In the Wake of Coogan-gate: What Comes Next?

 

Democracy is not dead in Fall River, contrary to belief.  Owing to the public clamor over his scandalous promotion of Lt. Michael Coogan as interim fire chief three weeks ago, Mayor William Flanagan has since removed Coogan from that position, demoted him in rank and is on paid administrative leave on Coogan’s lieutenant salary.  The contribution of the unyielding investigative reporting by the Herald News and the outrage by the fire department personnel and citizens of Fall River that the mayor would promote a lieutenant, and a political supporter, over more qualified deputy chiefs and captains in such a crucial role that affects the citizens’ own public safety, has made the rectification of this erroneous appointment possible.  But is the issue of “Coogan-gate” over?   Are we to assume all is laid to rest with Mayor Flanagan’s reversal of his own decision?  Giving pause to reflect, there is still uneasiness in the air…

For something is still rotten in the state of Denmark.

If Mr. Flanagan believes that he somehow has resolved a problem, of his very own creation no less, and quelled the masses’ ire and talks of a possible recall election, then it is a gross miscalculation on the mayor’s part and an insult to the intelligence of the people of Fall River.  This act of an indefinite paid leave of absence is a more blatant example of arrogance and betrayal of the people’s vote than the actual appointment.  Essentially what the mayor’s action translates to folks is that rewarding political supporters still remains a practice in his administration and the mayor’s refusal to admit to his own culpability.  Let us not forget that Flanagan only “put out this fire” due to the heat and furor generated by the Herald News and the fire fighters and citizens of Fall River, not because he (Flanagan) reassessed his decision on his own and believed he erred in his vetting and his confidence in Coogan. 

Think about it for a minute…

Incredibly, in the short time span from the recent election to present day, Flanagan’s abuse of political power has reached the point with the people of Fall River where they have had enough and their voices are being heard.  What Flanagan has unwittingly done is empowered the citizens of Fall River into believing that they, for the first time in God knows how long, feel they make a difference in the city and their lives; all in his quest to strengthen his political power and career by rewarding jobs to his political supporters and dismissing city employees that did not.  It is sad commentary when the people are united, not in support of Flanagan and his administration to lead the city forward, but in contempt and disgust toward the mayor’s lack of leadership, sincerity and integrity that are basic requirements to govern respectably and successfully.  

During the mayor’s first two years, he was able to sway potential voters with his “bread and circus”-style of politics which helped shroud his mistakes and character to voters.  While the chow mein sandwiches at functions and photo ops of walking along a crosswalk being repainted may have worked well enough for him to win re-election, today is a different day.  Where the first term of Flanagan’s administration was like that of fictional character Willie Stark’s in “All the King’s Men”, this past month has resembled more like President Nixon’s in “All the President’s Men”. 

I would not rest easy Mr. Mayor as the people are studying your record and current actions now with clarity and unrelenting scrutiny as your character and ability to lead are now in question.  

We can only imagine what is being said on the sixth floor of city hall these days.  I envision a scenario where Flanagan is standing near the west balcony on the sixth floor, staring expressionlessly toward the cold blue hue of the Braga Bridge as he utters out loud to himself a line spoken by Admiral Yamamoto at the end of the 1970 film “Tora, Tora, Tora”, “I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”  Indeed you have Mr. Flanagan, indeed you have.  Your days of taking the people and the city of Fall River for granted are over …

 

We are watching.

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Cronyism: A Fall River Staple

Cronyism has always existed at City Hall in Fall River to some degree, but it is only within the last 30 years has this backdoor practice of political nepotism been followed too frequently in preventing Fall River from moving forward.  Instead of hiring qualified, talented people with ideas, vision and integrity in important key roles for the betterment of Fall River, those pivotal positions have been occupied by under-qualified people as political favors by higher ranked officials thus keeping Fall River in an inert state.  No one has to look for an example any further than what has transpired in our fair city of Fall River in the last couple of weeks.

After only one week of being re-elected to a second term as mayor of Fall River, Mayor Will Flanagan with total disregard to the safety of the people that elected him, installed Lt. Michael Coogan, head of the union local in the Fall River Fire Department and a staunch supporter of his re-election campaign, as interim Fire Chief.  This move was completely disrespectful in bypassing several deputy chiefs and captains more qualified for that position.  Flanagan, to add more insult to injury, stated that the position of Fire Chief is Coogan’s job “to lose”.  In doing so, Flanagan has not only abused the vote of the people, but is now playing with their very lives by appointing someone under-qualified for such a crucial position.  This is cronyism at its despicable worst.

Mr. Flanagan, learning the tricks of the trade of a political wonk through the expense of the citizens of Fall River, has demonstrated the uncanny ability to understand the ideology of Fall River and using it to his full advantage.  While his brief record as mayor should be enough to convince anyone that his inexperience and immaturity is not in the best interest for Fall River and its citizens, he has otherwise convinced enough through the enticements of chow mein sandwiches and a plethora of un-endearing photo ops to let us know that he is “engaged and willing to serve Fall River”.  This cannot be a more bogus, politically engineered spectacle if there ever was one.  Recently, Flanagan has been reported to be considering running for retiring Barney Frank’s seat in the House of Representatives. If true, Flanagan’s sincerity, dedication and loyalty to Fall River after only 22 months as mayor is appropriately suspect.

Some citizens have donned rose colored glasses and horse-blinders in failing to see Mayor Flanagan’s indefensible erroneous policy decisions (favoring a casino over the Bio-Park), baseless claims (bringing TPI to Fall River, which was set in motion prior to his administration), suspicious practices of political gain through people’s livelihood (the AFSCME union debacle), and the redirection of funds for street repair to help another political backer with the Davol St. project. Looking objectively at this appointment of Mr. Coogan, there can be no denying the nature of its absurdity.  As we have the capability to learn from our mistakes, the mayor should learn from his as well.  Mr. Flanagan, during his re-election campaign, continually re-iterated he has made mistakes.  While this might seem a noble characteristic to admit ones errors, it is by far nobler to correct them.

It is not too late for the mayor to remedy this ill-advised choice, but he must do it soon in order to save the morale of not just the fire department, but also of the people and their confidence in his leadership.  Since the mayor is “always caring about Fall River”, as his campaign slogan suggests, then he must do what is right for the city and its people, for the citizens are now seeing things more clearly and with some anger behind it.

If the mayor refuses to acknowledge and resolve this miscalculation, then I urge the good citizens of Fall River to heed these words: if Mayor Flanagan retains Mr. Coogan after 90 days as the new permanent Fire Chief of the Fall River Fire Department, it is strongly urged that we, the good people of Fall River, set forth in motion a petition for a recall election.  Fall River in its present state cannot afford to have cronyism and the current abuse of mayoral powers to be the norm of city policy and leave the city a languid mess.

For the future of Fall River, we deserve better than this.