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Election re-cap: Welp.
R.I.P. functional School Committee
Welp. Here’s the one sentence summary of the election: The City Council stayed exactly the same and the School Committee got fucking destroyed.
I took yesterday all the way off. Did not go online. Losing an election is one thing but being subjected to the knee-jerk bad takes the following day is another. No thank you. There are good takes to be had and there is a need to reassess and change a lot of the game plan for progressive politics in this city. We are not going to arrive on those good takes or those new game plans this week.
Some takes I’ve seen today that are not helpful, for instance, are ones that blame the candidates. They all hustled and that’s not fair.
Today I’m going to run through the results in “big picture” status with some analysis. Then, Cara Berg Powers shares a very thoughtful take that I think people will find useful unlike so much else out in the ether right now.
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Since the council stayed the same and the school committee got destroyed, we’ll lead with the schools.
The one sentence summary is that the progressive, competent school committee of the past two years dramatically shifted to the right and back into the hands of what is best thought of as a townie jobs cartel.
We lost Tracy O’Connell Novick and Jermoh Kamara, two truly bright lights on the committee, and replaced them with Maureen Binienda and Dianna Biancheria, two members of the aforementioned townie jobs cartel. Instead of adding Nelly Medina, a stalwart community activist, we added Kathi Roy, a literal Jan. 6 person. Woof.
The bitter irony here is that the decision to re-arrange the school committee from an at-large system to a district system played a massive role in this atrocious outcome. A reform intended to make the committee more equitable did the exact opposite. This deserves significant, deep examination.
Here we see Maureen Binienda, former superintendent, sailing to an easy first place finish, and two incumbents in Novick and Laura Clancey getting bumped off.
Former School Committee member and certified crank Dianna Biancheria easily bumps off an incumbent progressive in Jermoh Kamara.
Nelly Medina would have been a fantastic addition to a progressive School Committee. Instead, we add Roy, who is safely the most reactionary politician on the ballot.
The other districts
In Districts A, B, D and F, uncontested elections give us Molly McCullough, Vanessa Alvarez, Alex Guardiola and Jermaine Johnson.
From progressive to crank
Using the coalition breakdown of “progressive, center, crank,” let’s look at then versus now.
The current committee is composed of four progressives (Novick, Mailman, Kamara, Johnson) and three centers (Clancey, McCullough, Petty).
The committee coming into power in January:
Progressive: Mailman, Johnson, Alvarez
Center: McCullough, Petty
Crank: Guardiola, Binienda, Biancheria, Roy
We went from a committee with progressives in a 4 vote controlling position to one with cranks in a 4 vote controlling position. Welp!
The only change in the composition of the City Council is replacing Sean Rose with Jenny Pacillo. While Pacillo is certainly better than Rose, it’s not by much. The 8-3 dynamic has only marginally shifted to a tentative 7-4.
Joe Petty thoroughly trounced the competition. It was not close.
All the incumbents won. The only change was their relative positions. The silver lining here is thinking about the bench and future elections. There are four new progressives at the bottom and no new cranks or centers. Cold comfort, but not nothing.
A safe and commanding victory for Pacillo.
This is the one that really stings. Bilotta did so well for a first time challenger, and did better than in the preliminary. This was very nearly a massive upset, and the silver lining is that it puts Candy on notice.
No reason to even share a screenshot. George Russell got 75 percent of the vote and sailed to victory easily over Feanna Jattan-Singh. No surprises there.
It was close, but Sarai Rivera’s chosen replacement was chosen by the voters. Luis Ojeda comes into the D4 seat with no mandate to do anything but what Rivera did.
Too close for comfort, but Haxhiaj secured victory over Rivera, and we dodged flipping a seat from stalwart progressive to one of the crankiest of the cranks.
The new dynamic
While I don't necessarily see her being a leader of progressive causes, I think it’s safe to put Pacillo in the progressive camp. Ojeda stays where Rivera was in the center category. The 8-3 dynamic tentatively moved to 7-4. Still a safe controlling position for the center/crank coalition, and it’s entirely unreasonable to expect any more success for progressive causes these next two years than inthe last.
Progressive: Etel Haxhiaj, Thu Nguyen, Khrystian King, Jenny Pacillo
Center: Joe Petty, Luis Ojeda
Crank: Donna Colorio, Moe Bergman, Kate Toomey, Candy Mero-Carlson
There is a lot more analysis to do here, and a lot more reflection. I’m going to take a little bit to process and reflect and give you all something that’s more helpful than a gut reaction.
Now to Cara.
