Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why So Quiet?

There's an election in six days, and the buzz on all things political is way, way down. Why?

Here's some reasons:

The Red Sox won the World Series. The last two weeks of baseball have most certainly taken away attention from just about everything else. Not only is it the only thing everyone is talking about, but after a bunch of late, late nights, people aren't really ambitious with other things right now. That is over, obviously, but don't underestimate the distraction the Sox caused.

The mayor's race is over. While that might not necessarily be the case, most people think that way. And considering how much has been said about both candidates up to this point, people might be moving on, on this one. Here's a question: Will the preliminary turnout be higher than the general election? Probably not, but consider: There are probably some fringish Wong and Donnelly voters who won't show, because of the general feeling the race is over. How many DeSalvatore voters are inspired enough to vote for somebody else? Similarly, could this be closer than people expect (the general concensus is Wong in the mid- to high-60s)? Let's say the Wong voters get a little lazy -- not a ridiculous idea considering the preliminary blowout. Let's say Donnelly's team generates some more votes. Will be it be close? I don't know, but the point is Wong needs to keep her base motivated over the last six days and not let the big numbers slow things down.

There' s zero excitement in the City Council races. The ward races are interesting: Allaire and Solomito are two solid options in Ward 5. Kevin Starr and Steve Seney are evenly-matched in Ward 4. Dave Clark is fending off the former Ward 1 councilor Kevin Maynard. The at-large race offers a deep field with four incumbents, a ward councilor looking to make the leap to at-large, a former city councilor looking to return, and a School Committee member on the ballot.

Why does no one care?

For starters, few of the candidates have generated much emotion or excitement. I think most people like Dean Tran very much, and I think he cruises into the top two or so next week. But beyond Tran, there are few councilors that most people naturally gravitate toward. I think, from what I hear, that Conry and Hay are in. A lot of folks are still livid at Jay Cruz, mostly on the dispatcher issue, and wonder if he has the goods. Annie DeMartino is considered -- as seemingly always -- on the bubble.

The field is deep, but lacks energy and drama. Getting a handle on nine candidates is a bit difficult, leading to more voter disinterest -- sometimes the big chores get neglected. This is an important race, and one that will go as far in shaping the future the city as the mayor's race, but it has created zero interest.

So, if you're up for it, discuss here. Why is interest so thin? Hell, who's going to win? I'm guessing it's going to be fairly quiet. It's going to be a weird year where the preliminary is the star and the general election plays backup. Just weird.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Campaign Finance Reports in

The candidates for local office filed their campaign finance report today, eight days before the general election.

Tom Donnelly spent nearly $20,000 since mid-September, much of it on printing and advertising. Lisa Wong spent about $7,000, and has a whopping $12,000 on hand if she needs it down the homestretch (by contrast, Donnelly has about $1,800).

City council candidates also filed reports today. To read up on it all, check out the Fitchburg Pride website. Notably, even though he was supposed to, Ted DeSalvatore did not file a report.

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About Last Night

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series. And this time, it's fun, not a relief.

And suddenly, the Red Sox are the best organization in baseball (despite Rupert's earlier beliefs. Note: Lugo hit .400 in the WS, and Drew was fantastic in the playoffs. Discuss), and you have to wonder if this might happen again in the next three or four years.

Whatever part of that Red Sox history that was lingering, just kind of hanging on, has to be gone. While I advocated that the past was the past (see my constant posts through the summer saying the Sox were going to win the division), some folks got all anxious as the Yanks made their late-season charge. Sometime in mid-September, an office colleague said she was "done with the Red Sox." I haven't seen her this morning, but I'm sure that's not the case this morning.

Anyway, despite 2004, despite the evidence that the Sox are right now constant champion threats, some folks couldn't let the past go. It's time, people, once and for all, to forget about the ancient history.

It would be foolish to tab the Sox as the favorites for next year. Repeating so damn hard. Not only do you have to be good, but you have to be lucky. Not just in the playoffs, but along the way. Winning 96 games isn't easy, but it was important, as it turned out, to have home field in the ALCS. Not that it mattered, but winning the all-star game -- purely a luck situation if there ever was one -- could be important one of these days (note: Not all WS are sweeps).

The Sox fan's biggest concern right now -- behind coming up with the believable excuse to skip work for the parade (please pass along any and all potential excuses. I'm gonna need one), and whether or not Mike Lowell comes back (a giant concern for 2008) -- is not becoming the Yankees. It's pretty much too late -- two World Series in four years will do that -- but becoming the obnoxious, entitled fan like the Yankees (and the Patriots, it should be noted) should be avoided, if possible.

