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Election Injection #1
Campaign season is officially underway baby
Happy Tuesday everyone! This post is the first of what will be a routine series heading up to the municipal election in November. The “Election Injection” series will be a regular grab bag of all news, events and petty dramas that emerge in the race for mayor, city council and school committee. Last week, nomination papers were made available, marking the unofficial kickoff to election season here in our fair city on seven1 hills. We’ve already got a big list of potential candidates to work through—a lot of new names as well as familiar ones—and we’ve already got some campaign drama too! I’m exhausted! I can feel my brain melting!
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And before we get to the election stuff, a few quick things.
Barring any further holds or other delays, tonight appears to be the night we’re set to vote on the inclusionary zoning policy. The Worcester Together Affordable Housing Coalition is going to be holding a rally inside City Hall on the third floor at 6 p.m. It’d be great if there were as many people as possible there.
For background reading on this issue:
Batista is proposing a policy measure which claims to address the problem of rents being too damn high. It sounds nice. It looks nice. It’s got the word “inclusion” in the title (Trump voice: Inclusion, folks! We love it. We love the word! I say it often!). But in reality it won’t do anything at all. It’s what we like to call “toothless.” All gums. And it’s got no teeth because concern it might inconvenience the people making the rents go up (developers) have rendered it useless to low-income renters, the demographic which the policy claims to benefit, and the very thing that makes it inclusionary in the first place. I’ll get into the details (painfully dry but instructive of the real values of City Hall) later in the post.
Housing advocates want to see the policy tweaked so that it will do something—anything at all!—to help people who are being displaced and otherwise throwing an unsustainable share of their earnings into the roof over their head. No one is under any illusion this tweak will fix the ‘too damn high’ problem. We need to be doing a whole lot more. But it will be something. A start.
Passed as written, sans tweak, this policy will be worse than doing nothing. Not only will it be useless, it will provide cover. City Hall will be able to throw up its hands and say ‘we tried!’ when they didn’t really try. And the argument that more needs to be done, while just as correct as it was before, becomes harder to make.
The Worcester Sucks Power Hour!
Against my better judgment and hope for inner peace, I’m adding a new property to the Worcester Sucks media empire: The Worcester Sucks Power Hour! It’s a podcast, but it’s also a Twitch stream, and it’s by the same crew that brings you the much reviled Worcestery Council Theater 3000 streams! It’s both a supplement to my writing here and a second show for the WCT3K folks where we decide what to talk about, not the Council.
There are some kinks left to iron out to make it a proper podcast but the first run at it went pretty well, I think. You can listen to it over on Patreon, where I also provide a more detailed explanation of what the Power Hour is all about. And follow the Wootenanny Twitch page for a heads up on when the next stream will happen.
Let me know what you think!
Let’s start with a rundown of who’s pulled papers for what. City Council then School Committee, which will require some extra explanation. For those who don’t know, potential candidates have to pull papers from City Hall, get signatures on said papers, and return them by May 30 in order to appear on the ballot. While a formality for most candidates, there are some people who pull papers and do not return them. So for now this is a list of potential candidates, but it does give us a sense of the shape of the race. And it’s likely more people will pull papers in the weeks ahead.
At Large Council/Mayor
In our quirky system, all candidates for the six at-large council seats are also candidates for mayor until they “withdraw consideration,” which most end up doing. The deadline to withdraw from mayor is in September.
Here’s who’s pulled, in order of when they did so: Khrystian King, Jose Rivera, Donna Colorio, Johanna Hampton-Dance, Maydeé Morales, Bill Coleman, Kate Toomey, Domenica Perrone, Joseph Petty, Jonathan Rodriguez, Thu Nguyen.
That’s 11 potential candidates for six seats! Not a bad start, I say.
Of the current at-large councilors, the only one absent is Moe Bergman. I haven’t heard any whispers that he’s getting out of the game, though as they say it would be cooler if he did. I’m sure he’ll pull papers soon and he already said he’s running. Bringing the number to an even 12.
The challengers are interesting, and they’re mostly people who would be welcome additions to the Council. Let’s go through them one at a time.
Bill Coleman: Old heads will know Coleman is a recurring character in city elections. He runs for mayor every year, he’s an extremely nice guy, and he’s treated with an absolute lack of respect by the prevailing political class. He doesn’t really campaign to win but I for one think it would be really nice to see him get a surprise victory.
Johanna Hampton-Dance: In 2021 Hampton-Dance ran in District 2 against Candy Mero Carlson, or as I like to call her “Lord Farquad of the East Side.” Despite the fact Mero-Carlson is deeply entrenched and Hampton-Dance a political newcomer without much campaign infrastructure or funding, the race was close. Mero-Carlson won by only a few hundred votes (1164 to 904). This is encouraging both for District 2 and for the at-large race. A woman of color with no allegiances to the old boys club at City Hall, she would be a welcome addition. Here’s her campaign Facebook page.
