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Election guide Pt. 2: Mayor/At-Large Council
This one's the easiest one
Hello hello hello, Nov. 2 is creeping up and I need all my subscribers VOTING, BABY. More than that, I need you peer-pressuring your friends and family to vote. Cajole them, chastise them, admonish them. Annoy them into submission. Resort to bribery if you must. Consider extortion.
To say this election is flying under the radar would be an insult to both flying and radar. The lack of attention and enthusiasm is palpably absent and that’s not me saying that. It’s the consensus of pretty much everyone who follows these things closely. With so few people paying attention, it’s possible a small but mobilized group of right wing psychopaths could put some very dangerous people in office. I cover that in the first chapter of my four-part guide to city elections, which you can read here:
This is Part Two, and I’ll be covering the at-large city councilors and the mayor, who make up six of the 11 people on the council. The other five are district candidates, which represent different parts of the city, and I will cover those races in a later edition. In this edition, we’ll take a look at the six Council seats which are decided by the entire city. If you live in Worcester, you can vote for these guys! Or against them! If you don’t know how to vote I lay it out for you pretty clearly in Part One.
A quick TL;DR before getting into it:
Vote Joe Petty for mayor.
Vote Khrystian King, Guillermo Creamer, Thu Nguyen, Joe Petty for at-large.
Do not under any circumstance vote for: Kate Toomey, Moe Bergman, Donna Colorio
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ list: Bill Coleman, Matt Wally, Peter Stefan
Before I get into the candidates, a word on Worcester’s quirky and confusing system for electing at-large councilors and the mayor.
When an at-large councilor gets on the ballot, they are technically already running for mayor as well. They have to manually withdraw their bid for the mayorship, which most candidates do. What you’re left with is a handful of the at-large candidates, in this case four of them, and in order for the mayor to be elected, they have to win both the mayoral race and place in the top six of the at-large race. The runner-up candidate in the mayoral race then becomes the “vice chairman,” which is a position with no real authority save for filling in as the director of proceedings at a meeting in which the mayor is absent.
Historically, the vice chairman role falls to the Republican challenger of the Democrat who almost always wins the mayor election.
In this case, the most likely outcome is that Joe Petty will win the mayoral race and Donna Colorio, a Republican who always looks like she’s been freshly struck by lightning, will take the vice chairman position.
The mayor in Worcester is not the position it is in other cities. Joe Petty is not afforded the power of a Buddy Cianci or a Bill DeBlasio. Under Worcester’s system of government, which is called “Plan E,” we have what is called a “weak mayor.” The city manager controls most of the levers of power in government. The mayor is, essentially, the chairman of the city manager’s board of directors.
In short, it’s been City Manager Ed Augustus Jr. making the decisions, doing the hiring, doing the firing, setting the budget, and Joe Petty leading the body that broadly sets Augustus’ policy priorities (in theory) and deciding whether or not Augustus gets to keep his job.
The mayor has only slightly more power than the average city councilor in a structural sense. They preside over the meeting and ensure that Robert’s Rules of Order are followed, and they act as a referee of sorts when councilors get out of line. The mayor does the same for the School Committee, which is a fact that has always struck me as weird in my time reporting on this city, but again in that situation they’re really only a referee in the structural sense.
But the mayorship is afforded a great deal more soft power than the average councilor. They’re the city’s mascot and cheerleader, there at every event and ribbon cutting singing the city’s praises, and they dictate policy direction via both an inaugural speech and an annual “state of the city” address. They have more political leverage than the average councilor with the city manager (again in theory) and can call special commissions, like the current mayor’s commission on tax policy.
Joe Petty has by and large used his role as the mayor to be an evangelist for the Ed Augustus administration (boooooo) and a thorn in the side of Superintendent Maureen Binienda’s administration (yaaaaaaay).
Though he’s no political visionary, his public speaking skills are terrible to the point they’re endearing, and he’s willfully beholden to the State Democratic Party apparatus, he’s vastly more desirable as mayor than Donna Colorio, and while I’d love to see Bill Coleman in the mayor’s chair because he’s just a nice guy that cares about Worcester and he runs every year, his past election results make a Coleman victory look near impossible. Peter Stefan is, similarly, a seemingly well-intentioned and nice enough guy, but a win is improbable.
