LAWRENCE — Thirty-six years after his first campaign for mayor went off the tracks, a self-described inventor with a dream to build a levitated train that would connect the city to Boston in eight minutes is making another run for the office.
In the nearly four decades since he last run for mayor as a 25-year-old, James Patrick O’Donoghue, now 62, has spent the time tweaking the design of his so-called “maglev” — for magnetically levitated — train to correct the defects of similar trains now operating in China and Germany.
He said his love for Lawrence is at the root of his life-long effort.
“I came up with the invention many years ago when posing the question in my mind, ‘How do you change Lawrence?,’” O’Donoghue said about his design for the train, then slipped into slightly mind-numbing engineer-speak about the patented safety feature he developed to override “any possible loss of levitation” by the train so that its “undercarriage lock(s) tangent to the guide-way to ride out the failure.” The concept received patent number 5,651,318, with 24 registered claims, but so far it has no investors.
So O’Donoghue has gone back on the campaign trail for mayor, where he has wrapped much of the effort around his maglev proposal, and where tongue-twisters have continued.
“Municipal services are priced to fit the general U.S. economy while in ratio Lawrence’s residents per capita income is too low to support the additional tax burden to pay for all services on our own,” he said about the city’s decline as the mills closed over the last century.
He said the fix to the decades of decline is building a Greater Lawrence Metropolitan Transit System to deliver Boston-bound commuters to Lawrence, where they would be whisked to Boston aboard his maglev train.
The plan would offer a one-stop solution to the city’s thorniest and most persistent problems, attracting developers, jacking up the city’s bond rating, increasing tax revenues, creating jobs and improving test scores in the schools, O’Donoghue said.
O’Donoghue initially declined to be interviewed for this story, except by an emailed offer to meet “on my own terms” and with a reporter other than the one who was assigned. When the newspaper did not respond, he emailed a follow up offer yesterday with the subject line “starting over,” in which he agreed to be interviewed but only at a family-owned restaurant in New Hampshire.
The newspaper again did not respond. The paper’s only contact with the candidate for this story were by email and at a candidate’s debate Tuesday night.
At the debate, O’Donoghue mocked economic development efforts by Lantigua and former Mayor Michael Sullivan, ridiculing the recent opening of a CVS drug store on Broadway that Lantigua regularly showcases as an example of his success. O’Donoghue said the CVS only replaced an undertaker with a pharmacist that will offer little more than “minimum-wage sales clerk jobs” on a site where he said a 40-story building should have been built.
“This has been called economic development because the level of thinking in Lawrence has been minimum for too long,” O’Donoghue said. “Lawrence suffered a major blow during the 1950s and it is going to take major economic development effort to make up for the losses.”
O’Donoghue is the son of a former Lawrence cop. After failing to get past the preliminary election in 1977, he endorsed incumbent Mayor John Buckley, who lost to Lawrence LeFebre in the general election.
The campaign finance report he submitted Tuesday suggests his second campaign for mayor also is running off the rails. He has just $38 in the bank.
Bio in Brief Born: Lawrence in 1951. Education: Greater Lawrence Technical School, 1969. Work history: Declined to be interviewed. A biography on his Facebook page says he is an "inventor and local historian (who has) worked in architecture, engineering, urban planning." He holds several U.S. patents, including some involving the design of a magnetically levitated train he has proposed to connect Lawrence and Boston. Political experience: 1977 candidate for mayor. Family: Married