Maydeé Morales: This is someone I’d really like to see win. A candidate in the Thu Nguyen mold, not the Kate Toomey. Progressive and deeply involved in the community. For fans of Nguyen, Etel Haxhiaj, State Sen. Robyn Kennedy, etc. Her campaign Facebook.
Domenica Perrone: Everything I said about Maydeé applies to Perrone. Progressive, equity focused, beholden to the community and not to City Hall. Her website.
Jose Rivera: Saving the worst for last. While most of the other challengers would be welcome additions, Rivera is entirely unwelcome. By way of his social media activity and missteps by his campaign manager, Walter Bird, Rivera has emerged as the premiere heel of the at-large race—an accomplishment given Kate Toomey is right there.
For those who don’t know, Rivera is best known as a professional boxer who’s had some success. He currently works as a court officer. In the well-trod tradition of right wing candidates, Rivera is running an expressly apolitical campaign leaning heavily on a “hometown hero” profile tied to his boxing days. His tagline, as shown on his website, is “People over Politics.” Because America is the stupidest country on Earth, this is a winning message. Rivera could likely waltz into a council seat simply by nature of parlaying his micro-celebrity status. But he just keeps getting in the way of himself. His behavior online—mostly in the arena of Townie Facebook—is quite at odds with his “People over Politics” message. Turns out he’s got some pretty strong political beliefs! And some similarly strong views on certain types of people. Turns out he loves “medical freedom” and hates “pronouns.” An example from this week:
That explains it!!
The post has since been deleted, which doesn’t make it go away, and Rivera made it worse in this tortured explanation on Twitter.
Sheesh. It’s too stupid to get into but Walter Bird, his campaign manager, is making it so much worse. Check this thread if you want to dig into some really brain-melting stuff.
This stuff will only continue to get dumber as we move toward November. Here’s to hoping Rivera and Bird implode into each other. They’re off to a good start.
Overall, the at-large race is encouraging. There are three new contenders in Hampton-Dance, Morales and Perrone who would bolster the the council’s progressive flank. There’s only one, Rivera, who would pull the council rightward. And Bill Coleman is simply a delight.
Left open by Councilor Sean Rose’s decision against running for re-election, the District 1 seat has some early interest. Four people have pulled papers: Jenny Pacillo, Joseph Rubino, Robert Diaz and Larry Shetler.
Jenny Pacillo: Safe to say she’s the early favorite and she has the support of Rose. Here’s her website.
Joseph Rubino: Don’t know much about him. He has a linktree which takes you to an Instagram page, a Twitch channel and an... Onlyfans? Safe to say he’s the only candidate in the race with an Onlyfans presence.
Robert Diaz: Totally unsure.
Larry Shetler: Looks like he ran in D2 in 2015. Otherwise I got nothing.
I’m really hopeful about this race. As we talked about with Hampton-Dance’s run last cycle, sitting District 2 Councilor Candy Mero-Carlson is vulnerable. She can be beaten, and really she should be beaten. She’s one of the “four horsemen” on the Council’s conservative flank, joined by Moe Bergman, Donna Colorio and Kate Toomey. A Council without Mero-Carlson is already a dramatically better council. And it just so happens she has an opponent this year who would be a great addition: Robert Bilotta.
Bilotta is the only other candidate to pull papers in D2, and his campaign is already up and running. Bilotta is a transportation advocate with a heavy focus on accessibility for disabled people. He’s done a lot of great work for Worcester in this regard. He’d be an asset and and a credit on the City Council.
Of all the council campaigns, this is the one which needs the most support and where support could have the biggest impact. Knocking Mero-Carlson out of District 2 is like knocking a despot off the throne of the East Side.
In a later Election Injection post, we’ll get into campaign finance stuff, but for now lets just say Bilotta is going up against someone who is hording gold like a dragon.
In District 3, two people have pulled papers, incumbent George Russell and challenger Feanna Jattan-Singh. I don’t know much about Jattan-Singh but I wish them all the best. George Russell is not the worst councilor on the board—stiff competition!—but he’s no progressive icon either. Far from it.
With incumbent Sarai Rivera stepping down, the District 4 seat is open and there’s quite a lot of interest. Five people have pulled papers: Ted Kostas, Maureen Schwaub, Maria Montano, Katia Norford and Luis Ojeda. I don’t know much about any of these people but I do know that Ted Kostas is a run-of-the-mill crappy Republican. So for now my analysis is Anyone But Kostas Please.
In District 5, only incumbent Etel Haxhiaj has pulled papers and if it stays that way that would be great. Etel is among the three city councilors right now comprising the progressive bloc and her tireless advocacy for affordable housing and against the cruelty meted out on the unhoused makes her the model for what a city councilor should be, in my opinion.
