Looking back at 2014 and ahead to 2015…
Lowell City Council 2014 – January started the term of a new look Lowell City Council. First time Councilors Corey Belanger, Dan Rourke and Bill Samaras, the return of Jim Milinazzo and the first full / elected term of John Leahy alongside returning Councilors Rita Mercier, Ed Kennedy , Rodney Elliott and Bill Martin. Rourke and Belanger ran on a strong Public Safety platform at a time when the Sun was highlighting any negative activity it could to make the Lynch Administration look bad. While it worked to get elected in 2014 violent crime rose under their watch.
Many thought this year would be focused on whether or not this Council would extend Bernie Lynch’s contract, give him a new one or vote to release him. They never had a chance to act.
Councilor Elliott with the full backing of the SUN and delegation secured the long sought after Mayor’s position that eluded him and set the stage for a new Manager. Before they could make his life and job more intolerable than they already had, Manager Lynch announced he was leaving.
To no ones surprise State Rep. Kevin Murphy had the position secured before the first ad was posted and with his “little brother” (The Manager’s words at a public forum) in the Mayor’s office a new era was beginning.
The Councils attention has been focused on public safety after months of escalating violent crime while they strutted about the decrease in “quality of life ” crimes. They have talked on and on about the downtown but have accomplished very little while longtime businesses such as Centro, Wells Emporium, Mambo Grill and La Boniche have closed. Even Councilor Belanger’s business has suffered to the point he closed and reopened a month later with a different theme but according to many, the same results, not an active expanding business.
This Council also voted for the single largest tax increase in the last six years at 3.5%. Councilor now Mayor Elliott did a complete 180% turn and after leading a no tax drive the past 3 years, fully endorsed and supported the tax increase. Surprised he didn’t suffer from whiplash he turned so quickly.
Looking at 2015 – Many Councilors have already indicated they will run for re-election and aside from Dave Conway already announcing, there has not been a lot of names floating as potential challengers. Councilor Rourke has focused on public safety, Councilor Leahy on the neighborhoods and Councilor Belanger on the downtown. Councilor Samaras has been pretty unspectacular, retirement should be enjoyed and he should consider it. There has already been speculation about the future of Councilors Martin and Milinazzo and many have suggested Martin looks bored and dis-interested and may be ready to move on. I’m betting Elliott tries for a 2nd term, Lowell hasn’t had a Councilor serve consecutive Mayoral terms since Sa
m Pollard Eileen Donoghue1998-2001 (h/t J Myers). Rita Mercier will top the ticket for as long has she wants to run. Speculation is that Ed Kennedy wants to be the next Mayor but I’m still banking on Elliott with support from the delegation behind the scenes. Mayor Elliott is a lot more professional and less bombastic and disruptive than Councilor Elliott. One Councilor could be having to explain an ethics fine to the voters if it is found he took votes he should not have participated in. This has been dragging on since early July but could be resolved within the next few weeks.
Lowell School Committee 2014 – The only change was that former City Councilor Steve Gendron joined the committee replacing 1 and done Bob Gignac. The Committee seemed to be functioning well with plans submitted for a new or renovated high school and a review of locations for middle schools or a new High School. However, just as it did with Supt. Scott, the committee imploded and publicly embarrassed Supt. Franco by reneging on a contract agreement and basically sealing her fate in June. She formally informed the Committee in late November of her plans to “retire” at the end of the school year.
Looking at 2015: The Committee will be under the microscope with the search and selection for a new Supt. and hopefully receiving word from the state building commission on how much the state will fund a renovation or new High School project. Location, Location, Location could be a major issue in BOTH the School Committee or Council races if a New High School is funded. With Dave Conway trying for the Council, Bob Gignac is set for another run and Bob Hoey is allegedly interested in running. Ted Panos had floated a rumor he was interested but many believe it was just talk. Given the state of radio in general at least the committee would provide Teddy a steady pay check and health insurance! If the state would fund a new High School, Teddy would be interested in leading a discussion to move LHS and have a say as a Committee member. If the teacher’s union can find a better candidate than Dennis Canney, Connie Martin may be a member who has finally worn out her welcome especially since she has been one of the major players in running out the last 2 Superintendents.
Manager Murphy and his Administration 2014: Manager Murphy has been on a honeymoon with the Council and media since April and has received no criticism. He assembled a politically connected administration who can also perform their jobs without any media scrutiny. Names such as Mike McGovern, Kevin Coughlin, Erik Gitschier , Henry Marchand and promoting Councilor Bill Samaras son Chris without ever posting the job.
Looking at 2015: There are no signs that the honeymoon will end anytime soon. Councilors approval should continue until budget time. Things could get interesting if as I believe, the Manager will have to present a budget with another 3%-5% property tax increase in an Election year. He also could be looking at reduced state aid on both the school and city side with an upcoming state wide tax cut. He is facing a downtown that has less businesses than when he started in April and needs to increase businesses in the downtown and Jam Plan area. Residence will be appealing their tax and water bills and the library case still isn’t resolved. 2015 will be more challenging for the Manager than 2014 was.
Other items of interest..Speculation is growing that Dave Daley, Dave Nangle, Corey Belanger and others are actively lobbying new Gov. Charlie Baker to appoint Bob McMahon to replace Kristen Ross Sitcawich on the LHA Board. Manager Murphy didn’t appoint him when he had the chance but Baker owes some people for their support and this is just a small token of thanks.
Daley is a growing political power who donated both his time and money to many candidates, including this year(2015) supporting the Mayor has a member of his re-election committee and was featured in a Baker for Gov. ad. Many local businessman have been involved in politics and being “generous” with their funding but for some reason Daley who is a charismatic, out-spoken guy but for whatever reason, seem to rub some people the wrong way.
Rumors about the Dracut Housing Authority being looked into about insurance conflicts and other related items seems to have quieted but the speculation is that Gov. Baker will be appointing a new member to replace Brian Bond before the end of January.
All eyes will be on UMASS Lowell and Marty Meehan in 2015. Will he go on to lead UMASS statewide? Will he buy the Saints Campus from Lowell General? If he does get the State job, who will he lobby and select has his ULowell replacement?
Market Basket is looking for a much quieter year, dropping the 4% discount but counting on the loyalty shown in 2014 to continue to support the new Artie T DeMoulas owned company. Sage Bank is hoping for new leadership and no Federal fines to get back to the community bank image it has worked hard at creating and many will be watching the tone set by the new Middlesex Community College leader and his support / interaction with the City of Lowell and business community.
Greater attention will be on the local media this year. Speculation has been buzzing for the better part of 6 months that the Sun will be sold and who will be buying it and what staff changes could occur. Will the paper drop their new found neutrality and actively again support candidates as it did with Elliott, Belanger and Rourke in the past election?
WCAP is partnering with a New Hampshire station and will be reaching a larger base, changing some programming and adding Howie Carr has it struggles (like most local owned businesses) for revenue. Carr could provide a huge bump and being able to expand and reach more potential advertisers could be a boon to the station. Here’s hoping local good guy Jack Baldwin is recovering well and will get back soon and producer/ morning show co-host Chris Poublon who has repeatedly juggled his schedule to help the station stays on the morning team.