Thursday, December 27, 2007

Time for Charter Review

City Councior (for now) Jay Cruz is fixing to get moving on charter review right after the first of the year, with the goal of making a big splash in time for the Feb. 5 presidential primary.

Cruz has been a firm believer in the need for charter reform, and has been actively pushing it. At least there's one. Many a public official voiced support for a charter review during campaign season, but most said they wanted nothing to do with organizing an effort. Cruz is taking that on, and good for him -- and the city.

I like Cruz, and wish he had won in November, but his losing might actually be a good thing in terms of making charter review a reality.

This is no easy task. Cruz and his band of merry reviewers need to get about 3,500 signatures to move to create a charter committee. Really, they'll probably need more 4,000 to cover throw-aways, duplicates, and other signature foul-ups. There is a set time period for getting those signatures, so the pressure is on.

Cruz is targeting the presidential primary as a big signature day, thinking that many activist voters will sign the forms. Not bad thinking. One thing he's checking: How close he can get to the polls without breaking the law. That will be key.

Part of the problem with gathering signatures is that most people have no idea what charter review means. Most don't know what the charter does, and fewer probably care. There also isn't a great single issue to rally a campaign behind. The mayor-manager question is one that would create some heat, but pro-reviewers don't want to make that an issue just yet. It'll be looked at, but they don't want the review to look like a mayor-manager referendum.

From there, it probably actually gets easier in some ways. The charter committee would get elected, spend 10 to 18 months coming up with recommendations, and figuring out what should and shouldn't happen. Then it goes to the City Council and the voters.

Changing the charter isn't easy, and it shouldn't be. Like amending the Constitution, it should only done with great thought and research, and even then it might not happen.

In this case, there are some technical issues that need addressing, along with probably a once-and-for-all decision on mayor-manager. The charter hasn't been looked at in four decades, so it's about time.

We're trying to figure out how to help Cruz out, beyond signing the petition, trying to figure out a way to get it in front of mass audiences to make sure the signature requirements are met. If you have any ideas, pass them along. And if you see the petition, sign it. Sign it.
While we're here, make sure you pick up tomorrow's Fitchburg Pride. The first of what should a number of exit interviews with Mayor Dan Mylott (the second after Mylott's appearance on the Chuck Morse Show last week) is in the paper this week.



Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What They Need

We'll return to local programming tomorrow (promise). But in the meantime, we're six days from Iowa and 13 days from New Hampshire, it's time to figure out who needs what over the next two weeks to stay alive -- and viable.

Mitt Romney -- He needs a win in Iowa or New Hampshire, perhaps both. He has run his entire campaign on building momentum through a fast start in the first two states. A loss in either is damaging. Losing both means it might be all over for the ex-governor. He'll be battling Mike Huckabee in Iowa and John McCain in Arizona. The numbers are trending against him. Two weeks from now, he could be all done. Amazing, considering where he was six months ago. It's all or nothing for him right now.

Mike Huckabee -- A win in Iowa is necessary, maybe second place. If he can finish third in N.H. with a win in Iowa, he's still in the game. But he needs to win Iowa. After exploding on the scene a few months ago, he's taken some hits, and has a fairly creepy background. But a scalping of Romney in Iowa makes him viable. He needs to not implode in New Hampshire. He could finish fourth -- or worse -- there, easily. If Romney falls and McCain disappoints in N.H., he might be the one to square off with Rudy Giuliani.

John McCain -- He isn't winning Iowa, and probably can't finish better than third. Fourth is more like it, and fifth probably isn't totally out of the quesiton. But he's a perfect New Hampshire candidate, and is charging hard here at the end. He'll probably need to win N.H. to advance with any strength, but that is certainly need he should feel good about. He's in better shape than Romney and Huckabee. He's coming from behind and has some momentum. He avoids Romney "all or nothing" role early, and isn't as sketchy as Huckabee.

