Storming the South High auditorium
On the inauguration, the new subcommittee assignments and other tomfoolery
Hello hello! A short one today. Me and Katie are going to see Beetlejuice tonight at the Hanover Theater! And dinner before at Armsby Abbey. Like proper society people.
So I’ve given myself a classic newspaper reporter deadline of 4:30 p.m. (note: almost hit it!) and will not be trying to paint a masterpiece today. I’m also on an actual deadline for a cool freelance piece that I think you all will appreciate, so that’s been getting most of my writing time this week.
Still, some good stuff: notes from the inauguration, the new god awful committee assignments for city council and school committee, an update on Turtleboy’s time in jail, and some thoughts on the recent WoMag news (no more free print edition).
Don’t forget: running a 20 percent off deal on paid subscriptions until the 11th. A New Year’s Deal.
Storming South High
Would it surprise you to learn that Kathi Roy got the biggest applause at the inauguration Tuesday night? It sort of surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have. Whoops and cheers from the crowd in the South High auditorium for a person who organized bus trips to the Capitol riot. Great! The second biggest round of applause of course went to Maureen Binienda, former superintendent. The two are compatriots, as you’ll read later in this post. I made a meme about it.
In the middle of the pomp and the circumstance of the night, there was a musical interlude, during which Worcester Public Schools student Stacy Domingo performed a lovely, somber rendition of “Autumn Leaves.” An appropriately dour song, I read it as a moment of mourning for the functional school committee we had for the past two years, now completely ruined. A dirge if you will. Since you went away the days grow long / And soon I'll hear old winter's song / But I miss you most of all my darling / When autumn leaves start to fall.
Only two moments of any note politics-wise.
The Binienda Power Play
The goofiest and most embarrassing moment came courtesy of Maureen Binienda and Co.
Part of the inauguration every year, for some reason, is a roll call vote for who will serve as vice chair of the school committee. As Tracy O’Connell Novick points out in a recent blog post, it’s been a pre-determined formality for as long as anyone can remember, and the vote is always anonymous. Not this year!
Everyone expected Jermaine Johnson to get the votes for vice chair and for the vote to be unanimous. It’s tradition! The conclusion was so foregone that City Clerk Niko Vangjeli introduced him as the vice chair while reading the election results. This was some 15 minutes before the ceremonial vote took place.
When new member Vanessa Alvarez cast the first vote, it was for Johnson as expected. But then Dianna Biancheria went second, draped in a red velvet coat, and loudly casted her vote for Maureen Binienda. Binienda followed her, voting for herself. Down the line and everyone else voted for Johnson except new school committee member and January 6 person Kathi Roy. The vote was 6-3 for Johnson. If Binienda and Co. thought they had a chance of winning, they were wrong. But I have to imagine winning wasn’t the point. It was a move that said clearly that they intend to be annoying—that Binienda’s school committee bid and victory were indeed the start of a revenge tour and that she has two accomplices.
Even more annoying, the three votes for Binienda were technically out of order. Per recently adopted school committee rules, a member can only become vice chair if they’ve gone through state-mandated training for school committee members. From the new rules, approved by the committee on December 21:
Binienda hasn’t done that, according to Novick’s post, and neither has Biancheria or Roy.
This will become even more interesting when the mayor makes his subcommittee assignments, which is expected to happen soon—probably this week or next. (The council subcommittee assignments are out, as detailed below, but we’re still waiting on the school-side assignments for some reason. Could be related!)
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see whether Mayor Joe Petty honors this rule! And whether Binienda, Biancheria, or Roy intends to comply with it.
The best way to read this little moment is the start of Maureen Binienda’s revenge tour. The ousted former superintendent most certainly plans to be a thorn in the side of the school committee majority and the current superintendent. This becomes all the more evident when you look at the agenda for the school committee’s first meeting, which was supposed to happen today but got canceled.
In these four orders (4-5 to 4-8 in the general business section of the agenda), you can see the contours of the revenge tour take place: She’s rallying her loyalist principals (quite a few of them) to claim unfair resource allocation, she’s going after in-house busing, she’s trying to get the cops back in schools, and she’s going after administrator salaries. Classic playbook.
The most significant part of the inauguration ceremony is the mayor’s inaugural address. It’s an opportunity to outline goals and initiatives for the coming years, do some back patting, and break some news.
This year, Petty’s address was heavy on the back patting and light on the initiatives, leaving little in the way of news.
As expected, he centered the construction of new high schools under his tenure. The city recently received approval to construct a new Burncoat High School, a fact he announced to big applause.
