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More than anything it’s just embarrassing
Ray’s back at it again. Plus, Eric James Yankus-Franco did nothing wrong.
Yesterday at the Worcester Hot Dog Safari “Top Dog Titan” hot dog eating contest there occurred a grievous crime against the very concepts of both sport and sportsmanship. I didn’t want to comment on it. Not in here. Not publicly. This contest and all the money it raised for the Worcester County Food Bank should stand unmarred as a great event. A credit to the city. But I can stay silent no longer.
Here’s what happened: Commissioner Bryan O’Donnell (terrible, corrupt) disqualified and banned competitor Eric James Yankus-Franco (legendary, unfairly maligned), alleging untruthfully and unfairly that James Yankus Franco did not eat 51 hot dogs in 10 minutes, as I and hundreds personally witnessed. According to this “commissioner” (think Roger Gooddell), James Yankus-Franco bribed his judge, the very trustworthy Ryan McArdle, with promise of a post-contest backrub in exchange for keeping an inaccurate tally. O’Donnell claimed there was an “envelope” with a “note inside” promising this backrub. And there may have been. But whom among us has not slipped an envelope inside the back pocket of a friend’s jeans promising a nice little thing some time in the future? Whom among us?! It was ridiculous that O’Donnell would draw a connection between this innocuous note and James Yankus-Franco’s performance in this contest, which was nothing short of world record-breaking.
If O’Donnell had hard evidence—if, for instance, James Yankus Franco had stuffed his tucked-in shirt with 51 uneaten hot dogs and throughout the contest clutched this shirtsack as if a distended stomach—it would be different. But no. That’s not what happened. Look for yourself:
Instead, on the thin grounds of this “note” in this “envelope,” O’Donnell (miserable) disqualified the true winner of this contest, instead handing the trophy to Brandon Wood, who ate only 20 hot dogs in 10 minutes (allegedly). That’s 31 less hot dogs than James Yankus Franco. That’s 10.333333... dogs for each of his last names. Each of his families.
This contest was supposed to be about family. About honor. About glory. Everything Paul Walker taught us about. But O’Donnell took that. He took our family.
I will be sending a dossier containing the relevant information to the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office. I demand nothing short of swift legal action.
Onto year four?!
The third birthday of this newsletter is rapidly approaching! Crazy! The first ever post on here was June 19, 2020. Working on a dedicated anniversary post for the special day, but for now I just want to thank everyone for sticking with me and especially those who’ve contributed to it by way of paid subscriptions! If that’s not you please consider it!
When I started this thing I had absolutely no idea what would happen. But just this week I cleared 3,000 overall subscribers and I’m going strong at about 600 paid. Not too shabby.
If you like what you read here, tell a friend!
Or get them a nice present :-)
Or get your whole dang organization a present!
It’s my birthday on Friday, so if you do that it’s also a present for me teehee.
Mind the East Side Trail
Last week I hiked the very interesting East Side Trail for the first time and wrote about it for Miles Howard’s great Mind The Moss newsletter. It was a fun story to write and I’m grateful Howard was willing to lend his platform. Here’s an excerpt:
Sitting down to write up my hike yesterday, I’m reminded of coyotes in New York City. Through thin bands of wilderness and other such out-of-the-way corridors and alleys, coyotes were able to make their way from western prairies to Central Park. Now, they are rarely noticed but always there, somewhere in the shadows, traversing by some route unknown to us. A wilderness right there in the urban.
“People often see the wilderness and the cities as two completely different things,” observed one researcher with the Gotham Coyote Project. “It’s crossovers like these that remind us that these landscapes are actually two neighboring parts of the same ecosystem.”
Hiking the East Side Trail in Worcester, Mass. feels very much like taking the route of a coyote. You are never more than a football field away from a road or an apartment building or a business, but over its entire ~3.5 mile stretch, you’re left with the feeling that you’ve traversed a wilderness—one a city resident could pass by for a lifetime and never really see.
