What Did the Preliminary Election Mean in Lowell?

Lowell Mayor Rita Mercier
Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier

By: John MacDonaldOctober, 2015

The September 28th Lowell City Council preliminary election brought excitement and interested voters to the polls in droves! Street corners and coffee shops were abuzz with conversation about the highly anticipated and important municipal election. The people of Lowell realized the direct impact of the people they voted for on their taxes to the condition of the city streets, right down to the cracks in the sidewalk. Oh, how impressive it was to see such active civil participation.

Wait… I wish. That’s a complete lie.

In reality, Lowell experienced a deplorable turnout of 6.7% (3,939 of 58,878 registered voters. The last preliminary, in 2013, got about 12%) in an election that would whittle the field of 19 candidates to 18. So what are some of the potential reasons for such a low turnout?

Perhaps it’s that the city is in a period of relative calm and harmony. Lowell’s City Manager Kevin Murphy and the City Council are working together and accomplishing the city’s business in a professional and effective way. Manager Murphy has demonstrated an acute political acumen for involving and informing his bosses of everything going on in the city. He’s been dubbed “The Great Communicator” by City Councilors that seem to be extremely pleased by his performance. Even some of his greatest critics in the past have been effusive in praise of the job he has done.
The current council led by Mayor Elliott conducts its business efficiently and effectively. Mayor Elliott has made the city proud and has set the bar as to how any future mayors should carry themselves when serving the city. His fellow councilors appear to work tirelessly and when it comes to disagreement, never do they delve into the personal unprofessional attacks of the past. They professionally present their opinions and take votes accordingly. It’s not perfect, but after following politics my entire life I haven’t seen a council or city manager work better together. Diverse in experience and unified in wanting Lowell to be a better place, this group of incumbents all deserve re-election.

So why the apathy at the polls? I hope it’s not just due to the overall satisfaction in the city, because not showing up at the polls isn’t the way to show appreciation. The low turnout delivered little to those challengers and incumbents that spent their summer knocking on doors and sharing their views for moving Lowell forward. In actuality from a candidate’s standpoint, it was a major let down. However there were a few important takeaways in my opinion.

• The incumbents for the most part are strong. Rita Mercier remains the most popular politician in Lowell. Only one sitting councilor fell out of the top 9. Councilor Corey Belanger will have to work extra hard letting people know why he deserves re-election. My guess is he will bounce back.

• 4 Asian candidates entered the race. People expected them to work together. They didn’t and the best Asian candidate that would help represent the second largest contingent of Cambodian American’s in the country didn’t finish as high as he should have. Paul Ratha Yem is by far on of the best challengers in the entire race and the best Asian candidate in the field. Lowell should take notice and support this highly intelligent individual in the general election.

• The highly anticipated duel over who made the right choice for Lowell’s next Superintendent of Schools played out. Sitting school committeeman and now city council challenger Jim Leary, a pro Jay Lang supporter, a pro “give the local guy a chance” trounced fellow school committeeman and council candidate Dave Conway “The anyone but Jay Lang candidate” in the preliminary election. Leary even showed that he could beat Conway in his own neighborhood. Conway was the first challenger to announce his candidacy for city council and it might be time to be the first to take a vacation.

• Joe Mendonca, former Lowell City Councilor who was an ardent/loyal supporter of the former City Manager Bernie Lynch and worked tirelessly for an unpopular “backyard chicken ordinance” actually showed some strength. He’s an anti-tax, financially driven guy that may in fact attract voters who are never pleased with a tax increase. Will “Cotton Eyed” Joe deliver or lay an egg?

At the end of the day will Lowell come out strong for the General election in November? It’s hard to say. Unless an incumbent falters, or if a challenger finds a way to differentiate themselves, results may remain the same. As things stand I’m going to vote for all the incumbents and will likely pick only one challenger. Jim Leary and Paul Ratha Yem are my choices as challenges and would work best with the current team of incumbents.

Finally, tune in to 980AM WCAP on Thursday nights from 6-7pm for my radio show “The Pulse”. I host “The Pulse” and will have former Mayor Bud Caulfield and former Lowell city council candidate Freddy Doyle as my co-hosts talking all about the Lowell City Council and School Committee races until the general election.

Now mark your calendars and get out and VOTE!