That said, it's time to sit with the satisfaction of watching the Sox win the World Series, without burying any kind of curse or history. They led essentially wire-to-wire, smacking everyone around for the first few months of the season, going through the usual troubles that a baseball season presents, and then just ripping the heart out of the Angels, manning up against the Indians, and then just overwhelming the overmatched Rockies. As someone who watched at least a chunk of probably about 150 games (and listening to some others while on the road), it's been a fantastic ride. This one was far more enjoyable than the drama and anxiety of 2004.

Now, the future. Look around. Youkilis and Pedroia are set on the right side of the infield. Lugo is competent and worthy at short. Bringing Lowell back would be wonderful. You have Manny for one more year in left (his bat will be missed someday, but his $20M would go a long way toward a decent replacement). You have a wonderful problem in center with Crisp/Ellsbury (you have to figure Crisp is on the block), and Drew can only get better, right? That lineup over the next two or three years can be pretty much set, and very good that way.

Even better, look at the pitching: Beckett, Matsuzaka (who will get better next year), Lester, Buchholz, with Schilling/Wakefield/starter TBD. That's a nice rotation that is very young. I don't think any of those guys are older than 27. Okijima is 32, but clearly has plenty of gas in the tank. Delcarmen is coming on and should be an excellent set-up guy next year (he was very good this year until the playoffs, where he struggled some). And I think we all know the ninth is in good hands.

The best team in baseball won the World Series this year, and it has the potential to be the best team in baseball for the next few years, at least. If you haven't done it already, it's time to bury the past.

See you at the parade.



Saturday, October 27, 2007

In the Mail

Sadly, I didn't get the mail others did today, but to get caught up on the most recent Tom Donnelly mailer, check out the latter-day Lincoln at Hello Fitchburg.

The mailer focuses on property taxes, once again tying foreclosures to high property taxes. This mailer, of course, comes two days after Donnelly said he hadn't heard of a foreclosure due to not paying taxes. Also, check out this little nugget:

"In fact, (Donnelly) voted against raising your taxes at the October 9th City Council Meeting."

That, of course, is true. What also is true: Donnelly has said the city must increase the property tax levy the full 2.5 percent. What also is true: Donnelly has voted for the full 2.5 increase every year as a city councilor.

Fair enough for Donnelly to raise this as an issue, and in fact, he's right: Lisa Wong's desire to shift the property tax balance would increase residential property taxes. And, Donnelly has been pretty strident about not wanting an override. And he's right again, the city needs to keep up the 2.5 percent increases as a matter of fiscal policy.

That said, Donnelly's stance as the "anti-tax" candidate would go down a lot easier if he had, say Dean Tran's experience of proposing an increase of less than 2.5 percent -- or if he had voted for Tran's measure. For another take on this one, check out the Unicow.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

About Last Night

Last night's mayoral debate was a fairly even performance between the two candidates. It wasn't Lisa Wong's best performance, but it was Tom Donnelly's.

Donnelly needed an absolute victory, and he didn't get it. His supporters seem energized and optimistic, though, feeling like there's some momentum building in the homestretch. That might be some campaign spin, but it was spin that wasn't being spun a few weeks ago. But a nice victory would have helped that feeling of momentum.

On the issues, there was little new ground tread, but there were a few interesting tidbits. Wong's desire to improve school safety immediately was somewhat eye-opening. Considering the beating they've taken lately, both candidates defended enterprise funds as viable options. Both were a little confused as to whether a repeal of tax protection for Verizon would mean increased tax levy for the city, or only a reshuffling.

Also interesting: Donnelly saying property taxes have nothing to do with foreclosures. As consistent readers know, Donnelly held a property-tax event outside a house being auctioned off. Kind of strange. He said, however, that holding the line on property taxes was the point, and illustrates the priority of the city to do that.

Throughout the campaign, Donnelly has shown a certain detachment toward the schools. That came through again when a school question about a specific early priority (Wong answered school safety) sent Donnelly scurrying into his prepared statements on schools. As he read through it, he stumbled on technology as an area for early intervention, but it reinforced the feeling that he doesn't a firm grasp on the school system, and relies on that standby answer (which we've pretty much heard before). Considering it's about half the city's budget, it's a weak spot that hasn't strengthened much in recent months.

Also, interesting Donnelly was trumpeting Destare last night (and, according to The Unicow, hanging out there last night). He's welcomed Destare to the city, but has also dismissed it as a "wine bar."

