It seemed too good to be true, and maybe it was: Michael and Coreen Gaffney announced Oct. 16 that they would be dropping out of their races for city council. That was good news to Worcester voters, a large majority of whom have tired of Gaffney’s campaign rhetoric, based mostly on making up lies and slander about his opponents. However, it appears that he might still be campaigning.
Several people have reported receiving Gaffney literature on their doors, and others have seen Michael Gaffney’s signs (which are rather odd: they appear to be leftovers from when he was campaigning for mayor, but have the word “mayor” crossed out) appear after he ostensibly quit.
Just this past weekend, I was canvassing for another candidate by Coes Reservoir, and found a Gaffney leaflet (pictured) on a voter’s door. I assumed it was old and had been sitting there for a while. Assuming I was at some infrequently used door, I began walking away to look for the main entrance. Just then, I heard the door open, and a resident of the house appeared. We chatted for a bit, and she said mentioned that she’d been out just that morning, and no leaflet had been there. (She’s not voting for Gaffney, by the way.) There were more leaflets on other doors I went to.
To be sure, Gaffney has quit one job: doing anything whatsoever for the people of Worcester. It’s debatable as to whether he ever actually has, but he used to at least show up for city council meetings. He didn’t appear there, though, on Oct. 17, and he also canceled the meeting of the subcommittee of which he’s chair.
It’s hard to gauge what is going on with Gaffney. He’s always been erratic and hard to understand: for example, he refused to talk to the press while he was officially campaigning, and he was known for his bizarre, rambling speeches in the city council. He claimed in January not to be anti-immigrant, but introduced a resolution that seemed aimed solely at terrifying DREAMers and their families. Consequently, it’s hard to know what he’s doing: is he in or out? Is he campaigning? Does he even know?
In other elections, this kind of behavior would consign a candidate to the dustbin of history. However, given the particular conditions of Worcester’s elections, Gaffney could still be a contender. Voter turnout, if it is anything like municipal races in other parts of the country, including Boston, could be very low this year. Also, counting Gaffney, there are only eight people running for six at-large seats. With those kinds of numbers in this kind of election, any turnout is possible.
Further forces align for Gaffney: while most of Worcester and its voters hate him, he doesn’t need them: most people who would vote for Gaffney now aren’t likely to vote for anyone else on the ballot, with the possible exception of Konnie Lukes, who Gaffney’s endorsed. As Nick D’Andrea wrote in This Week in Worcester, Khrystian King, the progressive at-large council member, was able to win in 2015 with a margin of just 67 votes. While he and Moe Bergman, who finished just ahead of King, have done a good job and are likely to get support, no one should feel comfortable. At all.
67 votes decided the previous election, and it could be even less this time around, given the predicted low turnout. A hundred people stay home, a few people check the wrong box, a few dozen people who are angry at everything vote for “the guy who isn’t running.” This could keep Gaffney on the council, especially since he appears to be campaigning. One also has to remember that Gaffney has some built in votes: some people just seem to hate everything, and he’s the protest vote, for example. Another example: he’s often mistakenly believed to be a member of a prominent family with the same surname as him, from the Webster Square area.
Gaffney’s clever here: he knows that polls show him in last place, and that he’s unlikely to win. However, he seems to have calculated that, by being “out” of the election, people motivated mostly by hatred for his agenda, and who support the current leadership, will stay home; and the few who support his agenda will still come out – especially if they receive literature at their doors. Depressing the turnout of moderates, progressives, and the respectable conservatives while encouraging his base to come out could be, however unlikely, a path to victory for Gaffney.
If Gaffney did win, he’d likely be in last place – but he could then say two things: “The people of Worcester clearly want me, since they voted for me when I’d already dropped out, so I’ll abide by their wishes and serve.” He could also argue that his last-place status was because he wasn’t in the race. And if he loses? He simply says, “Of course I lost; I dropped out.”
We have to ensure that the nightmare scenario doesn’t happen, and that Gaffney is sent to the political graveyard. It’s imperative that all people of goodwill come to the ballot box on Nov. 7, to ensure that we truly defeat Gaffney, as well as his surrogates Donna Colorio (for the school committee) and Paul Franco (for the city council).