Newburyport, Tom Ryan Launches the Undertoad Blog

I love it. Yesterday, April 9, 2006, Tom Ryan launched the Undertoad Blog, the web address is Since the first post was about the axing of Nick Cracknell as Newburyport’s Planning Director, I think the launching of this blog is a “call to arms.” Think about it Mr. Moak, Tom Ryan won’t just be able to torment you every two weeks, he’ll be able to do it every day if he feels like it.

From the phone calls and emails I’ve gotten, people are distressed beyond belief about Mr. Cracknell’s forced departure and are already thinking of ways to band together and to do whatever is necessary.

“Oy, Vey,” Mr. Moak. Very, very, very bad move indeed.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

(Editor’s Note: The Undertoad Blog is no longer up.)

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Nick Cracknell Axed

Nick Cracknell has been axed. Wow is this not good. Just when I was going to write a post on how Mayor John Moak seemed to learn from previous mistakes. Timothy Brennan being the new NRA nominee. No baggage, no screaming red flags, saying all the right things in the press, certainly looks like the Newburyport City Council would approve him on the first a second reading, much to the relief of everybody. Mr. Moak’s “F” as mayor was going to be lifted to a “C-” possibly a “C+.” Not now.

This is bad. This is really, really bad. I hope it wasn’t as Tom Ryan the editor of the Undertoad speculated in retaliation for certain Newburyport City Councilors who did not vote for his first NRA nominee, Byron Matthews (April 7, 2006 issue.)

If Mr. Ryan could be right, this actually would reflect the bad part about what I learned about good old Bossy Gillis (see earlier post), the enemy thing. Not good for a political leader. Grudges and resentment, poison for any administration. Human, yes. Good idea, no. Remember Nixon?

My guess is that people would feel incensed that the person who has kept developers in check has been dismissed. My guess also is that anti-developer activists are going to come out of the walls, and they are going to be enraged. Heads-up to developers and architects and power players (to quote Harvey Beit, see earlier post) who were not terribly fond of Mr. Cracknell. The good news is you are rid of your “thorn in the thigh,” so to speak. The bad news is you most likely will have a lot of very angry folks watching your every move and phoning and emailing the mayor and the Newburyport City Council every time there is a hint of what anyone would think of as a development or design or anti-historic impropriety.

And no, it is my belief that no one will be able to put a muzzle on the angry mob. For developers and architects, Mr. Cracknell’s tenure these last 4 years are going to seem like a trip to the spa. Remember the spirit of Bossy Gillis thing. By golly you’ve seen it in activists in Newburyport, Massachusetts in all sorts of ways. And when it’s turned towards you, well, it won’t be pretty. Ouch.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, the Spirit of Bossy Gillis Lives On, Heads-Up Mr. Karp

Ok, I’ve finished reading the book/biography of Bossy Gillis by Peter Jacobs that the library recommended. So I now know 100 pages more about Bossy Gillis than I did before.

In the biography Mr. Jacobs comments that John P. Marquand had observed about Bossy Gillis that “It almost seems as though another Timothy Dexter had arrived.” And after reading Mr. Jacobs’ biography it almost feels as if another Bossy Gillis has arrived–the similarities between Bossy Gillis and Tom Ryan, the editor of Newburyport’s local journal, the Undertoad, are a little spooky.

Both love/loved a fight. One of the things I learned was that Bossy Gillis took on the old wealthy, Yankee, High Street establishment and beat them. Mr. Ryan has taken on a whole host of folks that most people wouldn’t even dream of confronting. Both have had trouble with the issue of libel (please, please make sure you read the disclaimer on the “Guidelines” page.) Bossy Gillis went to jail for 9 months. Mr. Ryan was found not guilty because the United States Constitution allows free speech. (Why this free speech thing didn’t apply to Bossy Gillis, I don’t quite understand–this is a blog remember not a history lesson.)

