After two weeks off for Halloween & Election Day, and after working on figuring out who the next Mayor will be, the Lowell City Council returns to chambers next Tuesday with an interesting agenda.
The first thing you’ll notice is a re-arranging of the order; specifically, Council Motions are now discussed much earlier in the meeting, ahead of Communications, Votes, Orders and Ordinances from the City Manager, not to mention Subcommittee Reports and Petitions.
And wile each motion is important to someone, a couple in particular get the political monster in me stirring:
First, the daily double of 5.6 & 5.7 are sure to re-ignite the homeless/vagrancy issues that dominated the first half of 2023, only to disappear when the warm weather and battle over ADU’s took center stage.
As Boston Mayor Michelle Wu began clearing out Mass & Cass and anecdotal reports began circulating of tent toting passengers stepping off the choo-choo trains at Gallagher Terminal, it appears City Councilor Corey Robinson is trying to put the kibosh on “Lowell & Cass” before it’s too late. The first of the two motions is a nod to “stakeholders,” while the second is likely to infuriate most of them.
Having strength in numbers with Councilors Scott & Rourke co-sponsoring the motion, along with the ammunition of Mayor Wu’s efforts and the fact Portland, Oregon of all places enacted a similar ban should quell a lot of the political opposition. Though you can never underestimate the howls of protest sure to emerge from the advocates who have yet, to my knowledge, volunteered their home or backyard as a campground.
Motion 5.11 is interesting in that a number of recent comments on our website and social media posts about the Mayoral selection have elicited snarky comments about “ignoring the will of the people” who overwhelmingly voted in 2021 to let the people decide the Mayor.
Of course, as we discovered with ADU’s, the devil is always in the details and the solution acceptable to one group won’t be the version another group prefers, and so on. If you doubt me, wait till the discussion gets into the nitty gritty of who is eligible, where and how on the ballot that oval will be circled, and most of all, how on earth is a councilor from a district lucky to see a 500-vote turnout going to stand a chance against a candidate from one of the power neighborhoods?
And speaking of turnout, 5.13 seeks to make Lowell more like Worcester. Strange, because I’ve always felt our city suffered from Cambridge envy, not the land beyond 495. But given the “City of Seven Hills” saw a 22% turnout the other night, it’s worth exploring.
A comparison of the two cities from the U.S. Census Bureau finds them pretty similar in many aspects, with the most noticeable difference being Worcester’s estimated population in 2022 of 205,219, compared to Lowell’s 113,608. Believe it or not, the Mill City actually fares better in most key metrics, including Median Household Income ($64,489-$56,746), Poverty Rate (17.5%-19.3%), Owner Occupied Homes (43.2%-42.4%) and even Civilian Labor Force participation (67.2%-62.4%). As I was trying to figure out why Lowell’s turnout percentage the other night was less than half of Worcester’s, those were among the metrics I figured might account for it. Not the case.
The only other guess I can hazard is the percentage of foreign born residents; 27.9% in Lowell, 21.9% for Worcester.
Growing up in an immigrant household and listening to my family passionately argue politics in Greece decades after leaving it, while barely batting an eye in the direction of America’s or Lowell’s politics, I can see how having a higher foreign born population might lead to less interest in local elections. I’ll be curious when the report comes back to see if Worcester’s elections are run much differently than ours, or if it’s humanely possible to top the never-ending voter “engagement” efforts we experience in these parts.