Thursday, January 31, 2008

Have You Seen This Man?

Courtesy of the Saugus Rotary Club, through a tip from a friend (thank you), here's a photo of the Saugus Mystery Man, Kang Yu.



Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This Time, It Counts

A week from today, we get to vote again. And you thought it was all over in November.

It's presidential primary time, and the good news is, our vote matters this time around. However, waiting another week might have been nice, looking back on it.

At the time, which was just a few months ago, the state moved the primary to next Tuesday in order to be part of Super Tuesday, and maybe, just maybe, have at least a legitimate say in the nominees.

Of course since then, Mitt Romney was the front-runner looked dead, came back to life, looked dead, and seems to be coming back to life (especially if he wins tonight). John McCain was dead, came back to life, and is hanging in. Rudy Giuliani was America's Mayor, then a presidential gambler, then seemingly a candidate for governor of Florida, and now washed up. Mike Huckabee was a scary unknown, a scary known, and now a guy who can't afford a campaign plan. Fred Thompson came and went, and no one noticed either.

And that's just the Republicans.

The point? The finals start next Tuesday, and Massachusetts gets to play. Don't expect candidates to be making any appearances in the state, but I'd expect to start seeing some ads in the next few day. A little electronic love doesn't hurt, eh? The also-rans have been weeded out (except for John Edwards, who you have to think falls asleep at night murmurring "compromise candidate"), and we have the big guns to choose from. Romney-McCain, Clinton-Obama. Let the good times begin.

Some folks -- many, in fact -- think there may not be a clear winner or leader after next Tuesday. Particularly on the Democratic side, which hands out delegates based on Congressional districts, not winner-take-all. It might still be very, very close after next Tuesday. If you're smart, you'll be trying to keep an eye on delegate count, not state-by-state count (I think CNN does a pretty good job at this, but their HD graphics are a little confusing, on top of a confusing process).

The state did the right thing when it moved the primary to Feb. 5. At the time, that was the big party. But what if they had waited a week? What if someone had the foresight to see the mess of a bunch of good, but flawed, candidates, and said, "hey, let's wait a week." On Feb. 12, the areas voting are D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Massachusetts' 12 electoral college votes (I don't know delegate counts, and figure EC votes are a good measuring stick) are two more than Maryland, and one less than Virginia's 13. So if Massachusetts had waited a week, the stakes here were likely to be much higher.

Instead, we get to run with the big boys -- New York, California, Pennsylvannia, Illinois. But the vote still matters for the first time in a long time, and that's good news.

A reminder: While you're out making your vote, don't forget to sign the petition for a charter review. We can settle how we think about things later, but the process can't start without signatures. So add yours, and do your little bit of extra civic good next Tuesday.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

It's Charter Time

Somewhere, there's a mayor that wants you get civically engaged. Somewhere, there's a former city councilor looking for 3,300 names on various pieces of paper. Somewhere, there's a city charter that has been ignored for 35 years.

Put it all together, and you have the start of the effort to collect signatures for a Charter Commission, and all the fun that comes with that. The big kickoff will be during next Tuesday's presidential primaries, as clipboard-toting folks hit polling places looking for signatures.

At the very least, go and vote. Beyond that, go and vote and sign the petition. Beyond that, bundle your little self up and gather some signatures. Beyone all that, go to the Fitchburg Pride website for more information, including how to volunteer. Time to work, people.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Governor's -- and Fitchburg's -- Big Gamble

When asked yesterday about casinos, gambling, and whether or not she like Gov. Deval Patrick's plan, Mayor Lisa Wong begged off on an opinion, but noted the city needs to look locally for new revenue.

It would have been nice (in terms of news value) if Wong had either sworn off casinos or discussed a grand vision for a casino in Fitchburg and all it's gaming goodness, but instead she stayed out of it. But she does make a point: The city shouldn't be relying on casino revenue anytime soon. And that's not good news.

When Patrick unveiled his budget yesterday, he also stuck his stake in the ground on his priorities, both how important he thinks casinos are to the state, and where new money should go for cities and towns.

