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Breaking down the surprisingly good election results and where we go from here
Quick one today as I’ve got a lot of other irons in the fire which need tending at the moment. But I can’t let the surprisingly good local outcome in the midterms go by without commenting on it. Thank you everyone who paid attention and voted and if my work was helpful in that consider a paid subscription! Not to jinx it but Worcester Sucks is now 3-0 in the game of expressing a desired outcome for a local election then seeing it realized. Correlation does not imply causation as a rule but might we be looking at an exception here? Jk haha... unless?
To cap our Worcestery Council Theater 3000 Election Night stream (which we did from inside the local Dems election night party Tuesday night, to sometimes hilarious effect) District 5 Councilor Etel Haxhiaj hopped on to share a bit of much-deserved optimism.
“It feels like we can get used to this,” she said. “This is like, ‘Oh, I can do this again.’ And most likely we will in the next municipal election.”
Setting aside everything else and focusing on how Worcester voted, pretty much everything that could have gone right did. Robyn Kennedy has now officially replaced Harriette Chandler as our state senator in the First Worcester District. Her victory over Lisa Mair was resounding. 74 to 26 percent.
State Rep. David LeBoeuf held on against a challenge from Republican Paul Fullen. At 59 to 41 percent, LeBoeuf sent that cretin back to the primordial red-hat sludge from whence he came. Neither of those outcomes were particularly surprising. They were pretty much foregone conclusions, like most of the ballot, honestly. The real cause for concern Tuesday night, on the local level, was Question 5. And that went well too! The Community Preservation Act passed—after years and years and years of trying and failing—by a pretty solid margin. 1,500 votes.
For Worcester as a city—especially looking to the municipal elections next fall—Question 5 was the most significant and symbolic vote on the ballot. In terms of the city’s progressive coalition and its building momentum, this was the pressure point. And we won. Like Robyn Kennedy’s victory over Joe Petty in September and the gains made in the municipal election last fall this is the third time in a row we can say that we won, folks! We did it. Yet again, the progressive position wins where in the past it would have surely failed. And again, the forces which have kept the city a provincial political backwater for years were dealt a resounding blow.
We need to realize the wind is at our backs here and we need to take that energy to next fall. It’s going to take a lot of new candidates and volunteers and, most importantly, enthusiasm. But lucky for us here in this silly little city we have quite a lot to be enthusiastic about at the moment. It is not unrealistic that next fall could represent a complete changing of the guard.
On the stream we gave Haxhiaj the last word, and it was a good one.
“My closing sentiment is this: let’s do it again and let’s do it again and let’s do it again. Keep picking up momentum.”
In terms of that momentum, we’re entering a pretty crucial period. Between now and March, we’re in the ‘prepare for battle’ stage. New candidates are getting their campaigns and teams together and with any luck we’ll see a lot of new people getting involved. It’s also a time when we have to think about what the message is going to be.
To my mind, the broad strokes are this: the city is hungry for candidates who want to do things differently and it’s much more receptive to progressive ideas than the current city council. There are six bad guys and five good guys on the council as it stands right now, and the goal needs to be getting to at least six good guys.
Toward that end, the way the city voted on the other four ballot questions is instructive. Let’s start with Question 4, regarding driver’s licenses for residents without legal status. Worcester passed that question by an 18-point margin.
That’s what we like to call a mandate.
So let’s take that mandate and compare it to the City Council. Let’s just say the margin would not be so wide if such a question were put to that body. As a thought experiment, let’s compare it to District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera’s proposal to allow green card holders to vote in municipal elections. At the Sept. 29 meeting, Rivera took the proposal off the table. Councilor Donna Colorio voted against merely discussing it. Then the vote was 6-4 in the affirmative to pass it along.
Keep in mind this is not a vote to adopt, but rather to instruct the City Clerk to research what it would take to do so. Really, it’s a vote to further explore the idea. Colorio, as well as Moe Bergman, George Russell and Kate Toomey, voted against even that. Rewatching the tape, it seems like Candy Mero-Carlson voted “yes” absentmindedly and by accident, and if she were paying attention she would have voted no. But that’s just a hunch. A well-informed one, but a hunch nonetheless. (Go to the meeting tape and scroll over to about 1:17:00 to see for yourself).
So that’s four of 11 councilors willing to quickly shoot down a proposal that is, in spirit, very similar to a proposal which 59 percent of Worcester voters just approved.
And that’s just one of many instances in which we saw the “normative six” of the City Council act in ways that are deeply at odds with the voting public.
It’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Take for instance that Worcester voters approved of Question 1—the ‘millionaire’s tax’—by an even wider margin than they did Question 4.
So that’s almost 60 percent of the voting public who see now problem cutting into the bottom line of the wealthy toward a public benefit. Now consider that the majority of the current council appears to be terrified of passing any sort of inclusionary zoning policy which might require a developer to take even the smallest haircut. For more on that issue, which is still unresolved, read this piece of mine from back in September:
Again, this is just one of myriad City Council issues we could pull out and say, however loosely, that the way they’re acting is at odds with the will of the public. There’s a few factors as to why that is, but a big one is that for decades, people have not bothered to pay attention to municipal races, and a culture of mediocrity and grift and provinciality has flourished in the relative shade caused by a lack of public scrutiny. That’s not what voters want, but that’s what we have.
