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Worcester elections: the current tasks

It’s almost Election Day. Ballots are about to be cast by several thousand people across Worcester, deciding who will run the city for the next two years. I’ve been active in several campaigns, and supportive of many others, and have written extensively on our local politics. Given that, I think it’s worthwhile for me to put forward my thoughts on who are the best candidates – my “endorsements,” if you will – as well as some thoughts on the overall tasks for progressives now and going forward.

Currently, the majority bloc on the city council is a center/left coalition that represents, sometimes uneasily, the interests of the vast majority of Worcester residents, including working people of all backgrounds, the racially and nationally oppressed, and women – the key sectors of the population who, together with the youth, have to form the backbone of any progressive movement in America. Also represented in this alliance are the interests of small business and even corporate interests.

While this alliance is sometimes fraught, and there are here and there disagreements, it has generally proven stable. Over the past several years, with the election of of Councilors Khrystian King and Sarai Rivera, as well as the backing of some important issues by Mayor Joe Petty and other members of the council, the interests of Worcester’s multi-racial and multi-ethnic working class have moved further to the fore, as well as issues specific to the city’s communities of color. During the current period, in which American politics has become dominated by the extremist Trump agenda, and in which Worcester, at the same time, is experiencing a renaissance unprecedented in the city’s recent history, all of these interests coincide. Of course, there are some contradictions that have to be worked out: e.g. making sure that the labor that is building the renaissance is unionized, local, paid fairly, and representative of the city.

Countering this center-left block is a small conservative faction representing a minority of Worcester’s population, connected to the Trump agenda nationally. This faction, of course, has been led by Michael Gaffney, and its ideology has been transmitted locally through the Turtleboy blog, as well as a few other outlets, mostly created by Gaffney himself.

Eventually, the extreme right will be defeated, most likely locally first, and then nationally. As this happens, and then as Worcester’s renaissance fully matures, it is likely that the different groupings in the current leading alliance will begin to find themselves in disagreement with each other more often. For now, though, the most important thing moving forward is to maintain the unity of the alliance, as well as to ensure that it is strengthened in the upcoming elections.

The key task now for voters is to make sure that the center-left alliance continues to lead the city, and that the far-right faction is decimated. Progressives need to ensure this by fighting for unity of all the democratic forces, and turning out people to vote (and educating the voters).

It is clear that the vast majority of people in Worcester think that the city is moving in the right direction, and are not aligned with Gaffney and his band of extremists. Still, the problem of low voter turnout makes the election unpredictable. Especially given that those happy with the city’s direction are more likely to stay home. This is exacerbated by Michael Gaffney’s under-the-radar campaign. Knowing he was low in the polls, he “dropped out” of the race. This was a clever move, as it removed one of the key reasons people of goodwill had to go out and vote: with very few challengers, many people, Gaffney calculates, will stay home. However, Gaffney has continued to campaign (through door knocking, putting up signs, writing articles on his Facebook page, in Turtleboy, through faked complaints about the city Democrats, and so on). He’s been encouraging people to make a “protest” bullet vote for him on Election Day. He’s done all this campaigning, and, since he’s not officially in the race, he’s not had to attend a single debate. In short, Gaffney has a good shot at maintaining his seat on the council, unless people realize what he’s up to and come out to vote. Progressives need to push for this.

Given what I’ve written above, it is probably obvious who I encourage others to vote for. Below are my “endorsements,” with a few extremely brief comments about why I picked each.

Mayor: Joe Petty

Some have called him simply a “cheerleader.” Even if that were true, this is something Worcester needs. The city has long been home to an unyielding pessimism, and an optimist like Petty who actually seems to exude the belief that Worcester can fully overcome its second-to-Boston, down-and-out reputation is of vital importance. But he’s more than that: he’s a deeply moral person. For example, he’s a white, U.S. born citizen who, when Trump announced the end of DACA, showed up at a meeting of undocumented youth (who obviously can’t vote) to tell them that he had their backs. This obviously won him no votes, but it’s who he is: the kind of person who is worried about the welfare of all Worcester residents.

