THERE’S TALK, and there’s walk. And then there’s straight up strutting.
Political, educational and civic leaders were proudly strutting their stuff during a reception held in the Mayor’s Reception Room at Lowell City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
The event was to present a public report from the Lowell delegation that traveled to Kalamata, Greece, in September as part of a sister-city expedition.
Mayor Sokhary Chau, former Mayor Bill Samaras, state Sen. Ed Kennedy, UMass Lowell Vice Chancellor Arlene Parquette, Middlesex Community College Dean Judith Hogan, Bill Kafkas, president of the Federation of Hellenic-American Societies of New England, and Hellenic federation board member Dimitrios Mattheos traveled to Kalamata for a week of cultural enrichment and a deeper understanding of a city nearly 5,000 miles away.
Although these kinds of cross-cultural and continental relationships can be more of a public relations junket on the taxpayer’s dime, Kafkas, who was born in Greece, and initially introduced the idea of forming sister cities back in 2018, said that the federation and the delegation were interested in creating something special and enduring.
“What kind of sister city do we want?” Kafkas asked during his remarks. “Sign some documents? Take some pictures? I’m not interested in that. I’d like something more concrete. I’d like the business community to be involved. I want the universities to be involved, the two cities and the public.”
That ethos infused the itinerary, said Samaras, which included visits to see ancient Olympia — the site of the first Olympic Games — and the ancient theater of Epidaurus, as well as Athens at the Parthenon, the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum.
Samaras said one doesn’t go all that way and not see the artifacts and sites from the cradle of democracy, but that the trip was much more than that. And that’s where the strutting part comes in.
This was no boondoggle, but a trip to cement a working relationship between the two cities in the areas of cultural, business and educational exchanges and partnerships.
“I want to see this done with all the sister cities,” Samaras said. “We’re coming to the City Council tonight to say thank you for their support. We want Lowell-Kalamata to be a model for other sister cities. This project will ensure the diversity of this city.”
The group attended the Greek Parliament and had a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis. A meeting that was scheduled for 15 minutes stretched into almost three hours.
The Middlesex contingent of Parquette and Hogan met with University of the Peloponnese officials to partner on faculty and student exchanges.
“Many community college students don’t have the opportunity to study or travel abroad,” Hogan said. “This partnership will allow them to have the same educational experiences as other more affluent students. Additionally, the University of the Peloponnese has world-renowned programs in areas such as archeology, which Lowell students don’t have access to locally. One of our goals is to bring Greek students to Lowell where a thriving Greek community is waiting to embrace them.”
She noted that Tsunis said internships in the fields of hospitality management, culinary arts, business and media are available in Greece, and that students of Greek heritage in Lowell can study in Greece as part of a Greek birthright program.
Kafkas told the gathering that the federation had passed a resolution to sponsor scholarships for exchange students with local Greek businesses stepping up to provide seed funding.
“When you become involved with many other areas of the world, you have a better understanding and a better community,” Kafkas said. “This is the beginning of something good.”
In attendance as a guest of Kafkas was Consul General of Greece in Boston Symeon Tegos. He said it was an emotional night for him as he was mindful of the Greek people who had come to the Gateway City, and struggled to make a life in a foreign land. Tegos said establishing a committed — not symbolic — sister city connection would honor their story.
“Greece is linked to Lowell,” he said. “The Gateway City was a symbol of the Greek American story. It’s a new bridge that we’re building now. We had the past, and now we have the future with these kinds of initiatives.”
After the reception, Chau assumed his duties presiding over the City Council meeting held down the hall. In a nod to the political reality that mayors and city councils come and go, but committees and subcommittees live forever, Chau introduced a motion to ensure that the initiatives launched during the trip to Greece will have a life of their own.
He introduced a motion to “establish a standing committee to assist with the implementation of the sister cities program in Lowell.”
“The motion,” Chau said, “speaks for itself.”
The council passed it unanimously.