And Bossy Gillis published his own newspaper called “Asbestos” because, ” ‘it was so hot to read it had to be printed on asbestos,’ ” and it “became a town conversation piece and brought Bossy a host of new enemies with each edition.” Does that sound weirdly familiar or what?

All of this cheers me up immensely. Yup, it does.

There’s something about the spirit of this town that I love. Can you imagine an Untertoad flourishing in some place, let’s say like Wellesley. No, I don’t think so. (Now people in Wellesley might think this is a good thing.) But the Undertoad has flourished for over 10 years in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

As an artist I would wither and die in a place like Wellesley, Massachusetts, but the spirit of Newburyport seems to suit me just fine. We have a Yankee version of a “live and let live” attitude along with a subtle gutsy and defiant spirit.

So yes, this brings me to the subject of Mr. Karp, Stephen Karp, Newburyport’s very wealthy and powerful new landlord. If you’ve been reading the Newburyport Political Blog for a while, you know that I have been worried that all that money and all that power could stamp out the feisty, individualistic spirit of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

But, if Nantucket is capable of voting against chain stores to preserve its small town character, the people of Newburyport are quite capable of that if needed, and much, much more. Boy, can we as a city make people’s lives miserable if we feel it’s necessary.

So heads-up Mr. Karp, the spirit of Bossy Gillis is alive and well in Newburyport, Massachusetts. It’s been around for centuries and my guess is it will be here forever.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport and Stephen Karp

If you read the Newburyport Daily News, April 6, 2006, you might have been as concerned as I was. On the FrontPage is the headline, “Developer’s plan slowly evolving.” I thought to myself before I read it, “Finally, a chance to see what the future might hold for the waterfront.” I wasn’t so naive as to think the great Mr. Karp would unveil his plan for a beautiful park along the western edge of the waterfront district, but I certainly was disturbed by what few details he and his group decided to share with us. 100 housing units? That can’t be, I told myself, but a second glance only confirmed it. Can you imagine that? 100 housing units! Granted, Mr. Cox went on to say that they are planning on “considerably less,” but would you take that bet? I certainly wouldn’t, not from a group and a developer that has been as murky as this one. For them “considerably less” may mean 80 new housing units, if they are telling us the truth at all. They also mention that a hotel will be part of the final plan. Again, that concerns me, because they admit they don’t even know where to put it as of yet.

Now, of course a lot of the “right” things are said in the article, such as, “We’re meeting a lot to develop a plan that works what the city wants, economically works, and is sensitive to the downtown.” Do they really care about what the city wants? Do they really care about being sensitive to downtown? I don’t know, I pray that they do but when it all boils down, we all know it’s about how much money can be made. (Not that it is necessarily a bad thing, but the fact that no one ever comes right out and says its about the money means there is something flawed with that thought)

I’ve been trying to avoid the whole Chicken Little mentality and have been looking for some positives regarding Waterfront West, but its been hard. I see a lot of things that can go very wrong, all of them more or less permanent. I see a terrible traffic situation getting much, much worse. I see the beauty of the waterfront getting blocked out by new development. Its kind of funny, there is so much passion and opinion when it comes to the waterfront parking lots, and very little once you leave the boundaries of the NRA. If Mr. Karp’s plans go through (so far there is no reason to think they won’t), and Mayor Moak gets his way, you can more or less say good by to the waterfront as we know it. Sure the boardwalk will still be there, and there will be a whole host of shops and condo’s and cafés to the west where you might be able to enjoy the views of the water, but in the end the only real place to enjoy the waterfront is going to be the small park at the center of it all, surrounded by parking. We, as Newburyporters, had something very special and now it is almost all but gone, and looking back I think a lot of us are going to say, how could that have happened? I hope Mr. Cox is right, when he says, “If people say ‘Wow, they did this right’ – ultimately that would be the achievement.” I really hope they do it right, but something tells me that wishful thinking isn’t going to stand between a billionaire and his money.

