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Election guide Pt. 4: District Council
Cipro cannot win District 1
The election is tomorrow and it’s uhhhhhhhh, sorta scary. The scariest part bar none is the District 1 Council race, where the head of the local police union is well positioned for a victory. Like we might actually have an active duty cop sitting on our city council. The guy in charge of the organization responsible for shielding police officers from any accountability whatsoever may, after tomorrow, end up with the additional powers afforded by a city council seat. Big yikes!
You simply must vote for Sean Rose if you live in District 1.
You simply must vote for Etel Haxhiaj if you live in District 5
You simply must vote for Johanna Hampton-Dance if you live in District 2.
If you don’t know what district you’re in, you can look it up here.
Also, here are the other three parts of the guide.
This is how I will be voting in the other races:
Joe Petty for mayor.
At-large council: Khrystian King, Thu Nyguen, Guillermo Creamer Jr., Joe Petty
School Committee: Tracy Novick, Jermoh Kamara, Jermaine Johnson, Sue Mailman
Look at it in the abstract and it’s cheesy dystopian fiction. A police officer is videotaped executing a man in the streets and it sparks a wave of protests and riots and demands for action across the country. A resentment of a violently oppressive institution simering in the national psyche is awakened, if for a moment. In a relatively small political backwater in Massachusetts, the demonstrations are met with violence. The police there use a small group of protesters as an opportunity to test out all the riot control gear they bought from the federal government and the training they got from Israeli super soldiers whose “crowd control” techniques are among the finest in the world—streamlined in the police technology laboratory we call the Gaza Strip. After videos surface of the cops beating, tear-gassing and firing “non-lethal” rounds at a small group of demonstrators, the leaders of the city quickly rally behind the cops. The demonstrators were a “mob” and the police handled the situation responsibly and respectfully, they say. This is a trying time but they assure us Worcester cops are different. We do things better here. In the months following the violent encounter, hundreds of residents call in to the City Council meetings every week demanding more accountability and budget reform for the Worcester Police Department. Their calls are not only ignored by the city council, some councilors openly deride the residents. An unprecedented level of interest and enthusiasm in municipal politics hits the city council like a wave against a seawall. These councilors will later complain about a lack of interest in municipal politics. Bemused, they’ll ask, “Why does no one vote?” as if it’s some intangible problem and not the direct result of their open contempt for an engaged public. Nevertheless, the city manager, seeing himself as the adult in the room, promises a package of police reforms. After almost a year, he presents his package of reforms to the city council and it is filled, mostly, with things the city is simply required to do by state law. He presents them as new and well-intentioned policy proposals. It’s an entirely lacking package and its presentation is condescending and patronizing. But in it there is one good suggestion: remove cops from schools. The council narrowly passes the package by a 6-5 vote. Months of activism and public pressure amounted to one small reform. In the process of the reform passing, we learn it was not born of some benevolence or acknowledgement of the problems inherent to American policing. No, it was the product of a state law change which made it illegal for school resource officers to share information on students with the police department. If the cops in the schools can’t spy on the kids, then there’s really no point in having them there.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, the cops and the circle of townies and “law enforcement family” types around them find a central meeting place: the local patrolman’s union Facebook page. In the months following the wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the page becomes a well-visited dumping ground for “thin blue line” propagandizing, racist memes, and fearmongering about “Antifa” and “BLM thugs.” Law enforcement was under attack, and this is where folks met to protect it. The City Council’s decision to remove school resource officers hits this page like a concussion grenade. How dare they. This is an affront to law enforcement everywhere. This is an attack on us. Out of this fervor, a candidate is born. His name is Richard Cipro. He’s an admin of the page and he’s an active duty police officer. He’s also the head of the local patrolman’s union. He’s a war veteran, he’s a SWAT guy, he has all the tactical aesthetics of the new face of American policing. He’s the Punisher logo flag flying proudly behind a raised Ford F-250 with tinted windshields. He’s a cop’s cop and he’s going to take on the corruption of City Hall. He’s going to take on all those Antifa and BLM thugs on the city council who voted to… reassign seven Worcester police officers from the schools to other jobs in the department. But the details don’t matter. The policy doesn’t matter. You hit us, we hit you. He inaccurately claims that Sean Rose, the person who holds the seat, voted to defund the police. He was wrong but it didn’t matter. It accomplished the goal of casting Rose as the perfect foil to his campaign and in the September primary election our new challenger of the status quo does considerably better than his opponent. If he’s to win tomorrow, his candidacy paves the way for the police department to finally formalize its control of the city.
