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A guide to the First Worcester District Senate race
Vote's on Sept. 6! Comin up quick!
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There’s a primary election coming up fast! It’s on September 6, the Tuesday after labor day, which is unfortunate timing for an election that already fails to get most people’s attention.
But in Worcester, there’s one extremely important race which demands our attention and our votes and that’s the contest to succeed longtime State Sen. Harriette Chandler in the First Worcester District, which you probably also did not know was redrawn in 2020 to take effect for this election.
This is the only local race in which there’s a contested primary. That would be reason enough alone to focus on it, but it’s also a race that’s rife with local political ramifications as I’ll get into. Even if you aren’t in the district, it’s important to pay attention.
If you can vote, you’ll have two choices: Worcester Mayor Joe Petty and Robyn Kennedy, former YWCA of Central Massachusetts director and before that a staffer in the Statehouse.
As is often the case in Massachusetts, what with its squarely single-party system, the winner of Democratic primary contest has the seat on lock. The November general election is simply a formality. In this race, the winner of the primary will go on to face an independent candidate by the name of Lisa Mair who lives in Berlin and practices something called “applied functional medicine and health coaching” whatever that means. Here’s a podcast interview of hers on a show called Camp Constitution Radio entitled “Red Pilled and Running for Office: An Interview with Lisa Mair.” I’m not going to listen to it but you can if you want.
Between Petty and Kennedy, the latter is the better choice for this seat by far, and for a good many reasons. I’m going to break them down all one-at-a-time like.
But first, some information on how to vote, and how to figure out if you can vote in this particular State Senate race. Since all the maps have been redrawn, your polling location has likely changed as have your senate and state representative districts. Punch your address into this handy form on the Secretary of State website and you’ll get all the necessary info: where to vote and also what your ballot is going to look like. I just did it myself and despite believing for months that I would be able to vote in this race it turns out that I can’t. Grafton Hill was bumped fully into the senate district #2. Oh well!
Once you’re at the polls, you’ll have to request a Democratic ballot or else waste your time and everyone else’s with a Republican ballot. On the Democratic ballot there are several statewide races which I’m not going to get into except to say please vote against Secretary of State Bill Galvin :-)
And if Sept. 6 doesn’t work for you, the city is offering early voting starting tomorrow and ending next Friday. One polling station will be open per day and it doesn’t matter where you live, you can vote there. The city’s website has the times and locations.
Ok, on to the aforementioned reasons why Kennedy is the clear choice.
Reason #1: The Colorio Question
If Joe Petty were to win the seat, he’s all but confirmed that he will step down from his role as the city’s mayor. By the quirky way that Worcester’s city elections work, that means the mayorship would automatically go to Donna Colorio, the city council’s requisite token Republican and an all-around hateful weirdo. While the mayor in Worcester is what we call a “weak mayor,” and does not have all that much more power than a regular city councilor, the mayor also chairs the School Committee. This more than the City Council is where the danger lies.
Colorio, herself a former school committee member, has a long and terrible track record when it comes to LGBTQ issues. She was instrumental in the concerted effort to roadblock comprehensive sex education in Worcester Public Schools for years. She supported Shanel Soucy, a key figure in the “Opt-Out” anti-sex ed movement with the PornHub lawn signs, in her failed School Committee bid last year. Soucy is the woman who you may remember described gay people as “demonic.” Colorio was an avid supporter.
Earlier this year, on the City Council, Colorio delayed a vote on a resolution to affirm the rights of trans people to a safe and healthy existence. Then, at the following meeting, when she could do nothing else to stop it, she simply left the room when the vote took place. A coward’s move, through and through.
On the Council side, her promotion to mayor isn’t such a big deal. It’ll only allow her to be a little more annoying. But on the School Committee side, it puts her back in a position to have a direct say in how the Worcester Public Schools treats its students. And especially as chair, she’d have the power to prevent good things from happening by mucking up the process. We just can’t have that. All other issues aside, the Colorio Question makes a Kennedy win necessary.