Rudy Giuliani -- Forget Iowa and New Hampshire. He's looking at Florida, New York, California, and other big centrists states. He needs to survive to Feb. 5, when the big states are in play and the delegates start piling up. Here's his biggest problem: What if he gets croaked in Iowa and New Hampshire? What if he finishes fourth in both states? Do the media start piling on? Is he framed as a back-of-the-pack loser? His strategy might be the right one on paper, but will people want to hear it if he finishes fourth in both states?

Ron Paul -- He'll need to crack the top four in Iowa or New Hampshire to make the cut. Unlikely to happen. Nice run, but he goes to "also receiving votes" after N.H. Let the screaming begin.

End result: Romney and Huckabee bid farewell by Feb. 6 or 7. McCain wears out Giuliani in the end.

Hillary Clinton -- She can survive losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, but she can't afford to finish third in either. She likely has the strongest nationwide organization, and has the most cash. If Obama can blow her out in either state, she could be damaged. Like Giuliani, she's looking to roll up numbers on Feb. 5, when her organizational strength can help her out. But she's run a traditional campaign that has put a priority on the first two states. A win in either one, and she's perfectly fine.

Barack Obama -- He, too, can likely survive two seconds over the next two weeks, but a win gives him a big boost of credibility and some results to match his potential. He can't afford a blowout at this point, which would restore some of Clinton's aura of inevitability. He also can't really finish lower than second. That would give John Edwards just enough incentive to make his life miserable for another month.

John Edwards -- What he really needs a win, but that's unlikely. He needs a second-place finish to keep going. That's a difficult, difficult chore. While the Republican roster is deep, the Democratic side is top-heavy. Poll numbers have him just far enough behind the top two that he needs more than a strong showing, he needs a little political miracle. Two close thirds may let him stay in and hope for lightning in a bottle in South Carolina and other southern states, but if he gets blown out, it'll be over and out.

The rest -- There's such a yawning gap with the rest, even though the field is so strong. Guys like Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd deserve better than the single digits they'll get.

End result: If it isn't a two-man race between Clinton and Obama now, it'll be clearly there by the time New Hampshire is over. Clinton wins the war of attrition.



Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, Everyone

Enjoy the holiday, and as always, thanks for reading.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why Receivership Is Further Away Than You Think

Check out this story out of Lawrence.

Note that city is wrangling with a $2.3 million budget gap. Another story on the Channel 5 website notes the total city budget is $94 million, or about the same as Fitchburg, even with 30,000 more people in Lawrence. I guess that's both good and bad.

But there's the thing: There are still folks around who think Fitchburg should go into receivership. But receivership shouldn't really be a goal or a decision. It should be something forced on a community. And, Fitchburg isn't as bad off as some other communities, like Springfield and Lawrence (and this doesn't even account for the chronically horrific School Department in Lawrence).

It's quite possible Fitchburg will be going through some layoffs of its own in the first few months of this year. But it seems -- at least right now -- that a $2.3 million budget gap is pretty unlikely. And, isn't the hope that Fitchburg is now starting its rebound?

The whole receivership thing has been kicked around here a lot over the last year, but it just seems like a bad idea all around. And as Lawrence proves, Fitchburg has a long way to go before getting into receivership land.

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OK, back to presidential politics. Iowa is two weeks from today. New Hampshire is five days after that. It's time, people.

I've never been to Iowa, and sadly haven't stepped foot in New Hampshire during this presidential cycle. But a key thing in both states -- particularly Iowa -- is organization. It's getting people to the polls and caucus rooms -- particularly the caucus rooms. You don't win without it.

In 2004, for example, John Kerry was simply getting his ass kicked through the second half of 2003. Howard Dean owned the message, the polls, and the media. But Team Kerry kept working in Iowa. It kept lining up the local power brokers -- the mayors, the councilors, the selectmen -- that not only came to caucuses but brought a friend. They got their ducks all lined up.

