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Election Guide #4: Mayor and City Council
Plus, the 1 Minute Mini Guide To the Worcester Election
Hello again! Three posts in three days is spam behavior but anything that can turn out more voters is worth it. So bear with me if this has been a lot for you. Same, trust me.
I’m gunna try something different today. Before all the yada yada, the first section is something useful to share with people in your circle who might not pay much attention (no hate, paying attention sucks) but want to vote tomorrow, and want to vote productively.
Or send the version of it on the Worcester Sucks Instagram.
I timed Katie reading the following and it took her exactly a minute to read!
The 1-Minute Mini Guide to the Worcester Election
We have never been so close to achieving something so special in this often miserable little city. You can help make that happen by running an extra errand tomorrow. Voting in presidential elections is pretty pointless so if you feel that way, you’re not wrong. But voting in this one isn’t. These races could be decided by dozens of votes. It matters. If you want to learn more, there’s a lot to learn and you can start here. If you don’t want to learn more, that’s fine! This is the guide for you.
If you don’t know where to vote, use this page to find out. The polls are open until 8 p.m. It takes less time than a convenience store run. In and out and on with your day.
The following picks are the COOL ZONE and the COOL ZONE is a silly name for a very serious coalition of smart people who care about the city and want to do something to make it better for everyone. They care about your rent going up, for instance, and they have a real shot at taking power from the people who don’t.
If you vote the following way, you are officially in the COOL ZONE. You can just keep this page open on your phone in the voting booth and work off the list. That’s fine. No one is going to yell at you.
Mayor: Khrystian King
At Large (pick six): King, Thu Nguyen, Maydee Morales, Domenica Perrone, Johanna Hampton-Dance, Guillermo Creamer
District 1: Jenny Pacillo
District 2: Rob Bilotta
District 3: Feanna Jattan-Singh
District 4: Katia Norford
District 5: Etel Haxhiaj
SC At Large: Tracy O’Connell Novick, Sue Mailman
SC District C: Jermoh Kamara
SC District E: Nelly Medina
More information can be found here:
The rest of this post is a more substantive explanation of the mayoral and council races. That’s it! Briefest explanation possible. Thank you!
Election Guide #4: Mayor and City Council
Really this entire newsletter is an election guide to the City Council. I’m just repeating myself at this point. Here’s the rub: Election Day is tomorrow. By 8 p.m. we’ll know whether or not the city’s progressive coalition has taken control of the City Council. That’s not hyperbole. It’s one of several likely outcomes. Six seats. That’s it. Three more seats. In order to make that happen, we have to convince people who don’t care to vote!! Lean on your circle! Peer pressure!!
So let’s get to it.
The overall dynamic
As it stands, the City Council is divided along a stark and obvious 8-3 divide. There are three loose political factions informing this divide: progressives, centrists and cranks (“crank” explained in detail). The eight-vote majority position is composed of the centrists and cranks. The three-vote minority is composed of progressives.
Progressives: Khrystian King, Etel Haxhiaj, Thu Nguyen
Centrists: Joe Petty, Sarai Rivera, Sean Rose, George Russell
Cranks: Kate Toomey, CandyMero-Carlson, Moe Bergman, Donna Colorio
This 8-3 dynamic has blocked the council from taking substantive action on affordable housing, the environment, homelessness and curbing the ability of anti-abortion pregnancy centers to deceive pregnant people, among others. Over the past two years, the process of arriving at a bludgeoning 8-3 or 7-4 vote on good ideas has been brutal to witness. Perhaps most significantly, the 8-3 dynamic allowed for the entirely undemocratic and irresponsible hiring of Eric Batista to replace Ed Augustus as city manager without a search process or even a formal interview. The way the majority conducts council business is entirely at odds with the design of our democratic system, and Batista’s hiring really put that in stark relief. The progressive minority meanwhile was pounded with accusations of being “divisive” for not going along. They’ve lost a lot of votes on the council floor, but each time they lost, they were able to peel back a certain onion: The council doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, and in its current form it exists not as an expression of the public will but as a bulwark against it. I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink over the past two years articulating this dynamic. Here are some choice examples:
In this election, there are a ton of progressive candidates running, and comparatively few centrists and cranks. There is a real opportunity to change the 8-3 dynamic to 7-4, 6-5 or even a 5-6 flip. The flip is the #1 goal, obviously, but any of those outcomes are victories. Staying at 8-3 or worse is also a possibility, and that defeat will be difficult for the nascent progressive movement in this city to absorb. I personally do not know how I’ll be able to endure another two years of it. So here’s how that reality factors into each race. I could go on and on but will do my best to keep it tightly focused around outcomes.