You have to wonder how the fiscal conservatives feel about Wong's stronger affinity for a meal's tax. Donnelly didn't outright reject it, but came pretty close. Wong said she wants to study it, but the feeling I got was she thinks it might be a good idea. Chances are current restaurant owners aren't going to love that one.

Donnelly had two choices last night: Give a spirited, honest effort, go absolutely bombastically negative. He stayed true to himself and gave a spirited, honest effort. And it was a good one. He needed a win last night, but didn't get it. But he didn't lose, either. For him, it was a good, strong night. He gets one more chance next Thursday. To have a chance of winning, he needs to do even better then, but he's been getting better as the debates have gone on. If he is building momentum as his campaign claims, last night was a good one for Donnelly.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

No More Turns

The horserace that is this election cycle has left the final turn and is in the homestretch. The final kick starts tonight, when the mayoral candidates meet for a little hot debate action.

The debate is sponsored by the Fitchburg Pride, FATV, and AM 1280 "The Blend." The Pride will have live coverage on its website, barring any kind of technical difficulties. The debate will be aired live on FATV and on "The Blend."

And don't worry, the 7 p.m. start time and 60-minute timeframe means there is plenty of time to watch, and then get your Sox on (more on that in a minute, I think).

But, what to expect tonight? The last time Lisa Wong and Tom Donnelly met, it was Oct. 1. Wong was flush with a big victory, and Donnelly was trying to refind his footing after the surprising preliminary election results.

Almost four weeks later, now what? The big buzz has kind of been taken out of this race. While the candidates are still grinding away with door-knocking, standouts and appearances, much of the big publicity -- and water-cooler talk -- has shriveled up. A big lead can do that. Throw in an pretty interesting at-large council race, and attention has started to divide up and down the ballot.

But, tonight, the spotlight gets turned back on the top-of-the-ballot race. So, who does what tonight (warning, golf analogies ahead)?

For Wong, another confident, fairly strong performance is the obvious answer. A month, we were begging a candidate to step up in the last debate before the preliminary and go for the green. Tonight, Wong probably only needs to keep it in the fairway and get on the green in regulation. If she makes a birdie or two, all the better for her. She needs to avoid bogies.

For Donnelly, he needs to shoot for the pin. He can't layup on the par-5s. He needs to put the pressure on early and keep the pressure on. He needs to try to fluster Wong, move the debate to his ground, and keep hammering. He can't sit back. He can't. He'll need to question everything she says, and offer a smart alternative. Of the three debate performances I've seen, he hasn't been particularly outstanding in any of them. He's even said in debates he's not the best debater or speaker. Tonight, he's going to have to be.

It's not a make-or-break night for Donnelly, but it's a night where he can try to gain some momentum, and get people thinking he's still in this race. The simple math from the preliminary election means he's running from behind, and he won't have many opportunities to gain ground in a hurry. Tonight, though, can be one of those nights when he can, if he makes it happen. That will be the question of the night.


Actually, the question of the night might be, can Curt Schilling be any good tonight? The Sox obviously got off to a good start last night, but going to Colorado 2-0 would be huge. For the last four days, the Rockies have heard they don't have a chance in this series. Last night went a long way to making that talk seem like reality. Another win tonight would make for a looooong plane ride back to Denver after tonight's game.

Simply, the National League is a lot worse than the American League. Also, Colorado got here by beating a lucky-as-hell Phillies team that wasn't very good, and an Arizona team that was only marginally better. Who would you rather take, Cleveland or Arizona? Thought so.

That said, let's not start making parade plans just yet. Remember 1985? In the Memorial Day Massacre, the Celtics killed the Lakers, absolutely killed them, by 30 in Game One (Scott Wedman went 11-for-11 that game, I believe), and then lost the series, 4-2.

Good start, but let's see what happens tonight.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

An Update

I'm on jury duty at least through Wednesday, probably, which will hamper activity here. But in the meantime, two things:

--There's a debate Thursday night, 7 p.m. Live on FATV and AM 1280 "The Blend," with live analysis and coverage at the Fitchburg Pride website. This will be a 60-minute debate, so we can all be home in time for ...

--What's really important these days. The Red Sox are in the World Series. And Rupert said it couldn't happen.

The nice part: Last night, when I finally went beddy-bye at about 12:15, it kind of hit me: The Sox were in the World Series. After watching them dig a 3-1 hole, and then get out, the prize at the end was kind of lost in the haze. But now that things have cleared, wheee-ha. Awesome.