He gave Superintendent Rachel Monárrez some effusive praise, much to the obvious chagrin of Binienda—who kept her hands clasped on her lap as everyone else on the stage applauded for things like in house busing service, rising graduation rates and the superintendent’s substantive strategic planning endeavor.
Though Petty didn’t linger on the thought very long, he said the city plans to start funneling PILOT money (payment in lieu of property taxes from large non-profit property owners) toward school construction and education.
He identified affordable housing as a problem, saying there’s a “desperate need for more units,” but didn’t elaborate much. He cited a state report saying the state needs 125,000 more units and that Worcester “will have to develop a significant portion of these units.”
Regarding the unhoused, he promised a “housing task force” but also didn’t elaborate, except to say the goal is permanent supportive housing, as has been the case since about 2017 and surprise surprise very little permanent supportive housing has been built since then. He did not mention any new projects by name nor did he mention the shortfall of shelter beds.
He did however cite U.S. News & World Report rankings to say Worcester is doing well—8th safest city in America and the 37th best run city in America—ignoring the fact that everyone knows those are fake. “These rankings do not happen by accident,” he said (citation, please). While a bad thing to claim as an achievement, it would be a good bit on Veep.
He said the city plans to take out loans for street repairs and improvements, which is news I suppose. Again, not a lot of detail there.
He promised to find a new home for the Department of Public Works headquarters to get it off Shrewsbury Street. This is something he promised last time as well. From the Telegram’s write-up of the 2022 address:
He also pledged to move forward with plans to move the city's DPW operations out of Albany Street. He said Mero-Carlson will head a committee to find a new use for the land along the Shrewsbury Street corridor.
And on the environmental front, saving the best for last, he said the city is going to consider installing some heat pumps in public buildings. OK!
Not a whole lot of inspiring or otherwise bold commitments. But why would he bother? Petty won a massive landslide victory on a platform of not doing a damn thing different.
So that’s how we’re entering the new term, I guess: Petty promising to maintain the status quo and Binienda pulling a goofy power play that, in its failure, served to show she has a three-vote pull on a nine-member board. Just enough votes to make for annoying political theater but not enough to actually do anything. The theater will become the point. It’s sort of like storming the Capitol in that way! Kathi Roy will feel right at home.
The new Binienda faction on the school committee sort of perversely mirrors the progressive minority on the council. For the past two years, we’ve seen countless good ideas fail on an 8-3 divide. With Jenny Pacillo taking over for Sean Rose in District 1, that 8-3 split tentatively becomes 7-4, but either way it doesn’t change the overall dynamic.
There’s one bg difference between the progressive minority on council and the crank minority on school committee! A progressive idea like a proposed moratorium on new gas station construction is not likely to make statewide or national news. A crank proposal like removing “pornographic books” from school libraries certainly will.
Can’t wait for these next two years! So excited.
Take your places
Mayor Joe Petty has rolled out his committee assignments for the next two years and man oh man are they nakedly political and gross. While he may not have said anything in his inaugural address, he said a lot here.
We’ll go through them one by one, but the upshot is that he has lionized the cranks and told the progressives to kick rocks. The two most important subcommittees from a policy perspective are arguably economic development and municipal operations. We’ll start with those.
The new one: Candy Mero-Carlson (chair), Jenny Pacillo, Kate Toomey
The old one: Sean Rose, Khrystian King, Sarai Rivera
This goes from center majority to crank majority, and gives Candy Mero-Carlson a little revenge tour of her own. You’ll remember the hissy fit she threw back in 2022 when Petty kicked her off and put on Rose.
Municipal and Legislative Operations
New: Moe Bergman (chair), Luis Ojeda, Donna Colorio
Old: King (chair), George Russell, Sean Rose
Replacing King with Bergman is a very obvious fuck you. Over the past two years King used the MLO chairmanship very capably to push the city to do better on the city manager search front among other things. That’s precisely why he had to go. Giving it to Bergman is a recipe for disaster. He’s our most litigious crank and will surely be scheming.
New: Etel Haxhiaj (chair), Thu Nguyen, Khrystian King
Old: Nguyen (chair), Toomey, Colorio
This one is actually good. All three progressives on one subcommittee. This may prove especially useful in combating the psycho stuff we’re bound to see on school committee.