Kerry was able to build momentum over the last week or two before Iowa -- momentum that propelled him through New Hampshire and into the nomination -- but that momentum started months before, as his team cobbled together a winning network in Corn Country.

So, who has the best organization in Iowa? I don't know, but if I did, I'd bank on that person winning the caucuses. You can make some guesses, of course.

On the Democratic side, you'd have to think Hillary Clinton has some advantage, after Bill ran in Iowa twice. Obama has done his due dilligence, and John Edwards has been there before, and did fairly well.

On the Republican side, no one has spent more time and money in Iowa than our own Mitt Romney. He'd better win in Iowa, or that's a bad, bad sign for the Mitter. Giuliani is looking at a national campaign that loads up on Super Tuesday big population states (but if he takes a beating in Iowa and N.H., is he already cooked?). The John McCain campaign struggled through the summer, so wonder about his organization.

New Hampshire might be a bit different. Romney should have a super organization there. Edwards might run a bit stronger, although his second-place finish in '04 offered him little bounce (although Kerry's win sucked out all the oxygen, along with Dean's yelling implosion). Clinton is likely solid in N.H. McCain beat Bush in N.H. in 2000, so he might be a wild card.

Beyond all that is Mike Huckabee, who has been polling well but all signs point to a limited grassroots effort. That, and the constant stream of disquieting news now that he's in the spotlight, makes him an unlikely winner in all this. And yes, Ron Paul has been a nice surprise, but if he gets double-digits in either states that's a great outing for that guy. (Paul supporters, you're free to go off.)

In the end, like these things usually are, Iowa and New Hampshire won't be won or lost in the next few weeks (barring blockbuster news). They will have been won months ago, as candidates shook hands, twisted arms, and did what they had to do line up support one powerbroker at a time.



Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

OK, maybe not. This snow stinks right now.

If you're a member of the Fitchburg Hometown e-mail chain, you've seen tons of feedback in recent days over the city's snow cleanup, or lack thereof. It appears much of the complaints focus on the tight neighborhood over near B.F. Brown and Elm Street.

To play apologist here, the Thursday and Sunday storms dropped a good 16-18 inches on the city, and let's be honest, none of the stuff that fell Thursday melted by Sunday. So really, we're looking at one big storm. Even around here, it's fairly rare that we get an 18-inch snowstorm.

So, this is an unusual situation.

But, there were some weather-related problems yesterday. Some sidewalks near schools weren't taken care of, and a portion of the South Street School didn't have heat yesterday.

Any other weather-related problems? Are the problems isolated, or this is a city-wide struggle to keep up with the snow? Any anecdotal evidence appreciated. What's the deal out there?

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bigelow Crocker passes at age 85

Bigelow Crocker, one of the city's giant community leaders, died yesterday at age 85. You can read more by visiting the Fitchburg Pride website.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holiday Lights Fund Needs Leadership

What do Stephan Hay, Andre Ravenelle, David Streb and Stephen DiNatale (and, soon, Lisa Wong) have in common?

They are the only public officials who have donated to the city's holiday lights fund.

According to the list received yesterday afternoon, those four named above all contributed to the fund. Wong said yesterday she has written a check and someone from her office is dropping it off soon.

Interestingly, Wong said she wrote a check from her personal account, not her campaign account. Presumably, Ravenelle and Streb did the same (they don't have campaign accounts, obviously). I don't know if Hay and DiNatale ponied up from the cookie jar at home, or from their campaign accounts.

But here's the thing, every elected official in the city has a campaign account. Some of them might be depleted after the election, but chances are most of them have $50 bucks left in the campaign's spare change jar (which not only is a nice donation, but also gets a free message in the Fitchburg Pride. How can you pass that up?).

