City Council Candidate Forum – October 23

Hosted by Shades by Worcester Pride – I believe there is video on Facebook; if someone finds the link please leave a comment

Telegram coverage from Steve Foskett; also, there was Telegram coverage of Ballots and Beers (which I was not able to attend)

Introduction from Brianna Brewer. A lot of LGBT people feel they have not been heard; foster a relationship with those who will make important people in our lives.

Gary Hunter introduces a moment of silence for Brian O’Connell

Shades is a subcommittee of Worcester Pride – enhance lives of queer and trans people of color in Worcester County

1 – QT POC = Queer and Trans People of Color

2 – 4.5% of MA = LGBT, 370k people, 24% of that is POC (89,000)

3 – lack of services (Boston or Springfield are sometimes the only places to receive certain services); greater risk of violence; interactions with police; often most overlooked and disregarded group

Dr Johnathan Flowers is moderator for the evening, will begin with brief introduction from candidates

Moe Bergman: was born to immigrant parents in community where religion makes me a minority. Learned early on what it was like to be an underdog. Good to be in a position to help people – so he became an attorney. Way to wholesale help people is to be an elected official.

Bill Coleman: proud to live in a country and city where people can live their lives. Has most recently worked on ceramic mural of Seal of City of Worcester.

Tony Economou: his mother came here from Greece, father from here. Worcester has always been ‘his city’ – first thing he’ll say to anyone whatever your situation or issue is, you can call, email or text him. He doesn’t judge people except by their heart. If way to help you or anyone…

Jesse Gibson: has been serving in Coalition Against Hate and Bias. Coaching soccer team. [I am sorry, I am sitting two seats away from Councilor King’s daughter and her cuteness is distracting]

Etel Haxhiaj: came here from Albania at age 19. Lived undocumented in Greece for two years, has been living in Worcester for 18 years. Hasn’t been sitting on her hands – has been advocating for every issue you can imagine. Believes that Worcester needs a truly strong, progressive voice that has proved herself by showing up whenever possible.

Johnhanes Honeycutt: wants to serve constituents – dual tax rates that is affordable to residents. Has reached out many LGBTQ orgs – many issues in their communities are shared with others. Affordability, etc., human issue.

Khrystian King: a lot of good things going on in the city: econ dev, business opportunities, investment in parks – great time to govern. But additional measures – how we will treat one another, respect and dignity. From his own family members, understands intersectionality between race and sexuality.

Joe Petty: want to keep momentum going. (feels like he’s ripping Moe Bergman off there, no?) Make everyone in city part of the success. Three priorities: (1) quality of life issues (streets/sidewalks/safety/parks); (2) opportunities at ball park; (3) I missed the third one

Gary Rosen: If you don’t hear what you want to hear from me in this forum, I’m willing to be educated.

Owura Sarkodieh: I HAVE THE LONGEST NAME ON THE BALLOT AND YOU CAN’T PRONOUNCE IT! trying to learn about the system. Proud to be the minority in this race, proud that he has a unique story to tell, has a special accent and wants LGBT community to be proud too.

Ralph Tiscione: as firefighter, we don’t choose who we go help, we help everybody – and that’s how I live my life. Want to continue that legacy. Inclusiveness is very important – sees everyone as an asset to the city. Wants to help city be the best it can be.

Kate Toomey: we need to bring in business so that people can support families. Founding member of Latino Ed Institute

(Missing from this forum, in no particular order: Donna Colorio, Evan Corrigan, Matt Wally)

Q1: what are structural barriers preventing people from participating in city gov’t and what are you going to do?

Toomey: 1 – people feel they aren’t going to be heard; 2 – name and voting. Need system to eliminate questions at polling place. If we don’t get word out that people need to come out and vote, we will have problem

Tiscione: disappointed in low voter turnout. On one hand, no reason why everyone shouldn’t show up to vote. Any obstacles that are there will not go away if you don’t.

Sarkodieh: identification as Toomey said. More aggressive registration. Same-day voter registration.

[Weird that everyone is only focusing on voting so far]

Rosen: need to publicize that the election is November 5. THE TELEGRAM NEEDS TO HAVE A HEADLINE ON NOVEMBER 4 ANNOUNCING THIS, OK, STEVE FOSKETT? GET IT ON THERE. City Council and School Committee are probably more important than state and certainly national elections.

