By: State Rep. Estela Reyes – 3-23
When I first ran for office years ago I didn’t like Tom Duggan and my opinion of The Valley Patriot was not good.
This month, The Valley Patriot is celebrating their 19th Anniversary and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.
I had never met Tom, and never read the paper, but I knew him by reputation, and what people were telling me was that he was a “racist” who “hates the City of Lawrence” because his father was a police officer murdered in our city.
Then I met him.
My first encounter with Tom was when he wrote a column wrongly criticizing me.
Months later however, I learned that Tom had continued to research the story and the background details even though it was no longer a public issue.
When he realized something he wrote was inaccurate, Tom sought me out.
That’s when I met Tom Duggan for the first time. Tom found out I was at an event one night and randomly showed up to talk to me. I will never forget what he said that day because it made me realize I had him all wrong.
“Councilor, I wrote a story about you a few months ago, and I’ve come to find out I was wrong about what I wrote, and I am here to say I am really sorry.”
Then, he hugged me.
I was shocked, and I remember thinking, ‘who is this guy? This can’t be the angry, racist, guy I keep hearing about who hates Lawrence.’
Then he surprised me even further saying that his apology wasn’t enough, he wanted to do something to atone for his mistake and promised to help me in my next campaign.
That’s when I started to really take a look at this newspaper.
What I found were stories about people helping the homeless in Lawrence, stories about Lawrence businesses doing good deeds, government services available for the Latino community, and yes, some criticism of Lawrence elected officials.
It was eye opening and refreshing – a newspaper that gives local activists and newsmakers the opportunity to get their message out without the filtered agenda of an editorial board – regardless of what their opinions are.
The more I read the more surprised I was. I read a column from one of his own contributors viscously attacking Tom and his paper. I remember thinking, ‘why would he publish that? Why would he let someone attack him like that in the pages of his own newspaper?’
So, I called him and I asked.
He simply said, “the purpose of this newspaper isn’t to promote my own views but to give other people a voice. People who hate me in this community deserve a voice too.”
This is so rare today – a man who welcomes criticism, eager to get things right, and willing to correct the record when he gets something wrong.
So, when Tom Duggan called and asked me to help The Movement Family (TMF) – a group of volunteers who feed the homeless in Lawrence – I was happy to help.
He came and testified before the council, he worked with myself and the mayor to hammer out the details, and at the end of it all, it was Tom Duggan who helped the homeless have shelter at the bus station on Common St. for homeless dinners once a week.
What’s more, he holds an annual charity BASH every year where he raises money for kids in Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill, and North Andover.
100% of everything people donate go directly to the kids. Tom posts every donation on-line and publicly posts a running total so everyone can see that their donation is going where it is supposed to go. Who else does that?
At this annual BASH, Tom even welcomes those who hate him and those who publicly criticize him, because he is single focused on helping kids get money for college.
“The more people we have in this room the more we raise for the kids,” he said.
“So, I don’t care if you hate me as long as you are here!”
At last year’s event he told the crowd that the BASH was a night of “amnesty.” Then he personally thanked several politicians in the room who have done nothing but belittle his efforts, take advantage of his generosity, and attack his credibility.
“They may not like me but these people are here because they are the grown-ups in the community who are willing to put aside their personal feelings to help other people,” he said.
Then he put photos of them in the next Valley Patriot to give them free publicity for coming to help.
As a side note, I have seen many politicians exploit Tom. He helps them behind the scenes with their scandals and their campaigns, and then when they get what they want, they turn on him and trash him on social media.
But, Tom doesn’t seem to care because he’s not a politician. He doesn’t look for credit for the things he does, in fact, he often gives other people credit for some of the things he does.
So, yes, I am proud to support Tom and his Valley Patriot, and I encourage you all to put aside what you may have heard, and come to his BASH at the Relief’s In on March 31st to see for yourself what this paper is all about. (GET TICKETS HERE)
And for the record, Tom Duggan’s help and guidance during the last election is the reason I am a state representative right now.
And it all started with an apology.
Who would have thought?
Estela Reyes is a Lawrence City Councilor and in her first term as a State Representative, representing Lawrence and Methuen. ◊