Besides the mention of a Downtown Newsletter that may be hitting the presses (literally, as it'll be primarily a hard-copy thing) within the next month or so, the highlight of tonight's LDNA meeting at the Revolving Museum was the set of speeches by Lowell City Council candidates.
The order of the speeches was sort of haphazard; it had more to do with where candidates were sitting or standing than anything else. The following summaries are presented in the order that the candidates spoke:
First, Franky Descoteaux addressed the fact that she was speaking to the home crowd, noting that she is, of course, "very invested in the downtown," literally and figuratively. She stated her strong feeling in favor of professional government, noted the need to "treat the taxpayer with respect," and added that the more local businesses can help swell the city's coffers, the more tax relief the average household will feel.
The next candidate to present was Ben Opara, another local entrepreneur who described himself as "an ambassador of the city." He emphasized that all his personal care products are marked "Made in USA" for his export audience, but also that each carries the label "Lowell, Massachusetts" as a marker for both domestic customers and the world writ large that they're made right here in Lowell. Opara talked about the great untapped potential that exists here in the relationship between the local community and the world-class research university sitting within the city limits. He also spoke about a lack of congeniality at City Council meetings, and how he could help to counter that.
The reference to the lack of congeniality made a perfect, if unintended, segue into the speech made by current CC Jim Milinazzo, who in recent memory was told in a most un-congenial manner by CC Alan Kazanjian that Kazanjian was "ashamed" to call him a colleague (this was in the wake of the Assistant City Manager's firing). Milinazzo made references to the strong support he received from several downtowners in the wake of his dissenting votes in re Andy Sheehangate and the lack of a primary. Milinazzo, the only sitting Councilor to make it to tonight's meeting, also talked about some of his past and present involvement with several private businesses, city offices, and subcommittees.
Next to speak was Joe Mendonca, a former City Councilor and multi-term School Committee member. He joked about having blown-in to Lowell as a six year-old 43 years ago and described some of his past involvement with the Citywide Parent Council, the School Committee, and the Pawtucketville Citizens' Council. Mendonca then explained his vision for Lowell -- that of a regional economic hub (as opposed to just a residential/bedroom community for those who work outside the city). The idea is that if Lowell had more commercial and office space, especially for high-tech sectors, it could better serve as the area hub that it can be. He talked about how, as a high-tech worker, he was previously able to work right here in town (Wang Towers), but was now located out in Manchester, NH for work.
Ryan Berard, a previous attendee at several LDNA meetings, talked about the importance of individual neighborhoods to the overall composition of the city. He spoke about the need for Councilors to be responsive to all of the city, working hand-in-hand with the City Manager. Berard talked about how the basic premise of the broken windows theory could be applied to the current improvement initiative going on in his native Centralville -- once the area is physically beautified, the area will look less inviting to criminals and more friendly to prospective new residents and business patrons.
The last candidate to speak was Paul Belley of the Rosemont section of Pawtucketville. He stated his support for the City Manager and also emphasized the importance of neighborhoods, which he called "the heart and soul of the city." He talked about the system of "Street Captains," which his neighborhood implemented in the wake of the Mother's Day Flood of 2006. The basic thrust of this idea is that you're creating a de facto hyper-local government, with one preson on each street accountable for knowing who the residents are and what they would need in the time of an emergency (i.e. critical prescription drugs for seniors). Belley talked about some of the positive spillover effects the Street Captain system has created, such as preparation for the subsequent 2007 flood (so much for that 70 year thing, right?) and nipping some minor criminal activity in the bud. One of the main ideas of his campaign is taking this initiative city-wide.
The next LDNA meeting will definitely be on September 27 at 7:00 p.m. The location is still TBD, but I'm told there's heavy action at 3-2 odds being put on the Athenian Corner (207 Market).
Also, the Ray Weicker for Lowell event at the Old Court is going to be tomorrow night from 5:30-8:30. I'll try to remember my camera for that one. I know photos would've helped people with the candidate summaries from tonight (of the six who spoke, only Joe Mendonca and Paul Belley had handouts with their pics).
And one more sidenote -- I usually veer away from the strictly personal stuff here on the site, but wanted to mention that Ratriey and I really made the engagement official today at the Public Garden, third bench down from the Beacon and Charles entrance.