By Rosalie Tirella
I’m ensconced in my new Woo shack, drinking my java AND herbal tea. Simultaneously. I set up my new coffee, tea and cocoa station yesterday, a la my late Mom🌻♥️, Cecelia.:
My K-cup coffee maker is still in storage – it will be hauled out during the last few hauls. (Aurgh! Still “moving in.” A big THANK YOU to my beatific pals!). pics: R.T.
… which makes me think of another Worcester princess, this one (gladly, I think) abdicating her velvet perch:
Worcester City Councilor at Large Konstantina (“Konnie”) Lukes.
What can we say about our former booster/gal pal/city councilor/school committee member/political outsider/West Side matron Konnie Lukes, now in her mid-80s?
First, it’s the end, so we’re nostalgic and we’ll write nostalgically. But let’s – quickly – get the ugly stuff out of the way:
👑 1.Konnie was/is, along with ailing hubby Jim (whose illness she blames on me!!), A NOTORIOUS CHEAPSKATE, which has always led her to vote for the lowest residential tax rate (she lives here, don’t forget!)…But the years of penny-pinching have come back to bite her in her perennially pants-suit-clad butt, in very public ways that have destroyed a good chunk of her credibility, soured peeps on her:
👑Konnie and Jim, while Konnie was city councilor running for mayor!/residing in Worcester, registered their cars in the Cape Cod town where they have a summer home, to save a bundle of dough$$ on their car insurance bills. The summer home, which I recall, they visited seldomly, saved them a ton of money over the years. They could order that second drink at the Webster House restaurant, the no-more eatery that catered to seniors and began serving dinner at 4 p.m. For cheap – owner Chris’s yummy Early Bird Specials!
A win for Konnie!
Konnie’s detractors – when she was running for mayor – got hold of the information and called the daily’s columnists, who wrote their Konnie is a tight wad columns. Everybody found out! The city laughed. And Konnie got a new nickname: CAPE COD KONNIE.🌊 And lost a few votes during the election.
👑 2. For all of Konnie’s I’M FOR THE LITTLE GUY/GAL RHETORIC, she and Jim were two of the biggest slumlords in Worcester – in one of our poorest neighborhoods, Green Island, where Jim’s family owned a bunch of three deckers and a diner. The buildings reeled from the unsafe, sagging porches with popsicle-stick rails spaced two feet apart. There were holes in the walls as big as Volkswagens (never repaired). Non-functioning toilets, too. A single 60-watt light bulb dangling on a cord, hanging from the ceiling in one apartment. Hookers for tenants in another. Yellow garbage bags – non-city – galore.
It’s funny but when reporter Ron O’Clair broke the story in InCity Times and we went down to the Lukes’s Siegel Street property to “save” the 90-year-old lady “trapped” in one of the Lukes’s shitholes, the 90 year old rebuffed us in decidedly un-old-lady like terms!: GET THE FUCK OUT! GET THE HELL OFF MY PORCH! she yelled at us as we knocked on her back door (plywood for windows) pleading for an interview.
Rose: Can we interview you? We want to help you!!
Old Lady: GET THE HELL OFF MY PORCH! GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!
Ron and I looked at each other, baffled. And walked away. We wrote the stories, though. And all the other rags followed our lead. Big chunks of Konnie’s armor flew off – her reputation took a big hit. Her husband had a kind of heart attack and ended up in a wheelchair. She blamed me and told me so, tears flowing down her face, when I bumped into her at the grocery store.
Rose: I’m sorry, Konnie. It was a news tip …
Konnie, red-faced, emotional, tired-looking, tears in her eyes: GET AWAY FROM ME! YOU KILLED MY HUSBAND!!
Then it was my turn to cry.
3. 👑Konnie WAS a naysayer while on City Council. Oftentimes she had a point, saw something her councilor colleagues didn’t see. But sometimes she was just pulling “facts” out of her ass, disagreeing to disagree. With the guys. The guys who ran Woo politics and had a stranglehold on city policy, city jobs, the business community, the public schools … everything Worcester. Konnie, the daughter of Albanian immigrants, a daughter who worshipped her Dad♥️ and helped him in his Connecticut diner when she was a young girl, was from a different world. First Generation. A scrappy, self-made outsider. She loathed/and still does despise the Woo BOYS CLUB – men who ran/run Worcester politics. They hated/hate her, too. One day, two or so years into InCity Times, when there was a Democratic convention in the city, she called me, asking me if I had tickets to the political convention. I did. The guys, Murray, McGovern, Rushton, etc had frozen her out. Again. Skipped over Konnie, a Republican in Democratic undies, they believed. And still do. I gave Konnie my tickets. She didn’t really thank me.