For decades, the soft power of the police union—the backroom conversations and the promise of votes for candidates who do what they say and the ability to sabotage policy proposals from City Hall—has given the department an outsized influence in the city. Budget hearings, designed to allow councilors to critically assess the city’s spending, read like pledges of fealty. The Worcester Police Department does so much to keep us safe and the councilors say “Thank you for your service” like it’s 2003 and the police chief nods with quiet dignity. Critically assessing the police department’s budget is outside the Overton window of the Worcester City Council. The cops always get exactly what they want and then some.
But why stop there? If you can just get a bunch of cops on the City Council, you’ll never have to worry about a thing again. City Hall would never have the power to do something so terrible, so insulting, as reassign seven police officers from the schools to other jobs, if the cops formally controlled the City Council.
So that’s the reality we’re living in with Cipro’s candidacy. It’s nightmarish, and its implications should he win are depressing. Worcester did so little to address the grievances of the Black Lives Matter movement. Not even the bare minimum. And that one little change the city actually made—reassigning a handful of officers—inspired a massive political backlash. If the backlash works and Cipro gets on the City Council, the prospect of ever reforming the police department flies out the window. One step forward, three steps back.
Now, should he lose (and inshallah he does), then we’ll see the extent of the political will that the law enforcement types can muster. With any luck, he gets spanked. But I’m projecting a close one.
You’ll notice I haven’t said much about Rose, his opponent, because there’s not all that much to say. He’s a good soldier. Petty is grooming him for command. His policy positions are in line with the great houses of the city and he’ll do what he’s told.
While I would love to see Rose challenged from the left, he’s being challenged from the right. So you just have to vote for him.
I’ve already written about Cipro as a candidate exhaustively, but in recent weeks, a few noteworthy things have come to light.
A few days ago six community groups put out an open letter and a compendium of screenshots from the aforementioned Facebook group. The screenshots are a glimpse into a horribly racist way of looking at the world and they show Cipro’s intimate involvement in creating the culture there. He really jumped the shark in my opinion when he called Sarai Rivera a racist lmao
The signatories of this letter write to express our concerns about having Sgt. Cipro as a city councilor. Law enforcement has historically been hostile and abusive to Black, Latino, Indigenous, queer, disabled, and poor populations, and is invested in protecting and expanding power for its own purposes. These general concerns about law enforcement sitting on city council are embodied in candidate Richard Cipro. His public comments show that he cannot be trusted to work seriously with the city’s residents that suffer disproportionately from Worcester’s rising costs of housing, police misconduct, opaque city government decision-making, and a budget that does not allocate appropriate resources to the neighborhood and community groups that have dedicated themselves to making Worcester a safer, more just, and more equitable place for all of its residents.
I filed a public records request for any internal disciplinary records or legal actions involving Cipro as a cop, and I got it back from the city surprisingly fast, which is in and of itself interesting.
The only thing of any real note is Cipro’s involvement in a 2015 no-knock raid in which officers held a naked woman clutching her two small children at gunpoint while others ransacked her apartment. And the woman was completely innocent. The guy they were after had moved out of the apartment four months prior and this family moved in after.
Cipro was on the raid team and he was also responsible for training cops in SWAT practices. During the raid, the officers yelled at the woman and her seven year old kid and an 18-month-old toddler to “shut the fuck up,” “get on the fucking floor,” and “take care of your fucking children,” while “menacing them with pistols, shotguns and automatic weapons,” according to court documents.
“Only after their search for drugs and guns proved fruitless did police realize what they would have known had they checked before the raid: Their target had moved from the apartment months before, he could easily be found elsewhere, and the plaintiffs had no link at all to him or any crime.”
On their way out the door—and this is a detail I can’t shake—one of the SWAT guys looked at that woman and said, “We were respectful to you.”
The nerve of that, to burst into an innocent family’s home and train guns on a woman and two small children and then, on your way out the door, say something like that. No remorse. No empathy. It’s not even gaslighting so much as it is a threat. If you try to hold us to account on this colossal fuck up, we’re going to win. We did everything right.
And you know what, they did win. The family sued the city and the officers involved for damages and after some four years of legal battles a federal judge in 2019 dismissed the case saying the officers involved were just doing their job. Some fuckin job.
To my mind Cipro’s involvement in the Hillside raid is only tangentially related to the race. He’d still be the same candidate if that had never happened and unfortunately reforms to the most militarized wing of the police department were off the table before Cipro even hinted at a council run. But it does serve to illustrate his character, and it’s a glimpse into the law enforcement mindset. To fuck up that colossally, and at such traumatic expense to a young, innocent family, and then on your way out the door you go, “We were respectful to you.”
Ok enough doom and gloom. Let’s talk about a candidate who’s good! Actually good! Actually well positioned to win a seat!
