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The Night They Drove Old Candy Down
On subcommittee assignments and public hissy fits
For a few weeks now I’ve been meaning to dig into the new assignments for City Council subcommittees. Who sits on what committee—and how they get there—is significant. It offers a window into the political dynamics of the council and how stuff actually gets done around here (or doesn’t). “The real work happens in committee” is an adage you’ll hear councilors and other politicos say, and it’s true. But also to be honest it’s a pretty dry subject matter and as such I’ve been dragging my feet writing about it.
Luckily, District 2 Councilor Candy Mero-Carlson provided the perfect entry point this week when she threw a hilarious hissy fit on cable access TV about Mayor Joe Petty booting her from the Standing Committee on Economic Development. Her rant, while delivered with a characteristically monotone affect, checks a lot of local politics boxes: it’s petty, self-aggrandizing and clumsy, dollar-store palace intrigue that’s completely divorced from any problem any Worcester resident could possibly be facing or any solution possibly afforded to a city councilor. It’s a shining example of one of my favorite quotes: “local politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.”
Mero-Carlson recently went on Rosen’s Roundtable, a biweeklyish political talk show on WCCA TV hosted by former City Councilor Gary Rosen and man-about-town Gary Vecchio. My man Ben White over at Talk Of The Commonwealth flagged it and clipped the necessary passages earlier this week. Thank you, Ben, for this truly wonderful little document! And thank you to Bryan O’Donnell for pointing out how funny it is that she’s sitting on a stool while everyone else is sitting in a chair.
I mean this in the most loving way possible when I say that Gary Rosen is a messy bitch who loves drama. He truly lives for the game of local politics. He just wants to be in the discussion. He loves the process and the intrigue and the gossip and he’ll stick his nose wherever he damn well pleases. Real recognize real.
It was in that spirit I’m sure that he opened the above video with, “Yeah, I guess there was a little payback there maybe, I don’t know… Candy Mero-Carlson, District 2, we think you should be chairing that committee! Of course no one else does, but…”
“When you say you were shocked and Gary says he was shocked, so was I,” Mero-Carlson responds. “No heads up, no conversation, no nothin’. I’m not sure which one of you said ‘payback’ but I’m not sure what that payback was for.”
Rosen, ever the pot-stirrer, interjects.
“I can guess. I won’t guess. But I can guess,” Rosen said.
Petty announced the subcommittee assignments shortly after the inauguration earlier this month. The mayor in Worcester is what we call a “weak mayor,” meaning he doesn’t actually run the city, he just chairs the City Council. The council is essentially the board of directors to the city manager, who’s best thought of as the city’s CEO. The mayor isn’t all that much more powerful than any other city councilor, but has a heavier hand in setting priorities and is responsible for guiding meetings. One of the few unique powers at the mayor’s disposal is subcommittee assignments. The mayor has complete authority to assign subcommittee seats at his discretion. There’s no process for public accountability or input. He just does it and that’s that. These are the assignments this year:
Much of it stayed depressingly the same. Kate Toomey, the most eager bootlicker on the City Council, remained chairwoman of public safety, a subcommittee she will continue to call to meet only when the cops want a new toy and will otherwise use as a bulwark against any honest interrogation of the Worcester Police Department’s spending, practices or policies. On a positive note, District 5 Councilor Etel Haxhiaj is chairing a relatively new subcommittee called Urban Technologies, Innovation and Environment. Theoretically this subcommittee could be the vehicle to bring exciting progressive ideas into reality, but we’ll see.
The economic development subcommittee is where we see the most glaring change. The last cycle, Mero-Carlson chaired the committee and was joined by District 1 Councilor Sean Rose and At-Large Councilor Matt Wally (RIP). This year, Mero-Carlson is bye bye see ya later gone. Off the committee entirely. And instead, it’s chaired by Rose and joined by two newcomers, Khrystian King and Sarai Rivera.
It’s a big shakeup for sure, and one that Petty certainly did consciously. Rose is a councilor firmly in the Joe Petty camp and it’s a fairly well-known rumor that Petty is training Rose for command. Economic Development is one of the more important subcommittees and the one most closely tied to the idea of the Worcester Renaissance. Notably, it was the subcommittee that the Polar Park proposal had to pass through before it could come to fruition. The committee receives regular reports from the city’s economic development office and handles things like tax break deals for developers. If someone’s telling you about a development that’s evidence of Worcester as a ‘city on the rise,’ it likely came through that subcommittee in some shape or form. Following the logic, if you’re someone who seeks to benefit politically from the notion of the Worcester Renaissance, it’s a nice place to be. An easy way to take some measure of credit and tie your brand to that of a rapidly developing city.
