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“This has got to be a new low in Worcester Politics”
The gang defames a child
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“This has got to be a new low in Worcester Politics”
Former City Councilor Wayne Griffin publicly defamed a 17-year-old girl. Then Anthony Petrone, a Worcester police officer and union president, doxxed her. Both did so in service of Jose Antonio Rivera’s City Council election campaign.
Those are the basic facts of the matter.
This is what the post looked like. I’ve redacted the girl’s name.
Can’t even spell the officer’s name right.
And this was Petrone’s comment under the post. Her full name and address are under this redaction.
Though they’ve been deleted, the posts stayed up for several hours, inviting a rash of hateful comments directed at Etel Haxhiaj and this girl they found to be a “cop killer” by association. Even as some commenters pointed out the basic fact of it was wrong, it stayed up. I have it confirmed three ways that the woman they attacked here is not related to the person they say is her father. Her father is 100 percent a different guy. Unreal.
A few more basic facts: Petrone works for the city. The city pays him to fight crime. Libel is a crime. A basic definition of libel is “a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation.” Griffin published a young woman’s full name and said she is the daughter of a man who killed a police officer. He presented it as fact but it is not a fact. So that checks the “published false statement” box. He said the woman’s campaign donations amount to “blood money.” That checks the “damaging to a person’s reputation” box. This woman is not a public official. Not even an adult.
Griffin, Petrone and countless others recklessly and maliciously coated this young woman’s name in a “cop killer” veneer, and only did so to make Etel Haxhiaj look bad.
“This is not just blood money but a continued sigh (sic) as to where (sic) her allegiances lie,” Griffin wrote, referring to Etel. A campaign for cop killers.
While the post was deleted from the various pages by mid-afternoon, its author and its target audience are not going anywhere. It is an example of increasingly worrisome behavior from the city’s entrenched right-wing reactionary base—The cranks. The lady uncles. The townies. From my last post on the matter:
The Cranks are the most elite unit of a larger group I like to call “The Lady Uncles.” The Lady Uncles are in turn a subset of a larger constituency I like to call “The Townies.” If there was a better term for these sorts of people, I’d use it. Such a term would be useful across the state, I’d imagine. “Working class whites” gets close but it’s not fair to the majority of working class whites. Also 80 percent of them are retired. Most people even—gasp!—working class white people are normal. The Townies are not.
The political imagination of The Townie thrives on grievance, rests on a foundation of racism, and interprets the world through a collectively understood fiction of ”the way things used to be.” They’re drawn to local politics as a way to express their grievances. An outlet for shouting that’s more interactive and engaging than their TV screens. They approach city government as customers. In the current state of local politics—low election turnout, bad local press coverage, and a general feeling it’s pointless to pay attention—the Townie thrives. Just by being loud when normal people are quiet, they get a lot of influence. This is a big reason why we have some of the bizarrely inept city councilors that we do. Customer service representatives more than political leaders. Donna Colorio, Moe Bergman, Kate Toomey, Candy Mero Carlson. The “normative six.”
Perhaps more than any other contest in the upcoming election, the District 5 City Council race is a referendum on whether this constituency has political pull. If there’s any truth and fairness in this city, they’ll come out the minority.
They have their guy in Jose Rivera. Unambiguous. They pretty much control him. His campaign manager, Walter Bird Jr., is a noted crank, right up there with Wayne Griffin in prominence. Bird does all the press releases and social media. Every campaign move lately has been red meat for the cranks, pushed by Bird more than Rivera, and also a direct smear on Haxhiaj. That was the case with the Mill Street redesign. More recently, Rivera has attacked Haxhiaj for supporting a moratorium on the city’s practice of routine homeless encampment sweeps. Rivera is pro-sweep, but more so he’s anti-Haxhiaj. The press release heavily insinuates that Haxhiaj is responsible for the problem of homelessness. In reality she’s one of the very few people in this city who actually wants to find a solution.