For Fitchburg, Patrick's local aid funding includes an increase of about $1 million for the schools. It is, roughly, a 2.5 percent increase. Not great, but not bad, either. I think if the School Department was given a take-it-or-leave-it choice, it would take it, no questions asked.

But the other side of the coin, the government side, isn't as rosy -- and the school situation isn't exactly "stand up and cheer."

Local government aid would be dead-level funded, but that includes $1.3 million in "gaming revenues for lottery gap" or whatever Patrick is calling it. In short, lottery proceeds are tailing off, and Patrick is filling the gap with casino (license) revenue. Overall, Patrick is looking at $124.1 million to fill in the gap.

So, now it's on to the Legislature, which will most certainly make, uh, some changes. I think casinos are a good idea for Massachusetts -- why send all that money out of state -- but Patrick's plan is very, very flawed. Additionally, Patrick is going up House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who is not only anti-casino, but has taken his effort to prove he is the biggest gun in the State House to inferiority complex levels this week (if you missed it, check out DiMasi's outburst here). That's a long way of saying, casinos aren't happening right now.

So, what happens next? Does the House fill in the $124 million somewhere else? In a $28 billion budget, you're talking moving around one-half of one percent of the available money. But there's a $1 billion that hole that already needs filling. How much will the House fill in the gap at the expense of state services? Will it slide out some of that Chapter 70 increase and dump it in the government aid?

Wong was smart enough to say yesterday that she expects the numbers to change, and it sounds like she'll be taking a conservative, small-number approach to the budget. But the fact of the matter is, the math doesn't look too good in the early going. Even if Patrick's big casino gamble comes through, the city does no better than even. Not good times.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lord, Bring Me a Casino and a Block Party. Thank You.

Two things you should know about this afternoon:

First, Gov. Deval Patrick unleashed his budget recommendation today. You can see the details at the Fitchburg Pride website, and I'll probably write more about this tomorrow, but for now all you need to know is that the city's financial fate might rest on casinos. Ugh.

Second, Mayor Lisa Wong unveiled a new idea today: The Fitchburg First Thursday program. Block parties downtown, once a month. You can probably figure out the timing. Great idea for starters. You can read a lot more at the Pride website, right now. And nowhere else.

We're wicked busy, as they say, or we'd write more. I'm sure you're all disappointed. Enjoy, and more tomorrow. Maybe.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

More on Police Chief Candidates

As we are able to, we're posting brief bios on the candidates for the police chief at the Fitchburg Pride website. They are below the story posted on Saturday. As of right now, Paul Bozicas and Francis Donchez are available for viewing. When information on Timothy Sheehan and Robert DeMoura is fleshed out, we'll add those as well.

I talked to both briefly, and found them both to be nice, intelligent, and excited about the possibility of the job. Good stuff so far.



Saturday, January 19, 2008

Search Committee Picks Four -- Not Kearns

The police chief search committee sent four names to Mayor Lisa Wong for her consideration -- but not acting Chief Philip Kearns. Find out who at the Fitchburg Pride website.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Chief Search Heating Up

The search for the new police chief hits a big point in the process tomorrow morning, when the search committee conducts interviews. You can read a little more about it at the Fitchburg Pride website. It's not in today's paper -- bonus coverage, people.

I don't know the entire list of candidates to be interviewed, but I have a pretty good idea about two of the names on the list. I have to maintain some confidences here, and I'm not entirely sure if those two names are actually interviewing, so I won't be spilling the names, at least not today. But I will say of the two names I know, I've had some face-to-face dealings with both as a reporter, and I like them both and think they're good at their jobs. I'd be comfortable with either. I don't have resumes, can't sit in on meetings and interviews, and I'm not as fully conversant as the committee (and nor should I be, really), but I think if either of the two names I'm aware of were chief, that would be pretty good. If there's someone out there better than those two, all the better for Fitchburg.

So, there you go.



Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Maybe That Extra $250K Is a Good Idea

Mayor Lisa Wong requested an extra $500,000 for snow-and-ice last week, and the City Council gave her half that. Four days later, it snowed another 10-12 inches in Fitchburg.

Save Fitchburg doesn't employ a meteorologist, but you'd have to think the snow predicted for Thursday night/Friday morning is going to put the city close to 50 inches for the season. Yikes.