👑Who can forget the birthday cake former Worcester City Councilor and Konnie-nemesis Ric Rushton presented to Konnie during a city council meeting, on the council floor? – filmed for the city government TV channel, covered by all the reporters – just so he could announce – to the world – Konnie’s age. Mean. And SEXIST.
And that brings me to the GREAT STUFF ABOUT OUR KONNIE:
👑 She knew she was operating in A SEXIST city – a crooked POLITICAL SPHERE.
A city where the Irish-American guys had always called all the shots – decided, on the council floor, or over drinks at Monihans, who got all the important city jobs, city contracts … controlled who was blessed – who got the $$$, city dpw, teacher jobs, etc. Usually it was their immediate family members or relatives or friends. Or friends of their relatives or friends. Quite the incestuous, closed-off clique. Not healthy for our city.
👑EVERY DAY City Councilor KONNIE LUKES RAILED AGAINST THE UNFAIRNESS, the bull shit. She wanted more people to have a piece of the civic cake:
👑She helped start, years ago, the City of Worcester Advisory Committee on Women. She was director of the local chapter of the ACLU. She was voted on the Worcester School Committee. And she scolded her political colleagues – usually the guys – for being such clubby fatheads. And voted accordingly. Against Mills, for Boone – Woo’s first – and probably only – African American public schools superintendent. She voted against Augustus and for the cool Hispanic city manager candidate from New Mexico. The one who had experience AND the Harvard degree.
👑SHE SAID WHAT WAS ON HER MIND.
WITHOUT CARING WHAT OTHERS THOUGHT OF HER OR HER IDEAS.
Just like a guy.
What a terrific role model!
For me and other Woo women…
👑I believe Kostantina Lukes was/represented the first wave of Woo feminists to come crashing on the shore of the arrogant, parochial, tight-ass, all-male Worcester beach. She had: Political guts. She made: great Political theater. Konnie knew the gold ring she was reaching for. For all of us Worcester gals.
“You’ll never be a handmaiden,” she told me once, when I was visiting her in her Park Ave law office. (she’s a practicing lawyer). I smiled back, beaming. “I’m not either,” she said. “Neither is Barbara (Haller),” she continued. “They hate that. They want you to be a handmaiden.”
She was right.
👑But it wasn’t all battle all the time. Konnie smiled, kidded … and loved being a politician. She loved schmoozing, going to all city, neighborhood meetings and concerts, loved people, loved government. It all made her very happy: the attention, the votes, the power, the hugs, the brawls. SHE, LIKE A GUY, WAS IN IT. A mover and shaker.
👑Konnie IS a people person. ALL PEOPLE. ALL COLORS. ALL GENDERS. ALL BACKGROUNDS. Even if you’re a poor kid from Green Island sailing on a dream called InCity Times/CECELIA. She’s not a phony. She’s real. All the time.
👑So … I thank City Leader Konnie Lukes for her years of city leadership and advocacy and, on a personal level, before our falling out, her friendship, her guidance, her toughness, her smarts, her ads, her wisdom, her spirit … her posing for the cover of the InCity Times swimsuit issue (she wore panty hose under her one-piece – Control Top! No fair, Kon-Kon♥️😉!) …
👑… and for being the first Worcester city councilor/city leader to support us and push for the banning of wild animal acts (Ringling Bros. circus) in the City of Worcester. She spoke to me in her office when I asked her to sponsor the order at the next Council meeting … she spoke compassionately about the lions, tigers, bears and elephants who suffer at the mercy of the whip and bullhook …
Evil, outdated ways – Konnie got it. pic: PETA
… and lead long lives of horrific deprivation!
👑Konnie got it. And sponsored the order. She spoke on the council floor, along with D 4 councilor Sarai Rivera, in favor of it. Of course, we went down. In flames. But we were ON THE ANGELS’S side. Ahead of our time.
Fast forward about 10 years: No more Ringling! No more sad elephant marches down Southbridge Street, with the elephants’s tired old feet on city concrete! Donning those obscene, garish rhinestone saddles and head gear! … And fewer wild animal acts world-wide!
👑And … no more Konnie! And fewer swings at the yellow moon …👑👑👑!