Appropriate to the name, the hike is through the “East Side” of Worcester, a mid-sized, working class city with the usual problems of such a place. The East Side, especially where this trail bisects it, is among the more economically depressed areas of an economically depressed city. As such, it’s worth a disclaimer that this hike is not for the clutcher of pearls. You will very likely pass people living in tents or the evidence of it. There’s broken glass and there’s trash. There’s graffiti. There is no grand payoff vista a la a mountain peak but there is a lot of beauty to take in if you’re open to the taking.
While we’re on the subject, let me just say that Worcester is home to many small, gritty and interesting hiking trails. Some of my favorites are The Cascades, Nick’s Woods, Tetasset Ridge, Donker Farm and Asnebumskit Ridge. The Greater Worcester Land Trust’s website is an incredible resource for finding and navigating these trails. They’re also doing some guided hikes it looks like!
While I love taking a half day to head up to Wachusett or a full-day excursion to a proper mountain in New Hampshire (Mt. Cardigan is a gem for casual hikers such as myself), most of these Worcester trails can be done in just a few hours. They’re fantastic ways to build quick little communions with the woods into the routine of a week without all the hours of driving and full-day schedule clearing required to get out to the mountains. Hiking doesn’t have to be some daunting pre-planned full-day expedition. It can be an impromptu afternoon. I feel that’s especially true in Worcester and it’s one of the things I love most about this city.
What to do with Raymond
Now to one of the things I love least about this city: Ray Mariano’s column in the Telegram. He’s at it again, folks. On Friday, our city’s paper of record published his latest missive, titled “No homework, no discipline, no accountability in Worcester schools.”
It is a nakedly dubious screed in both intent and execution.
The claim is bold:
Ask a teacher or a school principal about how to resolve the issues that they face, and they will tell you that there are as many different opinions as there are parents.
Unfortunately, by trying to find a way to please everyone, Worcester school officials have created an environment where students are not being held accountable for their schoolwork or their behavior. And the results speak for themselves. Just ask a teacher or a school principal.
I want to be clear about one thing - this is not a new problem. In fact, this is a problem that has grown gradually over the last decade, maybe longer. But it is a problem that is getting worse - much worse.
The sourcing is thin.
This statement, for instance, is unattributed:
Today, we have fewer students suspended, which is a good thing. But we also have buildings that are just a few degrees short of chaos. The pendulum has swung too far.
As is this statement (which also suggests Mariano’s work is not getting copyedited):
Schools have become more violent so the School Committee kicked police out of the buildings (sic) and expect some 60-year-old English teacher to handle things when they go south.
As is this:
And drug use in the schools is a real problem.
Across the board, teachers say that student behavior has gotten much worse.
What board? Which teachers? He doesn’t say.
Only twice does he let us in on the source of these claims. In one paragraph, he says “According to the teachers that I’ve spoken to” and in another he says “teachers tell me...” Otherwise, nada. Nothing. He does not say which teachers or how many or what the nature of the conversations were or when they happened. Not a single one of these supposed teachers are quoted, even anonymously. The reader is left to simply accept that some undisclosed number of “conversations” took place and that these “conversations” are a worthy basis for Mariano’s sweeping, dramatic claims.
The column is in keeping with a transparently self-serving portrait of the Worcester Public Schools that Mariano has been attempting to illustrate for months now. This is especially clear when Mariano’s career in Worcester politics and factional allegiances are considered. Mariano is a member of a certain sect of the old guard of Worcester politics which was especially powerful in the school district. “Was,” however, is the operative word. The faction to which Mariano belongs enjoyed a long period of dominion over the Worcester Public Schools. For many years, they got to decide who got which jobs and promotions and appointments. They dictated budget and policy priorities. While generally conservative in their politics, this faction was decidedly apolitical. Best thought of as a townie jobs cartel. Other members of this faction include former Superintendent Maureen Binienda, former Safety Director Rob Pezzella, former School Committee members Diana Biancheria and John Monfredo, and former president of the Education Association of Worcester Roger Nugent.