Communities are allowed to deficit-spend on snow-and-ice. They can shift money around to fill in the debt, or carry it over to next year. It is not unusual for a community to overspend, so no blame necessary for the situation.

That said, the city has blown through its snow-and-ice budget, and everyone well knows, Wong didn't come into office with envelopes full of 100s tucked in desk drawers. A few hundred thousand here, a few hundred thousand there, and eventually you're talking real money, especially when your wiggle room is so limited.

The point: Snow sucks.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fitchburg: The New Providence

So says the Providence Journal, maybe.

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How to Be a Candidate

Hoping to tap into the momentum of last fall's elections, a handful of folks led by new School Committee member Sally Cragin and City Council candidate Shaun Cormier are holding a candidate development workshop this Saturday.

The details are all below in the press release from Cragin. This is a fairly interesting development on two fronts -- it would be intriguing to see how many people are not only intersted in running for office but are thinking two years ahead, and it would be a little bizarre if someone Cragin or Cormier helped along ended up booting them out of office in the end.

Anyway, here are the details. If you're interested in running, or know someone who is, this is probably a good place to start.

Candidate Development Workshop With Keynote speaker Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong

FITCHBURG - A free Candidate Development Workshop will be held at
Fitchburg Public Library on Saturday, January 19 at 2 p.m. with
keynote speaker Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, and refreshments provided
by Hannaford's Supermarkets and Wass-Arthur Sign. Coordinator and
current School Committee member Sally Cragin explains, "This workshop
is for residents who are interested in learning more about serving
the public as an elected or appointed
official." Co-Coordinator and Former Councilor At-Large Candidate
Shaun Cormier tells "This is a"How to Run For Public Office 101, a
great learning experience for anyone thinking of getting involved in
local government."
Topics will include, how to "take out papers" to get your name on the
ballot, campaign tips and strategies; managing campaign finances
should you decide to have a "committee-to-elect," and creating
campaign literature, including brochures, informational flyers and
even websites. "We'll also talk about the "why" of running for office
and our panel of current and past elected and appointed officials can
answer questions and share their experience," says Cragin.
Mayor-elect Lisa Wong comments, "This past election brought out a
wide variety of voters who wanted to be involved in Fitchburg in many
different ways. I look forward to sharing my experiences to anyone
interested in local politics."
Candidate Development Workshop, Fitchburg Public Library, 610 Main
Street, Saturday, January 19, 2 p.m. FREE. For more information,
contact Sally Cragin at 978 407 6482 or Shaun Cormier at 978-340-7660.



Friday, January 11, 2008

Get Your Committee Chairs Here

City Council President Tom Conry released a list of committee chairmen last night, along with committee members. The list is below. Enjoy.

Stephan Hay, Chair
Jody Joseph
Marcus DiNatale
Thomas Conry
Annie DeMartino

Legislative affairs
Dean Tran, Chair
Joel Kaddy
Joseph Solomito
Stephan Hay
Kevin Starr

Public Safety
Joel Kaddy, Chair
Kevin Starr
Norman Boisvert
Thoms Conry
Joseph Solomito

Public Works
Norman Boisvert, Chair
David Clark
Annie DeMartino
Joel Kaddy
Jody Joseph

City Property
David Clark, Chair
Dean Tran
Stephan Hay
Joseph Solomito
Annie DeMartino
Kevin Starr

Jody Joseph, Chair
Stephen Hay
Dean Tran
Marcus DiNatale
David Clark

Kevin Starr, Chair
Norman Boisvert
Marcus DiNatale



Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tomorrow's News, Right Now

If you roll on over to the Fitchburg Pride website (of course), you'll see one of the stories in tomorrow's paper, right now. It regards Kang Yu, and his progress in construction on the Woolworth Building.

Yeah, yeah, you've heard it all before, and some skepticism is certainly OK at this point. But the Saugus Mystery Man was at the License Commission last month, and said he hopes ot start work by February or March. He's waiting on the ABCC, but he sounds like he's ready to go on the make. Maybe.

Anyway, check out the story, and get the scoop before it hits the streets tomorrow.