So Petty decides to kick Mero-Carlson off, put Rose in charge, bring on Rivera—another Petty loyalist—and King, who represents the nascent left flank of the councilor. Why did he do that?
Rosen, ever the messy bitch, shared a theory.
“The chair of the committee now is Sean Rose. And Sean Rose had a very tough-fought race with Rick Cipro,” he said to Mero-Carlson. “Joe Petty supported Sean Rose, which he has every right to do. You supported Rick Cipro, which is your right too.”
Bingo! Ding ding ding! Mero-Carlson picked the wrong horse and now she’s paying the price.
“So therefore an individual should be punished for doing a good job?” Mero-Carlson replied. “I mean I certainly, to be honest with you, I take a great deal of offense to that because when you’re elected as someone to serve the residents of Worcester, not one individual, and not one entity… You are… when you’re elected, you’re elected to serve… and again, I respect the fact that… the mayor’s choice, these committee assignments. What I don’t respect is the lack of respect for not letting people know, or giving me a heads up.”
Mero-Carlson is solidly within the right flank of the council, alongside Donna Colorio, Kate Toomey and Bergman, who you can see squirming beside her. It sort of kicks ass that Petty, by her own admission, booted her without a call or a text. She had to learn with everyone else. In the video below, she admits she was the only councilor to publicly back Cipro by way of a $250 campaign donation.
“I have no issue whatsoever with the person I supported,” she said. “As everyone knows, I come from a strong labor background. As a member of organized labor… and our organization made a decision to support Rick Cipro.”
She says “all her other colleagues” supported Rick Cipro but she got singled out for publicly donating to his campaign. It’s great, in that context, to watch Moe Bergman awkwardly squirm next to her.
As I’ve covered ad nauseum in this newsletter, Rick Cipro was a reactionary candidate and his position as head of the local police union and an active duty police officer raised a ton of ethical problems. He was a horrible candidate and we dodged a bullet when Rose beat him.
It is funny and cool, I think, that Petty decided to boot Mero-Carlson because she backed Cipro. He’s flexing on her and that’s fine.
On the flipside, it’s incredibly embarrassing on Mero-Carlson’s part that she thinks anyone in the public gives a shit. It’s indicative of a self-aggrandizing attitude I’ve seen many a city councilor fall into, akin to a Parks and Rec bit come to life. Even the fact alone that she praised herself for being “good” at chairing the subcommittee. It’s also proof positive that she lost, she knows she lost, and she knows she’s on the losing side. You don’t throw hissy fits like that if you’re winning.
What this little character drama shows us is that conservative bloc of the City Council—Mero-Carlson, Bergman, Colorio and Toomey, or the Four Horsemen for short—has a waning political influence, so much so they’ve resorted to complaining about how the mayor isn’t nice to them. They’re likely to suffer their first real defeat next Tuesday when the council votes on Haxhiaj’s proposed eviction and foreclosure moratorium.
The moratorium was first proposed at the meeting earlier this week and enough councilors spoke on the matter that I could figure out the vote is going to be 6–5 in favor of passing it and I’ll put money on that right now. Still, despite knowing his side will eventually lose, Bergman pulled the obnoxious move of “holding the item under privilege,” which any councilor can do without a vote. All it does is delay the vote a week.
So what I’m saying is next week we’re gonna give the Four Horsemen something to really whine about. Let it be the first of many.
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Had a wonderful talk with Josh Croke on his excellent Public Hearing podcast. Give it a listen!
I applied to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board Of Trustees and the Urban Forestry Committee this week. My application has to go through the City Manager’s Office so I doubt I’ll get put on, but you never know. Here’s the “letter of intent” I sent the city manager though, I’m pretty proud of it.
While I’m super excited about our new progressive wing of the City Council, what we’re able to do pales in comparison to Mayor Wu over in Boston. Every week it seems her administration drops a piece of local governance that changes the game.
Have you listened to the podcast yet? You should, it’s fun! New episode coming tomorrow.
Ok that’s all for now, bye bye