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It couldn't have gone much better
Analysis of a very good day for the movement
Before we get to some of the larger themes and points of analysis coming out of the Preliminary Election on Tuesday and the very encouraging outcomes, let’s break down the results in detail. A clear picture is necessary to understand what make this election such a cause for real optimism.
Overall turnout was abysmal. 9.1 percent. But that’s in line with past preliminaries. We knew it was going to be a sleepy one. While general elections are not much better, hovering at 15-20 percent voter turnout, preliminaries are always worse.
The outcomes of the five races were not totally ideal, but they were pretty damn close. Of the Worcester Sucks picks outlined in the election guide, more than half finished first in their respective races, and all of them are advancing to the general election. Let’s look at the numbers.
Jenny Pacillo: 1,545 (57 percent) / David Peterson: 834 (31 percent) / Larry Shetler: 342 (13 percent)
Though Pacillo was my pick and I felt comfortable she was going to win, the dominance of said win was surprising. Of the district’s 12 precincts, Pacillo won 11, and most of them were not close. Peterson won one district. Not only was it a percentage win, it was a geographic one.
Where the campaign finance data tells an interesting story in other districts (District 2 and District 5 especially), here it’s not very significant. After spending similar amounts of money ahead of the preliminary, Pacillo heads into the general election with about $6,000 to spend and Peterson about $700.
Candy Mero-Carlson: 720 (44 percent) / Rob Bilotta: 584 (36 percent) / Phil Palmieri: 320 (20 percent)
Bilotta, my pick, now heads into the general as the underdog, but only by some 7 points. Of the 12 precincts, Carlson won 7, Bilotta won 4 and one was a draw between the two. The takeaway here is that Bilotta has a real chance! And in order to win in November he needs an infusion of energy, volunteers and campaign contributions (head to his website to get involved). A progressive candidate unseating an entrenched and very anti-progressive incumbent in this race would be perhaps the #1 good thing that could happen in November. And it’s a real possibility.
Here, the campaign finance data is very significant and interesting.
No way around it—Candy has a shit load of money. And spent a lot of it. In August, Mero-Carlson spent some $13,000 dollars on this race. On the whole, she’s spent about $30,000. For 720 votes. And heading into the general election, she has a stunning $53,000 to spend.
Bilotta’s campaign finances are much more... let’s just say... normal. In line with what other candidates are spending and raising. He spent $4,200 in August versus Candy’s $13,000. He has $1,800 in his campaign account, versus Candy’s $53,000. In total, he’s spent about $12,000 on the race.
Quick back of the napkin calculation: Carlson’s 720 votes cost about $42 each. Bilotta’s 584 votes cost $22 each. It is twice as expensive for Candy to get votes as it is for Rob. This is encouraging! It means Rob’s support is more organic and it means that Carlson is recognizing that. But the warchest disparity here is not for nothing. Bilotta is going to need help—more volunteers and donations are going to be essential.
There’s another interesting story here in who exactly is donating, and to which campaign. In Mero-Carlson’s August financial report, there are 13 donations. Of those, six are from people who live in the surrounding towns, and three of those are in the real estate business. The largest donation she got in August was $1,000 from Patsy Santa Maria, owner of Pat’s Towing... make of that what you will.
In July, Mero-Carlson had many more donations than she did in August, and the listed donors tell the same story. Three donations from people who work at Trinity Financial, the real estate developer behind the Courthouse Lofts project. Three donations from the Worcester Business Development Corporation. Two donations from the Drew Company, a real estate developer in Boston. (Couldn’t find any link between Drew and Worcester developments but this donation suggests we should keep our eyes peeled!) The CEO of the Metro West Chamber of Commerce. Anthony Petrone (of child-doxxing fame), of course. Myriad attorneys and real estate agents. It’s an interesting list. Developers have an outsized presence on it. A reflection of her real constituency.
It’s the target audience when she touts “investments in the neighborhoods.” Like this line from a Mero-Carlson campaign mailer I received the other day:
“The next city council will determine what kind of city we will be and whether we will continue to have record investments in our neighborhoods.”
It’s the investments more than it’s the neighborhoods. The investments are the objective not the impact. And the implicit argument (threat?) in this line is that without her there won’t be investments.
On the other hand, Bilotta’s donors in the same period are mostly small contributions from people who live in Worcester and do not work in real estate. There’s only one person from another town who donated to Bilotta’s campaign in August and it’s not a real estate person. This could be why Bilotta is spending half the money Carlson is on votes. People in the community actually want to vote for him and support him.
When Bilotta says stuff like development has to be assessed against the impact on residents, as he did at one of the forums, that’s who he’s talking to. Residents.
One thing is for sure, though: Candy Mero-Carlson is not going to run out of money. Does she know how to spend it? And could it overcome a groundswell of excitement for a legitimately good candidate like Bilotta? Important questions!
