The Trump phenomenon nationally has manifested itself even in Worcester. Our local Trump is Michael Gaffney, the city council member, and his enabler, the local Bretbart, Turtleboy Sports. Anyone who is progressive or moderate should commit themselves to defeating their agenda.
In general, Worcester should be proud of its leadership bodies. We have a progressive mayor and several good council members who have collectively avoided the corruption that has been endemic in nearby cities (Providence, for example). While it’s hard to argue that the Plan E form of government is a sparkling example of democracy, the city has also benefited in recent years from a steady executive leadership by city manager Ed Augustus, whose contract was just renewed, as well as a good police department, an improving school system, and other municipal accomplishments.
Worcesterites are not known for hiding their opinions, and anyone who’s been in the city for more than a minute knows that there are complaints, most especially around things like whatever is going on in the Hamilton Street construction, the city’s snowplowing (or lack thereof), and so on. Still, it looks as if the snow issue is being settled, Hamilton is returning to normal, and the most common refrain I’ve heard from Worcesterites in the past few years is something along the lines of, “We’re lucky to be in this city.” I’ve always sung Worcester’s praises, even when away, first for work, then to finish college, and then for work again. But since I’ve returned, I’ve noted this refrain more and more – people really are happy with the city. The old underdog pride of the 80s and 90s is being replaced by a sense of optimism. The new restaurants, increased investment, strong positive motion around the WRTA, the demolition of the twice-failed downtown mall in favor of something truly innovative, our extraordinary mix of culture and ethnic groups – all living relatively harmoniously in close proximity to each other – a police department worlds away from the scandals that have plagued others in cities large and small across the country…the list goes on.
All of this makes it particularly strange, and particularly distressing, that there has emerged a vicious strain of vitriol out of a particular corner of the city council. I’m referring, of course, to Council Member Michael Gaffney, cheered on by the ridiculous Turtle Boy Sports (TBS) blog, as well as longtime council member Konnie Lukes. Gaffney has hurled unfounded accusations at other council members, most particularly CM Sarai Rivera and Mayor Joe Petty, as well as the city manager and others. Gaffney/TBS have even accused Rivera and Rep. McGovern of being part of some sort of “crime family.”
What we are watching is the Trump phenomenon writ small. The parallels between Gaffney and Trump, and TBS and Bretbart, are astounding. Like Trump, Gaffney is a narcissist (in his most recent video blog, he took umbrage with a journalist who criticized his hair and then bragged about how many views his videos had) who champions a fake populism, while TBS runs fake or dishonestly slanted news stories aimed more at defaming than informing, and insults whole swaths of the city. TBS wrote in an article on a recent stabbing, for example, “…normal people don’t meet chicks on Acton Street. Take a trip there sometime and you’ll understand why.” That’s my neighborhood, around the corner from where my mother lived for decades, a few blocks from my home now. It’s the neighborhood I moved back to because I love it – what exactly are you trying to say about it?
Like the president-elect and his mouthpiece, the local duo defames innocent people trying to do their job, or to better society, calling them criminals or corrupt. For example, under pressure from Gaffney, and a general confusion about the rules and what constitutes an actual conflict of interest, the council voted to not fund the demolition of a condemned former church because it was connected to CM Rivera. Gaffney accused Rivera of corruption, insinuating that she had worked with the city’s executive agencies to demolish “her” building, so that she wouldn’t have to pay for it herself.
This is, like many of Trump’s accusations, completely insane. The city determined six buildings in need of being torn down and decided it would demolish them. After doing so, it would put a lien on the properties – meaning that when the owners did sell them, any money would have to go directly to the city, before anyone else, to pay for the demolition. In essence, the city would do the work and issue a bill. In what would in any other time be a basic administrative move, the city manager asked the council to approve left over money from a previous year’s block grant for such purposes. However, Gaffney, upon finding that one of the properties belonged to a church associated with Rivera and her husband, Rev. Encarnacion, went on the warpath and started hurling accusations. A lawyer by trade, Gaffney knows enough libel law to just barely avoid being libelous: he used terms like “it seems like” or “it looks like” when describing the nonexistent corruption.
Of course, when pressed on whether there actually is a “fellowship of corruption,” Gaffney stayed silent. What else can you do when you can’t legally lie, and political expediency doesn’t allow you to retract your dishonest remarks?
It’s worth watching the city council meeting discussion of the subject, which took place Nov. 22 and is available here in full. It is nearly impossible to come away from the viewing – unless has the same dystopian worldview as Trump’s most diehard supporters – without any notions of corruption being shattered. The problem is, though, that hardly anyone watches city council meetings, but people do, unfortunately, read Turtleboy Sports.
Gaffney attacked a church and its minister, even going so far, and being so petty, as to drop the salutation “Rev.” at one point in his remarks, referring to “Mr. Encarnacion.” This church, in Main South, works to provide employment training, to serve and help settle refugees, operates a thrift store, offers bread to the community, and so on. In more civilized times, a council member would respect a man of the cloth and an institution working on behalf of the community, even if only because they are his constituents.
But this is Worcester’s Trump: a petty bully who is happy to attack his constituents and to make up stories about them, as well as to rely on the pseudo-media to get his words out. Mayor Petty, visibly upset at the Nov. 22 council meeting, made an important statement on the lack of “decorum,” as he referred to the generally civil atmosphere of pre-Gaffney times, and it is worth watching, as is the opening statement of CM Russell (who did, though, become confused by the discussion and ultimately vote against the church – for now), and the excellent statements by Rev. Encarnacion and CM King, as well as the points of information injected by the city manager and others. (It’s worth noting that Mayor Petty, under attack from Gaffney, made a point of holding everyone to the same measure; he ensured that speakers treated Gaffney with respect.)
Trumpism is a national phenomenon, and it expresses itself in different ways in different places. For us in Worcester, it is being led by Michael Gaffney (who has himself recently attempted to capitalize on anti-immigrant sentiments) and Turtleboy Sports. Anyone who doesn’t like the national discourse should do all that they can to oppose their agenda, including fighting to make sure Gaffney isn’t reelected.
(On a side note, Gaffney’s not open for discussion: I posted a comment on his page a couple of times, and he simply deleted it without response. While I criticized him, I did not insult him. One would think that an at-large council member would at least attempt to hear his constituents.)
Photo (Mike Benedetti, used under a Creative Commons License): The real Turtleboy, in front of the only site in Worcester that was ever sleazier than the one currently using the Turtle name.