Tumble World of Lowell Politics
It's the New Year and we are all filled with such promise. The city of Lowell has just come out of another election with most of us unscathed.
Ahhh, the elections of times gone past.
I was again reminded of the elections of times gone past those last few weeks on my own campaign trail. I saw some old familiar faces that made me remember the rough and tumble game of city politics, and I met new people who didnt believe a word of it. I was lucky; I entered public life at a time when politics started around the kitchen table and spread out to the street. When candidates nights were an opportunity to hear your local politicians and voters wouldnt think of missing the opportunity.
The good old days - before meetings were shown on TV and people actually had to come out and watch in the galley to see who got the new principals job or appointment to a city board.
Todays elections still have some of the old drama. Who put the new candidate up to run? Whos funding so and sos campaign? Where did the 22 year-old come from? But todays election is also missing something of years gone by, the voter.
Where did you go? How did you get so jaded and where is your sense of community responsibility? Lowell has about 47,000 registered voters and only 12,000 went to the polls last election day. Now, I will say that bodes well for incumbents, so I dont want to bite the hand that elects me. But I have to ask, Where are the voters?
When I think that there are people across the world who literally risk dying in order to vote, I wonder; why is there voter apathy?
There are some who would never miss an election, but most of those people are in an older age bracket. When they are gone, who will go to the polls?
There has to be a reason. Is it because people just dont like politicians? People, let me tell you that politician isnt a dirty word, and being a politician is not a bad thing. When I think of the term politician, I think of a person who wants to do good for his community, someone who makes sure the stop sign is where its supposed to be. Someone who makes sure there are books in your daughters class and, even when its a tough vote, never shirks from the responsibility.
Our city unions sponsored a debate right before the November election and I took the opportunity to look around the room at the men and women who had the courage to put their names on the ballot.
It isnt easy. People who run for public office have to take time away from family, work and social life. And thats just while you are in the throes of running for office. Jim Leary, a new candidate for the school committee race, and I were speaking at the debate the other night and he was lamenting how exhausting it was to run for public office. I started to laugh, looked at him and said, well, you better brace yourself, running for office is easy. Its serving thats difficult. That being said, I want to pay some respect to my fellow brothers and sisters for whom I have tremendous admiration.
People like Councilor Rita Mercier, who I met for breakfast before her first city council run. We sat in the back of the Owl Diner and she leaned in close over her coffee and said, Im going to run for City Council next year. What do you think about that?
I have to tell you, I was surprised I hadnt known Rita before that morning and I wasnt sure what to say. If I told the truth, well, I was afraid to frighten her. So I think I said something like, thats wonderful, youll love it.
I walked away hoping she wouldnt be angry with my little white lie.
I always love it, but sometimes I dont like it. Politics will always be a tough game to play. However, the rewards of doing good for people will always outweigh the tough stuff. Councilor Rita Mercier has shown that she is an excellent sparring partner and she is always looking out for the people of Lowell.
I also looked at Mike Zaim, a newcomer to the campaign trail. He had a couple of bumps early on in the road, but he showed the people of this great city that he has a lot of class. He hasnt shirked away from the issues but tackled them straight on. Kevin Broderick, our newest councilor, was sworn in several months ago when a vacancy opened. Kevin has taken to the Council with great gusto. Hes shown the people of Lowell that he wants to return to work for them.
Councilors Eileen Donoghue and Bud Caulfield, both former mayors that I have had the privilege of serving under, have proven their dedication to the city and showed to be great supporters of education. And how could I forget the new fiscal watchdog Rodney Elliott. Rodney handles the governments money all day (which is actually the peoples money). I trust him.
Jim Milinazzo and I share a love of dogs but trust me, people, Jim is more than that. He has worked tirelessly for our city for years and has now moved into the political realm with the same dedicated beliefs. Bill Martin, a fine attorney here in the city, could find far more to do every Tuesday night, but I see him at his seat making tough decisions.
There is a rumor that Bill has the votes for mayor, but well see on Inaugural Day if Its going to be Mayor Martin. Currently we are still serving under Mayor Armand Mercier.
Hes been our go-between to the Council and, sometimes, the punching bag. Mayor Mercier handles it all with tact and aplomb; hes quite a guy. The elected members of the Council could be making legal deals, playing with kids and grand children, taking vacations and simply be bystanders but theyre not. They are hardworking, dedicated people I dont always agree with, but I do respect.
I happened to be at a breakfast on a beautiful Sunday morning and got to listen to Democratic political hopefuls try to reel us in. I have to tell you that I was impressed and thankful that there were some people who still believed that politics and what we do is not about giving a hand out, but a hand up. I sat with Curtis Lemay, the state party chairperson.
This is a man who has never forgotten what it means to be a true Democrat. A man who has spent countless hours working on behalf of others, who is now spending countless hours working on his own City Council campaign. Curtin didnt make it this time but run Seabiscuit, run.
Then there are the people whom I get to sit with the first and third Wednesday of the month: Jackie Doherty, John Leahy, Connie Martin, Kevin McHugh, and Joe Mendonca. I am going to miss Joe; hes decided to become a candidate for City Council, working to make that difficult leap across the aisle. His advocacy for education on the Council will be a wonderful addition. Joe came in tenth. It was an amazing showing.
He spent a fraction of the money, but his reputation and dedication carried him to the tenth place, just a heartbeat away. My colleague, Kevin McHugh, is a school department administrator in Wilmington; they are lucky to have him. So are the voters of the city of Lowell. Connie Martin has spent just about her entire working life dedicated to running organizations that make a difference in the lives of people in our community. It makes a lot of sense that shed be drawn to the school committee. My neighbor to my left on the school committee, John Leahy, is a business owner, family man and just happens to come from some darn good political stock. Public service was served up at the Leahy dinner table on a nightly basis and Im glad John was taking seconds.
I dont always agree with these people either, but their dedication is unparalleled. They are as tired as I am at 2:00 a.m. during a contract negotiation, or exasperated over the dropout rate, and each is concerned about the safety of our school children. They work hard and come to each meeting prepared and ready to face each challenge.
Both the Council and school committee will be seeing at least one new member. The school committee will be seating Jim Leary and the Council will seat George Ramirez. George will make history on the 3rd of January and I am very happy to be part of that history. George will be the first Hispanic to be sworn into an elected position in the city of Lowell.
Twenty years ago I was the first person of Italian descent with an Italian surname to be sworn into public office. Lowell has always been and will always continue to be a city of newcomers, settling in among families who have been here for a century.
Now if we can just come up with a formula to get people to the ballot box to share in the spread of power, well be all set.
Regina Faticante is a member of the Lowell School Committee and is the host of the Afternoon Live Radio Program on WCAP/980AM in Lowell, Monday through Friday, from 3-6pm. Regina Faticanti is the longest serving elected official in Lowell. YOu can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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