You know that red flag meme going around the internet right now? That’s Donna Colorio. She’s a bootlicker when it comes to the police and adopts the totally incongruent position that she wants to keep taxes as low as possible and also fix all the potholes. This is sort of the standard way that a Republican will run for public office in Worcester, and it’s a platform nearly identically mirrored by Greg Stratman in District 5 and Richard Cipro in District 1. They’re the “outsiders” and they’re wary of all “special interest” groups, like the special interest groups trying to get the police to be less murderous or the school district to be less racist.
Donna Colorio stinks.
So it has to be Joe Petty is what I’m saying. It’s either Joe Petty, a guy who will simply toe the line, or Donna Colorio, who’s hell bent on reversing any of the meager progresses the city has made over the past couple years.
It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a strong challenger to Petty’s left, but there just isn’t. That’s part of what makes the mayoral election this year the most boring and least consequential.
So I’ll join in the choir of people saying, “Joe Petty for mayor, I guess.”
In the race for at-large council seats, things are a lot more interesting, especially because we have some young, progressive challengers.
Thu Nguyen is the person I’m most excited about in this race and if I were only allowed to vote for one candidate it would be them.
Nguyen, Etel Haxhiaj in District 5, Johanna Hampton Dance in District 2, and Tracy Novick on the School Committee are the top-tier Worcester Sucks ticket.
I think we’re all better served talking about issues and coalitions then we are getting mired in the pettiness that can result in focusing on liberal identity politics, but in the identity politics game Nguyen is very interesting. They’re non-binary, a Vietnamese refugee, and perhaps most importantly, they grew up in Main South. Their perspective as a youth worker is a welcome one, and would strengthen Khrystian King’s one-man stand to increase the presence of case workers for city youth. Nguyen helped build Mutual Aid Worcester, a group that probably did more to help our most vulnerable through the pandemic than anything else in this city.
Their policy platform is very good: They want more investment in youth programming and jobs to prevent violence (a noticeably different approach to crime prevention than waving the Thin Blue Line flag), they’re against tax deals without community benefits, they want to hold developers accountable for creating good jobs for city residents, they want to invest in green infrastructure and they want to maintain a fare-free Worcester bus service.
Their service would be a credit to our city and if they get on the board we’re lucky.
Their shot at getting on the board is contingent on a lot of new people voting in the election. But I will get into the game theory of that a little later.
Guillermo Creamer Jr. is another challenger that would be a cut above the average councilor. Again, the identity bonafides are there: Latino, openly gay and, more importantly, grew up in Worcester in a family of modest means. He did a podcast episode with Seltzer Time recently and it’s a good listen. His big thing is government visibility, and his biggest critique is that no one votes and no one knows who the city councilors are or what the city council does. Agree big time on those points.
He’s freshly back from Washington, D.C., where he organized a non-profit called Pay Our Interns and the idea behind that is that if you don’t pay your interns you’re only going to get rich kids for interns and it boxes people out of the process.
Creamer is well spoken and running a sharp campaign and I would take his perspective over a Colorio or a Moe Bergman any day. That said, this is a young man with obvious career ambitions within the Democratic Party, so he’s going to be a good soldier like your Sean Roses and Sarai Riveras of the world. Not that that’s some terrible thing or anything but… Basically, if he gets a seat and we lose Khrystian King, then it’s a net negative. If he gets a seat and we lose Moe Bergman, huge positive.
Of the incumbents, Khrystian King is the only one where it would be a huge detriment if we were to lose him. Gary Rosen isn’t running, which is sort of a shame because he’s actually been decent in the past couple years. Donna Colorio, Moe Bergman and Kate Toomey are abjectly horrible and if we lose them it would be like, thank god.
So let’s take a look at that aforementioned game theory, shall we? In order to really understand what your vote is accomplishing, especially if you’re a first-time voter, you need to look at the past election results.
Reading these results, it’s clear Joe Petty and Kate Toomey are not liable to be going anywhere unless they really goof up or if (inshallah) a ton of new people decide to vote this year. But the other four seats are an open question. The difference between the top vote-getter of the four, King, and the bottom, Colorio, is only 1,000 votes, give or take. For perspective, let’s take a look at how those results were different in 2017.
