The mixed signals of Mike Tyson’s visit to Lowell – Lowell Sun

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ON THURSDAY it was a tale of two events in the city.

The juxtaposition of the two events likely sent mixed signals to the community, particularly to female survivors of sexual assault and violence.

Earlier in the day, a White Ribbon Day ceremony was held at City Hall, organized by Alternative House in partnership with the City Manager’s Task Force on Domestic Violence. At the event — inspired by a global movement to end male violence against women and girls — the men present, including several members of the Lowell Police Department, pledged to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women.

Come nightfall, Mayor Sokhary Chau found himself in the ring at the final night of the Golden Gloves, presenting a key to the city to Mike Tyson. The boxing icon received a hero’s welcome in his stops in Lowell, first at a local dispensary and then at the Gloves, the power of celebrity certainly in his favor.

Under federal law, Tyson’s 1992 rape conviction — in which he was found guilty in Indiana of raping then-reigning Miss Black Rhode Island Desiree Washington — required him to register as a Tier II sex offender. Tyson was released after serving less than three years of his 10-year sentence, for which the judge had suspended the last four years.

Tyson has worked to rehabilitate his image in recent years, and says marijuana — which he’s now in the business of with his Tyson 2.0 cannabis company — has spurred major improvements to his mental and physical health.

Contacted for comment, Chau defended the decision to honor Tyson. The decision was about Tyson’s contribution to the sport of boxing, not what he did outside the ring, Chau said.

“It’s a great fit for us to give to someone who has given so much to the sport of boxing. We don’t celebrate the violence outside of the ring,” Chau said. “He fell from grace, he paid the price for it and it has taken him almost a lifetime to get to where he is now.”

Chau emphasized that he is also a supporter of the White Ribbon cause, especially because he was raised by a matriarch and his wife plays a significant role in his success. Although Chau was not there for the White Ribbon ceremony, he said he asked Councilor Rita Mercier to present a proclamation on his behalf.

“Domestic violence has no place in our community,” Chau said.

For Chau, the decision to honor Tyson was also about celebrating the 75th anniversary of the New England Golden Gloves tournament and the 100th anniversary of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. The story of Tyson’s rise to becoming World Heavyweight Champion includes Tyson becoming the 1983 heavyweight champion at the New England Golden Gloves.

Chau added that Tyson has a desire to give back to the community. Before the key presentation, Chau said Tyson visited fighters in the locker room and offered them words of encouragement. For many young boxers, Tyson is an inspiration.

Additionally, Chau said he did not believe the sport of boxing inherently promotes violence, citing sports like football and hockey.

“It’s a great sport, of determination, of discipline, of toughness, of bravery and everybody can watch that,” Chau said.

Economic benefit to Tyson visit

BRINGING TYSON to Lowell clearly paid off.

The event was standing room-only and Chau said after leaving the event, he noticed the flurry of activity downtown. Over 3,000 people were in attendance and he believes most were from Lowell or the surrounding communities. After the final bell had rung, the restaurants downtown were full.

Chau said people were excited and it was encouraging to see so many people in Lowell, spending money as part of the city’s economy. He can’t remember the last time things were quite this packed.

“We’re probably the only city in the entire commonwealth that had something good going on last night,” Chau said jokingly Friday.

Cawley vs. Downtown, round 2

AFTER IT was revealed that the Lowell High School construction project had $38.5 million in cost overruns, it begs the question if the downtown option was truly the right choice.

Just a few short years ago, the choice of Cawley Stadium or downtown divided families.

At the time, The Sun wrote editorials supporting the Cawley Stadium site. Readers wrote angry letters to the editor in response.

But rehashing the past isn’t something elected officials want to do.

“I don’t entertain that discussion, at all,” said Mayor Sokhary Chau, who was a Cawley proponent.

The mayor said he’s spoken with the City Council and they want the same thing.

“We want to have the best high school for the kids, the teachers, staff, families and for the residents,” Chau said.

That’s accomplished by giving students the resources and necessary skills, good food and state-of-the-art facilities, he said.

In the position of mayor when the high school debate raged was state Sen. Ed Kennedy. The Lowell Democrat said he stands by his support of the downtown location, even though The Column had to pry an elaboration out of him.