That’s not how Petty sees it though. At a candidate forum this week, he downplayed the issue in such a clumsy fashion that it warrants a transcription.
“If I do win this election, my intention is not to—I think you’re asking if my intention is not to stay on as mayor. I know that the vice chair would be the mayor if I step down at the beginning of next year, after the election. But let’s be very clear here. The vice chair currently has the number of votes that she received. Second place in the mayors race. It’s a democratic process. And this isn’t unprecedented either. When Tim Murray was mayor and running for lt. governor, no one stepped back and said ‘No Tim, you can’t go, because the next mayor is probably more conservative than the vice chair right now.’ And remember also too if I do leave, Matt Wally would come on. So it wouldn’t really change the atmosphere of the city council. Matt Wally’s well respected. He has experience. He would always do the right thing. We’ve voted closely in the past. So we have similarities if he comes on as the replacement if I leave.”
To which Kennedy responded:
“I would just say as a resident of Worcester myself I have huge concerns about the vice chair. I have huge concerns about the way we’d set up the city. I would say that I don’t accept this to be a problem because I’ll be the next state senator and I don’t think we’ll have to have this conversation but just to say that I do have concerns particularly because she will be the chair of the school committee here in this city and has expressed incredibly problematic language and challenged policy such as sex education. Particularly this will hurt—hurt—LGBTQIA kids in our community. So as a resident I am deeply concerned about the fact she will assume the mayorship.”
It’s inside baseball but worth pointing out that Petty tried to argue that Konnie Lukes, the former councilor who replaced Murray as mayor, is more conservative than Donna Colorio. Lukes was a cranky fiscal conservative in an old school libertarian tradition. She hated that we bought the cops horses and maintains a city-funded golf course and she voted against the ballpark. Colorio is a QAnon-style culture warrior in the new and terrifying post-Trump know-nothing mold. Petty’s claim was wildly incorrect, suggesting either a dim understanding of the political spectrum or comfort in being willfully disingenuous or more likely a little of both.
It was, in any case, a less than comforting answer from Petty. And kudos to Kennedy for centering her position on the city’s LGBTQIA youth.
Reason #2: Policy!
Kennedy has better politics than Petty and over both candidate forums this week proved she’s more fluent in policy language and has a much firmer grasp on what the job of state senator actually entails.
Kennedy’s platform is heavy on pushing for increased investment in what she calls the “care economy”—programs like universal childcare and pre-kindergarten and adding mental health counselors and social work positions and providing additional funding for existing social service networks. In her opening statement on the forum Monday, she said her role as senator would be to “uplift the work the community is doing.”
Petty’s pitch is centered on the fact he’s the mayor and has been for a long time, as well as the ‘Worcester renaissance’ narrative that emerged during his tenure. A lot of talk about “growth” and “smart investment.” He leaned heavily on his mayoral record in both forums, spending more time talking about what he’s done in his current role than what he would do in the role he wants. In his opening statement Monday, he offered a glimpse of his senatorial game plan. He said he would make sure the district gets as much state money as he can. “There’s a discrepancy between the needs and the resources,” he said. A rather baseline expectation.
Of all the topics discussed at these forums, the question of whether Worcester should join Boston’s pilot fossil fuel ban best illustrated the difference between what you’d get with Senator Joe Petty or Senator Robyn Kennedy.
Petty answered first, and here’s what he said:
“I think it’s a great goal to ban fossil fuels and I think it’s the goal of the Green Worcester Plan but to pass that right now I don’t think it would be the right thing to do, in the sense… I really don’t have a good understanding of what the impact of that would be. And the fossil fuels. And taking them out. I’d ask for more study on this. I only think National Grid has the infrastructure to take out fossil fuels. So even if we pass it, I don’t think it could be implemented. But I’d love to see the economic development committee, which I put together and represents the community well, to have this discussion sooner rather than later. And really bring both sides in to discuss the issue, and the positive and negative impact this may have in our city.”
You just love to see a state senate hopeful “both sides” the climate crisis. The whole response roughly translates to “I’m uninterested and/or unable to be a leader on this issue.”