Petty: Our job is to make people get out and vote. Early voting. ID / name / gender don’t match. [When was the last time these people voted? YOU DON’T NEED AN ID TO VOTE.]

King: in midst of shift – very diverse panel. We need to participate in more spaces like this, we as elected officials must engage to make folks understand what goes on in municipal government.

Honeycutt: lack of community involvement, voter oppression, are among reasons why people don’t go out and vote. Reach out to residents in city and make them understand what’s going on in the world.

Haxhiaj: a lot of marginalized people do not see themselves represented in city council and government. That needs to change. We need to invite folks to the table before decisions are made – not after. Senator Chandler’s bill about lowering the voting age was not passed – a lot of young people could be more involved, but need to lower barriers.

Gibson: people need to participate. People here on the stage from different parts of Africa – but people do not see that in City Hall. Need to do outreach.

Economou: if there’s one election you’re involved in that makes a difference, it’s a municipal election. Tony will meet with people and keep an open mind and get people out to vote. Everyone on this panel is passionate and we need to include each other in the decision making process.

(Matt Wally just got here)

Coleman: people shut down before Council. Went before CC on two issues: early voting and asked CC to support – 6/5 turned it down; trash bag referendum – 6/5 shot down. People feel no one is listening – so why participate?

Bergman: none of us know. One of the dangers is assuming you know an answer when you don’t. Three-year term makes sense – 50% of the time you would have other races involved and more participation.

Q2: 13.4% of housing units meet Ch40b affordability. How to remain affordable for QT POC in light of recent projects including renovations?

Bergman: biggest issue is that residential taxes are affordable. When landlord pays more taxes, the rent goes up. Foreclosed properties sold to absentee landlords. Also, surrounding communities need to step it up. Keep taxes relatively reasonable.

Coleman: We need term limits for government. We need to build more housing. Affordable = $13-1800 a month. This is untenable. Housing being bought up by those who live outside the city.

Economou: in three terms, he voted for affordable housing whenever it was brought to the City Council. Will continue to vote in favor of that. Agrees with Bergman – this is a burden that should be shared with the ‘burbs.

Gibson: need more houses and price control. People from outside come and invest and jack up the rent (not his words). Without price control, people will not have a place to live.

Haxhiaj: Devastating that two people so far consider affordable housing a burden. Housing is a right not a privilege for people who live here. LGBTQ youth face homelessness higher than others. She has been working with Community Labor Coalition so that Green Island residents do not get displaced and gentrification does not come to Worcester. SHE IS ON FIRE AND I CANNOT KEEP UP. Working families put their head on their pillow and don’t know if they can pay rent for the next month.

Honeycutt: Focus on affordable taxes.

King: also about livable wages, local jobs so that people can remain here. City has obligation to mitigate gentrification. We are an elected body in Worcester and can ask private sector to do more – inclusionary zoning and increase affordable stock.

Petty: The City of Boston is so expensive – have you seen the prices lately? We need more affordable housing and that will drive the prices down. Three-decker plan will be announced on Friday. Revolving fund to borrow against and improve properties.

Rosen: City has leverage with developers. We give them TIFs and tax breaks, we can encourage them to provide units of affordable housing. US Senators should lobby for more HUD funding. Promote rent-subsidized programs. Waiting list for WHA is very long.

Sarkodieh: will fight for housing that is affordable. As CC, would advocate for $15/hr min wage and make developers set aside housing for low-income Worcester residents.

Tiscione: 13.4% housing seems really low. Lots of homeless people. 2500 kids in schools that are homeless. More proactive in helping all the residents of the city. He’s been to places where people live in mud huts. We are fortunate to be here and have resources. We need to make the changes.

Toomey: has, of course, filed an order about rent-to-own. Elderly people are afraid to rent or do upkeep. In Oakland, group that was able to purchase a building that was being put up for sale.

Wally: was exec director of a CDC, worked for Matthew 25. More funding for CDCs. Supply and demand will assist with affordable housing. We know that we have units that are not on the rental rolls. Once we improve the stock, these will come on the market. Well-paying jobs, skills training.

Q3: School Committee annual budget. How to help with programming, counseling, etc. for…

Wally: schools doing a good job with clubs. Promote and expect budgets for clubs within the schools. How can we work with SC partners to increase state funding and allocate to students of different sexual identities…

Toomey: not enough school counselors. Higher suicide rate. Equitable allocation – have conversation – every need needs to be met, every student needs to be heard and helped.

Tiscione: “I don’t know how to make the School Committee do anything.” Need teacher / mentors. Not a lot of info. Mostly kids talking to kids.

Sarkodieh: quota system for more queer/transgender teachers in schools. Encourage more POC to get into teaching.

Rosen: City Council provides the $$ but the School Committee allocates the money. [THANK YOU GARY – note that Tiscione had no idea about this] Dialog between CC and SC is almost nonexistent. We should be doing more than what we are doing.

(People are like clapping for the weirdest things here. Don’t clap for people who have been around long enough to make changes about the things they’re complaining about)

Petty: budget is done every May and June – start advocating now, people.

King: Frontline social worker for the last 20 years. In various school systems. We do have a platform. Has been able to work on middle school sports, more school adjustment counselors.

[I CANNOT BELIEVE NO ONE HAS TALKED ABOUT SEX ED YET]

Honeycutt: will work with SC to accommodate population of students. Teacher professional learning and better curriculum. Encouraging partnerships with LGBTQ support groups and others.

Haxhiaj: a lot of trans/queer youth, do not feel affirmed/validated/seen. CC can’t legally tell SC what to do – but we do have a huge platform. As a parent, I have a big voice to make sure that BI POC youth are seen and valued. All teachers need to have anti-bias and implicit bias training. We need to have less police in schools and more guidance counselors.

(much applause)

Gibson: starts with accountability. CC can hold the SC accountable. His wife is white, he’s black, his kids come home with issues that he can’t answer.

Economou: surprised that CC Ed Committee did not communicate with SC committee – used to meet almost every month after his efforts. Just under 60% of municipal budget goes to schools. Best looked at with both groups looking together.

[Man, what is my first rule of people running for City Council? They really want to be on the School Committee.]

Coleman: MTA got $270mil added through Fund our Future. Call up state reps/senators. Public ed underfunded for years.

Bergman: have people employed who are sensitive to those needs. Affirmative action plan. Does not include employment opportunities (sorry, I may have misunderstood that?) Like many, super excited at the prospect of cutting the school budget to stick it to the school committee.

Q4: violence against trans folks (sorry, sort of missed it)

Bergman: many of these crimes are unseen/in the dark. Preventive measures are good. Work with WPD to make sure there are persons who attend to this community.

Coleman: I think we know what the needs are, we just need to act on them. Worcester is welcoming city, but we can do more with people who feel challenged.

Economou: would like to see everyone in city government trained to recognize issues and work towards solving them.

Gibson: cultural awareness are most important in our communities. Diversity education needs to be done more.

Haxhiaj: trans women of color are dying at higher rate and that’s a problem. Because of stigma/violence, often forced into underground economy. Do not prosecute sex workers. LGBTQ liaison with the DA’s office. (might have misunderstood that)

Honeycutt: community involvement, watch out for each other. Neighborhood watch programs need to have more participants. MA is one of major states open to LGBTQ community.

King: it’s nothing new, but if it’s new, because people haven’t been paying attention. Appreciate that this group has brought us together to talk about this. Sponsored resolution to support Yes on 3. Employment discrimination leads to a lot of other discrimination and problems. Needs the community to push as well.

Petty: LGBTQ liaison with WPD. We do have human rights director at city hall to help people understand rights and protections.

Rosen: Invite new electeds back after the election. Let us learn. [Um, Gary, why don’t you invite them to City Hall?]

Sarkodieh: has not been the first group targeted in this country. Trans women violence cuts across every race, religion, ethnicity. Enforce anti-hate crime laws. MA Transgender Laws will be enforced when he’s in office.

Tiscione: laws for elderly people so there are also laws for others. Kids aren’t born with prejudice. That stuff is learned. The only way to counter is through communities and schools.

Toomey: reduce stigma. Ask companies to educate their employees. We need to respect each other as human beings. Alcohol and drugs are critical component here.

Wally: violence against anyone in our community is bad, but against group who has never has respect, esp. unacceptable. We need to promote orgs like Pastor Judy Hanlon – promote and help folks like that. Public awareness campaigns are undervalued – benefit of community having public awareness campaign is important.