Kennedy said he believes some people wanted the Cawley Stadium site because it had a projected three-year construction period as opposed to downtown’s four and a half years.

However, Kennedy said the Cawley Stadium option wouldn’t have broken ground right away. He said the Massachusetts School Building Authority still needed to study the schematics. There were also required improvements to Route 38 because of the number of buses that would be traveling in the morning and afternoon.

Additionally, Kennedy said there would have been a required environmental study and a transportation study. The latter would likely have shown a need to widen Route 38 but also change the intersection of Douglas Road and Rogers Street — it could have taken more than a year, he believes.

“I mean, we have complaints about MassDOT now and how long these projects have taken,” Kennedy said. “So you can imagine how long a project like that would like, just to study the feasibility on it. So you have to add that to the three years.”

Another point Kennedy raised was a study that showed 40% of students attending Lowell High School walk. It wouldn’t have been feasible for students living in the Highlands to walk to Cawley Stadium. If the city had more than one high school, he may have viewed it differently.

Despite Councilor Mercier’s suggestion that Kennedy should foot the bill, Kennedy contends no one could have predicted COVID-19 and its lingering impact.

Meanwhile, Councilor Dan Rourke said he stands by the decision to support the Cawley Stadium site, as does Councilor Corey Robinson.

Robinson said having everything centralized to one campus made the most sense to him.

“If we’re talking about preparing kids for the college experience, why wouldn’t you try to recreate or create a campus experience? And for accessibility, it was right off the highway. Visiting sports teams or anyone else, you come right down Route 38 and it’s all in one location,” Robinson said.

Additionally, Robinson said he believes the construction timeline would have been shorter. However, like everyone else, he doesn’t want to relitigate the past. He’s most concerned with how the overages happened and why

Although he’s no longer a member of the council, Rodney Elliott said he maintains Cawley was the best option. He said with new buildings, you know what you’re dealing with. Old buildings, like downtown, come with plenty of unforeseen challenges.

Where’s the building committee when you need them? 

THIS WEEK, Councilor Kim Scott raised the issue of the School Building Committee not meeting regularly.

In fact, Scott said she had heard from people who are supposed to be on the committee, some unsure if they are even still members.

According to City Manager Eileen Donoghue in February, members of the committee include Chau, Councilor John Leahy and former Councilors Rodney Elliott and Bill Samaras.

Elliott said he was among those uncertain if he was still a member, although he said he’d like to be. He believes the committee should be meeting regularly, offering oversight on the project. With the revelation of cost overruns, he believes now would be a good time to start up again.

Asked what his reactions to the overruns were, Elliott said, “My reaction is how do we solve it? We cannot possibly put this burden on the taxpayers of the city.”

Councilor Erik Gitschier, who was on the School Building Committee for Greater Lowell Technical High School’s $65 million renovation, believes there needs to be more oversight of the project.

“Why would we not want oversight over those funds in oversight over that project?” Gitschier asked. “To me, not sharing information with the public — we’re not a rich community. We’re not Boston, where there’s a lot of money comes in. We’re the city of Lowell and we need oversight on all projects.”

Adding to the issue, Gitschier said he had spoken to members of the School Building Committee who were unaware that there was $2 million in value engineering.

Donoghue said the School Building Committee does still exist and played a big role in the design of the project. Additionally, she said there is an Owner, Architect, Contractor Committee that meets on a weekly basis. The OAC group includes representatives from Donoghue’s office, the School Department, Suffolk Construction, Skanska and Perkins Eastman.

Donoghue said the way the project is being managed is consistent with how other large cities have managed their school projects.

The invisible face of (quasi-)government

MEETINGS FOR the Lowell Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners are public meetings.

Unless you frequent the City Council chamber around 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month, you may not know that bit of information.

Since being appointed the the board on Feb. 2 by Gov. Charlie Baker, Rodney Elliott has set out to change that. He hasn’t had much luck so far.

This week, Elliott put forward a motion to have the meetings televised on the city’s public access station LTC. The station regularly carries other city meetings like the City Council, School Committee, Conservation Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Elliott told The Column meetings should be carried on TV and that many residents living in the Lowell Housing Authority would like to know what’s happening. He also believes that some of the commission’s projects have widespread city appeal.