You’ll notice a lot of “former” on this list. This is a faction in its twilight years. Its influence is waning. Mariano is transparently using the platform lended to him by the Telegram to cast unfounded aspersions on the people who now hold the levers of power that his faction used to hold. This is made cartoonishly obvious by the column’s kicker:
Someone needs to grab onto the pendulum and stop it from swinging even further in the wrong direction.
And who might that “someone” be? Mariano doesn’t say. But there are two members of his faction running for School Committee this year! Binienda and Biancheria! I’d bet good money that’s who he means! And then there’s this “pendulum” idea, and the vague image of it swinging in some “wrong direction.” What does he mean by that, exactly? Such an easy concept to hide behind, this “direction.” A favorite of local politicians like Mariano. Detested by journalists and copy editors and anyone else who believe words should have meaning. Could be this “direction” is the overall quality of the school district and the education it provides students? That’s certainly the implication of the column, however thinly it was articulated. Could just as easily mean his personal proximity to power. The “right direction” toward his own influence and the “wrong direction” away from it. It’s anyone’s guess! “Direction” by itself is devoid of meaning. I’m inclined to go with the latter interpretation, personally.
Like all his columns this piece is not the work of a journalist presenting a good-faith and earnest assessment of a political reality, as should be the goal of a newspaper columnist. It isn’t writing in service of any truth in the author’s heart. The intent isn’t to capture reality but to scramble it. And it’s not an artist’s brush he’s using toward this end. It’s a pack of half-chewed crayons.
Mariano’s work is an insult to the craft of newspaper writing and the idea that newspaper journalism holds politicians to account. He is a politician using the role of columnist toward a political end. It’s a dragging anchor on the institutional weight and reputation of the outlet that publishes it. That he has the columnist job is a byproduct of the mediocrity of this city’s political class and the death rattle of local journalism and each of his columns serve to reinforce both. More than anything it’s just embarrassing for the city.
Never you mind about Ed Augustus
I want to give a little signal boost to a great piece by Neal McNamara in the Patch last week about Ed Augustus’ appointment to state Housing Secretary. McNamara filed records requests for information on how and why Governor Maura Healey appointed Augustus to the role. He received only Augustus’ resume, which was pretty devoid of housing accolades for a guy seeking a housing job! Neal writes:
The word “housing” is only mentioned in one place across the four-page resume in a section about a deal Augustus marshaled to lure the Red Sox AAA team to Worcester by building Polar Park, whose $160 million cost was financed by the city.
"Spearheaded $240 million landmark redevelopment of Worcester’s Canal District, including complex negotiation to relocate Boston Red Sox AAA-affiliate to city and construction of multi use ballpark, hotel, housing, Kelley Square intersection redesign, and more," a line in the resume reads under the section detailing Augustus' accomplishments as city manager.
One mention of housing and it’s tangential at best. So why pick this guy? The administration only brusquely commented on the hiring process. In a terse statement, they said there were other finalists and an interview process, but don’t elaborate further. In declining the majority of McNamara’s requests, the office cited its exemption from the state’s public records law. The way in which they do so is stunningly Massachusetts.
"By law, records held by the office of the governor are not subject to the Massachusetts public records law," a response for records about Augustus' hiring said. "Gov. Healey intends to follow the public records law and provide more transparency to the governor's office than ever before."
Saying you’ll provide “more transparency than ever before” while doing the exact opposite...
Simply incredible. No words.
Definitely 100 percent totally “paying for itself”
Gotta be honest at this point the idea of writing about Polar Park makes me tired. All the bloody foreheads I’ve given myself and that brick wall is still there, perfectly intact. But we should quickly look at the alarming budget presentation city officials gave last week and city officials and the insistence of City Manager Eric Batista and Co. to claim the park is “paying for itself” against available evidence to the contrary.