Ahhhh, I had forgotten how sweet it was to see Mike Gaffney politically self-immolate that year. But anyway, again you see Petty and Toomey well out ahead of the pack and the race much closer for everyone else. You see Konnie Lukes filling the same position as Donna Colorio, the conservative politician who sneaks on in last place, and you see, again, Bergman, King and Rosen pulling very similar vote counts for third, fourth and fifth.
This year, Rosen is out. He’s retiring to pursue his dreams of riding the city bus full time, but the Bergman/King dynamic remains the same, as is the dynamic of Colorio shooting for last by employing the Lukes Method—run for mayor despite the futility of it so you can position yourself as the right-wing challenger of the status quo (this is a method I wish the left would copy as it is very effective).
The King/Bergman dynamic is illustrative of the divisions on the city council. They get similar vote numbers every year, but their policy positions couldn’t be more dissimilar. King is the only city councilor to ever even hint at police reform. Bergman wraps himself in the Thin Blue Line flag. King wants to see more racial equity in the city. Bergman recently launched into one of the most backward-sounding tirades against racial equity I’ve heard in my adult life in arguing against the decision to go along with a plan for district school committee members, the idea being that school committee members are predominantly white and from the same general neighborhood and have been for year, and that a new system would allow communities of color a fairer shake at representation. A lawsuit against the city alleges this is in violation of the Voting Rights Act with its current school committee setup. But Moe Bergman in a meeting a few weeks ago took it upon himself to argue against the Voting Rights Act for some reason. “Could you explain to me,” he asked the city lawyer, “the allegation that it’s illegal for one group to vote as a bloc but the suggestion for the solution is for another group to vote as a bloc?” The one group is white people and the other group is everyone else, btw. Overtones of white replacement rhetoric if you ask me.
Bergman is part of what you might call the four horsemen of the Council’s right wing—Bergman, Colorio, Toomey and Candy Mero-Carlson in District 2—and they were very effective in stifling productive discussion, let alone action, on the police reform demanded by Black Lives Matter and Defund Worcester Police last year. King was the only councilor who came close to representing the interests of BLM.
In a perfect world, we lose Toomey, Colorio and Bergman this year and pick up Nguyen, Creamer, Matt Wally and Bill Coleman, But we have to be realistic about the fact Kate Toomey is not going anywhere. It’s amazing that a politician that ham-handed, dim and poorly spoken could have such a base of support, but this is also Worcester, so it’s not that amazing.
In a less perfect but more realistic world, we could lose Colorio and Bergman and hopefully pick up Creamer and Nguyen and Wally and our council would be in a much better shape. Buuuut we also have to consider that it’s unlikely Bergman loses his seat this year.
Really, our best, most realistic shot is knocking off Donna Colorio and replacing her with someone more on the left—ideally Nguyen, but Creamer would be good as well, and accept that Matt Wally is going to fill Gary Rosen’s shoes as one of those guys in the middle.
At the end of the day, knock off Colorio and we shifted the council in the right direction. Anything extra and above that is icing on the cake.
If we can’t manage to knock Colorio off, then we haven’t shifted the council at all.
Vote Petty for mayor.
Vote Nguyen, Creamer, King, Petty for at-large.
Do NOT vote for Kate Toomey, Donna Colorio, or Moe Bergman.
Simple as that.
The folks over at Worcester Hates You (no that’s not me) have a similar voting guide but shorter and more visual.
Also you can vote as early as today, so get out there and vote, ya turkey!!
I’ll be voting on Tuesday because I’m old-fashioned but I hear it’s real quick and easy to get out there and vote early.
Tonight I’ll be joining the Wootenanny boys once again for our Worcester Council Science Theater livestream of the city council meeting. It’s the only tolerable way to watch those things!!
Thank you to Matt Johnson for the awesome illustration in the header of this post. It’s a variation on the theme my pal Chelsea Zona established in the first series.
If you missed it, I wrote about a homeless encampment that the city demolished last week and the reasons why and the piss poor way they went about it.
And, as always, if you liked what you read today, please consider sending me some dough every month so I can keep doing this stuff!!
Okay, till next time!