Former Billerica candidate Teresa English sends out ‘firestarter’ of an email
THE STATE representative race in Billerica concluded on Nov. 8 with seemingly little fanfare. Incumbent Republican Rep. Marc Lombardo was elected to a seventh term in office, winning his seat against second-time Democratic candidate Teresa English.
But the months leading up to Election Day were contentious, and those tensions appear to have carried over to the post-election season.
In an emailed message to supporters and those subscribed to her campaign newsletter on Nov. 12, English reflected on the loss and made pointed comments about Lombardo’s work and personal life.
With the subject line “Firestarter,” it’s no surprise its contents stoked some flames.
English remarks in the email that she is “filled with sadness” as a result of the loss of the election and the potential she had to serve. English wrote the current speaker of the House “has not made any strides toward empowering constituents to hold their representatives accountable” and that elected officials should no longer cast voice votes anonymously but rather “have real discussions and arguments.”
“The real winner Tuesday night was the status quo,” English wrote. “The State House will be more male, more white, and less inclined to listen to us.”
She wants change, but she wrote she anticipates none.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how next term’s rules deal with vaccination status, remote voting, transparency, and accountability, but I expect them to remain the same as in 2021,” English wrote. “There is no incentive to change anything for the incumbents who won re-election.”
However, the email quickly devolves and takes aim at Lombardo, first at his activity in the State House. English wrote that Billerica will likely see few “major investments,” given Lombardo’s track record. She suggests that Lombardo’s attendance record is also poor — in an interview, English explained that her “sources” tell her Lombardo has not been in the State House since the start of the pandemic.
English then brings up Lombardo’s divorce, which she wrote “is not going well.” When asked why she believes Lombardo’s apparent divorce is messy, English said “it’s just a general vibe.”
“But this is Marc Lombardo’s personal life, right? I was not intending for these comments to be put in the press. That’s not my job,” English said. “My job was to prepare people for the fact that he’s not going to have a successful term because he never does.”
English said Lombardo made similar personal attacks toward her during the campaign by calling her “a liar.”
“I didn’t realize that you all had subscribed to my newsletter and were receiving it, and I’m fine that you read it, whatever,” English said, “but I don’t see this as being news unless you were gonna talk about the fact that Lombardo’s team spent two years trying to convince people that I’m a felon, a liar and accusing me of stolen valor for two years.”
To clarify, the reporter English spoke with was not subscribed to her newsletter, but rather received the email in a forward from a Billerica resident.
English also brought up Lombardo’s children in the email, suggesting there might be “psychological damage from daddy making mommy cry.”
“I hope his soon-to-be ex-wife is awarded the alimony and child support she deserves (court records may be sealed but lips certainly are not),” English continued in the newsletter.
And Lombardo’s body and clothing were not off-limits — English asked email recipients, “Did you know that he works out too?” Even in cold weather, Lombardo “will still be wearing shirts a size too small to make sure you notice his manly muscles,” she wrote.
“I don’t know that I want to discuss that,” English said regarding those comments. “It was just making light of his clothing choices over the years.”
When The Column shared the email and its contents with Lombardo and asked for comment, Lombardo had just this to say:
“I wish Mrs. English and her family nothing but the best,” Lombardo wrote in an email.
He did not comment any further.
English said the intention behind the newsletter was to wrap up the campaign and discuss the year ahead, adding that she doesn’t “want this to be a he-said-she-said sort of thing.”
“I do not want this to be a hit piece on anyone, that was not my intention, and I don’t think it’s a good use of your time either,” English told The Column. “There are so many stories that need to be discussed here in Billerica, and my words and my final newsletter for my campaign is by far the least newsworthy thing that is happening right now.
“Marc and I are not friends, but I don’t harbor too much ill will towards him,” English continued. “My comments were a result of a really personal, frustrating campaign, but I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”
This week’s Column was prepared by reporters Melanie Gilbert in Lowell and Cameron Morsberger in Billerica.