The main takeaway is that the city is already dipping into its dedicated reserve fund to make loan payments, and that fund is rapidly running out. The idea the park will “pay for itself” rests on the idea the tax revenue from an arbitrary “DIF” district drawn around the park will cover the annual debt payments on the massive loans the city took out to build the thing. That hasn’t been the case! The Worcester Business Journal put together a handy chart to demonstrate:
I shudder to think what the FY 2025 projections will look like! Telling they weren’t included in a presentation given by officials at the City Council meeting last Tuesday, in which they described these early years as the “toughest” in terms of DIF revenue covering the loan obligations. In the future, there will be more developments coming on line, accounting for more revenue. These future developments like all developments are not a sure thing. And there’s only an estimated $310,179 in that reserve come the end of next year standing between these loan obligations and the city’s general fund. The projections are overly rosy, as they always have been, and the whole “pay for itself” narrative could be blown to pieces by even a light recession. Still, Batista maintains the company line.
“The ballpark, it is successful,” Batista said. “It continues to pay for itself, and it is attracting developments to the neighborhood and bringing attention to the city.”
Onto the next one
Looking ahead to Tuesday night, the City Council agenda is pretty thin.
There’s a report from Batista detailing some shuffling of ARPA money around—$1 million to a rental assistance program and $1 million to an “Affordable Housing Preservation Program,” the details of which are vague. Drops in the bucket the both of them. I’m sure they’ll be lauded as aggressive solutions to the affordable housing problem that City Hall definitely cares about.
Carried over from last meeting, there’s a report from the Law Department in the popular subgenre of “telling Councilor Thu Nguyen not to try to do anything useful.” This one’s in response to a request from Nguyen to look into the shadowy deputization of constables who carry out violent and forceful evictions. The report reads as you’d expect. Nothing to be done.
Other than that though not a whole lot. There was a bear sighting this weekend so I’m sure the council will figure out how to have a decidedly unproductive but very long conversation about that.
As always, we’ll be streaming the meeting. 6:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Odds and ends
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Only the disingenuous and corrupt “political” candidates would... um... post “pictures with friends who are firefighters.” Not Jose though! He’s different. He’s not political. He’s “doing his part to continue to appreciate the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make so we can live in a safe city!” That’s the Rivera Difference right there.
Here’s an entirely bizarre story! Per the Telegram:
A Wakefield man accused of knowingly providing gift cards to be sold to support the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) made his first appearance in federal court in Worcester Thursday and was held until a preliminary hearing.
Mateo Ventura, 18, was arrested Thursday on a charge of knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources that he intended to go to a foreign terrorist organization, according to a news release from the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Levy.
Ventura's father, Paul Ventura, said in a lengthy exchange with media that his son is being "railroaded" and that Mateo is a patriotic American with developmental issues.
I’m not even gunna touch this one.
The Patch has a good breakdown of how much money each of the City Council candidates are holding in their campaign war chests. District 3 councilor George Russell has $61,994.17, I guess? That’s wild. That’s too much money.
Nice comments keep coming in on this travel essay of mine from a few weeks back now. One reader had this to say:
“You really resonated with me on this one. I used to be a touring musician and this honest raw essay brought me to tears. I had to fully subscribe.”
And another said this:
“I'm really at a loss for words to even begin to describe my feelings after reading this brilliant essay. I guess it's like I was caught in a swirling tempest that swept me across an emotional terrain that's seemingly familiar, yet unlike anything I've ever fully experienced before. The immense challenge of living an authentic life in today's world smacks us in the face with a sense of powerlessness, but as I heard you say, we somehow have to keep trying and keep caring. Thank you for your ongoing efforts.”
Extremely edifying and humbling praise! Thank you.
Ok that’s all for now. Just a light little Sunday afternoon refresher. Cya later!!