Ben Laing, Newburyport

Ebb and Flow on the Newburyport Political Blog

One of the things that I’ve finding doing the Newburyport Political Blog is that there is a certain rhythm to it. I have some very primitive “stats,” statistics, but they give me a general idea of the ebb and flow of the readership of the Newburyport Political Blog.

Now, I don’t have a degree in journalism, and I’ve never taken a journalism course in my life, so this is probably not exactly ground breaking information, but I’m really fascinated by it.

Readership is definitely event oriented. I can really sympathize with local media when nothing particular is going on. Believe me, I never thought I would say that one. Luckily for me, the Newburyport Political Blog is a hobby, not a job.

On the blog, I can start to feel when a “story” starts to build. When Mayor John Moak actually axed Mary Lou Supple and then to top it off apparently was thinking of trying to replace her with former mayor Byron Matthews, readership on the Newburyport Political Blog shot right up. The stats doubled the day I put the post up about some of the not so good things that Byron Matthews had done when he was mayor.

Now, I thought that was going to be a “throw away” post, so to speak, because Tom Ryan, the editor of the Undertoad had already published that information the day before. I figured it was old, old news.

But I guess the Newburyport Political Blog had slowly been building up to the fact that Byron Matthews was not the right choice for the appointment, and that post must have felt like a culmination, if you will (I wanted to use the word “orgasmic,” but decided on “culmination” instead.) And then readership started to level off again.

I would imagine that the next big “story” for the Newburyport Political Blog looks like it might be the decision Mayor John Moak makes regarding Newburyport’s Planning Director, Nick Cracknell, especially if axing is involved. One can almost anticipate the sizzle on that one. (I have a feeling that I’m going to have an acute case of Spring Fever by the end of April, the doctor may recommend some serious blog rest, so who knows, the Newburyport Political Blog may miss the whole sizzling sensation thing.)

It could also be the story that Nantucket voted to ban chain stores, yesterday’s April 6, 2006, Boston Globe, Associated Press story. The motive being to preserve “quaint, small town atmosphere.”

Love it. Let me tell you, this works for me. It must also work for a lot of people in Newburyport too, because the Newburyport Political Blog ended up getting a lot of “Mary, have you seen this one!” emails yesterday. Heads-up City Council. Heads-up Mr. Karp.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, The Undertoad, Guess What, We Need It

I thought since people are already “upset” with me because I take Newburyport’s political journal, the Undertoad with some seriousness, I thought, what the heck, I’m going to come right out and say it, I think the Undertoad is really important to the city of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Yup, how about them apples.

If all those people who have been “Toaded” were upset with me before, imagine how pleased they are going to be with me now.

A paper like the Newburyport Daily News is in a kind of a bind. It needs to keep it fairly light and not too controversial because it depends on its advertisers. I don’t imagine the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank would hang around for very long if the Newburyport Daily News started to aggressively rake them over the coals for tearing down One Temple Street, which was part of Newburyport’s historic down town. Yes, they did do some articles, but they were balanced.

And looking back at the article the Newbuyrport Daily News did on Nick Cracknell earlier this year, it was quite frankly, more balanced towards the business community. Important members of the community really got to sound off on how frustrated they were with Mr. Cracknell’s approach, shall we say.

Important things that happen in the community slowly, very slowly and gingerly start making their way to the front page of the Newburyport Daily News.

Reading that Bossy Gillis was “honest, tough, resilient and, when aroused, politically cruel,” reminded me of guess who, yes, Mr. Ryan the editor of the Undertoad. People who have been “Toaded” (and their families and friends) have a really hard time getting beyond the politically mean aspect of the Undertoad, and let’s face it, it’s lousy being “Toaded,” yes, it really, really hurts a lot.

But there is the “honest, tough and resilient” part of the Undertoad. Without the kind of background information and press, the Access Road might now well be a reality, and the Open Space that has been acquired, might not be in existence. As I remember it, the anti Access Road was talked about in the Undertoad way before it became politically correct enough to be able to make the front page of the Newburyport Daily News.