The School Committee race this year is going to be a strange one. In the last cycle, voters put in place the most progressive and diverse School Committees I’ve seen and it automatically yielded results in its hiring of an actually qualified and not-townie superintendent in Rachel Monárrez.
Now, the task at hand is more hanging onto that progressive and diverse mix of committee members amid an entirely changed election system. If you’ll remember, last year the city established a new system of School Committee districts after settling a lawsuit and issuing a consent decree.
As a result of the consent decree, the School Committee will become a nine-member board, with two at-large members, six district members, and the mayor. Frustratingly, the City Council did not choose to change its districts to match the new School Committee districts, so now the School Committee districts are lettered A-F so as not to be confused with Council districts 1-5. Here’s the map of School Committee districts, which is of course different than Council districts. Oy vey. Back in 2021 I wrote about how this was going to be extremely confusing for voters but the Council decided it was better to be confusing, because the majority of the City Council really doesn’t care what the community or voters have to say about things. Their supporters already vote, after all.
Nevertheless, we’re marching ahead. As of yesterday, three candidates had pulled papers for the two at-large seats: Tracy Novick, Sue Mailman and Laura Clancey. And then there’s apparently this, just freshly announced this morning:
So the rumors are true. Former Superintendent Maureen Binienda is stepping into the ring. I hope she’s thought through the double whop to her legacy it’s going to leave when she doesn’t get the votes to get on the School Committee after she gets ousted as superintendent? Anyway, game on!!
In the district seats, there’s decidedly less competition.
District A: Just current member Molly McCullough. District B: Newcomer Vanessa Alvares. District C: Current member Jermoh Kamara and former member Dianna Bianchera. Kamara is the obvious pick here. Biancheria is a holdover of the Time of Ray Mariano and is objectively the dumbest public official I have ever heard speak. It would be a crying shame if this new system allowed Biancheria back on the board. But I have a feeling Kamara will take this one. District E: Just John Patrick Reed, a newcomer. District F: Just Jermaine Johnson, an incumbent.
You might notice that the District D seat is not listed here, and that’s because no one has thus far taken out papers to run for that district, which is generally in the Main South/South Worcester area. I am not sure what happens if no one runs in a district, but there’s a good chance we may be in a position of having to answer that question.
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X Files: Chamber of Commerce
Me and my lady (who drew the amazing image Election Injection image included atop this post!) have been on an X Files kick of late and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Worcester connection! There always is!
In Season 8, Episode 8, Agent Scully and Agent Doggett’s investigation of a murder brings them to questioning an exterminator located somewhere in Central Massachusetts. About 20 minutes in, this happens:
DOGGETT: You’ve done time, haven’t you?
EXTERMINATOR: Yeah, a long time ago... But now my brother and I are actually members of the Worcester Chamber of Commerce.
Put that in your little brochures, Tim Murray! “One of our members has x-ray vision!”
Ed is Dead (again!)
Former City Manager Ed Augustus is out as chancellor of Dean College. It was confirmed last week by the college that effective April 14, Ol Ed is no longer chancellor. They do not say where he’s going or who will be replacing him or if he will be replaced at all. The college already has a president, after all, and it raises the question of whether the chancellor position was ever all that needed, or if it was just a way for Augustus to get out of Worcester. As the statement says, he was a board member for years. So. Maybe the board did him a solid?
Augustus started last June, after leaving the City Council on short enough notice that they had to hire an “acting” city manager who of course became the next city manager without a competing candidate. He became the “first chancellor in the college’s history” and now leaves some 10 months later and Dean has not indicated whether they’ll replace him. Who knows! What even is a chancellor? Where will Ed go next?
Maybe he’ll run for School Committee District D. Open for the taking!
Barred From Tips
Starbucks’ brutal anti-unionization campaign has come to Worcester! Per the Patch:
But if you're buying coffee at the East Central Street Starbucks store in Worcester, you can't leave a credit card tip. The store is banned from the practice, according to the Seattle-based company, because workers there elected to join a union.
The East Central Street Starbucks — perhaps the busiest in the Worcester area due to its location right off I-290 — is the only one around that doesn't offer credit card tipping.
This is the first of several very weird tactics Starbucks has used to try to slow the wave of unionization hitting its stores. There’s an open case with the National Labor Relations Board that this is a classic union busting tactic.
Ok that’s all for today but I have another post cooked up for later in the week! Talk real soon!
Many, many more than seven hills, as head of the Greater Worcester Land Trust Colin Novick is always pointing out. We only say there are seven hills because we want to be like Rome. But as I think we can all agree we are decidedly not Rome. No specific amount of hills will make it so.