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A Quick Update

Hey, some good stuff coming up in this week's Fitchburg Pride.

First, you can watch yesterday's Lisa Wong press conference -- her first -- at the Fitchburg Pride website. It might be there right this second, but will be soon.

Second, here's a few things in tomorrow's paper:

City councilors are talking about being "open minded" and ready to work with Wong. Finances, of course, are at the top of the list of things to do. No one wants to guess how long the era of good feeling will last. They made it through the end of Monday, so they're ahead of the School Committee. Which is nice.

For those who subscribe to Fitchburg Hometown: There's a story on the snowy intersections. Take your blood pressure meds first, I'd say. There will also be video from one particularly hazardous section of the city. Sure, the snow's melted, but here's a prediction: We'll get more this winter. I know, I'm feeling bold today.

There will probably be a story about potential movement on a downtown development. This is called a tease. Read the paper to find out more.

Loads and loads of more fun. Please enjoy responsibly.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Year, New Faces, Same Old Sniping

Not everything has changed with Mayor Lisa Wong's taking office, which School Committee member James Connors proved this week by claiming Wong and other School Committee members violated the Open Meeting Law.

Connors claims four committee members, including Wong (who as mayor is chair of the committee), met privately -- and illegally -- to select a vice chair. It's probably worth noting that Connors was vice chair until Monday night's vote, when he was replaced by Jim Reynolds, one of the four Connors claims met on the sly.

First of all, Connors is taking his claim to the city solicitor. The same city solicitor who Wong just hired a week ago. Considering the shades of gray in most OML claims, and this one in particular, good luck, sir. Let's face facts here. The OML doesn't prohibit phone calls, semi-casual face-to-face meetings (members at an event, for example, discussing politics on the side), or other behind-the-scenes negotiating and arm-twisting -- as long as there's not a quorom present. It happens. A lot. You think Tom Conry was magically elected council president? Is it wrong? Nope. Does it sometimes push the limits of the spirit of the law? Yup. In this case, who knows.

Connors claims the meeting took place before or after Monday's swearing-in, an event he missed. He didn't need to be there, because he was already in office. I didn't get to the swearing-ing until just before it started, so I didn't see much of the pregame. I'll say this, though: It was a zoo, and unlikely four people could have gotten together to discuss much of anything without being interrupted. I was around for a good 15-20 minutes after the meeting, maybe even close to a half-hour. For much of that time, Wong was discussing something with School Committee member Tom Rousseau and one other person. I don't remember who it was, but it very likely was a School Committee member. I don't know what they were talking about, but from the looks of it, they weren't talking about the nice weather. In fact, I sort of made a mental note of, "what's that all about. They seem pretty into that discussion." I didn't see a fourth jump in at any point, but who knows what happened later.

If four committee members got together at some point, they did indeed break the law. Connors says in today's Sentinel that he was unaware he was being ousted at vice chair, and wishes he was part of the conversation. He notes that the Gang of Four are all new members, and that they're trying to take over the committee.

At worst, the Gang of Four violated the Open Meeting Law, which would not exactly be the best way for the Wong administration to start.

At best, we have a group of new School Committee members who are working behind the scenes to, in fact, take over the School Committee. In doing so, they're carving out "old-timers" like Connors as they plot strategy and bundle their political strength. They are playing cut-throat politics (so bold in their first week) while Connors is exhibiting some sour grapes publicly at being elbowed out.

In either case, not exactly a peaceful start, and not the headlines Wong wanted in her first week in office.

UPDATE, 1:39 p.m.: A faithful reader makes the following point: If the Gang of Four met before they were sworn in, technically, were they breaking the law? They weren't officially a board member at that point. I took a quick glance at the law, and this particular situation isn't really clearly discussed. Anyone want to play attorney and take a stab at this one?

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mitt Romney's Last Stand

Voters in New Hampshire are currently voting, and it's quite possible they could be throwing dirt on Mitt Romney's political grave. Maybe Hillary Clinton's, too.

We'll focus on Romney because he's the former governor we all can't stand. If you want, you can substitute future "Romney" with "Clinton." Although I think Clinton at least has a little bit of a better shot if she loses today. Although the Obama wave is getting bigger by the day.