Among the five choices, Khrystian King is the obvious pick. Mayor Joe Petty knows that, and is very obviously campaigning against Khrystian. A Khrystian King win would be historic—first African American mayor in Worcester—and a major resetting of the tone of the City Council. King takes the council’s oversight responsibilities seriously, and Petty made sure there wasn’t a search for a new city manager after Ed Augustus resigned, repeating the same old crony playbook he used to put Augustus in power. That’s really all you need to know. A vote for King is a vote for the City Council taking its job as the City Council seriously.
There are 11 people running for the six at-large city council seats. Here’s how they break down by political faction. Asterisks indicate incumbents.
Progressives: Thu Nguyen*, Khrystian King*, Domenica Perrone, Maydee Morales, Johanna Hampton Dance, Guillermo Creamer
Centrists: Joe Petty*, Bill Coleman
Cranks: Donna Colorio*, Kate Toomey*, Moe Bergman*
That’s six progressives versus two centrists and three cranks! Encouraging math. But the at-large council race heavily favors incumbents, so realistically there are only two seats to be picked up for the progressives. As maddening as it is, Petty and Toomey are safely among the top vote getters every year. Colorio and Bergman however hover around the bottom. They can be beaten. Votes for Perrone and Morales are especially critical.
The choice here between Jenny Pacillo and David Peterson is an easy one. Peterson is a Chamber of Commerce thrall where Pacillo is a well-meaning mother and community member who, while not a firebrand by any means, is generally sympathetic to the progressive cause. If the results from the preliminary election are any indication (and they usually are), Pacillo will waltz into the seat. None of the bad faith attacks against Pacillo from the local cranks have taken hold, but it is worth mentioning that Peterson is one of the four candidates that the Chamber of Commerce has thrown a ton of late-in-the-game money toward.
When it comes to the ideal outcome of a 6-5 flip in the progressive direction, this race is easily the most crucial. Rob Bilotta is a staunch progressive advocate, activist and community organizer. Candy Mero-Carlson is the Lord Farquad of the East Side. A crank, and one of the most effective at that. In the Preliminary Election, Mero-Carlson beat Bilotta handily, so this will be an uphill battle, and a Bilotta victory would be an upset.
The numbers really tell the story here. Mero-Carlson has one of the most robust warchests in the game. In October, her campaign spent about $11,900 and has $38,800 left to spend. She is also one of the four candidates the “Progress Worcester” PAC has chosen to support—not an accident, considering her opponent.
Bilotta has been running a professional campaign, collaborating heavily with other progressives and hitting the doors hard. But he doesn’t have the same sort of capital. In October, his campaign spent $4,400 and has $4,440 left to spend.
It is worth mentioning that Bilotta’s campaign infrastructure has been a lot more robust than Mero-Carlson’s challenger last election, Johanna Hampton-Dance. And Hampton-Dance, with comparatively little resources, came close. The margin was a few hundred votes, and if my memory serves, Hampton-Dance didn’t spend much money at all.
This is very encouraging. This is a profoundly significant contest between a new progressive and an entrenched crank, and it will likely be decided by fewer than 300 votes. Anyone that anyone knows who lives in District 2 (Grafton Hill / Downtown) should be pressured heavily to get out and vote Bilotta!
While George Russell hasn’t been as awful as some of the incumbents, he’s still a real estate guy. He stood on the morally correct side of the vote to do something about crisis pregnancy centers, for instance. He was the fourth in that 7-4 failed vote. But he’s not great overall, and certainly cannot be relied on to take affordable housing or homelessness seriously.
His opponent, Feanna Jattan-Singh, is a political newcomer with a small campaign. A Jattan-Singh victory is unlikely, but I hope she sticks around. She was one of the small handful of local officials to make a comment about Heather’s story amid the overall silence, for instance. Russell wasn’t. A vote for Feanna is a well placed vote, but Russell, with his $60,000 warchest, will likely win.
This one is a toss up. Between Luis Ojeda and Katia Norford, my pick is Katia, but I’m honestly not at all committed to it. Ojeda, endorsed by sitting District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera, did well in the preliminary, and he is the favorite. I do not think that Sarai Rivera 2.0 is a helpful addition to the City Council, and Norford seems to be good on housing and gentrification issues. Both of these candidates hover between centrist and progressive.
