From the bullet that smashed through a Lawrence City Hall window to stinking fishes flung at the Gloucester mayor’s home, city and state leaders are feeling the heat on the street from taxpayers and public sector workers fuming over impending layoffs and service cuts.
- - - - - - - - -
Lawrence is much poorer than Gloucester. It has a large Hispanic population, the latest of a line of immigrants that began back when the textile mills were in operation in the 1800’s. As they shut down and moved south to cheaper labor and fewer union obstacles, the city began to die. Unfortunately, Lawrence razed many of its old buildings in an attempt to “modernize” and attract business. As a result, it’s not nearly as interesting architecturally as it used to be. In fact, some of the soviet-style architecture would depress anyone.
The per capita income in Lawrence (last census) is $11,360. More than a third of its residents live below the poverty line. This town has felt the pinch of poverty for a long time:
Authorities believe a bullet that slammed into the Lawrence city planner’s desk last weekend may be related the recent layoffs of 11 city employees and the firing of two others.
“If someone is giving a message that you’d better watch out, that’s disconcerting,” Lawrence Mayor Michael J. Sullivan told the Herald yesterday.
A bullet through the window is “disconcerting”? What would a bomb in City Hall be? “A cautionary warning”, maybe? I love political speak.
Gloucester is another story, at least on the surface. It’s a pretty seaside tourist village on Cape Anne. Gloucester claims that it was the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, though that’s a bit of a stretch since it was abandoned because of the poor soil, and then later resettled - and only at this point was it named Gloucester.
Besides being a summer tourist attraction, the town is also home to Gorton’s seafood. Generations ago, Portuguese immigrants settled there and had fishing fleets. Some of these families still maintain the trade, but many have moved on. A citizen of the town once told me that the school system in Gloucester was designed to keep kids off the street until it was time for them to enter Gorton’s fish processing plants. She sent her kids to private schools.
I don’t know if things have improved, but a load of stinking fish slopped onto the front steps of the mayor’s house is certainly a symbolic act of frustration.
By the way, the rich owners of merchant fleets in the 18th and early 19th centuries were responsible for delivery of slaves to ports in Virginia and South Carolina. These slave ships brought great wealth to Gloucester; many of the homes of their captains, complete with widows’ walks, still remain.
Gloucester has a higher per capita income - $25,595 vs. $11,360 for Lawrence - because it attracts so many wealthy people who summer there or buy up historical properties as second homes. Where Lawrence once had textile mills, Gloucester still has Gorton’s fish mills, though the latter have long since been bought up by the Japanese, and the company is going through tough times with the Chinese fish exports as competition.
So even pretty Gloucester has its problems:
Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who receives plainclothes police protection on occasion, found a pile of fish on her front porch last month, and her secretary intercepts an almost daily stream of angry e-mails and letters, redirecting the most menacing to police.
“In this budget climate, we’re all faced with cutting jobs, people’s livelihoods,” Kirk said. “It makes a mayor a target.”
Hmmm…it makes you wonder when American small town mayors will start receiving hazardous duty pay.
The Boston Herald called a few towns and got further information:
State Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston) got an earful from a man incensed about Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed 19-cent gas tax hike.
“It’s gotten worse,” said Wallace, who also gets blistering e-mails from constituents. “It’s taken a different tone, an edge. People are stretched to the limit.”
Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, fears that the anger could morph into violence as the economic crisis deepens.
“Unfortunately, the decisions local officials have to make are personal ones, and people get upset at them,” Beckwith said. “When emotions run high and difficult decisions are made, there’s the potential for violence.”
Lynn Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy agreed. “Any time you tell someone no, people get very, very angry,” he explained.
“We know we’re the people who feel the heat,” said Brockton Mayor James Harrington, who’s considering laying off at least 100 cops and firefighters. “That’s the job we chose, and it’s a big part of the job.”
In Melrose, Mayor Robert Dolan blamed tough times for a spike in dime-dropping by anonymous tipsters targeting police, fire and public works employees believed to be cavorting about on city time.
Lynn’s Clancy said he’s steering clear of bars and other places where he might run into angry taxpayers.
“When they have a few in them,” Clancy said, “they get a little - how do you say - demonstrative.”
Yes, people are mad. They don’t call it “Taxachusetts” for nothing. A proposed 19 cents further tax on gasoline? The governor must be out of his mind.
I expected that the economic strain to show first in the northeast and in California, though for different reasons. It’s expensive to live in the Massachusetts, and morale is low as jobs have fled south to states with lower taxes and less restrictive business codes.
California has long been the destination for illegal immigrants seeeking farm work, and people from other states seeking “free” higher education. For the first time since the Dust Bowl exodus from the Midwest to California, the latter is starting to lose population and industry. California is too expensive, too lawless, and too regulated. I wonder if the mayors there feel as vulnerable as the ones in Massachusetts?
NOTE: I just heard recently that our little area is seeing a surge in crime. There was a meeting at the firehouse last night with the sheriff to discuss what to do about the increasing number of house robberies in our area in the last few weeks.
Even churches have been burglarized. The days of leaving even small country churches open so people could visit are disappearing.
This is going to be one heck of a bumpy ride. I hope the stimulus package has made provisions for seat belts.