Etel Haxhiaj has run a stellar campaign in District 5, so much so that her opponents have resorted to some of the most brain-dead smear tactics I’ve seen in all my days. She took some 55 percent of the vote in the September primary in a four-candidate race and her opponent is running a campaign that should be similar to Cipro’s—he’s a retired cop and he’s running on the “defend the police” platform—but he’s such an uncharismatic person that it’s not really tracking. He gives off the vibe that he’s old and bored and wants to be on the city council to have something to do. That worked for Gary Rosen because he’s sorta funny about it. Stratman is devoid of personality. I can just picture him on the La-Z-Boy every night, Fox News providing the only light in the otherwise dark room, and he’s going back and forth between grumbling and nodding off as Tucker Carlson hits all the preprogrammed boxes in his subconscious that keep him glued there to the TV every night.
Haxhiaj, though, is putting on a damn clinic. Her campaign is almost entirely ground game focused and she’s got teams of people out there talking to voters and doing their best to inspire some enthusiasm in non-voters.
Her platform is great: she’s hawkish on the environment in a way that you don’t really see on the city council and she takes the housing crisis seriously and she has a long track record of activism on both fronts. In Haxhiaj we would have a reliably progressive vote to add to Khrystian King’s wing of the council.
I cannot say enough good things about her, she really deserves the vote. Her opponents are trying to smear her by calling her a communist and that seems to be the best they can come up with.
Wait until they find out how many of us actually are communists.
In Haxhiaj vs Stratman we have the best shot of any of the races at pulling the council in a more progressive direction.
Vote Haxhiaj and vote twice. And that’s all I gotta say about that.
This one has been the sleepiest one of all the races. Candy Mero-Carlson, the incumbent, wants it that way. A sleepy election always benefits the incumbent. And Mero-Carlson, with all her Democratic party and labor connections, if she wants it she gets it.
It’s a shame because her challenger, Johanna Hampton-Dance, has good politics and her service on the City Council would be a credit. She’s advocating for a housing plan that acknowledges gentrification, she wants police reform, she wants more support for the city’s homeless and the elderly. She checks a lot of boxes for me. She even has the removal of service weapons for police officers in her platform, which is completely impractical, but let’s get that Overton window freakin shifting baby! Hell yeah!
I’m certainly going to be voting for her and if you live in District 2, you should too. I’d love to be pleasantly surprised by a Hampton-Dance victory but this is a David vs. Goliath sort of situation. Mero-Carlson is connected. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that victory or no, a strong showing at the polls for an out-and-out progressive, especially a newcomer, sends a strong message to City Hall.
Mero-Carlson is one of the staunchest blind supporters of the Worcester Police Department on the City Council. Hampton-Dance wants to push for reform. On that basis alone, the choice is clear.
Hampton-Dance all the way.
So in conclusion, the D1 race is objectively horrifying, the D5 race is exciting, and if the D2 race goes a certain way it’ll be the biggest bombshell upset of the election.
And that’s a wrap on my election coverage. I really cannot stress enough how important it is to not only vote, but try to grab people you know and get them voting as well. Just a few hundred new voters in this race will dramatically impact the outcome. Seats are often decided by just a few dozen votes. My roommate said he votes every time but he doesn’t pay attention, he just waits for one of his friends who does to tell him who to vote for. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m going to send him a text in the morning with all the candidates he should vote for. We need more people like my roommate.
As always, if you liked this post give it the ol’ share on social media to get the word out and consider signing up to financially support me. This newsletter is powered by nothing but the direct $5 contributions of the readers who care to support me. I don’t even paywall anything! I could, but I don’t! It’s just a question of whether you think journalism like this should exist in Worcester.
Hey give it up for Katie Nowicki for the sick header art!! Katie’s an amazing tattoo artist based in Worcester. She started booking for the winter and spring today so hit her up quick if you want to look cool as hell. In any case give her a follow @katienowicki.
Tomorrow night, as the election results start to roll in, I will be on Twitch with my pals in Wootenanny Comedy. We have a lineup of guests and it’s going to be a fun time. Tune in!! We’re going on at 8 p.m. The stream will be on their Twitch channel.
Shout out to WGBH for reporting on Shanel Soucy’s no-good rotten School Committee bid. And shout out to Cara Berg Powers who’s quoted in the story with this banger:
“You know, I’ve sort of joked with some of my friends that the sex ed stuff, the critical race theory stuff, the mask and vaccine stuff — the Venn diagram is a circle,” she said.
Okay now please make a plan to get out there and vote tomorrow!!! It’ll take five minutes tops I promise.