Colorado, of course, is ridiculously hot. Hopefully the eight days off cooled them off some. Hopefully. But on paper, the Sox appear dominant. One question: Does Wake go in Game Two. I really can't see him going in the thin air in Denver, so it makes sense to pitch him here Thursday night. Let's see what happens there.

OK, a prediction: Sox is 6. I'm too chicken to take 'em in 5.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hot Down-Ballot Action

As most of you may know, there are some races beyond the mayor on this November's ballot. And the Fitchburg Pride is here to point you down the path to enlightenment.

Of course it is.

In tomorrow's paper, there's a front-pager on the School Committee candidates, as they check on what's important to them as they campaign for election.

There's a sprawling op-ed page(s), which include short pieces from the six candidates in the three contested ward council races (Wards 1, 4 and 5). The at-larges get their chance next week.

Expect to hear about teamwork, stabilizing finances, and neighborhood issues from the ward candidates in tomorrow's paper.

Oh, hey, now is a great time to remind you all that next Thursday, Oct. 25, is the big Pride, FATV, AM 1280 "The Blend" mayoral forum. It'll be live on FATV and "The Blend," and we expect live coverage and analysis over the Pride website. See you then.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Donnelly Hammers away on Tax Rate

Tom Donnelly argued again today that the city should maintain its split tax rate in order to protect homeowners. However, Donnelly also said the city should continue to raise the tax levy the full 2.5 percent each year. Donnelly held a press conference outside a home that had been foreclosed and is being auctioned off today to hammer home his message. To read more about all of it, check out the Fitchburg Pride website.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Dual Tax Rate

Suddenly, it's all the rage again -- or the focus of the rage -- after the City Council decided to keep things right where they are last week.

Fitchburg Follies (see link over on the right side, don't be so lazy to expect it here) got into it over the weekend, and the Sentinel argues for a flat tax rate today on the editorial page.

Personally, I'm starting to come around on one tax rate. I used to think the city should encourage residential development and built a core, vibrant residential mass to lure business. But from all accounts, businesses are getting slaughtered, and something needs to be done.

So, why doesn't something happen? Just look at the calendar, and the voter registration list.

Shifting the tax rates to closer to even means higher property taxes for homeowners, and a bit less for business owners. But, of course, homeowners are voters. Why on God's green Earth would a politician, exactly four weeks away from an election, approve a tax hike on his or her voters? It makes zero political sense.

I don't know how many of the eight councilors who voted against moving the rates closer to even actually think it's a good idea, but you have to figure one or two would if they didn't have to worry about being re-elected next month. And considering the mood for change, why give someone one more reason to vote you out, right?

There's an underlying problem here, and it's the lack of a long-term plan when it comes to getting the tax rates back to even. There's no "let's do in this five/seven/10 years." It's "let's start now, and try to do more later." And there's minimal -- at least from what I've seen -- long-term discussion. It comes up a few weeks before the rates are set, a short-sighted discussion ensues, and nothing happens. If you think that's wrong, go back and look at how the last few weeks went down, and show where that's off base. I'll wait... I thought so.

I'll give Ted DeSalvatore credit: This was something he actually had a plan about, even though he didn't really talk very much about it. After the Sept. 20 debate, we discussed it for a good 15 minutes. He wanted to create a long-term plan as mayor and get the tax rates level after five years or so. For some reason, he didn't talk about this much on the campaign trail, but he recognized the need for something to happen.

The next mayor and council can't make this a seasonal issue. As it tries (hopefully) to create some long-term financial planning, it should make -- outside of the annual setting of the tax rate -- a policy decision on whether or not balancing the tax rate (or at least closing the gap) is the thing to do or not, and then it should start doing what it needs to do over the long term to make it happen. It would help if there was some kind of relief for residential owners through a meals tax or some other kind of other revenue (not advocating for a meals tax, exactly, just mentioning it) to offset some of the increased burden, but that's what a long-term plan is for.

Shifting the tax rates to level at this point essentially means a tax increase for homeowners. City councilors are going to be instinctively pretty opposed to that every year. But based on its spot on the calendar, it's going to be a vote taken close to the election every other year. The city needs, away from the pressure of the ballot box, to make a decision on a dual tax rate, stick with it, and do the right thing in the long term.

Politicians at all levels around here like to talk about "profiles in courage" on votes. It might be the second most annoying political cliche in Massachusetts behind "all politics are local." This is a case, however, where it would actually take some courage for a councilor to do what might in fact be the right thing. Some planning and some big onions are going to be needed if the tax rates are ever balance.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

How Far Does It Go?