And the CPA, well Mr. Ryan went to bat for that in a big way. And I remember when so many of us banded together and put yellow bows of caution tape around the trees for the Yankee Homecoming Parade. I kept thinking, why isn’t there a front page story in the Newburyport Daily News about this? Talk about a good picture opportunity. Talk about a great story. It took a very long time for High Street to make front page news, and then it did in a big way. But the Undertoad talked about the fight to save High Street over and over again. Jane Carolan’s article a “Call to Arms” which was front page on the Undertoad in the early winter of 1999, did in fact become a “call to arms.”

Could we as a community have used an Undertoad when the waste treatment facility and the oil refining project were being seriously considered? You bet cha. Could we as a community have used an Undertoad when the powers that be were considering razing downtown Newburyport instead of restoring it? Yup.

Think about it, the future of Newburyport with Mr. Karp as a major landlord is unknown. Who else in town would be gutsy enough to take a good long hard look at what Mr. Karp is up to and if it’s not good, let everybody know about it. Not me, I can tell you that. Big power, big money, I’m chicken.

So folks, as much as there is this love, hate relationship with Newburyport’s Undertoad, as a wild left-wing, radical progressive (you know this is hyperbole right?) we need the Undertoad for all sorts of reasons that we don’t even know about yet.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, NRA, Survival Mode or Celebrate

Having wondered about where we as a city could be headed (see previous post,) and the fact that it seems to me that we’ve come through survival and restoration years, I was thinking how all of that relates to the current fight about Newburyport’s waterfront. And the almost visceral reaction that people had towards Byron Matthews as the nominee for the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA) board.

If Mr. Matthews could be seen as part of the “restoration generation,” part of the survival and rebirth part of Newburyport’s recent history, what I am wondering is that maybe people want to move on to whatever is next, whatever that may be.

I think that this may also be part of people’s puzzlement about Mayor John Moak’s fiscally conservative approach to governing. Newburyport appears to be out of a survival mode. Although I think fiscal prudence is always a good idea, Yankee that I am, I feel the sense people have is that maybe, finally we can relax a little bit.

I feel like the fight over the waterfront has to be symbolic in some way. It is the last remnant of a survival mode–dusty, ugly, Appalachian like, dirt parking lots. It is almost a symbol of what will happen to the city next. Do we stay in a survival mode or do we move on and celebrate a little bit?

I think paving the entire waterfront feels like the old survival mode. All park seems a little “giddy” for this Yankee town. But the idea of half parking and half park seems just about right. We are out of the survival mode, but we are not going to forget what has come before us. Trying to leave behind the old fear thing (that in the survival/restoration years was well founded,) and move on to the cautious optimism thing.

I think too that those parking lots are still sitting there after more that thirty years also says something about the how hard it is to let go thing. It will be interesting to see if in fact we as a city hang onto them for another 30 years or if we can finally let go.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Bossy Gillis, Restoration Generation and Mr. Karp

Having learned a little bit about what I am now calling the “restoration mayors” or the “restoration generation” (has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it, better than “good old boys”) who according to Bill Plant’s articles in the Newburyport Daily News were the first of their generation to end the Bossy Gillis era, I realized I knew zip about Bossy Gillis himself, except that he was one of Newburyport most colorful characters.

I will admit I haven’t been to the archives at the Newburyport Public Library yet, and I haven’t gotten hold of what the library has told me is the book on Bossy Gillis. So all I know so far is what I’ve learned on the World Wide Web, which really isn’t that much.

I’ve learned, to quote Bill Plant, the Newburyport Daily News, November 24, 2003, that Bossy Gillis was “honest, tough, resilient and, when aroused, politically cruel.” That, “His fiscal policy was clear and consistent. Don’t spend any more than you have to for anything, and if that meant letting things go, they usually went.” I guess that means that Bossy Gillis was the ultimate “fiscal conservative” (see earlier post on “fiscal conservative”.) And that, “His political philosophy was simple and effective. Take care of your friends first, and never your enemies.”