They are campaigning against her more than for Rivera. The main subject of this post, Griffin’s “blood money” libel, is very much in line with the overall tone of the Rivera campaign. You could be forgiven for thinking Griffin is on the campaign team. He certainly acts like it. In any case it’s safe to say he’s a surrogate. When you ask people to donate to a campaign, like Griffin did at the end of his post, you’re pretty much on the campaign team. Let’s not split hairs here.
I called Rivera on the phone yesterday afternoon for a comment. Couldn’t even get all the way through my first question without him splitting hairs.
Me: “In support of your campaign, Wayne Griffin and Anthony Petrone doxxed and defamed a minor...”
Rivera: “Nah, nah. Nothing to do with me.”
Me: “...on Facebook...”
Rivera. “Nothing to do with me. They’re not part of my campaign team, had nothing to do with my campaign team. I don’t know why the connection is getting tied in with me. I mean I know why. Because I’m going against Etel but it has nothing to do with me.”
Me: “Ok so do you condone that behavior?”
Rivera: “I mean I don’t support it. Like I said they don’t represent me and they don’t.. you know… they don’t speak for the team.”
He reiterated several times that they’re not part of the campaign team. I asked him two more times whether he thinks this stuff should be happening in local elections. Both times, he stuck to distancing himself.
Here’s the first time:
Me: “Ok do you think that’s a good thing to be happening in local elections?”
Rivera: “I mean… all I wanna say is this. It didn’t come from me. I didn’t support it. I don’t know anything about it. Now that I saw it I do. But like that’s not something that we… that my team has anything to do with. It came out I saw it but to me I was like ok so they donated to their campaign. That’s it. That’s how I looked at it. That... To me I’m focused on policies, I’m focused on issues, I’m focused on District 5 residents. That’s what I’m focused on.”
And the second time:
Me: “Do you see anything wrong with what they did?”
Rivera: “I’m um… I would say that I wouldn’t do it. Yeah. I wouldn’t do it. I’m not saying... They obviously find it to be wrong, right? So you know that’s how they feel about it. But I mean I don’t have… It’s not my thing. It’s got nothing to do with me. I’m just focused on running a campaign. That’s it.”
The exchange is heavy on “I wasn’t personally involved” and light on “it wasn’t right they did that.” Only once does he come close to condemning it: “I mean I don’t support it.” The rest of the time he reiterated they aren’t officially on his campaign and don’t officially speak for him. It’s a very thin line to draw and doesn’t change the fact that Griffin is a loud and prolific surrogate. Perhaps more than anyone else, he is the avatar of Rivera’s core constituency. Whether or not Rivera accepts it, Griffin is a part of his campaign. For something this egregious, anything less than a public statement of condemnation is tacit approval of these sorts of tactics.
Rivera’s slogan is “people over politics.” While devoid of meaning it serves to convey more or less he’s not “one of those.” He won’t “propose” any “solutions.” But in the actions of his campaign and its surrogates there’s a lot of “politics” happening! It’s a very negative campaign in a way that’s hard to notice. The negativity gets a certain cover from the City Hall narrative that progressives are the “divisive” element in City Hall. For a grievance-based reactionary constituency, this is a line happily swallowed.
A lot of energy from the Rivera camp lately has been put toward “she’s bad” messaging while the “I’m good” is left ambiguous, floating in personality and platitudes. That is very much “politics.” Running on personality while scapegoating your opponent is uhhhh… there’s a few famous historical examples.
To maintain you aren’t “political” while engaging in the political project of painting an unflattering picture of your opponent—”one of those” who “do politics,” unlike me, who is not “extreme”—is a form of scapegoating. The Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements and we’re all one diagnosis away from financial ruin and if you don’t already own a home you’re fucked because of the bipartisan consensus that “political division” is the Real Problem In Washington and the goal is Working Together to Get Things Done.
Pushing for things which would help people–just making the government do something good–is very easily scapegoated.
Here in Worcester, the small but ascendant progressive movement is confronting this deeply entrenched bit of consent manufacturing head on. While the Rivera campaign is the most obvious standard-bearer of this scapegoating, Mayor Joe Petty is doing it. The old guard councilors are doing it. Maureen Binienda is doing it. They have plenty of help and lots of money. They have easy tropes to lean on. They can say “we’re at a crossroads” and it means something to people: we can’t go too far. Why can’t we exactly? What does “too far” really mean? Well, those questions are “politics.” And “politics” are bad.