Tomorrow there’ll be more of us
By Cara Berg Powers
If you have taken US History, you may be familiar with something called “The Warren Court.” This is the period on the Supreme Court in which Justice Earl Warren was the Chief Justice, and it brought forward such landmark decisions as Brown v. Board and Miranda v. Arizona, which brings us the rights you might know from such shows as Law & Order, Miranda Rights. I’ll note here I have linked the direct case law, and not the legal analysis of groups against these rights (yes that is a shot at our City Solicitor). The Warren Court is widely remembered for its expansion of civil rights and consensus across decisions. You’ll note in each of the summaries of the case law linked here, there are a number of subsequent decisions that chip away at the rights outlined by the original decisions. Part of why the Warren Court is remembered so specifically, is that it is a rare case in contemporary judicial history in which the courts moved progress forward. In fact, Nixon nominated Warren’s replacement in 1969, and in the intervening years the court has moved further and further away from protecting the rights of the people.
I am worried today that we may remember the last two years on the Worcester School Committee with a similar melancholy fondness. Throughout the campaign season, multiple current members remarked at how collaborative and solution-oriented this configuration, as well as the superintendent they hired to replace Maureen Binienda last year, have been. For many of us that are educators and parents, we see this firsthand, and while we know change takes time, today I’m already wondering if we’ve run out.
I am not willing to concede that yet. To chart a course forward though, I think we need to consider how we’ve arrived here. How did we lose a public school policy expert, a youth worker and a public health professional and gain a right-wing activist, a former political crony of Ray Mariano’s, and a former superintendent who took no action to protect children from a credibly accused child rapist when confronted with the information at least five years ago? How did we miss the opportunity to elect a tireless community advocate?
In my mind there are three big things that could have gone drastically differently to keep the kind of committee cooperation we’ve seen:
The community (all of us are implicated here) could have rallied around the lawsuit that created district seats as an opportunity to educate community members about the role of the School Committee, increase voter turnout in low turnout communities and recruit potential community candidates.
The Democratic City Committee and the Democratic State Committee could have addressed the threat of a far-right Republican City Committee candidate with serious support for Nelly Medina, or any support for Nelly Medina.
People with the power to amplify the very clear failures of Binienda’s leadership, and professed interest in keeping collaborative colleagues in place could have said something, anything, publicly about the accusations against John Monfredo, her handling of them, or the reasons they voted to not renew her contract in the first place.
First, let’s talk about the district School Committee seats. Many people are understandably frustrated that this new, more democratic configuration has essentially lost us our youngest member, who is also Black and a Liberian refugee, in addition to being a fierce public health advocate, to an older white political insider who didn’t even campaign. And by reducing the number of at-large seats, we also lost two members who have been working in this collaborative configuration for the last two years, and gained a former superintendent who doesn’t believe in the right to strike and has refused to admit anything she did was wrong, despite the positive changes made since.
I’d argue the issue here is not with us having a more democratically elected school committee, but with us doing the organizing work to bring more community voices to those new seats. To have only two contested races among the whole lot, neither in the “districts of opportunity” established by the lawsuit, is a failure of organizing. It’s not surprising. Worcester has a lot of energy, a lot of passion, a lot of cool projects, but not a lot of coordination. We can build on this. The seats that were won by Roy and Biancheria were never going to be easy seats for passionate, progressive women of color to win. For Medina to come within 100 votes in one of the most Republican-leaning districts in the city is an accomplishment.
Which brings me to point number two. Four out of the six precincts that make up the Worcester portion of the State Senate special election for Worcester Hampshire overlapped with District E. You would think that the state party or Democratic City Committee would have lent a hand then in increasing turn out and meeting the double objective of defeating a Republican school committee candidate and also running up the Zlotnik votes in Worcester. Alas, they failed to heed the warnings that many have been making for years that Republicans have their sights and pocketbooks focused on Central Massachusetts.
We know that the GOP has built power via the states, and the common wisdom is that they build a bench—they run for smaller seats to work their way up. Which is exactly why it’s so dangerous to have candidates like Roy get elected in races like this, which were totally winnable. If only Medina had gotten any of the kind of support from the local party that Sean Rose did when Rick Cipro ran against him last cycle. And Cipro isn’t even a registered Republican! It was a complete failure of the Democratic party infrastructure to not get into this race, and time will tell how much harm that decision will cause—for the kids of the Worcester Public Schools and for the trajectory of larger races.