Luis Ojeda: 332 (39 percent) / Katia Norford: 189 (22 percent) / Ted Kostas: 154 (18 percent) / Maria Montano: 97 (11 percent) / Maureen Schwab: 81 (9 percent)
First of all, it rules that none of the three psychos in this preliminary advanced to the general!
The race now will be between two people who are at least reasonable. That’s a good thing. I’m still honestly not sure how much space there is between Ojeda and Norford, but I’m inclined to see Norford as the better choice. Ojeda, however, has the backing and official endorsement of current District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera. The results reflect this. Ojeda won nine of the 12 precincts, while Norford won only one precinct. While Norford was able to hang on to second place above the three psychos, the precinct outcomes show she has a lot of ground to make up.
Money isn’t a big concern in this race. Ojeda has about $1,750 in the war chest. Katia has $224. They both spent several thousand over the course of the past several months, but nothing noteworthy there.
Sort of interesting: Kostas has more money on hand than either of the winners. Now that he’s out of the race, he’s left with $1,875 in the war chest to spend on MyPillow products or lawn signs about how Joe Biden steals children or whatever.
Etel Haxhiaj: 1,666 (54 percent) / Jose Rivera: 1,189 (39 percent) / Edson Montero: 191 (6 percent)
The precinct split shows Etel has a solid handle on the district heading into November. She won eight precincts to Rivera’s three. There was one draw. A dominant performance, both percentage-wise and geographically. I thought this race was going to be a lot closer, honestly. In the fact it wasn’t close there’s a lot to say about The Cranks and their claim to being a legitimate constituency in this city. More on that later.
Money-wise, there’s no cause for concern here. Haxhiaj is heading into the General Election with $35,500 on hand. Rivera has $1,574. But it’s not a David and Goliath situation like D2. Quite the opposite. Rivera spent a lot more on this preliminary than Haxhiaj did–about $18,000 to Haxhiaj’s $5,500.
I’d do the same “cost per vote” math as I did in District 2 but it feels like insult to injury at this point. Spending more than three times as much as your opponent and losing by such a wide margin... gotta sting.
Just as in D2, a look at who’s donating to whom tells a story. Rivera’s donors include Mike Angelini (shadow master of the Worcester Inner Circle), the real estate company Kelleher & Sadowsky, the Worcester Business Development Corporation, Franklin Realty, real estate appraiser O'Hara-Buthray Associates, the Central Mass. AFL-CIO and its president Joe Carlson, Bowditch & Dewey (a real estate-focused law firm), Fidelity Bank, Keller Williams Realty, Property Investors & Advisors, Cliff Rucker of the Worcester Railers, Alex Guardiola of the Chamber of Commerce (though he wasn’t listed as such), Tim Murray of the Chamber of Commerce (also wasn’t listed as such), City Councilor Kate Toomey, former City Councilor Matt Wally, and some leftover cash from last election via the Rick Cipro Committee.
A real rogues’ gallery!
The list includes a lot of people involved in the overall “old guard” of Worcester politics, and they invested a ton of money in this guy! Wonder if they’re kicking themselves now, having backed the wrong horse, or if the checks will keep coming. It’s clear their money is not going very far. Fun tidbit: At least $3,500 of it went directly to Rivera’s campaign manager, Walter Bird Jr.
Etel’s donors are more along the lines of teachers, librarians, professors, nurses, small business owners, people involved in local non-profits and local unions.
Looking at the demographics of the two donor pools, it adds a certain irony to Rivera’s “People over Politics” campaign slogan! A whole lotta “people” on Etel’s side, a lot of “politics” on Rivera’s.
School Committee District E
Nelly Medina: 474 (38 percent) / Kathy Roy: 445 (36 percent) / John Reed: 305 (25 percent)
No precinct or finance analysis here as that sort of information is significantly harder to find for School Committee candidates and it’s not the real story anyway.
The narrative here is a potent one, with lots of throughlines to larger, national issues. This was the tightest contest of any—decided by just 29 votes—and it was between candidates with the most disparate political positions. Medina is a stalwart community organizer. She was active in the fight to save The Bridge and the fight to save Hillside Beach and myriad other righteous causes. She works with Massachusetts Jobs With Justice and with the Parents Union of Massachusetts. During the pandemic, Medina printed informational flyers in multiple languages, and hand-delivered them to residents at Lakeside Apartments. She also organized and arranged food pantry deliveries for vulnerable residents at Lakeside, Washington Heights, and elsewhere. Medina is proudly left of center and she does the work. She hopped into the race late, seeing the other choices and saying no thank you.