This is the marquee progressive vs. crank matchup and, thankfully, progressive Etel Haxhiaj is going into it as the favorite, having well outperformed her crank opponent Jose Rivera in the preliminary. Haxhiaj, a housing and homelessness expert, is an absolute credit to the city council and one of the clear progressive voices in our city. Rivera, on the other hand, is confused, but that doesn’t get in the way of his reactionary positions and penchant for attacking Haxhiaj. The guy is a joker, and his campaign is run by a joker, and he is nevertheless one of the four candidates the Chamber of Commerce has heavily invested in. Because, really, they’re investing against Haxhiaj, and they know Rivera will reliably do as he’s told.
I’ve written a lot about this dynamic and don’t care to dive back into it at the moment. If you’re curious, here’s three good ones:
In conclusion I honestly cannot bring myself to say any more about this. The good choices are obvious, the bad choices are obvious, tomorrow is a numbers game. Please lean on your people to get out and vote.
If you still haven’t read, please do so:
This just in! Neal McNamara at the Patch published a follow-up story today and it’s a good one. This is the first press outlet to pick up on it, but shouldn’t be the last. Kudos to Neal for doing so.
The story, headlined “John Monfredo's Worcester Political Ties Steady After Victim Speaks” is worth a thorough read. There are a few highlights. The Binienda section is stunning.
In 2023, Monfredo has held signs for Binienda's campaign for an at-large school committee seat. He's also made three separate $100 donations to her campaign, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. He was seen holding signs for Binienda as recently as Friday evening.
Binienda essentially declined to comment when asked about the 2018 exchange with Prunier's therapist.
"No response," she wrote via email.
And the section on District 1 Candidate David Peterson’s response is also worth noting.
This week, Peterson said Monfredo addressed the Prunier article with him on Oct. 29, two days after it was published. Peterson said he supports Prunier's "courage" in coming forward with her story. Peterson also said he's standing by Monfredo and his wife, Anne Marie.
Peterson clarified that Monredo's role will be changing in his campaign, but will also give campaign contributions from Monfredo to charity. Monfredo donated $250 to Peterson this year in three separate donations.
Donna Colorio did not respond at all, which isn’t surprising.
In light of this, I want to highlight this comment on my piece from last night because it is correct.
That is very much the lede! It will be tough to keep it from getting buried. The more follow-up coverage, the better. Neal’s piece does a lot to underscore Binienda’s culpability in particular. “No response.” For crying out loud.
Reminder that we’re still reporting on this. If you have any information to share on Monfredo or anyone else in the Worcester Public Schools please consider dropping us a line via this confidential form.
Odds and ends
Election Day is tomorrow! Ah! Please vote please share. I’m busting ass over here in a way I wouldn’t be able to do without paying subscribers so please consider that.
Election Guide #5 coming tomorrow morning! Let’s go!!!
And don’t forget: Tomorrow night, the Worcestery Council Theatre 3,000 boys are holding a live event! At The Sundown (the old Dive Bar, 34 Green Street), starting at 7 p.m. It’s free and open to the public. Come down and join in on the fun! Woohoo!
Unfortunately my bit on Progress Worcester from yesterday went up without my having seen a great post on the matter from Tom Marino at This Week In Worcester. Want to highlight this passage especially, as it deftly articulates the closed circle around City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce and local developers:
Executives at all three are former City of Worcester officials who served at the highest levels of city government.
Tim Murray was the Mayor of Worcester when city council hired Mike O’Brien as city manager in 2004. In Worcester’s governing system, the mayor is the chair of City Council, which hires the city manager, who is the executive that runs the city government day-to-day. As city manager, O’Brien hired Craig Blais who served as acting chief development officer, director of economic development, and deputy development officer.
In March 2012, Blais became president of the Worcester Business Development Corporation. In May 2013, Murray, then Lt. Governor, resigned to become the president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. In January 2014, O’Brien joined Winn Companies, the parent company of Winn Development, as executive vice president and part of its leadership team.
O’Brien submitted his resignation in November 2013 and announced he’d join Winn in January.
In his inaugural address, current Worcester City Councilor Eric Batista called O’Brien his mentor.
What we like to call a revolving door. Tom Marino’s been doing real good work over at This Week In Worcester there of late.
Ok that’s all for now. See you tomorrow.