[AND A FIVE MINUTE BIO BREAK – AS WELL AS SNACKS – THIS IS AWESOME!]

Audience Questions

Q: how can CC best work with queer community to strengthen city’s access for queer youth?

Wally: work through Youth Subcommittee, now chaired by Gary Rosen, to help understand needs.

Toomey: what are specific concerns, what have we not even begun to consider? Communication.

Tiscione: Communication is a bit part of it. Larger involvement between city council and youth pride program. He isn’t familiar with all the issues that everyone is facing. Need to hear what all the problems are. Kids can feel more isolated.

Sarkodieh: before you can work together, need to listen to one another. Need to talk together. Should be mechanism for them to talk.

Rosen: for last 6 years, has been chair of Youth, Parks, and Rec committee. Will write a couple of orders about queer youth and issues they face. Future meeting/hearing soon. Rose/King/Rosen will be there, but we need all of you to come there as well.

Petty: We have a chief diversity officer. Maybe have a youth advisory group? Youth are pretty smart and you can learn a lot talking to them.

King: we have been making steps forward. He, mayor, and a bunch of folks have been at the pride parades. Support legislation to make sure that folks are not discriminated against for employment. We are your elected officials, but once you engage with us, we become your elected representatives – hold us accountable.

Honeycutt: Council should seek out the community. He knows he could learn a lot more.

Haxhiaj: props to Worcester Queer Coalition – looking forward to partnering with them and following their lead. Once you’re a youth worker, you’re always a youth worker. Young queer people need to have safe spaces. Dreams about participatory budget process – community can come forward and tell us how to best serve them.

Gibson: need to work – empower someone from within group who can speak to the City Council.

Economou: we’re all still learning. If kids aren’t feeling comfortable, they aren’t going to speak. If they don’t feel comfortable enough to speak, we are failing them and the community. A subcom like Youth, Parks, is best place to have these conversations.

Coleman has been running since 1979. He originally proposed Youth subcom. He will file a petition for a separate subcom for LGBTQIA (and a lot of other stuff, sorry, this is long) and also another one for 16/17 year olds to vote.

Bergman: would like to welcome queer community to mock city council meetings.

Q: WPD and arrests of those based on immigration status / sanctuary city

Bergman: dealt with issue several years ago – heard from people on both sides. WPD will not arrest people – but not an official sanctuary city. Best of both worlds as we protect people and aren’t in trouble with the fed gov’t

Coleman: quotes from Emma Lazarus from memory. We need to be more memorable and charitable and we should put sanctuary city on our stationery.

Economou: there isn’t a bigger melting pot city in the county. We should not call ourselves sanctuary city but everyone is welcome.

Gibson: if you want to stand up for somebody, you stand up for themselves right away. We need to stand up for our brothers and sisters.

Haxhiaj; part of group SURJ that had thousand people come to city hall because of a request from a city councilor. Current president is hostile to immigrants, undocumented, esp trans. Sanctuary city is not an indictment of our police department – strong statement in the face of hostilities.

Honeycutt: we should embrace and shout it from the highest rooftop.

King: you are what you do. He has stood up for the rights of folks to be treated fairly. Knows the fear that kids have when they don’t want to go to school because they worry they won’t see parents again. We have a lot of work to do. Will make sure we continue to be sanctified in the city.

Petty: Ensured that people feel safe and welcomed here. President tries to divide us at every turn. Our police do not ask immigration status. Proud that we took refugees in the city.

Rosen: although not designated, obviously a sanctuary for many people. WPD welcomes people from all countries, backgrounds, experiences. We don’t have many of the problems that other cities have because we protect and welcome people.

Sarkodieh: about putting human touch in what we do. People come here when they have been persecuted. Who would want to go through that? Immigrants work very hard and are very law-abiding.

Tiscione: bottom line – we have a president who works off fear and intimidation. We need to stand up and say we are a sanctuary for everybody.

Toomey: we’re not just a city, we’re a city of the world. If you don’t think you’re welcome in this city, I don’t know where you’d be welcome.

Wally: Immigrants built this city. 37% of small businesses in city are immigrant-owned. WPD does not ask for immigration status. Need to work to legally support DREAMers.

Q: Expansion of diversity and inclusion office?