If Romney loses today, he's 0-2 in the first two states. Even though they are fairly meaningless three years out of four, Iowa and New Hampshire play starring roles in national politics in that fourth. Mike Huckabee didn't roll up huge delegate totals on Thursday, and the winner of today (John McCain?) won't either.

A loss today means Romney has to answer a lot of questions. He'll have no momentum, and will be considered in danger. The media -- which doesn't like him (who does?) -- will pile on. He will be facing a ton of intangibles that are all negative.

Some of it is unfair. Why does the nation -- and yes, the media -- put so much importance on these states? Why should a close loss in New Hampshire mean Romney is not viable in New York, Florida, California and other states? Why does this mean so much, so soon?

But here's where it is fair. And here's the larger point that might get lost in the political hyperbole that will follow after today. What is it about Mitt Romney, the candidate and/or (to steal Ted DeSalvatore's favorite conjunction) his campaign, that has failed to acheive the main strategic objectives of winning Iowa and New Hampshire? Is it the, to put it nicely, murky policy positions? Is he too polished? Does he fail to make a connection with voters?

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have seen a lot of Romney over the last year, and his campaign organizations have spent obscene amounts of time, energy and money in those states. Say what you want about Iowa and New Hampshire's importance in the process, but its voters get a better look at the candidates than any other state throughout the campaign. If voters there are turning their noses at Romney, he either needs to figure out why and fix it, or realize he's done.

So, tonight could be Mitt Romney's last stand. Not because of what happens after tonight, but for what happened in the year before tonight.



Monday, January 07, 2008

It's All Over

Lisa Wong was officially sworn in as mayor this morning, and Tom Conry was selected president of the City Council.

Two months after the election, all the celebrations and pomp are over (well, except for the inaugural ball this Friday). Now, the real work begins.

If you missed some of the fun over the last few days, or just want to relive it, check out the Fitchburg Pride website. There are stories, photos and videos covering a big chunk of the last two days.

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Wong Turns Toward Fiscal Fitness

In about an hour, Lisa Wong is officially mayor. If yesterday's inaugural speech was any indication, Wong will buckle up hope and optimism in the backseat, and will have financial business riding shotgun as she gets behind the wheel of the city's family roadster.

Yesterday's speech struck on her themes of community involvement early and late, but the main thrust of the speech was the city's financial situation, and her "fiscal fitness" course she is ready to run the city through.

The fact that she thinks the city can be in better financial shape by July 2009 -- a timeframe she mentioned as the halfway point for the fitness course and the end of her first full budget cycle as mayor -- is hopeful and optimistic for most. Perhaps too hopeful for the receivership crowd.

But missing from yesterday's speech was some (most) of the swing-from-the-heels fire that propelled Wong to victory in the fall. Think back to the desire that bordered on anger at the last debate before the preliminary election. Think back to the constant barrage of optimism that Wong rode through October and into the general election. Much of that was missing yesterday.

She was certainly nervous yesterday, that was evident. And maybe being mayor means a little more moderation than running for mayor. But yesterday was lacking some of the bounce of the last few months of her campaign.

That said, while the tone and wrapping was different, the message was the same. Wong wants to reshape the budget process and the fundamental formula for budgeting the city's money. She wants to make the city viable to business development for companies near and (very) far. She wants to tap into the community and turn some of the enthusiasm generated by her campaign into energy and effort into the city.

Yesterday wasn't a soaring, "grab 'em by the throat" speech. But it showed that Wong is focused on making the promises she made as a candidate a reality as mayor.



Friday, January 04, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at Home

The city transfers power on Sunday, as Mayor-elect Lisa Wong drops the "elect" and is sworn into office.

It all goes down at 3 p.m. on Sunday at Fitchburg High School. Along with Wong, the City Council and the School Committee will be sworn in.

If you can't make it, don't worry. Hang out, watch and football. When Roger Clemens is done lying on "60 Minutes," head on over to the Fitchburg Pride website. There will be some stories, some pictures, and some video from the event. It'll be just like being there, but better. And then we'll do it all over again on Monday at City Hall, when another swearing in takes place.