I learned from other sources that he was “the people’s mayor.” That Bossy Gillis was a “outspoken, two-fisted, red-haired, Irish navy veteran.” This is from And on a forum somewhere on the World Wide Web I learned that Gillis was convicted of criminal libel, and campaigned from his cell at the Middleton jail.

What I’ve always liked about Newburyport politics is that yes, at its worse it’s about ego, and yes at its worse it’s about power and control, but from what I’ve seen that for our political leaders it’s never been about greed. And one of my questions has always been, was Bossy Gillis corrupt, like in money, greed, corrupt, because I had heard that stuff about the jail but didn’t know any of the details (and frankly I still don’t exactly know a whole lot of the details.) And the answer so far seems to be “no,” which continues to say a whole lot of good things about Newburyport, Massachusetts.

So, from what I can make out, the “Bossy Gillis years” and the “restoration years” have been about survival, not greed.

Now blog readers must be wondering where in the world the editor of the Newburyport Political Blog is going with this one. Well, the editor (me,) along with a whole lot of other people, has observed that within the last couple of years an amazing amount of money has come into Newburyport, Massachusetts. And yes, we have one very wealthy new landlord, Mr. Karp, who has not said a whole lot publicly about what he would like to do with all the property he now owns in Newburyport, Massachusetts (see earlier posts.)

This kind of money on this kind of scale always worries me. Obviously it worries a whole lot of other folks too. Obviously we are all going to have to wait to see how this one plays out over the years and decades. But I surely hope that this kind of money doesn’t stamp out Newburyport’s feisty spirit that is so manifest from all kinds of political points of view. And I also hope that as a city, politically we can keep the worse case scenario to “ego, power and control” and never go to “money, corruption and greed.” Pollyanna? Maybe.

What happens in a community after survival and rebirth? One would like to think it could be the celebration thing, but could it be the greed and entitlement thing? Scary thought.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Blog-Land

I thought that the Newburyport Political Blog was pretty neutral. Sure it has a “progressive” lean to it. The editor of the Newburyport Political Blog (me) is for “smart growth,” obviously I think Nick Cracknell is a first rate planning director and we as a city should do everything we can to keep him.

I disagree with a lot of points of view and policy making, but I try my best to see different points of view and appreciate them. One of my favorite quotes is “reasonable people can disagree.” (I’m not going to tell you who said that, because that will get even more people upset and I really don’t want that.)

I realize that I may not agree with people, but I also try to appreciate that I am talking about human beings, most of whom try really, really hard. The editor (me) is also willing to post different points of view as long as they are expressed according to the guidelines of the Newburyport Political Blog. I’m also more than willing to admit that I’m not exactly perfect and make tons of mistakes.

So I find it fascinating that the Newburyport Political Blog is somewhat “controversial.” And that the editor (me) is up there on the “controversial” scale.

“Progressives” are upset with me because I have the audacity to talk about Newburyport’s local journal, the Undertoad, with some seriousness. And probably anyone that’s been “Toaded,” i.e. raked over by Tom Ryan the editor of the Undertoad, no doubt is also pretty upset with me as well. And that’s a whole lot of people, if not almost everybody that’s been involved in politics or seriously involved in the city in someway. What nobody seems to get is that one day I most probably will be Toaded too. And when I do, I have my post all ready.

“Good old boys,” aren’t exactly thrilled with me because of my discussion about Byron Matthews.

And, yes, I will admit, I’ve been discussing John Moak’s learning curve as mayor in an unbelievable amount of depth. Unfortunately for Mr. Moak, he’s the first Newburyport mayor whose administration has been discussed in detail on a blog. No other mayor has had that awesome distinction simply because blogs are relatively new. Heads-up to all future mayors, apparently this is the “year of the local political blog”–evidently they are about to become an institution.