That's the question that won't be answered until Nov. 6. We can start guessing, though.

Voters delivered a pretty serious call for change in the preliminary election. The question, though, is how far does it go? Will the call effect the City Council races? Only one ward councilor is being challenged -- and by the former seat-holder -- but the at-large race is another story.

The depth of the voters' need for change is important, because when you look at the at-large field, it's an interesting field. You have four incumbents (including Jay Cruz, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year). You have a ward councilor in Stephan Hay looking to step up. You have an older former councilor in Rosemary Reynolds looking to return. You have an elected official on the School Committee in Marcus DiNatale looking to step up. Then you have Shaun Cormier and Patricia Carbone, the only two on the ballot not in office or in office in the past.

So, what are the voters looking for? Are they looking to change one or two particular incumbents, or are they looking to vote in a particular newcomer? A they looking for real, deep change, far away from the establishment, like a Cormier, or would DiNatale satisfy the need for change. Would Hay be considered change at all?

The mayor's race preliminary and the shocking results have dominated the political discussion, but the unknowns of the at-large race is particularly interesting right now.

So, who's in trouble, and who's not? Should there even be change on the City Council at this point? Is it a question of voting in someone better, or getting rid of people considered ineffective? That might be the entire best summarized. Discuss.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Live from Fenway (Last Night)

Yes, that's Mrs. Save Fitchburg and me, on the good side of the wall at Fenway last night. We're at the bottom of the photo, right near the wall. For some reason, we're actually looking at each other (the photo is from

I'm guessing we were deep in this conversation:

He: Silly girl, Beckett is the man, and his Uncle Charlie is filthy tonight.

She: You're right. You're so smart.

He: Yes. And I have good taste in women.

She: Again, you're right. You're the best.

Or something like that. Getting settled in for Game 2. Let's hope it goes like last night.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why Can't We All Get Along?

Mayor Dan Mylott heaped another hot scoop of anger on the City Council today during his press conference. You can check it out at the Fitchburg Pride website, and sooner or later the video will be on FATV.

Clearly, this relationship isn't going to get better, at least before Nov. 6, and probably never. That's too bad.

Here's the thing: For a long time, when councilors have talked about how their hands are tied on money matters, I've talked about taking a stand and rejecting Mylott's moves until he does what he's told. "Can't do it," I've been told. "Too hard to do," I've heard. I've asked Donnelly about it directly, and it came up on my last appearance on "Politically Speaking" (Sept. 27, also on the FATV website, I believe).

So, last night they did it. Not sure how they're going to pay for some of the things they need to pay for eventually, but they made their stand and made their point to Mylott. What happens next is unclear -- both in terms of Mylott's reaction and the aforementioned paying for things like unemployment costs -- but one thing is clear: When the council is motivated enough, it will flex its muscle and its will to stand by its guns. See, it can be done.

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What Donnelly's Doing Right

(First, I knew I had forgotten something in yesterday's wrapup post: The Globe's story on Jane Swift on Sunday. Why do we care? A lot of people think Swift will run for Congress when John Olver finally hangs 'em up. Swift has been notoriously media-shy since she left office in 2003, and now she agrees to a front-pager in El Globo? You have to wonder what her motivation is, and what's up with Olver. He's on the Appropriations Committee, so you'd think he'd want to stay. But the "Why now?" question on this story shouldn't be forgotten.)

A few caveats, which will likely take away from the rest of this post:

The Globe story yesterday on the mayor's race (well, Lisa Wong), is getting excellent traction for Wong. Boston Magazine's Boston Daily Blog checks in on the race through El Globo, and focuses on wine bars for some reason. Huh. Also, and perhaps more amazingly, the Wong story is run in the International Herald Tribune (it's a reprint of the Globe article, but if you need to see it, it's here). Um, the International Herald Tribune? Holy cow. I wish Donnelly had been a little more positive about the city for a world-wide audience. But who knew?

In short, Wong's candidacy has broadened the city's scope. Suddenly, the Boston Globe cares -- at least a little bit. The story is interesting enough to grab those self-proclaimed smarties at Boston Maggie, and the IHT picks up the story. Can she do the same as mayor if elected?

OK, on with the show:

I'm not sure Tom Donnelly's moves over the last week will gain him a ton of votes, and they certainly aren't overwhelmingly damning evidence that Lisa Wong is in over her head if elected, but maybe it was the right thing to do -- particularly in the long term.