Council (at large)

  • Moe Bergman – Generally a progressive who has voted in the interest of the people of Worcester the vast majority of the time. He’s also a voice of the Jewish community in Worcester, and therefore one of the few members of a religious minority on the council.
  • Khrystian King – He’s a social worker. In a city with a still relatively high level of poverty, it’s important that we have someone who works with those most in need and, consequently, has a knowledge of voices that usually go unnoticed. In addition, King has a long record of supporting issues important to workers and communities of color
  • Joe Petty – he has to win an at-large seat to win the mayoral race
  • Ben Straight – Straight joined the race because he was appalled at Michael Gaffney’s ongoing hateful actions, and he was looking to help restore civility to the council. He was disappointed he did not get to debate Gaffney, but, as we know Gaffney is still running. Straight is also a veteran, and deserves a vote.
  • Kate Toomey – She works at Adcare, in addiction services. Given that the city is, like the rest of New England, in the midst of a hideous opiate epidemic, that should be enough of a reason to vote for her. She’s also known for her constituent services, and being an independent voice on the council

Council (district)

  • District 1: Sean Rose – This was a difficult one. I like his challenger, Ed Moynihan, and they both have their strengths and weaknesses. They are both also overall decent people. Both would do an excellent job. Still, Rose comes out ahead on the issues. Also, Worcester’s city council needs greater diversity, and Rose brings that.
  • District 2: Candy Carlson – It wouldn’t have mattered if I left this blank, since she has no opponent. Still, I wanted to give her an endorsement, because she is one of the few on the council who really understands the critical role of the labor movement to any future progress, and we need more supporters of the labor movement. Besides this, she is famous for her strong positions and for her excellent constituent services.
  • District 3: George Russell – He’s my district councilor, and I’m incredibly glad he is. He is honest about where he stands on issues. He’s responsive to local needs, and seems to know every single street and organization in the district. He has helped support the local schools and has worked to improve safety, as well as to bring much-need projects into the area.
  • District 4: Sarai Rivera – Anyone who reads this blog has read about Sarai’s work, and knows that she’s the right choice. To be able to vote for her and not do so would be a crime.
  • District 5: Matt Wally – While Wally does have a poor position on taxes (he, like a couple of others, advocates moving to a single rate plan), it has been grossly exaggerated by his opponent, Paul Franco. And despite Franco’s moderate-sounding advertisements, he is by far the most far-right candidate aside from Gaffney. He is a member of Gaffney’s Republican City Committee, and has even tweeted support for Donald Trump. Worcester needs to rid itself of this kind of politics. Further, Wally, through his work, has a good knowledge of Worcester’s nonprofit sector and its needs.

Dante Comparetto for School Committee

For the school committee, the following equation works: Everyone, plus Dante Comparetto, minus Donna Colorio = progress.

Colorio, of course, has been photographed supporting Michael Gaffney, which alone should disqualify her from helping to run a school system that is composed primarily of students of color and young people considered “at risk” or “in need.” This, combined with her homophobia, should be more than enough reason not to vote for her.

Dianna Biancheria, Jack Foley, Molly McCullough, John Monfredo, and Brian O’Connell should retain their seats. Biancheria has been the only advocate for the often overlooked east side of Worcester, and O’Connell and Foley are the only sitting members of the committee to receive the endorsement of the teachers’ union.

The exciting campaign, of course, is that of Dante Comparetto. He’s received virtually all of labor’s endorsements, and has acted for the past 15 years as a strong advocate for the youth, teachers, and people of Worcester. He helped found both Stand up for Kids Worcester and the One City One Library program, which put librarians and libraries back into public schools, amongst other things.

Most inspiringly, though, Comparetto has used his campaign as a way to engage a group of about a dozen young people in learning real-world civics. While school committee races are generally done through a few mailers and some people holding signs outside, Dante invested money into building an internship program, bringing young people from across the city’s high schools to participate. This is also part of his platform – a more robust curriculum, including civics education.

As I mentioned above, the core forces for progress in America are labor, racially and nationally oppressed peoples, the women’s movement – and youth. Comparetto’s dedication to empowering young people to fight for their own future makes his an easy endorsement.

Regardless of who wins the elections, the school committee will be composed entirely of white people, running a school system that is a super majority students of color. This should give everyone pause for concern, and it is of vital importance that, over the next two years, something is done to ensure that the school committee is moved to become more representative. This is no criticism of the people on there; rather, I’m pointing out the need for structural barriers in the way of full representation of communities of color to be removed. This requires conscious effort.

In these elections, we have chance to not only maintain, but strengthen the hand of the progressive coalition currently governing Worcester. If we can get or keep all of these candidates in office, and remove Gaffney, we wil have taken a huge step towards a better future.


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