This sounds sort of insane, but we went to our third city council candidate forum last night. That might seem excessive, but Chris and I have been trying super hard to get up to speed on Lowell politics in time for the city council election coming up. It’s harder than it should be! Everything we read seems to assume we already know the decades of history these people have. For a town with such a history of new groups moving in, sometimes it isn’t the most accessible.
Now that I’ve been mildly critical, I’m going to gush. We’ve been to three city council forums. One was at an art gallery, one was at the Dom Polski Social Club, and one was at the United Teen Equity Center. This is Lowell, and what I find so loveable about it. You’d hardly believe they were all three the same city. The 119 Gallery forum was packed with the artists and creative types the city is so proud of being able to recently draw in. The Dom Polski club was a showcase for the kind of tight ethnic neighborhoods that have characterized the city historically, complete with coffee, cookies , and the Polish flag. Last night’s UTEC youth forum was a different Lowell altogether, an energetic, too-loud-for-my-old-ears blend of kids and young adults determined to make a City Council Forum as lively as it could ever possibly be, given that it is a City Council Forum.
The most striking thing about the UTEC forum for me was how white it makes our crop of candidates look. A sea of mostly Latino, African-American, and Asian faces made the proportion of Irish dudes up there look especially silly. I thought most of the candidates showed real concern about how to address the issues raised by the kids, but there were times when the contrast was painful. The most noticeable disconnect was when four of the candidates had to respond to a question noting that a high percentage of Lowell youth at UTEC said they had had negative interactions with the police and or felt racially profiled. While Marty Lorrey, Ed Kennedy, John Leahy, and Stacie Hargis all hit good notes about the importance of improving community relationships with the police, none of them said what seemed to me a really obvious and important point: racial profiling is terrible, demoralizing, and not acceptable.
The forum itself walked the line between fun and over-the-top, with serious questions (how to address youth homelessness, opiate addiction, and violence) in a silly format (bird costumes, a timing moose, and “Eye of the Tiger”). It was entertaining to see the candidates try to roll with the format, testing their ability to seem fun, youthful, and not annoyed when a person in a moose costume wiggled their butt at them. As usual, Rita Mercier emerged as freakishly good at charming the crowd. She’s like watching a thoroughbred run, it’s mesmerizing. I was impressed by Derek Mitchell as well, he was nicely in the spirit of the thing.
More than anything else, it was great to see so much youthful interest and energy. Mixed reviews on the confetti cannon though. It was a fun finale, but was it fun enough to justify the amount of paper brushing out of hair time it cost me? Probably, but next time I’ll pick my seat more carefully.