This has nothing to do with Wayne Griffin doing defamation on a child in a literal sense but if you consider why Wayne Griffin made that post, why people like Anthony Petrone gleefully participated in it, and why no one will face any consequences for it… it’s a Petri dish. That it’s so small and petty and stupid makes it useful.
What we’re seeing here in this election, in District 5 especially, is that nothing good is going to happen until politics are detangled from “politics.” Rivera’s campaign is built on a theater of grievances and scapegoating and in that context Haxhiaj makes for a great heel. She’s a woman, most importantly. She supports progressive policies. She’s not afraid to criticize the city manager publicly. She doesn’t reflexively support everything the cops want. She has a vision and principles and actually does real politics in an effort to achieve real goals.
This is preaching to the choir for my audience, probably. It’s not a new observation that the American “democracy” in the popular imagination is functionally a theater of cruelty in which audience participation is built into the act. Nerds like me try to articulate it but the non-voting public knows better. Why bother.
But we have a chance here to use Worcester City Hall to show it doesn’t have to be that way. That it’s not hopeless to care and that a city hall can be a source of progress and social betterment.
The fundamental roadblock we’re facing right now–the thing that produces a Wayne Griffin or a Jose Rivera–is the way we understand the word “politics.” The Wayne Griffins of the world enjoy the current common understanding. They like having an arena for cruelty and malice and they relish a scapegoat. But you have to imagine the majority of people who see it that way don’t get any pleasure out of it. Absent a different definition, what’s to be done? Nothing at all is going to change before that definition changes. That definition is not going to change until people see the underlying scapegoat for what it is. The “politics” which creates “division” is not the source of misery. It’s not the problem. It’s the solution. How do you explain to someone they’ve been made to believe otherwise? By those who do not want a solution to misery? Without sounding crazy?
In a small city like Worcester, with a winnable City Council majority and a less-than-Machiavellian political class, you can demonstrate that a different approach is possible. This election is not “old” versus “new” so much as its a contest between two definitions of politics. Are we in this for power or are we in this to lead? Content to maintain the theater or hungry to try and do something? Is it growth or the community?
I think it would be remarkable for a lot of people to see a City Hall genuinely prioritize the community. Unprecedented. A rare moment to demonstrate that politics is not “politics.” That caring is not always punished. Resignation need not be assumed.
More than anything the election in November is a referendum on whether caring is worth it. The moment is unique. Real. Success is not a theoretical exercise, it is a possibility. It might be the only one we get, and we owe it to ourselves to treat it that way.
I started this post with an explanation of something painfully cruel and stupid. Notable in the audacious nature of it but generally in line with the sort of cruel and stupid things we accept will happen here. We absorb it when a grown man defames a child for Facebook likes. We do not seem to have the capacity to absorb the prospect of something genuinely good happening here.
The head of the police union doxxing a child makes sense! I reached out to the City Manager’s Office for comment and a spokesman said “The employee’s comment was limited to publicly available information from a government website; based on the information available the comment does not appear to violate the City or WPD social media policies.” Go for it!
City funds to preserve The Bridge did not make sense. City Manager Ed Augustus, back in 2021, had this to say: “We certainly need and want more youth programming,” Augustus said. “Whether this location is the location that will work longterm, I guess we have yet to determine that.” His way of saying no. Do not go for it.
There’s a dimness of imagination at the core of this city’s psyche. We accept it–all the mediocrity it embraces and talent it smothers–but we don’t accept that it’s fragile. That breaking it is a possibility. That needs to change.
Odds and ends
Thank you for reading! Short and sweet just like I promised.
Great profile in The Patch of my man Rob Bilotta. He’s the obvious choice in the District 2 City Council race.
On that note I’d highly recommend Nicole Apostola’s notes from the recent Worcester Community Labor Coalition candidate forum.
A good tweet!