And here’s what Robyn said:
“So this is going to be a requirement. Electrifying buildings is going to be a requirement of all municipalities by 2050. The pilot that mayor Wu and many other small communities are a part of, not to mention that several cities in the Commonwealth are trying and fighting to be included, and there will only be 10. There are several communities fighting to get into that pilot because a pilot is how we study it. A pilot is about Worcester being a leader and being at the table and there’s benefits to being part of this pilot process. We’ll have local control. We will get to set the ordinances for how we want to see this managed. This is why we need to be forward thinking. Climate change is here. The crisis is on our front porch. We can’t sit back and wait. We have to be part of these processes. We are going to be required, as I said, by 2050 to be doing this anyways, so it benefits the community to be on the forefront. To be a leader in this. To make sure that we’re helping to set the standards for our own community, as well as for the state.”
Now that’s more like it. That is the response of someone who knows what they’re talking about and gives a shit and actually wants to lead. Where Petty hedged and deferred, Kennedy staked out a clear moral position and a vision for what we ought to be doing.
The worsening reality of the climate crisis in particular demands we elect leaders who are willing to aggressively pursue bold ideas. And it also demands we spare no patience or sympathy for those who would stand in the way of a bold idea for fear of how it would rock the boat. This is a boat in desperate need of rocking. What I heard from Petty, on this and several other issues, is a man who values that boat and its steadiness above all else. What I heard from Kennedy was a woman with a sincere belief in the necessity of rocking it.
It’s in that fundamental difference that the better candidate in this race is abundantly clear. And it wasn’t just on climate where the difference was apparent. On standardized testing, police reform, affordable housing and homelessness, Kennedy called for more aggressive action where Petty deferred to a centrist “both sides” posture.
And I want to bring up one more moment from the forums, not because it’s necessarily illustrative of anything important but because it’s frankly just very funny.
At the Tuesday forum, one of the moderators threw the candidates a big fat meatball of a question, asking simply whether they would protect same-sex marriage. Petty spoke first and obviously said yes of course then launched into a soliloquy about the Supreme Court and the mounting power of the religious right. “We know what they’re doing,” he said.
“You know someday they’re going to appeal one of our laws in the Supreme Court. We have to make sure we do the fight nationally, to get people elected who represent what we believe in. The people. That people should be able to live not in fear. That people should be able to be part of their community and prosper,” he said, then closed with the kicker of all kickers: “So yes, I am part of the LGBTQ community. Yes.”
The little “So yes…” before the “I am part of the LGBTQ community” is just a lovely comedic detail. I’m so tickled by it. Nine times out of ten when someone starts the concluding thought of a monologue with “So yes…” they’re going to reiterate the opening thought. Tie a little bow on it. Long story short. Bring it on home. The common orator in this instance would have said some version of “So yes, I will protect same-sex marriage.” But Petty is no common orator, and he decided instead to throw us a bewilderingly funny curveball by laying claim to his own little plot in the queer community. Stealing gay valor! Or else the less likely scenario he found the funniest possible moment to reveal a new character detail in non-sequitur fashion.
Now obviously the overall sentiment here was a good one and his heart was in the right place and the only thing that makes this worth writing about is that it’s funny. But it does speak to a mentality common among a certain breed of Democrat that can’t quite process marginality as a concept. Think Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer wearing traditional African clothing to take a ceremonial knee for George Floyd. Or Andrew Cuomo saying he’s every sort of person all at once and more important than all that a freakin kid from New York.
It’s inherently condescending and born of the same center-periphery power dynamic that marginalizes people in the first place. Only from a place of relative power could you believe you have a right—or even worse, believe it’s useful—to adopt a posture of belonging to a group which you do not belong. It’s nothing but a tacit affirmation of the power imbalance.
I’d prefer my state senator was someone who didn’t need this explained to them.