New: Toomey (chair), Bergman, Ojeda
Old: Toomey (chair), Rivera, Colorio
No surprises here. Petty gives Kate Toomey this assignment every term and she uses it exclusively to make sure the cops get every new toy they ask for. Like predictive policing, drones, ShotSpotter, and everything else. Robots most recently. As I wrote in a piece about the DOJ’s investigation of the Worcester Police Department, the public safety subcommittee under Toomey is an expressly anti-oversight body:
Indeed, the past two years have demonstrated that the Council (as currently composed) is unwilling and unable to hold the police department to any sort of account. They simply do not consider themselves to be the department’s boss. Oversight is out of their purview. Kate Toomey, the councilor who has proven more than any of them to be a complete toady for the WPD, remains the chairwoman of the council’s Standing Committee on Public Safety, the subcommittee which could be the vehicle through which the council holds the police to account. But Toomey doesn’t use it that way, and Mayor Joe Petty knew that when he reappointed her to that role earlier this year. It’s not overly conspiratorial to assume that Toomey holds that position precisely because she can be trusted not to use it in any real way.
Joe Petty could have done something different. He chose not to.
New: Ojeda (chair), Haxhiaj, Mero-Carlson
Old: Rivera (chair), Haxhiaj, Bergman
Public Service and Transportation
New: Nguyen, Colorio, Russell
Old: Bergman, Nguyen, Mero-Carlson
New: George Russell, Mero-Carlson, Pacillo
Old: Russell, Mero-Carlson, Bergman
Traffic and Parking
New: Colorio, King, Nguyen
Old: Colorio, Haxhiaj, Nguyen
Truly punishing King here. Traffic and parking is the most miserable and useless assignment, and it’s no accident that progressives keep ending up here.
Urban Technology, Innovation and Environment
New: King, Russell, Bergman
Old: Haxhiaj, Toomey, Russell
King here with a surefire 1-2 vote against any good idea.
Veterans’ Memorials, Parks, Recreation
New: Pacillo, Toomey, Haxhiaj
Old: Mero-Carlson, Rose, King
Interesting that Pacillo is chairing this. We should start bullying her about forcing a vote on the Columbus statue!
More to say on these assignments but that’s enough to get us started. Still no word on school committee assignments, which may be much more interesting if Petty follows this line of thought.
R.I.P. WoMag (Again!)
Welp, another fuck you from Gannett, the massive chain which owns both the Telegram and Worcester Magazine and is actively making them as bad as they possibly can: Worcester Magazine is cutting the whole magazine thing.
In a recent statement, Telegram editor Michael McDermott said the following:
Beginning with the Jan. 5 issue, Worcester Magazine will cease free distribution. The print edition will continue to be inserted in the Telegram & Gazette on Fridays, and the content will continue to be featured online at WorcesterMag.com.
The staff of Worcester Magazine remains focused on providing the best coverage of arts and culture in Worcester. Our commitment to highlighting compelling artists and unique local voices remains undiminished.
As we have since 1976, we have many stories to share, and we hope you will continue with us on the next leg of our journey.
Obviously, Worcester Magazine hasn’t really been Worcester Magazine since it was bought by Gatehouse in 2018. I have many many thoughts on my former place of employ but I’ll spare you.
These days, WoMag is more a vertical of the Telegram than anything. But Victor Infante and Co. have done good work with it, and it pains me to see Gannett continue to play with this beloved outlet like a cat in front of a dying fly, slowly prying a wing at a time.
Letter From Norfolk Jail
Aidan Kearney continuing to be in jail remains a continued source of joy (watch this video I made for the Worcester Sucks Instagram for a good time). A few days ago he got a tweet out about his experience in the Norfolk County Correctional facility:
So glad to hear he’s no longer pessimistic! I was worried!! Also, very funny that he’s bootlicking the correctional officers. Here’s to hoping he never gets out of jail and we keep getting hilarious content like this!
Odds and ends
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Shouldn’t let the post go by without commenting on Ray Mariano’s very goofy wishes for the new year column. The Etel Haxhiaj section is particularly terrible.
Etel Haxhiaj: My wish for the District 5 city councilor is that she gives up on her idea to get rid of or dramatically alter Worcester’s single-family zone. During her campaign, her opponent accused her of having a “plan” to eliminate single-family zoning. Haxhiaj said that wasn’t true. Well, she was technically correct. She didn’t have a plan but she had already made it clear that it was her intention of start a discussion (sic) that might well lead to the elimination of single-family zones. Haxhiaj has important things to say. This is not one of those things.
In the goofy use of “Worcester’s single-family zone” bolded above, Mariano betrays that he doesn’t know what single family zoning means and also has a very specific wrong idea of what it means in his head. Where could this “zone” in Mariano’s head be, you think? Maybe the West Side?
I am yet again begging the Telegram to find someone who is less insulting to the idea of a newspaper columnist!
Ok my self-imposed deadline is nearing. Thank you for reading and talk soon! If you’re going to Beetlejuice tonight say hey!