Inauguration of the newly elected members of Worcester’s city council and school committee
By Jim Coughlin
The historic Mechanics Hall on Main Street in Worcester on Monday, January 3, was the scene for the Inauguration of the newly elected members of the city council and school committee from the municipal election that was held on November 3.
The overriding theme of the evening that was mentioned by three of the evening’s speakers which included Massachusetts United States Senator Edward J. Markey and Massachusetts State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg (both of whom appeared on video via a remote broadcast) along with our long-time Mayor Joseph Petty was that the new city council and school committee are the “most diverse” elected bodies in the city’s history.”
Elected to the city council in November was Thu Nguyen, a first-time candidate Asian American candidate who identified themself as “non binary” to either gender. Joining them on the council is Etel Haxhiaj who won the District 5 Council seat in the wake of Councillor Matt Wally who held this seat for two terms deciding to seek an at-large council seat this election cycle – and losing to Nguyen.
In the District 5 contest Haxhiaj defeated George Stratman, a retired Massachusetts State Trooper 2,585 to 2,206 capturing 53.96 % of the vote to Stratman’s 46.04%. The election of Haxhiaj is historically significant because she is the first Muslim ever elected to the city council.
My memories of the Worcester City Council go back to the early 1970’s when it seemed like forever that the council would only consist of “9 white men.” Then came the city election in 1973 when three women were elected to the council: Barbara J. Sinnott, Mary Scano and Barbara C. Kohin. At the time, it was considered a radical change because prior to this, no woman had never been elected to the city council! And then came the election two years later in 1975 when the voters summarily defeated all three women councillors.
Now, in 2022, the membership of the city council consists of a majority of six women city councillors. Besides newly elected councillors Nyguen and Haxhiaj they are incumbent city councillors Candice “Candy” Mero-Carlson, Kathleen Toomey, Sarai Riveria and Donna Colorio. In addition, Worcester’s Vice Mayor is Colorio who is currently serving her second term as Vice Mayor.
The collective election of Worcester’s three women city councollors came about 13 years after what was called “second wave feminism” of the women’s (liberation) movement that began in 1960. “Wikipedia” tells me that “Second wave feminism was a period of feminism that began in the early 1960’s and lasted for roughly two decades ”
According to my sources, when I was in my 20s, things were not always easy for Worcester’s first women city councillors. To make my point about this is a story involving the city’s legendary former city manager, Francis J. McGrath, who served from 1953 to 1984. There was a meeting of McGrath and the trio of women councillors that made them feel a little uncomfortable serving in city government during this time. It goes like this: shortly after their election in 1973, the women councillors were invited for an informal meeting with the City Manager. What the women councillors were expecting was a discussion about various public policies for the city. However, what the City Manager engaged with them for discussion at the time was about the “domestic side” of City Hall and, unfortunately, what that was about was the draperies and curtains that had adorned the City Manager’s inner office – and NOT about substantial city issues involving city policy.
This story was once relayed by Councillor Sinnott on the floor of the city council when City Manager McGrath was present during a city council meeting!
Unfortunately, the women councillors had to gently speak up to the Manager and tell him that they were there to discuss city issues and not “the size and nature of City Hall’s interior decorating.”
The sum of this story and message particularly for councillors Haxhiaj and Nyguen is to just be aware of what some of your previous women colleagues had to endure back then in order to pave the way for a much easier time that both of you will now have in being taken seriously by your male colleagues.
Another “breakthrough” to validate the point made about Worcester’s “new” city council and school committee being the most diverse in the city’s history was made and underscored by the election at the Inauguration ceremonies for newly elected School Committee member Jermaine Johnson becoming not only the first African American man to ever serve on the Worcester School Committee, but he also made political history when his colleagues on the school committee at the Inauguration ceremonies uniamously chose him to become the first African American Vice Chair of the Worcester School Committee for the next two years. Now that’s progress for the Worcester School Committee to elevate a newly elected member to immediately ascend to the Vice Chairmanship of the school committee immediately after being elected in November.
In a telephone interview after the Inaugural ceremonies, Jackson verified that this was “never done before.”
And perhaps with Mr. Jackson becoming the committee’s Vice Chair it was one way of his colleagues on the school committee sending out the clear and unmistakable message that he will, indeed, be taken seriously as a freshman member of the Worcester School Committee.
Thankfully, Jermaine will be taken seriously by his colleagues on the school committee for the second largest city in Massachusetts when the school committee has its first meeting on January 20.
I can almost guarantee that there will be no insignificant discussions in the future between School Committee Vice Chair Jermaine Jackson and Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. when the time comes, as there was between the newly elected women city councillors and City Manager Francis J. McGrath back in 1973, nearly 50 years ago!
This future scenario when (and not if it happens), will shows that Worcester City Hall has become more diversified in both words and actions for our representatives on the city council and school committee that previously were NOT even elected to either the council or school committee, much less even taken seriously after their election.
Councillor Krystian King, when asked to comment on the new diversity on both the city council and school committee said, “It’s a new beginning on the city council and school committee, and I look forward to an increased diversity of perspective.”
In an interview with Jackson’s mother, Mary Ann Jackson, after she saw her son make political history being Inaugurated as the first African American man ever to serve on a previously all-White European North American membership of the Worcester School Committee she said, “My son has always been a go-getter in putting his mind to accomplishing something. … I am very proud of my son.”
And lastly, I cannot forget two other historical elections of note: First, there was the election of Jermoh Kamara as the first immigrant African American woman to the Worcester School Committee that undoubtedly has made many members of Worcester’s growing African American community very proud of her.
Secondly, there was the election of Thu Nguyen as the first Southeast Asian non binary candidate to win a seat on the Worcester City Council.
Everyone in Worcester should be enthusiastically proud of the newest members of both the Worcester City Council and School Committee because they will add their voices and votes to more adequately represent the growing diversity of the body politic at Worcester City Hall.