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Should a State Senator Continue to Serve As a City Councilor?

August 16, 2018

LOWELL -- City councilors Edward Kennedy and Rodney Elliott have sparred for years.

Most notably, they quarreled over the fiery Lowell High School siting debate last year -- Kennedy for downtown, and Elliott for Cawley Stadium.

Now, with both running for a Senate seat, they differ over whether a city councilor should also serve as a state senator at the same time.

Kennedy says he’s committed to staying on the council until the loan-order vote for the Lowell High School project, which is expected to take place in May or June -- five or six months into the Senate term.

Elliott, on the other hand, said he would give up his council seat if elected to the Statehouse on day one.

Kennedy said many residents have contacted him about staying on the council until the loan-order vote to ensure there are six votes for the loan order.

“When I realized people were concerned about me leaving the City Council because of the vote, I made the commitment to stay on for that vote,” Kennedy said.

From all indications, it appears that the council would have six votes for the loan order without Kennedy on the board. Seven of the nine councilors elected last year support the downtown high school project.

Kennedy is one of five Democrats running for the 1st Middlesex Senate District, vacated by City Manager Eileen Donoghue. One Republican, John MacDonald, is running for the seat.

Elliott is another Democratic candidate in the race. Elliott said Wednesday that he’d be a full-time state senator.

“It’s not right to hold two elected offices,” Elliott said. “The public deserves a person committed to the job.”

Elliott vowed that he would not hold another office if elected this fall.

Lowell city councilors receive a $25,000 annual salary and the option to join the city-paid health insurance plan.

The base annual salary for a state senator is $62,500. Other benefits include health care and $15,000 for office expenses -- which goes toward mileage reimbursement, printing, postage and more.

City councilors are allowed to serve in the Statehouse at the same time. For instance, Cambridge City Councilor Tim Toomey was elected to the council in 1989. Then a few years later, he was elected as a state representative, and served both roles for more than 20 years.

“In my instance, it’d only be for a few months,” Kennedy said.

“After that (loan order) vote, there’d be nothing to compel me to remain on the council,” he added.

Last year, then-Rep. and Attleboro Mayor-elect Paul Heroux said he wanted to hold both jobs. He had said he wanted to try to get some of his priority legislation through the House before he resigned.

But then Heroux resigned from the Statehouse after intense criticism, including from Gov. Charlie Baker and House Republicans.

In 2010, then-Rep. and Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua resigned from the Statehouse amid growing pressure from legislators, who questioned whether he could serve in both positions at once. Lantigua’s critics also said he shouldn’t be collecting two public salaries.

Back then, Lowell Rep. Tom Golden filed legislation that would prohibit anyone from serving simultaneously as the chief executive of a city or town and in the Legislature. It would have banned municipal executives, but not members of the city council or school committee or other elected boards, from serving in the Legislature. Democratic leaders backed off the bill after Lantigua agreed to resign.

The demands for a Lowell city councilor are significantly less than those as a mayor of Attleboro or Lawrence.

If Kennedy was having schedule issues, then he’d “have to make other arrangements,” he said.

“I don’t see it being a problem, though,” Kennedy said. “I’d like to point out that most people on the City Council have full-time jobs as well.”

When asked whether there would be a conflict-of-interest serving as both a city councilor and state senator, Kennedy responded, “Why would there be?”

“A state senator acts in a way that’s usually in unison with a City Council and Board of Selectmen,” Kennedy said.

Another Democrat in the race, John Drinkwater, acknowledged that other members in the Statehouse have served as local officials concurrently.

“It’d be up to the voters to decide whether they’re doing both jobs adequately,” Drinkwater said.

Terry Ryan, another Democrat on the Sept. 4 primary ballot, said it’s the candidate’s decision to work in both roles. However, Ryan stressed that the state Senate position is a full-time job.

Bill Martin, also in the race, said that a city councilor also serving as senator is “less than ideal.”

“But I don’t have an issue with it for a limited period of time,” Martin said.

His larger issue is the two city councilors in the primary, Kennedy and Elliott, voting for the city manager position -- and then running for the Senate position. The council vote for Donoghue opened up this Senate vacancy.

“People I talk to are more concerned about that than somebody staying on the council for a couple of months,” Martin said.

Elliott had reached out to the State Ethics Commission for an opinion on participating in the city manager selection while a Senate candidate. The commission said there was no conflict.

The five Democrats will debate the issues Thursday night at UMass Lowell. The state Senate debate starts at 6 p.m.at University Crossing.

Information from the State House News Service was used in this report.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.