Home / Current events / …and we’re back – with a few recommendations for Worcester elections

…and we’re back – with a few recommendations for Worcester elections

Buttons that say vote

This website was apparently hacked. For the past few days, people have been asking me, “Why don’t you write your blog anymore?” to which I answered, “I’ve just been really busy.” What I didn’t realize, though, was that they were actually asking me what happened to the website itself. I try to log in earlier, and found that it was, much to my chagrin, missing. I called the hosting company, and they informed me that the site had been hacked, most of the content deleted.

As you can see, I’ve recovered the page and all the content, though the host charged me a recovery fee. (Do feel free to make a donation.)

As I mentioned, I only realized a few hours ago that the site was missing; that’s not the reason that I’ve not written about Worcester’s municipal elections. I’ve simply been too busy. Much of the reason for my lack of free time, however, has been because I’ve been assisting in Etel Haxhiaj’s campaign for city councilor at large. And it’s now time for the first round of voting.

Etel Haxhiaj and Khrysian King

I want to urge people to vote for Etel. There is the obvious ethnic reasoning: Worcester has a large and thriving Albanian community, and it deserves to be represented. Konnie Lukes, herself Albanian, is retiring, and this could leave the council without an Albanian voice. Etel is also an immigrant, and that is an important perspective in a city like Worcester, from centuries past through the current day a haven for immigrants from around the world. But the reasons for voting Etel go far beyond identity. She has always shown up to support Worcester residents, and, more broadly, all of our fellow humans, brothers and sisters. She is both kind and courageous, and one always knows what she thinks; she does not tell you only what you want to hear. When you disagree with her on an issue, you at the very least know that the lack of accord comes from an honest belief that the position is the right one, the most beneficial to the people as a whole. Etel also has an open mind, and takes differing views into account, examining her own in light of them. Having lived under the totalitarian communist regime that for many decades crushed the people of Albania, she understands deeply the need for government officials to take seriously the opinions of all residents.

I’m not talking about city council incumbents…except for Khrystian King. He should be our someday. To make sure that King is well positioned for such a run by then, it is important that he wins in November with as many votes as possible, both in the preliminary and general elections.

Defeat the far right

It is important not to vote for Donna Colorio. While she seems like a nice person, her politics do not fit the city’s. She is the chair of the Republican City Committee, which has for years represented the more right-wing, Trump-backing faction of the state’s Republican Party. She was also a founding member of the local Tea Party, the movement that laid the groundwork for what eventually became the Trump campaign’s path to victory. Clearly, these radical right-wing politics do not fit our city overall.

I do plan to vote for James Bedard. He’s a good guy with a strong sense of right and wrong, and he has a history of standing up for people in our community. One group that needs someone to stand up for them is renters, and if Bedard is elected, he would be the only one on the city council. I’ve written before about the need for diversity in city leadership, and housing is an area where there is glaring lack of it.

Regarding other city council races, given the number of people running and the lack of any real campaigning from or information about many of the candidates, as well as from the precedent of all previous elections under the current form of city government, it is obvious that all of the incumbents will be on the November ballot. There is no point in discussing them at the moment, aside from King above, even though there are some who are quite good. Given the limited information available on other candidates, it is hard to say much else.

The School Committee

The School Committee needs a complete overhaul. Anyone who follows local politics knows that the leadership of the Worcester Public Schools has been an abject failure in many ways. Just a few examples: it is 2019, and we still do not have comprehensive sex education in the schools. In fact, the sex ed curriculum (there isn’t one citywide; it’s simply a hodgepodge of different approaches at different schools) seems to be behind where it was when I was in fifth grade in the 1980s. The over disciplining of students, especially students of color, was ultimately brushed aside when community members raised the issue a few months ago. Latino students in Worcester score lower than their peers in either all or nearly all of the other gateway cities on a variety of indicators. The list goes on, but despite these and a host of other issues raised, the committee voted 5-2 to reward the superintendent with a new three-year contract and a raise.

Jack Foley and Dante Comparetto were the only two members to both consistently stand up for sex education and to hold the superintendent accountable. I would point out that on the latter issue, holding the superintendent accountable, it really shouldn’t matter what anyone thinks of Maureen Binienda. The job of the school committee is much like that of the board of a nonprofit organization: its most important role is to oversee the work of the chief executive officer, i.e., in the parlance of the local public school system, the superintendent. It should not act as a rubber stamp, which is what it has done. All one has to do is watch is a school committee meeting and note the deference shown to Ms. Binienda to see this. This is not democracy; appointed officials should not hold sway over the elected.

As Comparetto is retiring, it is doubly important to ensure that Foley stays on the school committee. Brian O’Connell is a good and decent person, and has stood up for some important things in the past (e.g. opposing Channel One, the pseudo-news source that beamed advertisements into classrooms), and he does have a commanding and impressive knowledge of many issues. However, his ideas do not fit the current realities of the school system, and it is time for a change. The rest should go as well.

Cara Berg Powers is the most promising new candidate for school committee. Unlike anyone on the current committee, she’s the parent of a child in the school system, and she’s devoted a great deal of time to volunteering in various capacities with young people and for the city, as she did as a member of the Human Rights Commission. She also was the bravest in openly supporting sex education in the schools and an end to the practice of the school committee acting as a Soviet-style rubber stamp for the superintendent.

Tracy O’Connell Novick is another top choice; she has the same encyclopedic knowledge that Brian O’Connell has, but is far less likely to act as anyone’s rubber stamp. She irritated other members of the committee when she was a member in previous terms, but that’s not a bad thing: groupthink is antithetical to democracy.

I’m looking forward to voting for a couple of South High graduates. Jermoh Kamara is an immigrant from Liberia, and therefore can understand what it is like to be one of the many thousands of students who find themselves adapting to Worcester schools, thousands of miles away from the land they called home for all of their life prior. She has a background in public health, which gives her an understanding of the way that issues of homelessness, race, and gender affect students. We desperately need that on the council.

Mariah Martinez, the other South High graduate, is a long shot, but I’d like to see her gain a seat. The fact that there is not a single Latino or Latina on the current school committee is an outrage, given the large number of Latinos in the school system (and the disproportionate use of discipline against them). I met Mariah and was impressed by her work ethic and drive, as well as her openness about the need to learn more. She’s very young, only in her early 20s, and many might argue this is a point against her. I would counter that, however, saying that we could use someone who has been in the school system less than a decade ago on the committee; her more recent experiences would bring an important viewpoint to the body.

John Trobaugh is the other person I plan to vote for. He and his partner have two adopted sons who are currently in the school system, so he has a vested interest in ensuring that the schools are good. He’s also been very active in the fight for real sex education. While it is astounding to me that this is something we still need to fight for, it is, and John will do that.

To sum up:

All of the incumbents in the city council will easily win a spot on the November ballot. It’s especially important, however, for Kris King and Etel Haxhiaj to get as many votes as possible, and for James Bedard to represent the interests of renters.

While the school committee’s members will also obviously easily make their way onto the ballot in November, it is far more important to overhaul that body completely. The only person who should stay is Jack Foley, and the top most exciting replacement is Cara Berg Powers. I also hope that people will vote for Tracy O’Connell Novick, John Trobaugh, Mariah Martinez, and Jermoh Kamara.

 

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