Discover more from Worcester Sucks and I Love It
"This whole thing stinks"
Ray Mariano's the one who stinks turns out
If you’ve served four terms as mayor of a city as well as terms on both the City Council and the School Committee, you’d know how contract negotiations work. You’d have to. It’s one of the most important parts of any of the three jobs.
You’d know that they happen in something called “executive session,” a private meeting format used by City Council and School Committee mostly for contract negotiations and for settling legal problems. You know that executive session is not a sneaky thing. By law, committees are required to publicly post the subject of executive session meetings and a clerk is required to take notes. The state’s Open Meeting Law requires the notes be published eventually, after the stated legal problem or negotiation has been resolved. There is no way you can spend several decades in municipal government and not know this. I have spent less than a decade simply observing municipal government and I know this.
That’s why I was rather surprised to see a column by Ray Mariano, a four-term mayor and city councilor and School Committee member, run in the Telegram last week in which he appears—more on that later—to not understand the concept at all.
In the column, titled “Worcester mayor, School Committee try to dump superintendent Binienda” Mariano attempts to frame School Committee members as some sort of Watergate-esque figures, slinking around in the dark to sabotage the career of the universally beloved Superintendent Maureen Binienda.
Here’s his thesis statement:
Well, it appears that some, perhaps even a majority, of the members of the present Worcester School Committee — led by the mayor — want to find a new superintendent. Unfortunately, at least to this point, they have been trying to force her out quietly and outside of the public’s view.
Later, he goes on to say “this whole thing stinks” and closes with this amazing passage of yellow journalism:
Putting aside private promises, most members of the School Committee don’t want to have to explain why they want a new superintendent to Binienda’s many supporters. So, they have been trying to force the superintendent to “just leave quietly” when her contract runs out to get themselves off the hook.
But this issue is far too important to be swept under the rug. If the School Committee wants a new superintendent then they should grow a spine and say so in public.
After decades of dedicated service to the children of Worcester, Maureen Binienda shouldn’t be shoved out the door under cover of darkness. At a minimum, School Committee members should explain how only a few months ago they rated Binienda as “proficient” but now want her replaced.
And the public has every right to have their voices heard.
Mariano is trying his darndest here to frame the issue as some covert conspiracy. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here’s what actually happened: The School Committee held its first executive session meeting to discuss a contract which is set to expire next June.
Here it is posted right on the agenda in plain public view.
It’s on page 10, if you don’t believe me and you’d like to see for yourself.
This was a preliminary discussion to begin planning for a contract which expires in a year’s time. It was not, as Mariano attempted to frame it, a ploy to “get themselves off the hook” and “sweep it under the rug.”
I have a lot to say about Superintendent Maureen Binienda and her tenure at the Worcester Public Schools, but I’m setting that aside for now to focus on this column. This column is underhanded, deceptive and an obvious attempt to circle the townie wagons around a woman who enjoys a large base of support due more to her status in the central townie circle of power than anything she’s accomplished as a leader of the school district or a building principal. I’m reminded now of the last time her contract was up for an extension, and she was under fire for failure to handle deep racial disparities in discipline rates across the school system, among other things. In a show of force, every building principal and members of the local Teamsters Union for some reason and a few cops too showed up to watch the entire proceeding. When her contract was renewed, they stood, clapped, and dutifully left the room. The whole thing had a rather feudal vibe to it if you ask me. The lower lords and ladies must attend the court proceedings of the queen.
Turns out I took a video of it at the time haha I don’t remember doing that but here it is
The video doesn’t capture the whole thing, but watch the beginning and look how they stood and clapped, as if on cue, when the superintendent was simply introduced.
Mariano tries to frame the position of the School Committee members as being unequivocally supportive of the superintendent, with the exception of Tracy Novick and Jack Foley, up until the point of this ~covert~ meeting. But if you go back to the last time her contract came up, in 2019, Mayor Joe Petty sort of blasted her. And he is a very reserved politician. He’s an “I’m with you fellas” sorta guy. He rarely lets it rip.
Though Petty voted for Binienda’s contract, he criticized her handling of the racial disparity issue, as well as sex ed and the busing contract, on the School Committee floor.
“I’ve been frustrated on so many issues in the past month or so,” he said.
That’s what I wrote at the time. And Petty was far from the most critical member of the School Committee. To frame this upcoming round of contract negotiations as some sort of heel-turn for the School Committee is negligence at best and at worst intentionally misleading. My money’s on misleading.
Let’s take a look at how Mariano got this hot scoop. He only cites vague “sources.” He doesn’t attribute anything he learned about this closed-door meeting to anyone in particular. But it really isn’t too hard to figure out. There’s only nine people it could be if he’s using first-hand sources. Four of those people are named in the article and cast in a negative light, whittling the number down to five, and Mariano happens to be deeply connected with three of them. I’ll gladly put $100 on this information coming from either School Committee member Dianna Biancheria, John Monfredo or Binienda herself.