  • Donnelly has owned the tenor and message of the campaign over the last week. He has gotten two hits out of the dailies and reframed the campaign into a debate about experience. Is it a winning play? I don't know, but you'd have to think this is the ground where the Donnelly campaign -- for better or worse -- thinks it has an advantage.
  • They threw at least a small curveball into the otherwise batting-practice fastball that was the Globe story. While Camp Wong should be head-over-heels with that one, if Donnelly had taken a higher or less-combative road, it would have been even more glowing of Wong.
  • Wong's distracted. At least when she's dealing with the media, Wong isn't talking vision, the future and better days ahead. She's explaining her work and defending her past. She says she's happy to do it because she's proud of her record, but she's off message. Remember, the Telegram story came out last Friday, so Wong was interviewed no later than Thursday. It's been almost a week. She's done a good job talking about this, but it's a distraction.
None of the last week will win Donnelly the election. Let's say, generously, this whole thing gains Donnelly 200 votes. Hell, let's be very generous and give him 500 votes -- and that's a Christmas and birthday present combined. That means he still needs to find 1,700 votes. It's still an uphill effort for him.

So, short-term, the benefits might be marginal. But perhaps this has created opportunity for Donnelly. Considering Wong's relatively short work history and zero political history, there isn't fertile ground for digging more dirt like this. So it's Donnelly to step into the sliver of daylight he's created and find a way to build on this. A very tall task.

Donnelly has moved the campaign to his preferred area, he has Wong distracted and maybe a bit off-balance. But he needs to build off this, and do it soon. He needs to come up with Act II right now, in order to take advantage of whatever opportunity this has created.

This issue is a lot more jab than knockout punch, but it has been a decent jab. Now, Donnelly needs to find a combination that works to get Wong on the ropes. Can he do it is the question, and it's the question of now, not next week. He can't let whatever momentum he's generated peter out.

What's next? Who knows. He needs to find another good media hit. His Sentinel feature on Sunday kind of got lost in the noise. The "majority of councilors support Donnelly" on Monday doesn't exactly bolster his image as a change candidate, considering the councilors supporting him. Can he go more negative? It hasn't worked too well for him so far, partly because he usually comes off as condescending and arrogant when he does, and partly because voters don't appear to want to hear it.

Donnelly has spent the two weeks since the preliminary painting a picture of the city on the verge of final financial doom and positioning himself as the person to handle the daunting problems. Maybe he's thinking Wong's support isn't very strong, and voters will have second thoughts between now and Nov. 6. If so, he's at least given them something to think about in the next four weeks, but it wasn't a silver bullet, and if he's going to turn those second thoughts his way, he'll need to come back with something to advance whatever ground he's gained in the last week.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Few Things

Busy as hell, but I thinks worth pointing out:

If you're a Wong fan, you can't help but love the cover of today's Globe. Donnelly gets a chance to quickly run through his criticisms and throw out the surgeon analogy again, but this is a pretty pro-Wong story. Her campaign should be pleased with that one.

On the other hand, Donnelly's City Council support gets an airing in the Sentinel today. It's a source of strength for him, but doesn't help portray him as a change candidate, particularly when you look at the list of old-school councilors supporting him. However, if those organizations get behind Donnelly hard, it can help make up some of the ground he needs to cover. But the results of the preliminary make you wonder if a lineup of councilors will woo newer voters.

Also, the Sentinel came in with its story on the FRA/Women's Institute stuff on Sunday, if you missed it. It's pretty similar to the Telegram story from Friday (linked in Friday's post). It' s not a momentum-turner, in my view. Donnelly isn't suggesting misuse, abuse, or illegal activity, just questioning some of her decisions and how she promotes her work. He's getting some good ink out of it, though. Maybe if he wears away at it over the next four weeks, he can turn some these vague perceptions into a sudden reality. Or maybe not. But he's got to throw deep, so why not?

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Friday, October 05, 2007

The News of the Day

If you haven't seen it yet, you'll probably want to read this (link fixed). It certainly creates a new dynamic in the campaign.

This story is being shopped around, and it creates a tougher tone to this campaign. Donnelly's quotes are certainly pointed. Will it work?

The question is, is this damning evidence of abuse or poor management by Wong? Based on early comments here, reaction is along party (or candidate) lines. Wong supporters think it's another example of Donnelly being an old-school bully. Donnelly supporters think it's about time Wong got hers for not exactly being honest about her work experience.