I realize too as I do various research on various subjects, that I’ve offended all kinds of people, even by saying things like Lime Street was once referred to as “Slime” Street, which btw it was (see earlier post.)

And I’m also a woman. And the fact that a woman (like we haven’t had women involved in politics before) has something to say about what’s going on seems to surprise people.

Advice to the editor of the Newburyport Political Blog (me), “Well, kiddo, that’s life, welcome to Blog-Land.”

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, the Waterfront as a Political Third Rail

I think it has become apparent one more time that the NRA waterfront is a political “third rail” if you will.

If I had Mayor John Moak’s ear, which I don’t, I would tell him that even trying to resolve the issue of the NRA waterfront that has been raging for over 30 years might in itself be overly ambitious. One of my favorite phrases is “baby steps get you to the top of the mountain.”

It might be prudent instead of trying to find someone to “make things happen,” which implies wrapping this whole waterfront thing up in an nice pretty bow, lickety split, that it might be a good idea simply to have the goal of moving this whole thing forward just slightly more. That alone would be huge and a major accomplishment.

I think we’ve experienced or are in the middle of experiencing the “two steps forward, three steps back” thing.

I would very much like to say to Mr. Moak, “inhale, take a deep breath, and step back for a moment.” The desire to finally see the waterfront issue wrapped up is an admirable one, but I’m still not counting on it happening in my lifetime. And I think if Mr. Moak relaxes and doesn’t expect it to happen in his lifetime either, that paradoxically my expectation would be that he might venture a little bit forwards towards having that goal realized, just on a smaller scale.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Moving On

I don’t know, I’ve been wailing and gnashing my teeth about the Byron Matthews nomination for a while now on the Newburyort Political Blog, so it feels kind of odd to be reading about the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the nomination in various periodicals. Lag time if you will.

The odd or nice thing about blogging is its immediacy. There’s no waiting 5 days to get your Letter to the Editor into the paper, only to have things evolve so fast that the letter could be irrelevant. You can comment on events in “real time” so to speak on a blog.

So I’m ready to move on to the next thing. I was glad to read in the Newburyport Current, March 31, 2006, that, “The challenge, he (Moak) said, is to find someone ‘ that has fortitude to make things happen and who’s not controversial.’ ” Whew.

In the same article John Moak says that the “two candidates who he considered along with Matthews are still in the running, although he said they are probably too busy to take on a time-consuming position on the NRA.”

The two “other” names that I have heard floating around, no fact checking here, were Norbert Carey and Jack Pramberg, definitely two controversial figures. And if there could be any truth in them, in the floating around part, those two nominees could cause almost, but not quite as much upheaval within the community.

The other name I hear floating about is that of John Norris. I would consider John Norris to be one of the “wise men.” Mr. Norris has his ego in check or at least is more than capable of checking it at the door. I would consider John Norris to be fair and balanced and I would think he would have a real shot at being appointed. In fact I think many of the Newburyport City Councilors would breath a sigh of relief if Mr. Norris’ name were proposed.

The caveat on this possibility is that being a “wise man,” I’m sure John Norris knows that this is the appointment from hell. I imagine that Mr. Norris would be quite aware and have the humility to realize that no one would be capable of filling Mary Lou Supple’s shoes. And that with all the contention about Mayor John Moak’s position on paving the entire waterfront, and the people’s very contentious disagreement with this, that he would be between a “rock and a hard place” so to speak.

I am also quite sure that John Norris would realize that the refusal of Byron Matthews’ nomination on the first reading is highly unusual, and that a great deal of thought and sleepless nights were part of that vote.

I’m sorry to put John Norris on the spot here. I can imagine that being a man who clearly does not want the limelight that he would not be pleased with me at all. But of all the names floating about, John Norris’ certainly makes the most sense to me.

I am also glad that Mayor Moak is not going to resubmit Byron Matthews’ name to the Newburyport City Council. All mayors are on steep learning curves and this mighty mess certainly has been quite a climber for Mr. Moak.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport