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Worcester Government’s Lack of Diversity Misrepresents Population

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Worcester's elected leadership hasn't reflected the city's growing diversity, but it is a topic people are aware of.

In recent decades, racial and ethnic minorities have made up a larger slice of city residents, and fewer individuals are identifying as white. Nearly 40 percent of school-aged children in the city today identify as Hispanic. But there remains only a handful of elected officials who don't trace their ancestry to Europe.

“People vote ethnically in the city of Worcester,” according to Bill Coleman, an activist and long-time local candidate for office, who threw his hat into the ring most recently for mayor and an at-large seat on the city council last November, where he finished eighth. “Italians vote for Italians, Irish vote for the Irish.”

Coleman points to the city's growing African American population as a sign of changing demographics. Despite that growth, and candidates for the choosing, there have only been two black men to serve on the city council: The last, Charles Scott, held office between 1917 and 1938.

“I've tried a lot, I've tried running,” Coleman said. “We have a race issue in this city,” which he described as communities living apart from one another, by choice. “There's a big element of diversity fear,” Coleman says, not racism per se but rather that “we don't know each other.”

Minority women have seen more success than their male counterparts.

Benefits to broader representation

“My perspective is that we can all benefit from diversity,” said Hilda Ramirez, who won a first term to the Worcester Public Schools committee this past November. “As a Gateway City that welcomes new citizens, we need to represent the people that live in our city. Many of our children are English Language Learners and we need to be able to communicate with them and their families.”

More than 40 percent of students in the WPS district speak a first language other than English, and 34.3 percent were were considered ELL, still gaining English proficiency, in 2011-12 according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In 2012-13, self-identifying Hispanic students comprised 38.1 percent of the total student population.

Ethnic background is not the sole yardstick.

“I believe that our diverse communities need a voice at city government, but I also understand that it's not just about ethnic diversity, but our families with special needs need a voice, our LGBT community and the many immigrants that make Worcester their home (need a voice),” Ramirez continued. “I hope that our city can reflect the needs of all of its residents.”

Better connectivity with all communities

Sarai Rivera, currently the city's district 4 representative, grew up in Worcester and works as a clinical therapist and pastor. A first-generation Puerto Rican American and two-term councilor, Rivera said she worked for a broad group of residents in her district on the council.

“Voters want to know they can connect,” Rivera said. After a recent event with the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts, the councilwoman said attendees were appreciative to have the opportunity to meet and interact with their city representative. “All I did was have a simple conversation.”

“People care about the same issues: schools, public safety, economic development,” regardless of background, Rivera said. “It comes down to maintaining that connectivity.”

2010 Census shows more diversity and foreign-born population

The city of Worcester has seen a marked increase in ethnic and racial diversity according to the most recent U.S. Census. From 2000 to 2010, the number of residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino increased 44.59 percent: From 26,155 to 37,818 — more than one in five residents.

The number of respondents identifying as black or African American increased 77.06 percent over the same time period: From 11,892 to 21,056.

The number of respondents who identified as white dropped, meanwhile, both in absolute terms and as a percentage, falling 5.57 percent as a portion of the entire population.

So how can city government better reflect the changing community? For one, outreach begets more participation, according to Rivera. Recent presidential elections have turned out new voters to the polls, but they haven't returned for local elections when turnout was abysmal.

Rivera said the dilemma was ensuring people were connected with local government so they could stay — or become — better involved.

“There's not one particular thing we can do to solve it all,” according to Coleman, who suggested reversing the decline in polling locations around the city to boost voter participation, and adding more opportunities to meet local candidates like public forums.

“I'm close, a lot of people are close — things are going to change,” Coleman said. But “we have to change the mindset on the whole voting concept,” making it easier to vote, meet candidates, and support different leadership.


Related Slideshow: Worcester Municipal Elections 2013: The Winners

The results are in. Joseph Petty retained his seat as Councilor-At-Large, and will remain Mayor of New England's second largest city.  Let's take a look at the rest of the Worcester City Council following the completion of the Municipal Election.

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Mayor & Councilor-At-Large

Joseph M. Petty

Votes Received: 8,854 Mayor, 8,451 Councilor-At Large
Mayor Joseph M. Petty was elected to his ninth two-year term as Councilor-At-Large and his second term as Mayor of the City of Worcester. He is a graduate of Holy Name Central Catholic High School in Worcester, studied at Nichols College in Dudley, and received a law degree from New England School of Law in Boston. 
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Kate Toomey

Votes Received: 8,133 (13.80%)

Councilor Toomey was elected to her fifth term, earning the second most At-Large votes.  She has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Works, which considers all matters pertaining to streets, water, sewers, sanitation, recycling, snow removal and the construction of public buildings.

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Morris A. Bergman

Votes Received: 6,768 (11.49%)

The newly-elected Bergman is a practicing lawyer, a former prosecutor for the Office of the District Attorney-Middle District-Worcester and a past two term member of the City of Worcester Zoning Board of Appeals.

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Konstantina B. Lukes

Votes Received: 6,520 (11.07%)

Councilor Lukes served as Mayor of Worcester from 2007-2009, and is serving her twelfth two-year term as a Councilor-At-Large.She also served four two-year terms as a member of the Worcester School Committee.

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Rick C. Rushton

Votes Received: 5,720 (9.71%)

Councilor Rushton will return for a fourth term in the city council. He ha served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Economic Development, he which considers all matters pertaining to economic development, neighborhood development, housing development, marketing, workforce development, zoning, planning and regulatory services functions of the City and energy.

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Michael T. Gaffney

Votes Received: 5,607 (9.52%)

Attorney Michael Gaffney was elected to his first term on the Worcester City Council.  He is one of two newcomers to the council 

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District 1 Councilor

Tony J. Economou

Votes Received: 2,464 (59.64%)

Councilor Economou will return to his District 1 seat for a second term. He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Traffic & Parking,which considers all matters pertaining to traffic and parking ordinances and off street parking facilities.
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District 2 Councilor

Philip P. Palmeiri

Votes Received: 1,119 (55.84%)

Councilor Palmeiri will return to his District 2 seat for a seventh term. He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Service & Transportation,which considers all matters pertaining to cable television and telecommunications, public transportation, street lighting, taxis and liveries.

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District 3 Councilor

George J. Russell

Votes Received: 1,454 (100.00%)

Councilor Russell ran uncontested, allowing him to retain his District 3 seat for a second term.  He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committe on Rules & Legislative Affairs, which initiates and reviews proposals for amendments to the rules of the City Council and any other matters affecting or determining the conduct of the City Council meetings.

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District 4 Councilor

Sarai Rivera

Votes Received: 1,100 (100.00%)

Councilor Rivera ran uncontested, and will be serving her second term as District 4 Councilor. She has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Youth, Parks & Recreation, which considers all matters involving youth, parks, playgrounds, recreation activities and Hope Cemetery.

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District 5 Councilor

Gary Rosen

Votes Received: 2,289 (54.08%)

Gary Rosen returns to the City Council after defeating incumbent William Eddy. Rosen had previously served five terms on the School Committee and three terms in the City Council.

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Gaming Proposals on the Ballot

Municipal ballot initiatitives in other regions of the state may have implications local to Central Massachusetts.  Voters weighed in on proposals for casions in East Boston and Palmer on Tuesday. 

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Voters in the Western Massachusetts community of Palmer narrowly rejecting a bid by Mohegan Sun to build a resort casino in town. 

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East Boston and Revere

Even though voters in Revere approved the construction of a casino at Suffolk Downs, East Boston voted against the proposal. Support from both communities was needed before the venue could formally apply for a license with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. 


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