Worcester Community – Labor Coalition says, “Let the people vote”
The Worcester Community – Labor Coalition is asking the Worcester City Council to immediately start a public hearing process in order to include and engage all the residents of Worcester in deciding whether our City should change its form of government from a City Manager to a Strong Mayor form of government. We are asking the City Council to hold public hearings starting in September on charter change and that at the conclusion of the hearings the Council takes a vote on holding an election to let the voters decide Worcester’s future.
Formed in 2012, the Worcester Community – Labor Coalition started as an effort to secure a voice for community participation in the major decisions taking place in Worcester. The Coalition’s initial work was in response to the absence of taxpayers’ voices in the distribution of local tax relief deals (TIFs), the City’s failure to guarantee new developers hire Worcester residents and the passage of Worcester’s Responsible Employers Ordinance which requires contractors working on Worcester taxpayer supported projects to have job training and apprenticeship programs in place. Whether it’s the next proposed Washington Square hotel, the ongoing CitySquare project or a tax deal for a new outside developer, the Worcester Community – Labor Coalition believes Worcester residents need to be a part of the decision-making. Lenny Cooper, a Coalition member and representative from Worcester’s NAACP sums it up well,
“A lot of economic development seems to just happen in Worcester without anyone asking how it helps Worcester residents, low-income families and communities of color. How can we guarantee this investment by both the developers and our City fully benefits Worcester residents? I’m glad to be a part of a community group asking these questions. “
Earlier this summer the Coalition started developing a broad community survey to make certain we were not only listening and acting on behalf of our own members, but also including other Worcester residents’ opinions on our issues. We are still compiling the results of that data. While we are not prepared to release all the survey results yet, it became obvious that we had an obligation to share the poll’s results relating to strong mayor and City Manager now, when that information is still of value to City Councilors working to chart Worcester’s future course.
Our community survey found that 90% of Worcester’s electorate want the community to decide the Strong Mayor vs City Manager debate. We took that as a mandate for our Coalition to speak out immediately. Not to speak out pro or con, not with hidden hopes of crowning a secret candidate, but solely for the purpose of doing everything we possibly could to guarantee that this debate is settled openly, publicly, where everyday voters, taxpayers, residents of senior citizen housing, new immigrants and our next generation’s leaders will all have a voice in choosing our future course.
It is also clear from the survey that Worcester residents are equally split, 39% believing we should “change to a Strong Mayor form of government” and 43% believing Worcester should “continue with a City Manager form of government”. Given the polls 4.86% margin of error, Worcester residents are equally divided statistically. A significant 18% either “don’t know or refused to answer”.
Lastly, 94% of those surveyed agreed that, “Even if a City Councilor personally supports keeping a City Manager form of government, they should allow voters in the City to have a say through public hearings and a local election.”
Frank Kartheiser, the Lead Organizer for Worcester Interfaith and a founding member of the Worcester Community — Labor Coalition best explains the roots of this project;
“Looking ahead we wanted to make certain the issues our members are discussing are the issues the larger Worcester community cares about. We went to the people to find answers to questions ranging from creating more jobs for local residents to public transportation, job training to funding for our schools and youth jobs. We want to make certain Worcester voters’ opinions are being heard.”
It was never our plan to dive into the current City Manager vs Strong Mayor rumblings. As with everyone else in Worcester though we kept hearing the chatter, something was going to happen. Sometimes the chatter sounded like there was a secret plan already being hatched. Seeing our polling results though we felt we couldn’t stay silent. We want City Councilors to be making fully informed decisions which include the opinions
of Worcester residents before making decisions that chart the City’s course for the next 20 or more years. We recognize we present this data at the 11th hour.
Luz Vega a long-time organizer with Neighbor to Neighbor in our city summarizes the Coalition’s decision;
“The foundation of our Coalition is based on the belief by all members that Worcester’s residents need to be a part of the major decisions and developments taking place in our City. How could we stand by listening to everyone talk about changing the Charter without anyone proposing a process that includes all the residents of Worcester? How could we sit quietly when our polling of 400 Worcester voters showed an overwhelming belief that Worcester voters needed ‘to be allowed to be part of the decision making process through public hearings and a local election’?”
Members of our Coalition feel strongly about moving this perennial debate forward; Jim Turner, a 59 year Worcester resident and member of the Worcester Carpenter Union doesn’t hold back when asked;
“Why does this question keep coming up? Why do we as a City struggle so much with making decisions. Let’s stop calling ourselves the second largest city in New England if we’re not going to act it. I see pros and cons on both sides of this debate, but I’m 100% clear that it’s time we finally made a decision.”
Dania Flores is a newer Worcester resident who’s clear on her vision for Worcester;
“I want the people to have an opportunity to elect the people that are making the economic and financial decisions in our City. I don’t want to be a part of a city where decisions get made by a small group, in some backroom or by any political machine people are always talking about. We need to let residents of Worcester decide this issue.”
Our polling survey was comprised of a random sample of likely voters in a typical Worcester municipal election. The survey was completed with a representative sample of 400 likely voters and has a margin of error is 4.86 %. Interviews were conducted July 8 through July 10, 2014 by professional interviewers in English. Calling hours included nights and evenings. The poll was conducted by CSC Solutions. The results of our polling questions regarding Strong Mayor vs City Manager are below. The results of our other community issues will be part of a larger report we will be releasing in the coming weeks.
The Worcester Community – Labor Coalition formed in 2012 as an effort to secure a place for community participation in economic development decisions taking place in Worcester. Each of these decisions has the potential to either directly impact, build and support our communities, neighborhoods and members or ignore the needs, hopes and priorities of the women, men and young people that are the true developers of this community.