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Worcester put its foot down
On kicking ass and taking names in the city election
All I gotta say is hell freakin yeah baby!! We won. We kicked ass. We cleaned up. We came out of the election yesterday with a mandate. There is only one way to read the election results: it was a progressive takeover.
All the progressive candidates did way better than I expected, and all the scary wack jobs on the right did a lot worse than I expected or I think anyone expected. Yesterday, mid afternoon, I wasn’t feelin’ too hot. I was nervous. People that I talk to about local politics were nervous. All the signs indicated low turnout—and it was pretty low after all, at 16 percent—and low turnout has, historically, meant that the more conservative candidates do better.
Bracing myself for what it would mean to have a cop on the City Council and a homophobic religious zealot on the School Committee, I went out and bought a 30 pack of Budweiser with the intent of drinking my sorrows away performatively on the election results livestream (this was the funniest moment of that, btw). I was prepared, as Tony Soprano would say, to be the clown: laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.
But then the results started coming in and, with every new round of reported precincts, the results started looking better and better. Woah, Thu Nguyen is in third place? Woah, Dianna Biancheria is doing that bad? And then Sean Rose called it for District 1 over Richard Cipro, and then Etel Haxhiaj called it for District 5, and then it became clear that Shanel Soucy and Dianna Biancheria were going to finish last and second to last, and by then I was the happy clown: laughing on the outside, laughing on the inside and a bit too drunk to be on camera.
The progressive slate did gangbusters. Let’s take a look at the results real quick, starting with at-large council.
It goes 1. Petty, 2. Toomey, 3. King, 4. Nguyen, 5. Bergman, 6. Colorio.
It’s poetic justice that the two people who are going to absolutely freak out about Nguyen’s pronouns—they’re the first nonbinary person to hold political office in state history—did worse than them.
We knew pretty much that it was going to be Petty with the most votes and Toomey with the second most. Despite my unending amazement at the sociological oddity that is Toomey’s political power, that outcome, like Petty winning the mayor’s race, was a given. The fact that King, the most-progressive sitting City Councilor by yards, finished third, and Thu, a candidate way to the left of the board, came in fourth—that says something. They both did better than the two most conservative councilors. The two most conservative councilors finishing fifth and sixth also says something. Of course in a perfect world, they both get knocked off by Creamer and Wally. But hey. This is still great. Bergman and Colorio head into the inauguration licking their wounds and King heads into the inauguration having added two people—Nguyen and Haxhiaj—to what was previously a one-man progressive band.
Haxhiaj’s District 5 victory over Greg Stratman was commanding, at 53 percent, and she had to endure a craven “Albanians for Stratman” smear as well as the baseless compliment I mean insult that she was a communist. Thank the lord Matt Wally in his hubris decided to go for at-large council and leave D5 open for Haxhiaj’s taking. He’ll never have to recuse himself again and the trade of Wally for Etel is a very good one for the city.
In District 1, we held the line. Rose is, you know, fine. He’s part of the centrist camp of the council that could maybe be pulled in the progressive direction but he’s not doing the pulling. That said he’s a million times better than Richard Cipro, for whom the “f” word wouldn’t be entirely unfair. In that race, too, the win was commanding, at 53 percent. Cipro’s election would have caused a host of ethical problems, it would have added a fifth vote to the conservative block, and he would have surely brought with him the derisive know-nothing rhetoric he fostered on the police union Facebook group he still admins. If any cop had a shot at a council seat, it was Cipro, and it’s extremely heartening to see the wind taken from his political sails.
While in District 2 the progressive candidate did not mount a successful challenge to Candy Mero-Carlson, she did a good bit better than one might expect given the smothering hold Mero-Carlson has on the district. Johanna Hampton-Dance took 43 percent of the vote and if she had been able to muster another 250 votes, she would have unseated Mero-Carlson. There’s no way Candy isn’t looking at these election results and feeling a little nervous.
So to sum up what happened on the City Council, the “four horsemen” on the rightmost end of the spectrum—Mero-Carlson, Bergman, Toomey, and Colorio—remain intact. But they’re now contending with a soldily progressive bloc on the other side. King, Haxhiaj, and Nguyen now have the leeway to press the council in their direction in the same way that the Four Horsemen have for the past two years. The middle of the council—Russell, Petty, Rose, and Rivera—are all much more likely to swing toward the progressive bloc than they are toward the Four Horsemen. For example, if we look at the City Manager’s mostly bullshit package of police reforms that included the removal of school resource officers, the vote on that with this current makeup would be 7-4 as opposed to 6-5. Gary Rosen, the fifth vote against, is now retired. It’s hard to understate a shift that significant. It changes the political calculation for everyone, not least of all City Manager Ed Augustus Jr., and it opens up opportunities for objectives previously seen as impossible. Now is the time to push for a permanently fare-free WRTA, a significant investment in affordable housing, a plan to combat and mitigate gentrification, and more seriously evaluate Augustus.