Reason #3: Trail etiquette
Kennedy is something of a veteran when it comes to running campaigns, and it shows. Most recently, she was integral in Councilor Etel Haxhiaj’s win in District 5. Like the Haxhiaj campaign, the Kennedy campaign has been heavily focused on direct voter outreach—she’s often claimed of late to have personally knocked on 6,000 doors—and a tight focus on drawing the through line between public policy and the livelihood of individual voters. It’s a patently unsexy approach, reliant on hard work and motivated volunteers, and it seems the campaign is entirely resistant to providing any fodder to horse race-style local press coverage.
The Petty campaign, on the other hand, has just been downright goofy, starting with the wild declaration way back in June that someone had been stealing their campaign signs. And while they didn’t say who they thought that someone was, there’s only two candidates in this race! The insinuation was baked into the subtext. The Kennedy campaign wisely decided to leave that one alone.
Then there was the bizarre accusation that Kennedy had violated campaign finance law which was dutifully reported out in just about every local press outlet—it “made news,” as it were—but put under a microscope there was absolutely nothing there. I dedicated an entire post to explaining why back in July when it happened.
It makes me tired thinking about having to rehash the finer points of the complaint and I’m just not going to do it. Kennedy got money from a political action committee dedicated to getting women into local political offices. The Petty campaign tried to make it a “dark money” issue.
From my post on the matter:
You’d be right to invoke Citizens United in the context of the National Rifle Association’s stranglehold on Congress or the Koch brothers’ decades-long war against the social safety net or the fact that in 2043 the Environmental Protection Agency will be formally outsourced to ExxonMobil. But Kate Norton of the Petty camp really went and said the following quote, knowing that real humans with human brains are going to read it.
"Citizens United was one of the Supreme Court’s earliest decisions to undermine our democracy and this is an example of the harm it causes: A handful of millionaires contributed the $1,000 maximum to a candidate and decided that wasn’t good enough in their effort to substitute their voices ahead of the voters of the district.”
It was just weird, man. But I suppose it had the desired effect of getting Kennedy’s name next to “campaign finance investigation” for a news cycle. Great job!
And now, this weekend, the Petty campaign will launch its grand finale of weird and goofy campaign tactics. On Sunday, the campaign will hold a “get out the vote” event with Worcester rapper Joyner Lucas in the parking lot of the Worcester Senior Center. The two-hour event will be held in the center’s back parking lot. “Fan ‘meet and greet’ and photos can be taken,” the flier promises. Unclear if he’ll perform any music. I can’t wait to see how much they paid him and how this whole thing is going to go down. My mind’s already whirring with the comedic possibilities.
But the comedy aside, it’s sort of a slimy move. See, early voting is going to start this weekend, and the only place you can go to vote early is the Worcester Senior Center. This event also takes place at the Worcester Senior Center. That’s what we call campaigning at a polling station and the state has laws about this! The event flies so close to violating them. According to the law you can’t have any campaign materials, signs, banners or literature within 150 feet of the front door of a polling location. This might be why the flier is careful to point out that the event takes place in the back parking lot. Just over the line! See? We measured. 151 feet! And there is also the question of how much Petty being the mayor played into his ability to use the early voting polling location for his campaign event but hey… Welcome to Worcester.
In any case, putting on a campaign event that runs right up to the line of legality is something I would personally avoid if I were running a campaign.
Reason #4: Momentum
During the early days of this election cycle, when we weren’t sure who was running and it was all rumors and speculation and the palace intrigue of the local Democratic Party, it seemed that Petty was set to waltz unchallenged to a Beacon Hill coronation. A field of other hopefuls had conspicuously cleared and, despite the rumors that Harriette Chandler was unhappy with the chosen successor, Petty would slide into a new role that was all but promised to him. But then there was Kennedy, a first-time candidate for public office with a meager public profile compared to Petty. She, unlike the rest, opted to stay in the race. She got on the ballot. The contest was set.