For one, Biancheria used to work for Mariano. She was his chief of staff when he was mayor and, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, she is one of Binienda’s staunchest supporters. Monfredo worked on Mariano’s mayoral campaign, and Mariano publicly defended Monfredo against child rape allegations in the 1990s. In the article, he calls themselves friends. Perhaps coincidentally perhaps not Monfredo is one of Binienda’s staunchest supporters. Mariano hired Rob Pezzella, a man who now serves as Binienda’s “chief of security” or whatever it’s called where he’s done seemingly nothing but implement psychologically damaging school shooter training drills and suspend Latino kids at a clip.
Can you see what I’m getting at here? These people are all part of a cohort with control over levers of power in government in Worcester, especially the schools, and they have each other’s backs. They even have the teachers union. Education Association of Worcester president Roger Nugent is close with Binienda as well. Their private conversations have been a point of contention in inter-union politics, or so I’m told.
So what’s more likely? That Mariano, a former mayor, school committee member and city councilor would misrepresent the status of contract negotiations because he doesn’t understand how it works? Or is he willfully misrepresenting the state of the contract negotiations to benefit his friend politically? We’re in an election year, after all, and this column just made “would you vote to extend the superintendent’s contract” a marquee issue of the race.
Earlier, when I first read the article, I tweeted about how I wish the Telegram didn’t run this. I mean, to someone who’s paid attention to Worcester politics for some time, it read to me as transparently underhanded.
It would be nice if the Telegram wasn’t giving column space to someone who’s using it for such naked skullduggery. But hey, it would be nice if the Telegram was doing a lot of things that it isn’t, huh?
Be prepared for a lot more of this sort of trickery and deceit as the end of Binienda’s contract draws closer and the November city elections start to heat up. Politics in a city like Worcester, especially among the old school sorta folks like Mariano and Binienda, is far less about issues and solutions than it is making sure their team wins, and winning in a city like Worcester looks very much like who gets what job.
Silver lining, though, is if they were winning, Mariano probably would not feel compelled to write a column like this.
Thank you for reading by the way! If you would like to support truly independent journalism in Worcester you can support me :-) The Telegram would not run this piece I can tell you that with certainty. It’s a good thing to have and it’s hard to have it and it seems like the only way we can have it these days is by direct monthly support from the people who care to have it.
The main feature of this particular post was sort of short, but there’s some other stuff going on we should be paying attention to as detailed below.
The eviction ban is ending, as I’m sure you’ve seen, and meanwhile Worcester is going forward with a tepid approach on affordable housing while going balls deep on new “luxury” housing developments which make the affordable housing problem objectively worse. On that front, a proposal to give a new housing developer a massive tax break is headed to subcommittee review later this week. On Thursday, the Council’s economic development subcommittee will review a proposal for a $10 million tax break for a roughly 400 unit “market rate” apartment complex on the site of the former Mt. Carmel building. The obvious question here is, do we really need to do that or could we maybe use that $10 million more appropriately? If Worcester is the up-and-coming city you say it is, maybe we don’t need to sell off the company store to incentivize development? Anyway, this tax break is more money than the city is planning on investing into its new affordable housing trust and I am going to write about this powderkeg concoction for homelessness at greater length later this week.
Following up on my last post—about the striking St. V’s nurses and the service cuts Tenet is making as they fail to meet the nurses demands—it seems Tenet has yet again failed to offer an adequate contract to the nurses. The union, for their part, vows to hold strong until Tenet capitulates. The cuts to service, as I wrote, demonstrate that Tenet is having a hard time running this hospital without the striking nurses, so now is the time to double down.
There’s something worth paying attention to as far as municipal politics go out in Buffalo, New York. The City Council there is considering a charter change from a strong mayor form of government to the weak mayor form of government we have here, where the mayor and city council are more of a board of directors and there’s a city manager who actually runs the city. Now, there’s a lot to be said about each form of government and they both produce their own brand of avarice and corruption. What’s interesting about this story is why the city council is considering the change. Back in June, a full-on socialist candidate by the name India Walton beat four-term mayor Byron Brown, your standard neoliberal Democratic Party machine sorta guy, in the primary and she’s expected to win in November. So now, with a socialist set to assume the seat of power, the City Council wants to make that seat less powerful it seems. Kinda makes you think what would happen in Worcester if socialists were able to get a majority position on the City Council! That would be such a nice problem to have.
I went to a movie theater for the first time in like two years (?) to see The Green Knight last night. Super, super weird movie but I liked it a lot. Beautifully shot and the writing is refreshingly free of cliche given the well-trod nature of King Arthur stuff. It’s basically like if you took Hereditary and replaced all the horror tropes with fantasy tropes but kept everything else about the tone and mood intact. 7/10.
OH!! And if you ordered a shirt and haven’t gotten one yet, they are printed! I just have to go down to Providence to pick them up and then put them in the mail. So keep an eye on those mailboxes folks.