The last point here is perhaps what could have had the largest impact on the overall election results. I have already had people share with me that they’ve been assured by folks close to the Petty campaign that he’s really unhappy about Binienda’s win. In addition to the public confirmation from Sarai Rivera about the backroom deal he allegedly made to sideline her to School Committee instead of Mayor, it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow that a guy with the biggest platform in the city to share why she shouldn’t be elected opted wait it out and see how it went. Instead, there were backchannel reprimands to folks about supporting Khrystian King because “Joe led the charge to get rid of Binienda.” Ok, but voters can’t hear your whispers.
They also don’t see your tweet likes or messages of private support to survivors. So it’s more frustrating than comforting when Molly McCullough, who ran unopposed, likes my tweet about how people would tell me to keep my daughter away from Monfredo, and how infuriating it was that Binienda continues to embrace his support, and says nothing publicly. Coming from her opponents, like Sue Mailman or Tracy Novick, who both had the courage to stand with Heather and for students, a message of support from someone like McCullough or Petty could have made a real difference. No one thinks either isexcited to serve with a woman whose contract they voted against renewing. They have been cleaning up her messes all along, from sex ed to buses to staff moraleyou could bring to a funeral.
The horror stories about Binienda’s leadership that I heard while door-knocking in 2019 are only outmatched by the terror many had that something would get back to her. I will not share specific stories, as they were shared in confidence, but suffice to say a lot have a similar flavor to those called out by students calling for her removal—casual racism, reactionary conservatism and a disregard for the actual rules of the role. I’m sure Petty, McCullough and any of the many business leaders who quietly asked one another “is it even allowed to run after being in charge?” have plenty of their own stories to share. Unfortunately, many people who have only ever engaged with her through puff pieces, or have aligned with her politically and professionally, will never hear any of those stories, or the reasons Petty and McCullough took that vote two years ago. And for that, our students will suffer, and honestly, Petty, McCullough and others will have really exhausting Thursday nights for the next two years.
So what now?
Well, I think there’s a few things we can do.
The community can keep organizing. Honestly, these results are not as bad as they look once you get over the initial gut punch. I’m inspired that several people have already reached out asking how they can get more involved in city politics.
We show up and ensure that those we’ve elected are doing the work that is needed.
We keep doing our work to keep this city awesome—the small businesses, the weird artists, the cultural events, all the things these politicians want to put on their campaign lit. We do that. And we keep doing it, because we are the community.
I think elected officials like Joe Petty and Molly McCullough (the folks Bill might call the centrists) need to think about what their role is. If Petty really did make a deal for this to be his last run, what does he want his legacy to be? Someone who enabled the harm that Binienda and Roy’s unchecked power would inevitably bring? Or someone who built consensus and leadership to continue the hard work that has been happening the last two years? Many in the community (myself included) praised the work Molly did leading the superintendent search. We need that leadership, toward solutions and an equitable future for our kids, now more than ever.
At the end of the day, change is not linear. A backlash often follows the kind of progressive pickups we had in 2021. It’s normal to be discouraged. And everyone do what you need to do this week to rest up, hydrate, and catch up on your email, because next week we get back to work. The night I lost my election, I told my daughter that there was a good chance, despite all the work we’d done, that we wouldn’t win. She said, “but what if you lose and the things you’re running for don’t happen?” I immediately felt better, because as I told her, “oh, we don’t stop fighting just because we’re not in the room.” As Tracy O’Connell Novick shared in her reflections yesterday, Frederick Douglas tells us, “power concedes nothing without demand.” Just because we haven’t built enough power to cash in the demands yet doesn’t mean our vision for a city with affordable housing, walkable streets, parks and recreation, and schools that meet every kid’s potential with enthusiasm is not winning. We are. At the risk of being a theater kid, “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us.” There already are. And we’re right.
Odds and ends
Thank you for reading and for paying attention and for hanging in there. This is a tough time, but we’ll get through it. Please, as always, consider a paid subscription to keep Worcester Sucks going.
Another silver lining: the Worcestery Council Theatre 3000 live event at The Sundown went well. If the results were good, it would have been such a party. We definitely want to do more of those. Thanks to everyone who came down and tuned in.
I’m sure regular readers can tell but I’ve got no pep today and I am going through the motions. Let’s see. What else...
Neal McNamara at the Patch has a great breakdown of the campaign spending. The influence of the Worcester Chamber of Commerce in this election via its late-hour PAC cannot be understated. Will have to dig into that more when I feel able.
I’m going to take some stock of what it is we’re doing here at Worcester Sucks and make some changes. I’m just starting that process and have nothing good to say right now. If you have a suggestion, let me know!