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Tsongas Wins Democrat Primary
Richard Howe

Niki Tsongas rolled to a closer than expected victory in the Democratic primary portion of the special election to fill the Fifth District Congressional seat vacated by Marty Meehan this summer. 

While Tsongas certainly campaigned as hard as anyone else, the outcome of this race was decided last March when Meehan announced his plans to leave Congress.  That set in motion a statutory scheme that left little flexibility in the scheduling of the special election.  With the primary falling on the day after the long Labor Day Weekend, the schedule seemed designed to suppress both voter interest and turnout.  In such an environment, Tsongas’s name recognition and the residual good will voters of this district still felt for her late husband Paul gave her a big head start in the race.  The limited time available before the election and the limited interest by voters ensured that none of the other candidates could catch up.

While the Democratic primary still retained some drama right up until the end due to the vigorous campaigns waged by Eileen Donoghue, Jamie Eldridge, Barry Finegold and Jim Miceli, the outcome of the Republican primary that pitted Jim Ogonowski of Dracut against Tom Tierney of Framingham never seemed in doubt.  Ogonowski’s big victory sets the stage for an intense six weeks of campaigning between he and Tsongas and a handful of lesser known third party candidates.

But the primary race to watch was the Democratic one.  Tsongas never relinquished her head start. She put together a crack staff, raised a ton of money, and gave anyone who watched plenty of reasons to vote for her with solid performances in all debates. 

Niki didn’t win by default because her four opponents all ran aggressively.  The big University of Massachusetts Lowell debate on August 27 in some ways symbolized the entire race. 

Barry Finegold was in the middle of the stage, Jim Miceli was to his right and Jamie Eldridge was to his left.  Eileen Donoghue and Niki Tsongas were at either end.  Despite their determined efforts to break out of the pack with their respective positions, the three state representatives were engulfed by the smoke from the confrontation between the two women.  Donoghue was the clear aggressor, ratcheting up the rhetoric against Tsongas, saying that her campaign was funded by special interests from outside the district seeking to hijack the Congressional seat from the voters of the Merrimack Valley.  Tsongas held her own and fought back, challenging Donoghue to pull a recent TV ad that Tsongas said misrepresented her position on Iraq. 

It wasn’t just Congressional race that shattered the usual calm of August.  The Lowell City Council entertained two controversial issues: the elimination of the city council primary election and the possible extension of City Manager Bernie Lynch’s contract.

Some Lowell residents were disappointed when the City Council unanimously voted to eliminate a primary in this year’s municipal election.  Eighteen candidates may appear on the ballot in the November election, so if more than that number turn in sufficient signatures on nomination papers, a primary election is necessary.  In recent years, only eighteen or fewer candidates have made it to the ballot, so no primary has been needed.  This year, there are twenty-one candidates.  The council, however, unanimously voted to request the state legislature to grant a home rule petition eliminating the need for a primary this year.  The council’s reasoning was that the city’s election budget for the fiscal year is already in the red with the special elections (primary and general) for Congress plus the presidential primary in March, so it would be a pointless expenditure of much needed funds to hold a primary that would only eliminate three candidates. 

The council waded into another controversy when it took up a motion by Kevin Broderick requesting the council to consider extending the contract of City Manager Bernie Lynch for an additional two years.  At its August 28 meeting, the council, by a vote of 6 to 3, referred the matter to its Personnel Subcommittee for a report and recommendation.  This motion reignited the fifteen month-old controversy that began with the resignation of John Cox from the office of city manager in April 2006.  The vote to support the Lynch contract extension mirrored the expected results of the vote of no confidence in Cox that was never actually taken but would have, but for his resignation.  Back then, councilors Broderick, Eileen Donoghue, Rodney Elliott, Mayor Bill Martin, Jim Milinazzo and George Ramirez stated publicly that they had lost confidence in Cox.  (Ramirez has since resigned, but he was replaced by Joe Mendonca, a former school committee member who seems to be pleased with Lynch’s performance and who voted for the contract extension process).

With the Congressional special election in mid-October and the general election in Lowell in early November both looming, the intensive political activity we saw during August was just a warmup for the next two months.

Richard P. Howe Jr. is the creator of www.richardhowe.com, a blog that provides commentary on politics in Lowell.  He also serves as Register of Deeds of the Northern District of Middlesex County.  You can email him at lowelldeeds@comcast.net

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The September 2007 Edition of the Valley Patriot
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