I'm loathe to get too much on my soapbox -- it's their money and all -- but it's worth noting the lack of attention this fund is getting from the city's leaders. As of yesterday, the fund is at about $3,500 (up from $2,500 last week, and not counting Wong's donation), and still has to get to $5,000 before the end of the season. Consider this: If the 10 other current city councilors and the three new councilors threw in $50 each, that's $650 bucks, almost half of what's left to go. And that doesn't include current Mayor Dan Mylott, the School Committee, and other officials.

Elected officials use their campaign accounts all the time for advertising in Little League programs and donating to charitable events. The holiday fund is certainly a legal destination for a donation, and is there a better one for the good of the city right now? The city was forced to gut the budget for holiday lights in the summer, but there's no reason why they can't help make the difference now.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Before Mayor, President

Before Fitchburg swears in a new mayor, we might have a pretty good idea who is going to be the nominees for president next fall.

Not quite, but pretty close.

The New Hampshire primary is Jan. 8. The swearing-in of Lisa Wong is Jan. 7. She'll barely get the seat warm, and voters up north will be voting. Even earlier are the Iowa caucuses.

As usual, Iowa and New Hampshire will set the tone, and maybe decide things before the other 48 states get a chance to chime in. Everyone likes a winner, and if a candidate can steal two wins, it may be over by Jan. 8.

But, perhaps, unlikely. Here we are, just about a month before the N.H. primary, and both races are very close. Mitt Romney has been caught from behind by Mike Huckabee (Arkansas governor), but can Huckabee pull off a win in New Hampshire? He's polling well, but there's a difference between poll numbers and the organization needed to get people into the rooms in Iowa for caucuses. According to ABC's The Note yesterday, when Huckabee landed in New Hampshire last week, there was no one there to meet him. Not a signal of strong organization.

So, if Huckabee stumbles to third in Iowa and New Hampshire, is he cooked? Maybe. What if Romney or Rudy Giuliani finishes third in Iowa? Then can't win New Hampshire? Are they done?

Organization wins in Iowa. Ask John Kerry if you think otherwise. As he was taking a daily beating from Howard Dean, Kerry's campaign built an unbeatable organization there. Considering the dough he's dropped in Iowa, you'd have to think Romney has the edge there. But he does terrible in "second-choice" polling (the Iowa caucuses are bizarre things that I can't explain), and that's not great news for Romney (courtesy of "Meet the Press").

You'd have to think Romney has best the chance in New Hampshire (oh, if they only knew him like we do), but if he doesn't win Iowa -- and especially if he finishes third -- all bets are off.

Where's Giuliani? He hasn't dumped a lot of dough in Iowa, so who knows how strong is org is there? I can't imagine he's killing 'em in New Hampshire, but who knows? The wild card in all this is Huckabee. Is he just a December Momentum Man, or can he translate it to results? In short, this thing is a toss-up with four weeks left, and a lot is going to happen between now and then.

On the Democrat side, it's pretty much a two-person race between Obama and Clinton (do we really need first names?). That must piss off Joe Biden something royally (first name necessary, no?), but them's the facts.

The only hiccup might be John Edwards. But he needs to finish at least second (again) in Iowa to create big damage to Obama or Clinton. Then he needs to do it again in New Hampshire. I think those are long-shots individually. Together, it's a tough road for Edwards.

So, who wins? Clinton -- like Romney -- has been giving up points in Iowa. Obama has the cash necessary to be in the hunt. But in theory, doesn't Clinton have an organization that did this twice in the 90s? Obama needs to puncture her air of inevitability, and a win in Iowa (or New Hampshire) would most certainly do that.

There's a theory out there that the major candidates have raised so much money, so soon (especially on the Dems side), that a candidate can ride out tough losses in the first two states, and make up ground and come back in the mega Feb. 5 primary day. Maybe. But money can't buy momentum (well, maybe it can) or the air of being an inevitable winner.

Will Iowa and New Hampshire decide this primary season? Maybe, but it seems this year that the biggest day on the calendar might be Feb. 5.

While we're here, note two new polls (which a lot of people seem to hate) on preferences for both parties in the primaries. Have at it.