In an early conversation, she was clear with me that her challenge was on principle—that this shouldn’t be an undemocratic succession but rather an open battle of ideas. The voters deserved a choice. She was up against a politician with a name brand, a sizeable war chest and an attachment to the popular narrative that Worcester had turned a corner and was now ‘on the map.’ She entered a self-professed underdog. But as the race progressed, she appeared to gain more and more traction, and the underdog became more of an equaldog. That the race was anyone’s to win became crystal clear in mid-July, when she received the crucial endorsement of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and over the sitting chairman of the Worcester School Committee to boot. It was unlikely a coincidence that the Petty camp chose this moment to pull the trigger on the “campaign finance investigation” press stunt. In this light it’s easy to see the move as a tantrum from someone who did not expect he’d have to actually prove he deserved the seat.
The best way to think about Kennedy’s campaign, I think, is as a continuation of the same movement which in the last municipal election put Thu Nguyen and Etel Haxhiaj on the City Council, establishing a fledgling and sorely-need progressive bloc, and transformed the School Committee overnight. Behind the scenes, it’s the same people with the same vision and the same priorities. Despite his claims to progressivism, Petty very obviously represents the old guard center of political power in the city. In fact, he might be the defining avatar. A win for the Kennedy campaign over such a totem would prove that the progressive gains of the last municipal election were not a fluke but rather the result of a new kid on the block who can hold their own and wants the city to do better—that this is indeed a movement and it’s ascendant and it can’t be ignored.
I’d very much like to see that happen.
Thank you for reading yet another Worcester Sucks post. You did it! The only thing around here that keeps em coming is direct reader contributions and I wouldn’t be able to do this any other way. If you can spare a few bucks a month, please consider throwing it my way.
And I had to send this one out without running it by one of my trusty copy editors so if you catch any typos absolutely do NOT point them out to me because I will cry and it will be your fault that I’m crying.
I was very pleased to see that the tenants put out by the Mill Street apartment building collapse are getting their hotel stay extended to October. The money for lodging, gathered from local non-profits and the state, was originally going to run out this week. As you can imagine if you’ve tried to find an apartment around here any time in the past several years, many of the tenants are still struggling to find new accommodations. It’s not easy to do in a normal situation, let alone one in which you’re made homeless overnight and then taken to court about it by your useless and evil landlord. It also came out this week that the landlord is now moving to dismiss the cases they brought against the tenants, and lawyers representing the tenants are saying that by doing so, the landlords are trying to avoid any counterclaims from the tenants. From MassLive:
The tenants’ attorneys Tom Vukmirovits and Craig Ornell filed a motion to vacate the dismissal and a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Vukmirovits said Jacobs’ filed for the court case to be dismissed with prejudice which he said could mean tenants’ would lose their right to file counterclaims.
He said the rules of procedure may dictate that the counterclaims — like property damage, lost wages and pain and suffering, have to be filed with this action because it is related to the same event.
“All damages flow and arise out of the same incident,” Vukmirovits said.
It’s like every couple days these landlords find a new and unique way to show they do not have human souls. Their names are Bechara and Michelle Fren, they’re from Franklin, and as I wrote about a few weeks ago, they own a staggering number of rental properties without any formal property management structure. What they’re doing simply shouldn’t be legal.
On a lighter note, Worcester rockers No Trigger put out their new LP “Dr. Album” today! They released a video as well for the song “No Tattoos.”
And oh what is that he’s wearing there? Could it be a Worcester Sucks t-shirt? Why yes, yes it could be! You can be just like Tom and get your own over at the Worcester Sucks merch store.
And to close us out today take a look at this hilariously awesome little gem I found deep in the pages of my last That’s Entertainment haul.
That’s our special guy!! The author, Matthew Rosenberg, told me that while he’s the one with Worcester ties (his dad’s from here), it was the artist, Tyler Boss, who decided to include our dear Mr. Burnside in his book. I sent Boss an email asking him to explain himself but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. If and when he does, I’ll be sure to share.
The book is really good too by the way. It’s called “What’s The Furthest Place From Here?” and you can find it at That’s Entertainment or any other comic shop hip enough to carry it or order it directly from Image Comics. I’d also highly recommend Rosenberg and Boss’s past book “4 Kids Walk Into A Bank.” It kicks ass.
Ok, I’ve gone on long enough. Til next time!