The motion didn’t succeed. With five commissioners, only Elliott and Matt Marr voted yes. In opposition were Phil Shea and Joanie Bernes. Commissioner Mony Var voted “present.”

Television isn’t the only issue the board is up against, either. A quick check of the website shows that the last time an agenda was posted was for Dec. 8. Since he was appointed, Elliott said he’s attended two meetings. There are also no minutes for the two meetings Elliott has been a part of.

It’s not as if the website is obsolete or out of date, either. The Column visited the website and found a new headshot of Elliott that wasn’t there in early February.

Keep in mind, this is a board that oversees 1,698 federally-funded public housing units across 10 properties in the state’s fifth largest city.

LTC: soon to be hiring 

SPEAKING OF the city’s public access station, The Column learned Friday that LTC Executive Director Bora Chiemruom is resigning. What prompted the resignation is unknown.

In December 2020, Chiemruom took over what she described as a “dream job,” following the retirement of Wendy Blom. She was the first Cambodian American to lead LTC.

The executive director job is already posted to the LTC website.

“Bora Chiemruom has notified the board of directors of her intention to resign as executive director of Lowell TeleMedia Center (LTC),” the post reads. “She will remain in her role and support the organization until May 20. Working with Ms. Chiemruom, the process of recruiting a successor will begin immediately.

“LTC is in a very strong position for continued growth, and we sincerely thank her for her contribution and leadership during her time here,” the post continues. “Bora’s last day will be Friday, May 20, at which point a successor or interim executive director will be named. We are confident that Bora and the staff will make this a smooth transition for our community partners, producers and supporters.”

Chiemruom did not immediately return a request for comment.

Another impending departure

AFTER ABOUT three and a half decades of service with the Lowell Police Department, the city’s top cop is taking off his badge and settling into retirement.

Police Superintendent Kelly Richardson will work his last day with the force on Thursday.

Richardson began his career as a civilian dispatcher six years before he became a patrolman with the department in 1987. After climbing the ranks, he achieved the rank of superintendent in August 2018.

“Every time I got promoted, I saw that I could help the organization, and that’s what I plan on doing as chief,” Richardson said at the time of the promotion.

During his stint as superintendent, Richardson often discussed the importance of deepening the connection between the department and the community it serves.

The department’s mission statement under Richardson reads: “… to continue building and maintaining strong partnerships with the diverse communities of the city of Lowell.”

“We strive to work with our community to reduce the incidence and fear of crime, and to ensure public safety,” the statement continues. “We will do this while working to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Lowell.”

Hong kicks off campaign

TARA HONG, a Lowell Democrat who is challenging incumbent state Rep. Rady Mom, D-Lowell, in the 18th Middlesex District, officially kicked off his campaign in an event outside the Stoklosa Middle School March 5.

Born in Cambodia, Hong told the story of his mother’s strength after a tragic accident claimed the life of his father and grandmother in 2009, and their journey to America in 2013 with the help of his stepfather.

“When I arrived in Lowell as an immigrant from Cambodia, I was 13 years old. I did not speak any English, nor know what the heck was going on,” he said to laughs from the crowd.

He credited the education he received at the Stoklosa and then at Lowell High for making him who he is today. He then attended Middlesex Community College and UMass Lowell, becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree.

“Access to education is the fundamental right of every child in the commonwealth, and the quality of education a child is served should not be based on zip code or where they live, their economic status, skin color or religion,” Hong said.

He promised to be a champion of accessible education, and to fight for better school funding and pay for teachers, who are tasked with the important job of “shaping tomorrow’s citizens.”

Hong also pledged to focus on providing proactive health care to all, and said no one should have to choose between paying for food, rent or medication.

“The commonwealth cannot be its best until all people have access to quality, affordable health care, including mental health care,” he said, repeating the statement for emphasis.

Wilmington officials criticize MBTA again

TOWN OFFICIALS will send an official letter to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority after yet another incident at a railroad crossing in town.

On the evening of Friday, March 4, police were notified that the arms on the crossing at Glen Road were extended when a train was not approaching for the second time in the past few weeks.