Between now and early March, we need to think about how to change that. Then from March to November, we need to convince people that wouldn’t otherwise pay attention that it can be changed and it is worth changing. Then, next November, we change it! Simple as that folks!
When progressives did way better than expected in the 2021 municipal election, it could have been considered a fluke. When Robyn Kennedy beat Joe Petty in the September primary it turned to ‘ok, not a fluke. When the CPA passed this week by 1500 vote margin, it turned to ‘oh this is REALLY not a fluke.’
From now until this time next year, we have to take that obvious momentum and ride it like a cruise missile straight into the City Council—blow up the rotten culture that’s taken root there once and for all and see if it’s capable of being at all useful.
To that end, feel free to send me a line if you’re considering running for City Council or School Committee, or even if you just want to volunteer, and I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction.
Thank you for reading Worcester Sucks! As always!
One of the aforementioned irons in the fire: Next Wednesday there’s a pretty cool show at Ralph’s Rock Diner. Richard Lloyd from Television is headlining. Me and The Evil Ones will be playing some Roky Erickson covers. The Infinity Ring is awesome. I hear Mountain Man is going to be doing a very weird/cool avante garde sort of set. Fun show! Really good lineup. Come hang.
And the Telegram did a nice interview with Lloyd ahead of the event if you’re into that sort of thing.
I asked the question on Twitter, but I’ll ask it here as well. It looks like Twitter could very possibly not be around much longer. But ‘Worcester Twitter’ has been a very important and useful organizing tool. Twitter could just get slowly worse over time but remain essentially useable for Worcester Twitter’s purposes. But it could also disappear tomorrow. And I don’t wanna lose Worcester Twitter. So where do we move it? Discord? Reddit? Mastadon, whatever that is?
All ideas are good ideas at the current moment. Let’s get a backup plan together.
Also, I read with interest this story from Spectrum headlined “What's pushing restaurants out of the Canal District?”
The question is certainly punctuated by Smokestack Urban Barbeque’s recent decision to close. That restaurant has been one of the biggest mainstays in the area and it’s also the closest to Polar Park. The consensus, per the story, seems to be high overhead costs and lack of parking. I tend to think that’s a bit reductive, and it made me revisit a story I wrote on the matter last year. In that story, I interviewed urban geography professor Alex Tarr who offered a much better analysis of the situation than ‘we need more parking.’
The issues with Polar Park as they relate to the thriving retail and restaurant scene around it run so much deeper than parking a car. Over the past few years, the Canal District, and Green Street in particular, have blossomed into a thriving corridor of small restaurants and shops. It’s perhaps the one place in Worcester where Worcester feels like a city. And it’s because it’s dense. It’s walkable. It had a sort of natural design built in that allowed it to grow.
When we plopped Polar Park right next to it, we throttled that natural design. The most likely outcome here is that in a few years’ time Polar Park will have destroyed any of the good juju the Canal District had been whipping up and entrepreneurs in the city will have to find a new corridor, further away from City Hall’s ham-fisted attempted at “urban renewal,” and in another decade or two we might have another neighborhood that feels like a real city. But then City Hall will come in and urban-renewal it to death. This is a cycle Worcester loves repeating and we’ve been repeating it since I-290 put a poison dagger through the heart of the city’s urban fabric. I’m not an expert on this stuff by any means, but I find it interesting and I listen to the experts. I want Worcester to be a real city and there are people who know how to design cities to make them real. Worcester City Officials categorically ignore these people. When it came time to approve Polar Park, their concerns were dismissed offhand by the people in charge of the city. When I called up Alex Tarr, a professor of urban geography at Worcester State University, he said the decision to put a ballpark there is part of a general pattern of “aggressive mediocrity” in the city. I love that term and couldn’t agree more.
“It’s the one part of the city that didn’t need it,” he said. The businesses on Green Street and Water street were doing just fine. They’re locally owned and they’re well supported by the density around it. He said he used to take students there to show them what a real functioning urban economy should look like. The small businesses are diverse and support a variety of immigrant neighborhoods as well as each other and, like a little ecosystem, the neighborhood was able to sustain itself and grow naturally.
“None of that benefits from a stadium,” said Tarr. “These types of businesses need low interest loans and block grants, traffic calming measures, safety lights.”
Wish we had done that instead! Oh well!
Worcester really is a city that repeatedly shoots itself in the foot and goes AHHH WHY DOES MY FOOT HURT?!
But anyway. Can I get a big hell yeah for my lovely lady who won first place for her work at a tattoo convention in Rochester, NY last weekend?
Proud of her!!
And to close us out, anyone seen Don’t Worry Darling? Watched it the other night and it was very very good. Cool story. Florence Pugh is a generational talent and I think she proved that in this movie even more than she did with Midsommar, though the latter is a much better movie overall. In Don’t Worry Darling, it’s amazing how well she was able to let the viewer into her character’s interior world with just body language and facial expressions.
Ok, I have to go to Roky Erickson practice now! Toodles.