Kathy Roy on the other hand is a prolific Facebook Crank with terrible views and positions. A real “culture warrior” if you catch my drift. She’s locked down her social media but here’s a handy folder of screenshots of Roy’s finest moments. The Worcester Working Families PAC recently put out an anti-endorsement of Roy, saying:
Longtime far right activist in the city, Roy has a long digital trail of hate speech, conspiracy theories, and attacks on the people she is trying to serve alongside. A vocal Trump supporter, she has publicly ascribed to the worst elements of the far right fringe. In addition to working against comprehensive health education, she has spread conspiracy theories about LGBTQ members of our community, subscribes to far right racist ideas about book bans and anti-racist education.
Medina hopped on the election night stream for a few minutes Tuesday night (starts around the 2:01:00 mark), and what she had to say was amazing.
“It’s a good night. I worked really hard. I knocked on a lot of doors. I think we sent a really good message that we’re not going to mess with education. I’m thrilled.
“We definitely need someone with emotional intelligence who’s going to bring people together and not separate them.
“At first I wasn't going to take this opportunity but when I found out it was Mr. Reed, I realized that I had to, but after reading the seven questions in Patch.com that really made my heart drop and I realized this is something I was made to do and meant to do and I’m going to kill it.”
The “seven questions” Medina references there is, I believe, the Patch’s Kathy Roy Q&A, which was a whole lot of dog whistle.
And then the incredible kicker from Medina:
“I look forward to kicking Kathy’s ass in two months.”
Hell yeah!! One of the most badass quotes of all time, honestly. “Solidarity forever,” she said before signing off.
Nelly is 100 percent one of the good ones, and would be a real credit to our city on the School Committee. Roy on the other hand is our own little avatar of the rightward drift toward the full hysteria plaguing school boards around the country. To let her onto the School Committee would be an embarrassment.
Just like Bilotta in D2, Medina is in need of support, volunteers, and donations. The best place to get in touch with her appears to be Facebook, at least for now.
There’s no reason to think this race is not going to be extremely close. But there is absolutely zero ambiguity around who deserves the seat. Here’s to hoping Medina kicks Roy’s ass in November.
On to November
All in all, the results were very encouraging and exciting! The only way it could have gone better is if Bilotta got more votes than Carlson and Roy didn’t advance to the general. Other than that, you couldn’t ask for a better outcome. It should stand as a call to arms. This is a rare and special moment! Caring about city politics could actually be rewarded as opposed to punished this one time. The hardest hurdle to cross with local politics is “why bother” and we have our answer to that question: This is an organic political movement primed to radically alter the power dynamics in City Hall.
Now that we know who’s advancing out of the preliminaries, let’s take a quick look at the November ballot and consider some outcomes.
Worcester politics are ostensibly non-partisan, but there are very real political constituencies. While these things are fluid, I’m going to loosely place each candidate in one of three categories: progressive, center, crank. For example, the current City Council is composed of four cranks (Toomey, Colorio, Mero-Carlson, Bergman), four centers (Petty, Russell, Rose, Rivera) and three progressives (King, Haxhiaj, Nguyen). The 8-3 outcome of many significant votes over the past two years can be explained as cranks + center vs progressives.
Here’s how each council race breaks down:
Progressives: Domenica Perrone, Johanna Hampton-Dance, Khrystian King, Maydee Morales, Thu Nguyen
Center: Joe Petty, Bill Coleman
Crank: Donna Colorio, Kate Toomey, Moe Bergman
Wildcard: Guillermo Creamer Jr. (His status as “center” or “progressive” depends on whether he stays in or withdraws from the mayoral race. More on that whole thing another time.)
That’s five progressives, two centers and three cranks vying for the six at-large seats. While Toomey gets bewilderingly high vote totals every election, Bergman and Colorio are vulnerable. Reliably at the bottom of the list. Progressives have a good chance of adding one, two or even three in at-large. Very encouraging.
District 1 — Progressive: Pacillo / Center: Peterson
District 2 — Progressive: Bilotta / Crank: Mero-Carlson
District 3 — Center: Russell / Progressive/Center (I’m unsure): Feanna Jattan-Singh
District 4 — Progressive: Norford / Center: Ojeda
District 5 — Progressive: Haxhiaj / Crank: Rivera
Overall, we’re looking at roughly 10 progressive council candidates, five center candidates and five cranks (keeping in mind these labels are fluid and not at all official and solely my opinion). Good odds! By sheer volume, progressives are in position to make significant gains. With any luck, the mayoral race will reflect this dynamic: Khrystian King as the progressive choice, Petty embodying the entrenched political class. We’ll know by Sept. 12. (In Worcester’s weird system, all at-large candidates are defacto mayoral candidates until they formally withdraw from the mayor’s race, and Sept 12 is the deadline to do so.)
Of the five district races, progressives are solid favorites in two. If both Haxhiaj and Pacillo win (and Nguyen and King stay on), that makes the 8-3 dynamic 7-4. If Bilotta and Norford win, that makes it 6-5 in the other direction. And that’s not accounting for potential pickups in at large! There’s a path here.