It’s going to be very interesting, especially, to see the goals Petty outlines in his inaugural address in January, when the new councilors are sworn in. Will his objectives reflect a new political calculus, or will he attempt to hold the line?
On the School Committee, it’s even nuttier. The School Committee changed big time. The entire progressive slate got elected and/or reelected and the board’s most conservative member got shown the door. Let’s look at those results because they’re cuckoo bananas.
That’s 1. Johnson, 2. Mailman, 3. McCullough, 4. Novick, 5. Kamara, 6. Clancey. Left out are Biancheria, who I am not sure ever figured out what it is a school committee member does, and Shanel Soucy, whose last place finish should show her and the rest of the anti-sex ed crusaders that there exists no political will in this city for your wingnut ideas.
In my election guide, I picked Johnson, Mailman, Novick, and Kamara and detailed why they were the progressive slate and why they deserved the vote—but even in my most hopeful prediction, I didn’t anticipate all four would get elected. The number-one and number-two slots are both challengers! When the heck does that happen?! Unlike the council, the School Committee now has a commanding progressive majority and our most conservative members here, McCullough and Clancey, are really not conservative at all. They’re middle of the road, of the Petty ilk. They’re fine. To lose Monfredo and Biancheria and replace them with two progressives is like lifting a decades-old albatross off this board’s neck. I particularly like the way Novick put it in a quote to the Telegram.
"I think that we first of all saw definitely Worcester kind of putting its foot down in terms of what it's looking for on its school committee in terms of representation across the board" said Novick. "In terms of racial diversity, in terms of family experience, life experience, in terms of people who have different experiences with the school."
Worcester put its foot down. That’s perhaps the best way to sum up the election results and you know what I’m gonna make that this post’s headline.
And how about Jermaine Johnson, coming out of freakin nowhere for a first place finish? I didn’t see that coming, a lot of the people I regularly talk to about Worcester politics did not see that coming, but you know who did is Councilor Khrystian King.
Let’s rewind to election night and I’m walking down Millbury Street to go give Nguyen and Haxhiaj a hug at Electric Haze and I run into King on the street and I say hey congrats and dude how about Jermaine Johnson? Didn’t see that coming. And he goes “Oh I did. I knew it.”
So we walk into Electric Haze and everyone is having a blast and in the middle of the room Haxhiaj is leading a bunch of organizers in a traditional Albanian folk dance which none of them are doing right but she makes me join and I try and I’m not doing it right either but it doesn’t matter. There was a feeling of unbridled joy and optimism in the room and it was contagious.
I pulled Thu and Etel aside briefly to ask them the tough questions reporters are supposed to ask candidates like how does it feel to win, and win this big? Does it feel good to know you’ve kicked such ass and taken so many names?
“I think for me it’s about community,” said Nguyen. “This was a grassroots campaign and I really believe it’s about the movement. It’s not about me. It’s about how we all added together to actually make this happen.
“I always think of this as a flowing of water. It’s like of course the ship arrived when we were all doing the work to get there. So that’s how I feel. We’re here. We made it. We arrived.”
Etel, standing next to Nguyen, pointed out her candidacy ushers in the first female leader in the district, the first Muslim-American, the first Albanian-born refugee and immigrant.
“It feels amazing on so many levels,” she said. “And to have Thu join this is a dream come true. I think that’s the best I can describe it. It’s like we shifted the terrain under people’s feet and this is going to set the tone for what’s going to happen in the next five, 10 years.”
It’s important now to hold on to that optimism, that enthusiasm, and all the energy that went into making these campaigns successful. It’s important now to walk around like we own the place and dictate a clear and cohesive set of expectations for the next two years. All the people who followed the race, volunteered, and just plain paid attention need to stay invested in the process. Elections, when they go your way, are very fun. Municipal politics on the whole is a boring slog. But the question of how to cement a progressive foothold in City Hall—how to make it bend to our will—is not a boring question at all. It’s intensely interesting.
At the end of the day, the city’s progressives out-organized, out-fought and ultimately out-voted the city’s right wing in an election that was doomed from the start to be a low-turnout affair. Now we’re headed into a two-year election cycle with a strong mandate and an energy of excitement and enthusiasm. Let’s freakin go!
Felt real nice to write a hopeful and happy post for once! This one is about my loving Worcester and not about it sucking. If you appreciated this post and/or my four-part guide to the election please consider throwing some dollars my way. This newsletter is powered solely off the readers who care to have an independent voice in the city. Put another way, for $5 a month you can be my boss!
This post admittedly took me a bit too long to get out and that’s because I had a bit too much fun on election night, as evidenced by this:
We had a lot of people tune in to the election night Twitch stream and it was a ton of fun! Friendly reminder that it’s a regular thing and it’s called Worcester Council Theater 3000. Me and the Wootenanny crew will continue to do that for every City Council meeting henceforth. The next one is on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. And you can always find the stream at the Wootenanny Twitch page. And thank you to Travis Duda who runs the stream and also creates the memes, like the crying Cipro you saw earlier in the post!! Two thin blue lines baby!!
C U Next Tuesday as they say!!