Michael Gaffney

I often say that Worcester is a JFK Democrat city. The citizens of Worcester were Democrats because they were champions of the blue-collar workers against the big business class. Jobs, pay, and decent living standards were their priorities. But, while the priorities of the voters have not changed, the priorities of the local democratic party leadership have. Instead, the local party leadership is more concerned with tax cuts for the big business class, fighting the unions that support them, engaging in identity politics, and denying freedom of speech.

It is well known that our taxes continue to rise. Property taxes have increased 12% in just four years while incomes have remained flat. Seniors of a fixed income, struggling families, and those just starting out cannot afford to live in Worcester. And there is no end in sight to the ever increasing taxes. More ways to tax are being devised in Mayor Petty’s tax committee and the new seven point plan seeks to explode spending in the next five years.

Ever increasing taxes upon the poorest of us is not a virtue and does not represent the values of JFK or Worcester’s Democrats. Ever increasing tax rates on small businesses means we have less small businesses and less opportunity for employment or innovation. As JFK said “an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough jobs or enough profits.” We simply cannot in good moral consciousness continue to take by the force of taxation from those that can no longer afford to give.

But instead of focusing on the little guy, tax breaks are being handed out to big businesses, mostly real estate developers. What the taxpayers are told is that, if the tax break wasn’t given, we’d get no revenue at all, so this is a “win-win.” It is an undisputable fact that if the base tax rate wasn’t so high, tax breaks for select big businesses wouldn’t be necessary. But instead of a level playing field for all, the most vulnerable are stuck paying for a tax break for big business.

Of course, the tax breaks are sold to us as necessary for job creation and development. The idea is that if we can get a project going that it will create other jobs and that the benefits would trickle down to other businesses and residents. Yes, the local party supports the trickle-down theory of economics. But, not exactly! They select the businesses that will get a tax break based on their own desires for the development of the property and political connections. A true economic development policy granting tax breaks would simply be based on a set of criteria relative to the size of the investment, not a determination based on the whims of the political elite. What we have in Worcester is pure crony-capitalism paid for at the expense of the people least capable of paying for it.

Fighting the unions that hold them in power has become old hat for the local party. It seems every cycle one union or another is in a knock-down drag-out fight with the administration. Last cycle was the firefighters, this cycle the teachers. To be clear, our system of city employee pay increases is arcane. It doesn’t recognize merit for hard work. It doesn’t balance compensation based on years of service and pay grade. It is simply awful. But, instead of fixing the problem, the battle comes down to what across-the-board percentage increase each union will receive in its next contract. Does everyone deserve a 2% increase each year? Unlikely. The private sector certainly isn’t handing out such raises and our taxpayers can’t afford it. But, rather than fix the problem or deal fairly with the unions, the local party offers nothing. They certainly pound their chests at the Labor Day breakfasts, with the heads of the unions proclaiming themselves to the party, but for the common worker they offer no solutions or support.

The local party has abandoned the working class for the latte-sipping college elites. Downtown development is all about luxury apartments and college students. The parks around the colleges and on the West Side are maintained, while the rest are left in serious disrepair and neglect. A modern-day trash program to maintain decent neighborhoods can’t make it to a vote on the Council floor, yet the Council is in complete control of the local party. The Mayor, and leader of the local party, controls the agenda, but yet serious issues are rarely discussed.

Engaging in identity politics has become a specialty of the local party leadership. It serves as a great distraction from the important issues. Dividing people into multiple categories and pitting them against each other is the primary tactic. If you support the police, you are a racist. If you believe in freedom of speech, you are a sexist. If you are concerned about crime, taxes, federal funding, Mayor Petty will call you a “bigot”, playing to “the cheap seats.” (Of course, if you agree with Mayor Petty he’ll call you “stupid”, “morons”, and “uneducated”, so he’s an equal opportunity elitist). He even went so far as to misconstrue a simple resolution so he could help coordinate a protest at City Hall where he then incited the crowd to chant attacks against a fellow councilor. Again, a distraction that made it impossible to engage in constructive dialogue because the desire was to put on a show and divide people. Then there are the endless personal attacks he either states himself or has others state for him. None based on city issues or policy position differences. The lists of insults based on identity politics is nearly endless yet the local party still seeks to portray him as a “nice guy” when he is clearly not. The effort accomplishes nothing except to distract.

Even at the biggest opportunity for the local party to walk the walk on sanctuary city status, they failed. The Mayor leads the agenda and instead of coming out with a yes or no vote as to whether Worcester is a sanctuary city, they voted to file the item. It is all about duplicity and playing both sides. In one circle they argue that Worcester is not a sanctuary city, while in another they claim Worcester is a sanctuary city.

Mayor Petty’s campaign push card states “Today we are welcoming new people.”  If he means to say that we welcome unlawful immigrants, then he should have the courage to say it. If he means to say we are welcoming to legal immigrants and refugees, then he should say it. Or, avoid the gamesmanship and don’t say anything. I clearly stated in my resolution that I support legal immigrants and refugees. But that doesn’t get the Mayor or the local party to pit one group against another, so instead they speak in duplicity.

I’ve argued with Jim Polito, the morning talk show host at WTAG, over the intentions of the local party. His position is that the local party supports far left policies. My position is that the local party is in business for itself. How can the local party claim to support far left or even moderate democratic principles when taxes the poor, gives tax breaks to the rich, crushes unions, does little for the poor neighborhoods, and plays both sides of far left issues?

The local party doesn’t represent Worcester’s values. It lashes out against any that question it. On the City Council, it sought to ban free speech based on anything that it deemed “hate speech.” A completely unconstitutional attempt at limiting what can be said, quoted, or read at Council. It has manipulated our boards and commissions into McCarthy style witch hunts delving into what people coming before them read or write on the internet rather than qualifications for the job. The local party doesn’t like freedom of speech that it cannot control.

It is time that Worcester once again re-embrace its core values, those of the great leaders that transformed Worcester into a welcoming and PROSPEROUS city for all of its residents.