In that context, the significance of Bilotta’s campaign cannot be understated. He is solidly and unambiguously progressive, and a win would also knock out one of the four cranks. A drastic shift in just this one race. In D3 and D4, there are good choices and bad choices, but they’re not nearly as obvious as Bilotta vs Carlson. A Bilotta win would be downright revolutionary.
The overall goal is a 6-5 progressive majority on the City Council. Nothing good will happen until that happens. Short of six votes, every progressive idea will be reflexively shot down, as they have been. It will be another slog of trying and failing for two years while the Chamber of Commerce continues to set policy unilaterally.
We’re looking at an election where such a majority is not only possible, it’s practical. It could actually happen. The odds are decent, even. And that’s an unreal situation for Worcester. With that simple majority, new policies can actually be implemented and the weird culture that makes the city council so ineffective, insular and strange can be smashed. The Worcester City Council can start to be a real city council. We can have an executive body that takes affordable housing seriously, takes climate seriously, considers national best practices, tries new things, does a real search for a city manager, etc etc. Khrystian King in the mayor’s office with a reliable majority on the council floor is a very very different council than Joe Petty’s council.
This is not a theoretical concern! Not wishcasting! It’s actually possible!
Success hinges on what happens in these next two months. We need to get new people engaged. We need volunteers and real man hours. We need campaign contributions. Most of all we need to make sure the excitement of this movement is palpable and infectious to the uninitiated. That there’s a real reason to care here and if you’re not caring you’re missing out. We need the thing that pulls people in without any sales pitch. I have many thoughts on what the thing is—a whole long weird essay on the matter already drafted, in fact—but best to save all that abstract stuff for another post.
Death of the cranks!
Just as these results are exciting for progressives, they should be a wake up call to our local Cranks, Lady Uncles and Townies, and anyone who takes them seriously. The candidates most fervently attacked by these people—Haxhiaj and Pacillo—did the best on Tuesday. On the other hand, the candidates who catered to the Crank Mindset did poorly. Rivera was the most obvious about this catering, and he did worse than I could have predicted. All three of the cranks in D4 lost badly. Mero-Carlson might have won in D2, but she’s in real trouble and spending money in a way that suggests she knows it. The only good outcome for the Cranks was the School Committee District E race, with Kathy Roy’s second-place finish, and they still couldn’t beat a progressive who hopped in the race late with almost no campaign infrastructure.
As I’ve been writing about a lot lately, The Cranks get outsized influence because they are loud and pushy and turn normal people off to local politics. They get to define press narratives about “neighborhood concerns” and give city officials a convenient excuse to not do what’s obviously right in a given situation. When the Cranks are treated as a legitimate constituency, officials have to “balance concerns” and “find a compromise.” This was painfully obvious in the debate over the Blessed Sacrament homeless shelter earlier this year. But we see in recent election results—especially this one—that there’s no real constituency behind the reactionary viewpoint city officials feel they have to cater to. They simply do not have to do that. There is no good reason.
The proposed moratorium on homeless encampment sweeps is a useful example. The majority of the city council and the city manager balked at the idea and used a “neighborhood concerns” and “impact on quality of life” position to do so. In District 5, the two candidates made their positions on such a moratorium very clear. Haxhiaj wants it. Rivera does not.
Rivera went as far as releasing a fear mongering statement about the idea a few weeks before the election. It was apropos of no news or update on the matter, and as such was an obvious attempt to gin up reactionary anger. Still, significantly more D5 “neighbors” voted for Haxhiaj than Rivera. The results make it hard to claim that ending the sweeps is unpopular with “the neighbors.” One of the most vocal supporters kicked the crap out of the most vocal opponent. The Crank position was shown to be a losing one. City Manager Eric Batista should really consider that political reality going forward.
The Cranks should not have a say in anything. This is a very small group of people. Now more than ever, ignoring them completely is the correct position, both morally and politically. And since all the Cranks want is something to be mad at, it’s good for them too.
In conclusion, now’s the time to get fired up. We gotta take on the sort of energy Medina exuded in that post-election interview I quoted above. We gotta look forward to kicking ass in November and do it with solidarity in our hearts. The chance we have here is legitimate and exciting at a time when legitimate excitement feels impossible. So pay attention, get involved, make small donations, spread the word! Pull the uninitiated into this weird little world and show them there’s something cool happening here for once. Let’s go!!!!
Odds and ends
I’ve already gone long so I’ll keep this brief. Please subscribe! Free is cool but paid is even better!
Two funny moments from the election night stream: Brendan objectively predicted the future. And I lost my mind for a moment to offer some objectively useless “advice.” Worcestery Council Theater 3,000 is always a good time.
And... yeah. That’s all for today. Til next time!