Michael and Coreen Gaffney’s announcement yesterday that they were withdrawing from the race for city council was something of a surprise, but not at all unexpected. It was also confirmation of a point made on this blog several weeks ago: what seemed like a powerful far-right movement in this city, led by Michael Gaffney and vocalized by Turtleboy Sports, has collapsed.
Turtleboy still has a website and a bunch of (easily bought) Facebook likes, but where is their influence? Like Gaffney, they couldn’t corral votes in the preliminary elections for their “Turtleboy ticket,” and it seems that no one in Worcester even bothers with them anymore. Look at their page: they took weeks to give away five coffee cups at one of their few remaining (paid) advertisers, most comments are from fake accounts or from out of town, and they can get barely anyone to post a pic saying “I am Turtleboy,” as they requested. Gone are the days when they could help to bring down nonprofit agencies and terrorize elected officials. Now they’re simply one of a million gossip sides for sad people, with a semi-local focus. And Gaffney didn’t even bother to inform them before he pulled out of the race. “We always win,” Aidan Kearney, the site’s founder and chief writer, likes to brag. But they lost.
While the Gaffneys gave some line about “new opportunities,” the most likely reason for their sudden departure is simple: they knew they would lose. They were busy putting up signs this past weekend, and ended their campaign Monday morning. A recent, unpublished poll put Michael Gaffney in last place in the city election. It’s likely that he had commissioned his own poll, the results of which he received Monday morning – the first business day after he put up those signs. Upon seeing how he placed, he calculated that it was better to save face by dropping out. They did all they could – including threatening the press – to keep their nasty politics in office, but failed.
Not the time to rest
Democratic campaigns and their staff and volunteers shouldn’t see this as a time to rest, though. Instead, the fall of the Gaffneys has to be seen as a call to redouble efforts: Democrats and progressives have the winds at their sails, and the voters, if they are brought to the polls, will deliver a resounding mandate for the city council and the school committee to continue the policies that have sparked the current renaissance.
Victories for Sarai Rivera in District 4 and Candy Carlson in District 2 are going to be great; a victory with huge turnout would be better. And while George Russell and Matt Wally’s victory over the Turtleboy backed candidate in their districts (3 and 1) will be good, as will be a victory for the progressive candidate in District 5, a wide margin of victory will give each a mandate to continue moving forward.
In the mayoral race, no one thinks Mayor Petty will lose. But the margin of his victory is also, of course, important: Will voters, happy enough that they don’t have to worry about the Gaffneys, stay home, allowing for the race between him and Konnie Lukes to be close? If they do, it would become harder for Petty to continue being the strong advocate for Worcester that he’s been, and Lukes would be emboldened. Of course, she isn’t a horrible person like Gaffney is (though she is a slumlord), but her right-wing, anti-immigrant politics are the same as Gaffney’s, and in some instances worse. Her recent remarks in the city council equating minorities with social problems is a case in point.
In the school committee, we can add a real progressive, Dante Comparetto, into the mix. Comparetto has worked with homeless and at-risk youth, has helped to initiate a program that brings libraries and librarians back to public schools, and understands the need – for the good of teachers and students – for high quality wraparound services in the schools. His youth-driven campaign is the most exciting (and most highly endorsed) of the season, and its victory would be the final nail in the coffin of the Gaffney/Turtleboy bloc. His campaign is in large part youth powered, with volunteers from the local high schools going door to door. His victory would inspire young people in this city, as it would be another example of Worcester’s teenagers working with others to advocate for their own needs.
On the school committee, Comparetto doesn’t need to just win: he needs to defeat the right person, and this is an area where the waters get muddy. The right wing and enemies of the labor movement have made a lot of noise about who the teachers’ union, the Education Association of Worcester, did and didn’t endorse. While it’s obvious that candidates who didn’t get the EAW nod might feel some animosity, no one else should be surprised: Comparetto walked hand-in-hand with the EAW as they fought for a fair contract, while the school committee was overall at odds with the union. Because of this situation, the union is (quite understandably) unhappy with the whole school committee, aside from Brian O’Connell and Jack Foley, both of whom it also endorsed. A union simply cannot betray its members by endorsing those who have not stood for their interests; that’s the point of basic political action by a union.
At the same time, and while defending the EAW and its endorsement process, it is important to think about how the school committee overall will look. Comparetto should replace Worcester’s local Betsy Devoss, Donna Colorio. Colorio is a Trump supporter who, at a recent debate, stunned listeners by saying, “I don’t believe in the achievement gap.” A member of Gaffney’s Republican City Committee, she also was one of a very small number of people to refuse to support immigrant students in our schools. While the right wing has tried to group her with Dianna Biancheria and Molly Mccullough as one of three women wronged by the EAW, nothing could be further from the truth: Biancheria and Mccullough have little to nothing in common with the Trump supporter. For these reasons, the Democratic Party has put forward a winning slate – everyone but Donna Colorio – so that not only can Dante be added, but the other centrists and progressives can maintain their seats at the expense of Colorio.
Maximum unity is the key, especially for the school committee.
City council at-large races
Returning to the city council, it originally looked as if Khrystian King or Moe Bergman, two good council members, would have a fight to stay in the running; now the question is whether Konnie Lukes can be ousted in some sort of surprise upset by Ben Straight. This seems far fetched – but the current situation would have seemed far fetched in January. Back then, Trump had just swept into power, and the Gaffneys were riding high, buoyed by a seemingly powerful Turtleboy Sports blog. Just a few months before, they were scoring big victories. All that has changed, though.
Victory in sight
It’s important to remember why the Gaffneys and Turtleboy fell apart: Worcester is a tolerant and multicultural city, and its voters reject their hateful venom, and this isn’t a city that accepts far-right politics (e.g., while Colorio has been cited as a homophobe, the city is on record as opposing anti-LGBTQ policies). In November, voters can demonstrate this – and put the final nail in the coffin of the Trump/Gaffney/Lukes/Colorio ticket.