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About Last Night

The American presidency comes with the title of "leader of the free world," and the power to reshape the nation and the world with just a few words. It affords the opportunity to make the country and the world a better place, and guarantees a place in history.

The people who want the job will spend close to a half-billion dollars to get it. They'll speak to crowds of thousands at a time, and have spent years, if not decades, waiting for their chance.

And then it all gets squashed by a bunch of people sitting in middle-school cafeterias and their neighbors' living rooms.

For Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton, last night's Iowa caucuses were a eye-opening warning that their hopes and dreams -- and millions of dollars -- are potentially going down the tubes. All because a bunch of farmers don't like them.

For Romney, the news is most dire. He pinned his entire campaign on winning Iowa and New Hampshire, or at least coming very close to winning both. Getting whomped by Mike Huckabee last night isn't going to do it, and now he faces a dogfight with John McCain in New Hampshire, were the mood lately has been more anti-Mitt than pro anyone else.

Clinton's situation isn't as dire. A win in N.H. would be a big, big help, but she probably doesn't need it. If she doesn't win, she'll need to get one -- fast -- to hang in against Barack Obama.

A quick rundown of winners and losers last night:

Rudy Giuliani. He might be the biggest winner. For his broad-based campaign that all but ignored Iowa and includes just a passing effort in New Hampshire, he needed a split out of the first two states. He's going to get it, unless Huckabee pulls off a real stunner (I'm guessing no on that one). If Romney is gassed after N.H., the top three are then McCain -- who has little beyond N.H. -- and Huckabee -- who has little organization anywhere -- are all that's left for Giuliani to take care of. He should have been very happy last night.

Huckabee and Obama. Of course. But particularly Obama. Huckabee needed this to be taken serioiusly. Obama already was being taken seriously. If he can win again on Tuesday, he might have the nomination by the throat.

Romney and Clinton. See above.

John Edwards. Second, over Clinton, is nice, but he needed to be right there with the leader -- or win -- to stay viable. He'll finish probably third in N.H., and then he's done, making it two horses the rest of the way. There's something about that guy that will keep him in Tier 1A forever, never breaking into the top tier of viability.

Ron Paul. He's had a nice run, sort of. He'll be the darling of the fiscally-conservative set until the end, but it's over, Johnny. Thanks for playing. Your footnote on Wiki is waiting at the door.

America. There were some good, smart candidates way down on the Democrat ballot. Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd deserve better than single-digits. They were just as capable and just as smart as Clinton and Obama, but got killed by not being superstars. Downer.

Winner and loser
Giuliani. His long-term strategy likely stays in place, but he finished sixth. What if he finishes fifth or sixth again in New Hampshire? He'd have to win Florida in late January to prove his strategy is going to work, you'd have to think. But will people start burying him with two bad losses? Some folks were writing off Clinton last night, and there's no avoiding the damage done to Romney. How long can Giuliani finish in single-digits before people start wondering?

The good news is things still seem fairly wide open, and that it's likely Mass will matter somewhat on Feb. 5. There's a chance it might be over Feb. 6, but at least Massachusetts is likely in the ballgame for the primary. And that's cool news.



Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wong Hires New Solicitor

Mayor-elect Lisa Wong announced today she has tabbed Michael Ciota as the new city solicitor. To read a little more, including information about the new Mayor's Office administrative assistant also named today, please visit the Fitchburg Pride website.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mylott Says 'Farewell'

Mayor Dan Mylott held his last weekly press conference today. You can read a story about it at the Fitchburg Pride website, and later this afternoon you'll be able to watch the entire press confidence at the Pride website.

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Wong in Globe Again

If you haven't seen it, you'll probably want to take a gander at today's Globe story regarding Lisa Wong and her vision of the future. It gets anchor treatment on the front of the Metro section today.

There's not a ton new in there if you've been paying attention -- particularly to this Fitchburg Pride story the day after her election -- but it's interesting that Wong, and Fitchburg, are getting some attention from the Globe. Hopefully, as time goes on and some of this vision becomes a reality, the Globe will continue to cover the city and its revitalization.