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Lowell council makes a youthful choice for mayor

Is city’s youngest since the 1940s

Patrick Murphy

When Patrick O. Murphy was selected by the City Council to become Lowell’s new mayor this past Monday, it marked a changing-of-the-guard moment with a little dash of history.

The 29-year-old stone mason and bricklayer became the city’s youngest mayor since at least the early 1940s, when Lowell adopted its current form of government, according to Richard P. Howe Jr., who writes a local blog on Lowell politics and history.

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Under Lowell’s Plan E charter, an appointed city manager serves as chief executive, and the mayor, elected by the council from within its ranks, chairs the council and School Committee and performs ceremonial duties.

Murphy, who was reelected to a second council term last November, won the mayor’s seat in an initial 5-4 vote over Rodney Elliott, a vote that the council subsequently made unanimous.

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He succeeds James Milinazzo, who served as mayor during the last term and was not reelected to his council seat in November.

City Councilor Kevin Broderick, who supported Murphy, said the latter’s relatively young age “was not a concern for me. I think he’s shown that his interest and his intelligence are more mature than his 29 years.’’

Murphy said he believes his age “really isn’t significant one way or the other.’’

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Still, Murphy said, he hoped his political success would inspire other young people in the city to become active, noting that in his first term he supported a so-far unsuccessful proposal that the city secure special legislation to lower the minimum voting age to 17 in municipal elections.

More broadly, he would like to encourage greater civic participation by people of all ages, “not just in elections but in policy decisions.’’

Murphy, whose late grandfather George B. Murphy served as a state representative from 1947 to 1949 and as a city councilor from 1954 to 1958, said he is thrilled with his new role.

“It’s obviously a great honor to have your colleagues have that confidence in you to be able to lead them into the next few years,’’ he said. “I’m really excited about the kinds of things I think we can do here in Lowell.’’

That his election came on what was initially a divided vote is not a concern for Murphy.

“It’s just part of the process,’’ he said. “Politics is really about how you reconcile your differences. You expect there to be some sort of dissent.’’

Supporters of Elliott had pointed to the fact that he is an eight-term councilor who finished second in the November council race - Murphy finished fourth - and had not served previously as mayor.

‘It’s obviously a great honor to have your colleagues have that confidence in you to be able to lead them into the next few years.’

Patrick O. Murphy Newly appointed mayor
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But City Councilor Joe Mendonca, who backed Elliott, said he was not disappointed to see Murphy take the post.

“It was just my preference’’ that Elliott be selected because of the number of terms he had served, Mendonca said, adding that Murphy “has the energy and the enthusiasm that would be a positive for the position.’’

Howe, who is Northern Middlesex Register of Deeds, said he is excited about what Murphy can bring to the mayoral position.

“During his tenure as city councilor, he made many motions that were very strategic and very innovative. . . . I think both because of his age and his way of thinking, this is going to be a transitional moment in the power structure of Lowell,’’ Howe said.

Among his goals as mayor are to help Lowell build upon the state designation it has earned as a green community, said Murphy, who in his first term actively supported the city’s efforts to secure that status.

“I think the city could do quite a bit more in terms of storm-water management and building a network of green spaces,’’ he said.

He also wants to see the city expand upon LowellStat, a management tool that uses data analysis in decision making.

Another priority is to try to ensure the success of a new city policy to divert its funds from national banks to community banks that promise to invest in local small businesses.

Part of a fifth-generation Lowell family, Murphy is the son of retired Lowell schoolteachers Joan and Dan Murphy.

When he was a young child, his family moved to Wilmington. Along with his twin brother, Dan, and his sister, Gráinne, Murphy attended Phillips Academy Andover, graduating in 2000.

Following high school, Murphy attended American University in Washington and later Trinity College in Dublin, where he studied for a year and a half.

An amateur boxer since his high school days, Murphy while in Ireland became the junior welterweight intervarsity champion for Irish colleges and universities.

Starting in high school, Murphy had worked during vacations as a laborer for a masonry business run by two cousins.

Following his return from Ireland, he began to work full time for the business, and today he works for it as a stone and brick mason.

In recent years, he also attended Tufts University in pursuit of his bachelor’s degree but dropped that last summer, for the time being, to attend to work and council demands.

A distinct feature of his political career - which began with an unsuccessful run as an independent in the 2007 special election for Congress in the 5th district - is that Murphy refused all campaign contributions.

“I don’t like to ask people for money,’’ Murphy said, adding that he regards money as “one of the most corrosive parts of our politics today.’’

He said he hopes he has been able to show “a different path to victory.’’

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