The town learned from Keolis, the company that operates the commuter rail, that the incident was caused by the pooling of water concentrated with road salt around the tracks. The water interfered with the electronics that control the gates, leading them to revert to a default safety mode.

On Saturday, March 5, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, state Rep. David Robertson, D-Tewksbury, Selectmen Lilia Maselli and Judy O’Connell and Town Manager Jeff Hull held an emergency conference call to discuss the situation. They decided to seek a meeting with MBTA General Manager Stephen Poftak and other staff and obtain a commitment to resolve the issues and have the MBTA notify the Wilmington Police Department whenever they are performing work on or along the rail crossings in town.

“There have been multiple explanations offered for the failures at grade crossings, in some instances conflicting with reports from the Town’s own police officers,” Hull said in a statement. “In the end, this cannot continue and the Board of Selectmen and the town manager in conjunction with Sen. Tarr and Rep. Robertson will remain focused and vigilant on holding the MBTA accountable. We will do everything in our power to require them to solve the problems.”

The town has been at odds with the MBTA since resident Roberta Sausville Devine was killed on Jan. 21 when her car was struck by a commuter rail train. In that incident, the railroad crossing signal and gate failed to activate to signal the oncoming train as it had not been turned back on following routine maintenance by an employee.

Moulton introduces bill to normalize medical marijuana use

CONGRESSMAN SETH Moulton introduced legislation this week to allow and normalize medical marijuana use among veterans served by the Veterans Administration.

While medical marijuana use is legal in many states, including Massachusetts, it is still outlawed at the federal level, making it difficult for those in VA care to access it for help with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and chronic pain.

“Veterans are twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose than civilian Americans. This is why we need to normalize the use of medical marijuana among veterans as a safer, non-addictive alternative for chronic pain relief,” Moulton said in a statement. “Veterans chose to serve our country, and many will deal with resulting health issues for the rest of their lives. It’s our responsibility to ensure that returning service members have access to every solution that allows them to live free of pain or anxiety.”

Current VA policy does not allow discrimination against veterans who acquire medical marijuana cards in states where it is legal, but VA providers cannot currently support or recommend medical marijuana use.

Moulton’s bill would mandate that VA medical providers honor the desires of patients who seek medical marijuana and acknowledge its use as a legitimate alternative treatment; establish legal protections so veterans do not lose their benefits for using cannabis; protect providers who discuss cannabis with patients from adverse action; provide for research on cannabis use for veterans; and establish partnerships and programs for VA primary care providers to receive training on the use of medical marijuana.

Dracut selectmen race widens

UNTIL JUST a few days ago, the contest for two seats on the Dracut Board of Selectmen seemed to have settled into a four-way race, but with only a few days remaining to meet the filing deadline, a fifth candidate has joined.

Jennifer Kopcinski, who lives on Bridge Street, pulled nomination papers on March 9. The deadline to return the signed papers is March 18. Kopcinski says she will meet the deadline.

Kopcinski joins Matt Sheehan, Josh Taylor and Phil Thibault and incumbent Tony Archinski in seeking a seat on the board. Two seats are up for grabs. Archinski is seeking re-election but Jesse Forcier is not.

Sheehan was recently reappointed to the Dracut Housing Commission. He’s also a member of the Greater Lowell Tech School Committee and is treasurer and director of Dracut Access Television.

Asked by whether he might be overextending himself if elected to the Board of Selectmen, Sheehan replied, “I do not believe I’m overextending myself. GL is once a month on Thursdays, Housing is once a month on Mondays. I have no intention of stepping down from any boards if I am elected to the Board of Selectmen. I feel that it’s a privilege and honor to serve the town.”

Thibault is an architect with a business based in Dracut, and a director of DATV. He’s also run for selectman before, most recently in 2021 against incumbent Joe DiRocco. He was narrowly defeated in that election.

Taylor is a member of the Conservation Commission and the Beaver Brook Ad Hoc Committee.

Incumbent Archinski is a retired police lieutenant and currently director of administration at the New England Police Benevolent Association.

This week’s Column was prepared by reporters Jacob Vitali and Aaron Curtis in Lowell; Trea Lavery in Wilmington and the 6th Congressional District; Prudence Brighton in Dracut; and Enterprise Editor Alana Melanson.

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