Another question: Is this is a one-time hit from Donnelly, or does it become part of his campaign. Will he be hammering her on this for the next four-plus weeks? If so, it could get ugly the rest of the way.

Read the story, and figure out how you feel about it. I think this one leaves space to see how you feel about it. Try not to be super-partisan.

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We need your help

The Police Chief Search Committee is looking for some feedback from Fitchburgers as to what you would like to see in a new police chief. We have hard copy forms available at City Hall, the Senior Center, the Library and you can download a .pdf version here. An online version of the form is available here.

We need the forms back by October 22nd as we will begin reviewing resumes the following week.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Long Overdue Update

First, I apologize to the folks mentioned below. I should have done this a while ago.

If you haven't noticed, there are some pretty good Fitchburg-related blogs around. At least a few are in the "must-read" category. They are now linked over on the righthand side. Visit them religiously, I say.

A brief rundown of the newcomers. A few long-time holdovers are now included in a "Fitchburg blog links" section:

For my money, the best of the bunch is Progressive Fitchburg. Funny, insightful, and brutally honest. Giants love it.

Hello, Fitchburg is very good. Also funny and insightful.

Fitchburg Follies has much potential. More posts, please.

So, there you go. Happy reading.



Unitil Takes a Beating

You're not going to believe this, but officials and residents roasted Unitil last night for its proposed rate increase.

For the next mayor and every other public official in the city, this is an issue that's going to need some thoughtful attention and planning. It's a gigantic problem, partly because the city has little authority, but mostly because there are few answers, and none of them are easy. Someone needs to come up with a plan and start chipping away at it slowly and deliberately. Kind of like being down six runs in the third inning. There aren't any six-run homers, so you need to start with some hits and walks and slowly work it down.

Good luck on that one.

For more on last night's hearing, check out the Fitchburg Pride website.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

About Last Night

First things first: I wasn't particularly enthralled with last night's debate performances. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that this was the third meeting of these two in less than three weeks. Throw in other interviews and meetings with these guys, and I felt like I heard it almost all before. Probably because I had.

That said, there were some interesting parts, particularly the maneuvering by Tom Donnelly.

I thought Donnelly gave his best performance of the three debates. I'm not sure he fought to a draw last night, but he narrowed the huge gap between him and Lisa Wong in the Sept. 20 debate, at least a little bit.

His opening statement was pretty interesting. The quadruple bypass analogy, while a bit strained and perhaps too long, certainly made his point. It's a move from 45-35-25-1 to experience, a point he probably should have been making a few months ago. His biggest problem with the experience card is that he is arguing on one hand he has the experience and finances are the city's biggest problem, but on the other hand says the council doesn't have real financial input. If he can finesse that, he can stick with this message the rest of the way.

Perhaps the most interesting part of last night was Donnelly's gloomier outlook of the city. He started the night by saying the city was on the path to receivership. Maybe right, maybe not, but not something he was saying regularly before. He also put every city employee on notice last night, saying layoffs were a given in January. Again, he might be right. But he's clearly trying to cast the situation as poor, and in need of an experience hand -- which he just so happens to provide.

Wong continued with her looking forward plans for the city, and rolled out "goals" and "goal oriented" last night, which was fun. It's a quite a contrast between her "better days are ahead" stand and Donnelly's "we're in big trouble right now" general message. Voters can't say they don't have a choice.

A couple of questions last night, in particular, stand out. On fast-track permitting, both threw up some caution signs, but both talked about fast-track permitting in general. They didn't talk specifics of Mylott's expected plan, which should be given to the council later this fall. It's a fringe issue, but they both seemed to be lacking on the details. Donnelly, in particular, when he said Devens "probably has" a fast-track process (it's what that area's redevelopment is based on), threw up some question marks.

The other one was on Unitil. Donnelly gave a fantastically honest answer when he said there's not much the mayor, state representative or state senator can really do with Unitil. He's right. But Wong's answer about finding new energy sources and weaning the city off Unitil was the better answer. It was forward-looking and least offered an option or two. It might not have been as realistic than Donnelly's, though.

Finally, the best answer of the night might have been Donnelly's, comparing Fitchburg to Leominster. He noted that while Leominster has $5 million in free cash, it was lacking some things Fitchburg has, like a new high school and fire station, a police station that isn't falling apart, the college, a civic center, and a few other things. He sort of lost a little steam when he said, "$5 million isn't all it's cracked up to be," but it was nice to hear the chronic complaining about Leominster turned on its ear.