Bergman: we need diversity officers who are LGBTQ folks (sorry kids, it’s 8:50 and Nicole’s running out of steam – he’s speaking better than I’m recording). If there are issues that are not being addressed, expense worth taking.

Coleman: if you walk through city hall, different than 8 years ago. Yes, he supports it.

Economou: ridic that it’s not expanded now. Supports 100%

Gibson: the city has tried hard, supports this. Diversity and inclusion seminar that was put on was great.

Haxhiaj: yes, issues intersect in employment, housing – these should be embedded in every policy considered.

Honeycutt: agrees with expansion. Only way we can solidify and answer questions.

King: speaks to representative gov’t – not just elected officials, but committees. Manager interested in this as well. We hope for more productivity and accomplishments we can point to. It’s a more diverse council than ever before – looking forward to working to move things forward.

Petty: yes, let’s expand – they should get on all the boards if possible. Jayna Turchek is doing a great job.

Rosen: The answer yes will be unanimous. Just make sure that you remind new SC and CC of their answers in the spring.

Sarkodieh: would like to see data on how current office is doing. Expansion should be targeted and very strategic. More ed about needs of the community.

Tiscione: maybe a more community-based committee that can give ideas and help direct them. More people at city hall is not always a good thing.

Toomey: Yes. The world is run by those who show up.

Wally: Yes. 20 years ago we would never have seen this.

November 18 – Trans Day of Remembrance at YWCA

November 21 – another event, sorry, I missed that.

And that’s a wrap!

5 thoughts on “City Council Candidate Forum – October 23

  1. David Coyne says:

    Nicole, thanks again so much for your extraordinary work for Nader difficult circumstances. So helpful for those of us interested but unable to be everywhere at all times.

    Couldn’t help but chuckle at (unintentionally funny) comment attributed to Bergman to the effect that “youth should mock city council.” I think people of all ages should have the right to mock the CC. Lol!

    • David Coyne says:

      Oops. “Welcome queer community to mock CC meeting.”

      • Nicole says:

        Oh, I am sorry for the unintentional hilarity — let me explain it more in context because it is super tough to type as quickly as people speak!

        What Councilor Bergman was saying is that they welcome different groups to mock city council meetings and it helps folks understand how the process works. So he’d be willing to host this group as well!

        I am not able to do a lot of fact-checking while I’m typing, beyond my few pithy comments. As someone said at the other night’s school committee meeting, people can say all sort of things at these forums but actions speak!

  2. Walter Crockett says:

    Gary Rosen, willing, but not able, to be educated.

    • Nicole says:

      There are so many things I could say. I worry about editorializing my candidate forum posts too much.

      When I was blogging more regularly, I did a better job of pointing out the inconsistencies in what people said and what their record said. I don’t have a lot of time for that at present.

      That said, people, there are clear choices to be made here.

      I am going to copy (and slightly edit) something I posted elsewhere —

      For me, it is not nice to go to a forum sponsored by a group and not have done some basic research. There were some candidates who came here very prepared, others who were prepared by virtue of public experience, and others who had sort of a stock “we’re all in this together” line.

      Goodness knows, I am not up on all the issues facing BIPOC but if a group invited me to their forum, darn tootin’ I’d at least spend 15 minutes Googling so that it sounded like I knew what I was talking about.

      There was a lot of misunderstanding about how intimidating it is to engage with government, and the true need for government to proactively reach out. And — even — that true citizen engagement is NOT just getting people to go out to vote every two years. The voter turnout at a preliminary election is not The Problem, but a symptom of a larger problem.

      As Kate Toomey said, government is run by those who show up. But too much of the time, those who show up do not want to engage with people who don’t — or even WONDER why people aren’t showing up.

      So — to your point about Gary — it’s one thing to be willing to be educated, but it’s not fair to ask people to come to you, to set up a meeting, when you are clearly in a position of power and can welcome those folks to your table.

      This is, perhaps, a small thing. But I think about all the emotions I feel when I see the Greek flag flying at City Hall. When my grandparents were no longer welcome in their birth countries, they were able to go to Greece, a place their ancestors had left thousands of years before, and have a home. And I see that stupid flag flying for a few days and even for me, someone who was born in this country, it makes me feel a little more welcome.

      So these are little things but also the most important things.

      I hope that makes sense.

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