between the two but sits closer to one, like a child to its mother. This work epitomizes, in content and name, honor to the family.

agápetimé‘s eclectic style is suggestive of a universal symbolism, representative of all Lowell’s immigrant families. Hadzi himself was the New York-born son of Greek immigrants and an artist with a passionate interest in world cultures. He studied in Greece and Rome for twenty-five years and found inspiration in the cultures of ancient civilizations the world over, including Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. The forms stand on their granite pedestal like the ruins of an ancient city. The overhanging “arm” of the tall figure almost creates a post-and-lintel structure. The figure in the middle resembles the broken stump of a Roman column. The suggestions of carving and etching recall a sculptural style that is distinctly African. These factors, taken together, support a broad symbolic interpretation of this sculpture.

Lowell’s immigrants have played a profound role in shaping the city. Due to conflict with Yankees, immigrants were scarcely allowed rooms in the boardinghouses and had to carve out their own spaces in Lowell. The Irish, French Canadians, and Greeks still form the base of Lowell’s ethnic identity and have made lasting contributions to the city’s political, economic, and cultural growth. By the time the sculpture was commissioned in 1988, Lowell had become the second largest refuge for Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge, who today contribute tremendously to its cultural diversity. I like to think all of Lowell’s immigrant families can find meaning in Dimitri Hadzi’s homage to the Tsongas family and that others will remember the importance of these families to both the history and future of the city.

 

Paul Tsongas Gets a Mention in Kristof Column

Writing quite moderately about Mitt Romney today, NYTimes opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof reviews past charges of flip-flopping candidates and reminds of us of Paul Tsongas calling Bill Clinton “a pander bear” in 1992—there are photos of Paul holding up a stuffed panda bear at campaign rallies. I don’t know who came up with the panda bear thing, but it stuck for a while and is remembered. Read Kristof here, and get the NYT if you want more.

“Tsongas Steel”

Today we combine photos by Tony Sampas with a poem by Paul Marion in a tribute to Paul Tsongas and the UMass Lowell Tsongas Center.

Tsongas Steel

I view my approach as compassionate realism.
Can you imagine a bumper sticker with those words on it?

—Paul Tsongas

1.
It’s January in California. I tear open the package
stuffed with birthday shirts, pistachios from Market Street,
and two-week-old Suns telling of Paul Tsongas leaving the Senate.
Headlines had crossed the country: bulletin on Larry King’s show,
clip on MacNeil-Lehrer, Ellen Goodman’s column in the L.A. Times
about a sick father who sorted out kinds of ambition.
The hometown coverage is epic—former staffers reacting,
Greek restaurant victory scenes, pictures of Paul in Israel,
with big Tip and Ted in Washington, and a family portrait.
Each summer the Merrimack River eases through the valley,
spills over the dam, thins out, sneaks between rocks,
then emerges whole in a wide, quiet metal-flake basin,
right up against the city, in no hurry for the ocean.
1984

2.
Four huge flatbeds, flanked by cruisers with looping blue lights,
slide through the intersection of Broadway and Dutton,
hauling beams for the city’s new arena named for Paul.
I see this on leaving his funeral service in a Byzantine geode,
Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church—
Church of Metamorphosis, Church of Sudden Radiance,
Church of Radical Development, Church of Holy Light.
He’s gone to the air, gone to the sun, gone to the waters, gone to the ground.
Who planned this steel motorcade just as mourners turned from the church?
Or was it perfect luck or chance or fate?
We know him well enough to say he would love
the idea of excellence in a steel embrace.
1997

—Paul Marion (c) 2006, from “What Is the City?”

Frank Keefe: “Lowell is a beacon for the rest of the Commonwealth”

The concluding session of the 2010 “Public Matters: Empowering Lowell’s Leaders” program took place this evening at Middlesex Community College. Urban planning guru Frank Keefe (Lowell’s chief city planner a long time ago) was the keynote speaker. I found his remarks fascinating, uplifting and, to anyone interested in Lowell’s developmental trajectory over the past 40 years, invaluable.

Keefe said that when he first got to Lowell, the prevailing “vision of Lowell” was “amorphous and divided” with at least one scenario advocating the demolition of all remaining mill buildings with the resulting rubble used to fill-in the canals. He praised the city council that killed the plan to extend the Lowell Connector through the Back Central Street Neighborhood but said a key event came when Richard Nixon killed funding for Urban Renewal in 1973. Without Federal funds, there was no way to finance the demolition and rebuilding plans.

The turning point within the city came with the establishment of the Centerl City Committee. Up to that point, “the politics of patronage and negativity prevailed” but Central City brought together representatives of every sector of Lowell and forced folks to grapple with a shared vision for the future of the city. That committee decided that Lowell should find its future in its past. Keefe explained that up until that point, historical preservation was all about the colonial era with all available funding going to Federalist buildings and Revolutionary War sites. The notion of spending preservation dollars in a gritty industrial city such as Lowell was unheard of. Continue reading