So, no real fireworks last night, but a couple of interesting moments. Five weeks from today, it's all over.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

On Tonight

Zip on over to the Fitchburg Pride website to see a story on tonight's fun and games.

Quickie analysis: A lot of old ground was rewalked tonight. Maybe I've heard this too many times now, but it seemed kind of stale at times.

There were some highlights -- and lowlights -- but that's for tomorrow. For now, read the Pride web story, get a good night's sleep and have a hearty breakfast in the morning. We'll chat then.

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In Defense of New Hampshire

To be perfectly honest, I really don't like southern New Hampshire much. If it's south of Manchester, I have minimal use. I really like the mountains and such, but the southern New Hampshire, frankly, stinks. I make no secret about it, obviously.

However, it has a special place in American politics as the first primary state in the country. As primary season comes steaming up, the usual bitching and moaning about New Hampshire's status is ramping up. The latest is this Globe piece by former John Hancock biggie David D'Alessandro. He's not alone.

I think Iowa and New Hampshire deserve their rightful status as the first-in-the-nation. After that, every two or three weeks, should be regional primaries, with the regions rotating positions each election cycle. But Iowa and New Hampshire should keep their places. And here's why.

The voters, the organizers and the politicians in those states have been through it before. They have created the litmus test for a campaign's organization and strength. If you're doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire, and have strength nationally, you're in great shape. If you're not doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire, you likely don't have much organization in other states. The theory of throwing all your time, effort and money in Iowa and New Hampshire isn't a winning one. Ask John McCain.

Sure, Iowa and New Hampshire can throw in a curveball here and there and annoint a surging candidate. Or do they just do a good job in sniffing out the best candidate? Bill Clinton used N.H. as a springboard, but he had a followup organization in place after New Hampshire to reap the benefits. I think, looking back on the Clinton era, no matter what you think about his tenure as president, the guy knew how to campaign and politic.

After decades of being first, New Hampshire knows what to look for in a candidate. It's politicians under the process of being courted and working for a candidate. It's voters know what makes a good candidate. It's been a learning experience, and now the state is a fantastic first test for all candidates.

Tradition is a good enough reason to leave N.H. where it is, but elections are supposed to be tough tests that measure a candidate's will, resolve, and abilities -- with a presidential election being the sternest and toughest. New Hampshire is now a fantastic first examination of a presidential candidate. The larger primary problem is the scurrying behind N.H. to be next or close to the front of the calendar. New Hampshire isn't make-or-break, but it's a great way for candidates to prove early on whether or not they belong.



Back in the Saddle Again

It's been only six days since the preliminary election, but the two remaining mayoral candidates face off again tonight.

The debate is sponsored by the Fitchburg Exchange Club, and is at Fitchburg High School. Game time is 7 p.m., and it's live on FATV. Panelists include Chuck Morse from AM 1280 "The Blend," Bill Gates from FATV, and your's truly from the Fitchburg Pride.

While there's only five weeks left before the election, it's still kind of a long time for tonight to have any real impact in the long term. However, it will likely set the tone for the rest of the way, so let's try to figure this out.

Does Wong try to keep the pressure on and put in a performance like a few weeks ago, or does she play it a bit more conservative and try to maintain her status? She set a high bar in the debate a few weeks ago, so anything short of that will be a letdown in some ways. But she doesn't need that kind of performance again.

She has the advantage in votes and the advantage in past debate performances. She can sort of dictate her style and goals and not really worry, unless she throws in a clunker. But you have to think that won't happen.

For Donnelly, the stakes are much higher. He needs to prove tonight that he's still viable. He needs to move off the 45-35-25-1 message. He said last Tuesday night he knows the city wants change, and that he wants change. Tonight, he needs to start doing that. He won't be able to make all of that change ground up tonight, but he needs to start now if he has any chance of getting the job done by Nov. 6.

The question is, how does he do it? He's been fairly even-keeled (to put it somewhat generously) in previous debates. He needs to show some fire tonight. He's been pretty critical of Wong in past debates, but it's been wrapped in a pretty condescending, how-dare-you veneer so far. He needs to be on her case, but not in the dismissive way he has been. He needs to come up with some specifics on how he wants to do things, and for the love of God, he needs to make it seem like he's done something, anything, as a council that's fostered change.

It's certainly not the high stakes of the last two debates, but it's the first time these two get the stage for themselves. I'd expect Wong to keep on as she has been in recent weeks. The biggest thing will be seeing how Donnelly comes out and begins his resurrection effort.

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