Your The Clam Voting Guide – 2019 Salem City Elections

Good morning, Clam Nation! As you know, we’ve got connections here in our Top Secret Gloucester Clam Underground Lair to people all over Essex County, including Salem and Beverly! Our reach is just, wow. Since we know a lot of our readers live down the line and the Clam is all about togetherness, we decided to lock our Gloucester Clam Actual Politician™ into the basement (even more underground, we’re not sure he’s getting enough air but we’ll check later), and we want to prove to you that we’ve been paying attention. We let Josh give us some info on people but we then proceeded to at least partly ignore him. So wrapping up the grand Clamback, below are our Clamdorsements in the Salem City Council and School Committee elections, because you guys are no fun and only make your mayor run every four years instead of two.

In the City Council race, they’re super polarized right now. A bunch of the Councilors have gotten the reputation of being total mayor suckups. A bunch more have gotten the reputation of being totally against her. We like Driscoll up here in Gloucester – if Salem gets tired of her feel free to send her our way. We like Sefatia too (hell, we love her), but competition would be nice. Anyhow, in Salem they’ve been fighting over zoning and all kinds of crap all year, and the Councilors from Wards 4 and 6 give each other death stares every meeting. We’ve seen video. It’s bad. And this writer deals with toddlers all day, that’s nothing compared to this crew. We’d like to fix it, so here’s our picks (Clam choices in Bold).

City Council At-Large:

Vote them out. All of them. At least, all three incumbents that are on the ballot (Sargent, Milo, and Dominguez – Tom Furey is stepping down after a long career as an elected official without having used email once). That leaves us five non-incumbents to pick from, and they’re a good lot pretty much. Here’s our four top ones.

Conrad Prosniewski (that’s a frigging mouthful) is a recently retired police captain. Everyone in Salem loves him, he’s gonna win. Vote for him anyway, he’s a good guy. Conrad isn’t on any particular side and that’s healthy, we think. Progressives love him, conservatives love him.

Shark costume

SHARKS FOR PROSNIEWSKI IS SUCH A SALEM KIND OF THING

Alice Merkl ran for office a year ago, losing closely a race for Southern Essex Register of Deeds, a job you’ve never heard of. She’s slumming with this race, but we like her a lot. Super progressive, empathic, and for years has been an active volunteer all over the community on top of her work teaching music. It’s also a lot of fun in Salem when we have majorly progressive people on the City Council because it makes Facebook explode with annoyed conservatives.

In that same vein, we like Jeff Cohen. He ran for City Council two years ago, and came in last. This time maybe he’ll do better. He is the kind of progressive who needs you to know how progressive he is, and how the rest of us aren’t doing it right. Jeff, we’ll have you know that we’ve got people here in the Lair who were out manning the barricades when you were in diapers, and make you look like a right-winger. We give Josh shit all the time for not being progressive enough for us. But he’s fun, plus he’ll also make conservative heads explode. They think Jeff’s a left-wing terrorist. We also like his environmental focus. So we like him, despite crapping all over him here.

And our last pick, but nowhere near our fourth one (more like 1A with Conrad) is Ty Hapworth. Ty checks all the freaking boxes there are. He’s a Army vet living in a beautiful downtown home and married to his high school sweetheart, with a fancy executive job at Microsoft doing something Josh tried to explain to us but it made our heads hurt. And the Housewives of Salem thirst for him. Dude probably ought to run for Governor instead but we think he can’t handle the pay cut.

Ty Hapworth

THE DUDE IS MEME WORTHY

The Clam choices: Hapworth, Prosniewski, Merkl, and Cohen. Some of Team Clam likes George McCabe, too – and if you switched one of your votes to him we won’t hunt you down.

Then there’s the Ward races in Salem. Always interesting, always weird.

Ward 1 features a contest between 6-term Councillor Bob McCarthy and long-time activist James Willis. The Clam endorses McCarthy, though Willis is perfectly fine. The two are almost identical on every issue, our pick is mainly because of experience and entertainment value, Bob turns so red when he’s talking to fools that we worry a bit. You can even see it on the 480p cable access. Even though Willis has been generally a supporter of Mayor Kim, a lot of the people that hate Driscoll are backing Willis because Bob has a long track record of supporting her, too. And with us throwing so many of them out, we need to keep a couple of the better ones around.

Ward 2 has a theoretically unopposed candidate in Christine Madore, who is smart, technocratic, a little too process-driven, and does a good job overall. At the beginning of October the Federal Street crew who religiously oppose Mayor Kim at every turn put forward Federal Street housewife, anti-Driscoll activist, frequently ousted volunteer, and occasional jazz singer Stacia Kraft as a write-in candidate with a massive coordinated effort and a float in the Halloween Parade. It’s ridiculous, but in Salem shit like that happens. Be jealous, North Shore, be jealous. Madore hasn’t given us any particular reason to get rid of her but when the local John Birchers and angry neighborhood activists line up behind Kraft and don tinfoil, that’s a reason to keep Madore as well.

Ward 3

WARD 3, BASICALLY

In Ward 3, there’s an open seat. Incumbent Lisa Peterson won her seat in 2017, decided the City Council was a hot mess (she’s not wrong), and quit to run for Congress instead. You’ll see her next year. Meanwhile, her hand-chosen successor Patti Morsillo is running against local Steak & Eggs guy Bob Camire. Bob doesn’t believe in email (they were almost done with candidates like that when Furey retired) and thinks liberals are ruining Salem. Vote Morsillo.

WE LOVE THIS PICTURE OF CAMIRE THOUGH

Ward 4 has more weirdness. Firefighter Tim Flynn won an open seat in 2017 and since then has been the guy to throw red meat to Salem’s MAGA crowd (yes, even Salem has them). The dude is a walking Blue Lives Matter meme. We’d link you his hot mess of a Facebook page but you’ll tear your hair out. While he continues his war on liberalism, development, taxes, and the No Place for Hate Committee in Salem he’s also dealing with his challenger Michael Cusick. Michael is a really smart retiree who’s pitch seems to be “if you’re going to put a generic white guy in office, it should be a smart one”. We agree. Vote for Cusick. Even if Flynn loses, you’ll see more of him – the last conservative white guy with a buzzcut and a government day job to lose an election came back to run for mayor next time out. Of course, he lost, it was in 2017.

Hannibal Meme

BASICALLY TIM FLYNN ONLINE MINUS THE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE

Ward 5, Oh well. You’re stuck with Josh Turiel again because he’s unopposed for real (in contrast to the fake unopposed in Ward 2). He told us he’s quitting after this term, so at least you’ve got that to look forward to. We’re stuck with him and at some point have to let him start posting here again. We’ll text you your new password the day after this posts, ok Josh?

Josh

HE DOESNT REALLY NEED A PHOTO BUT THIS ONE IS SO DORKY WE HAD TO

Ward 6 is another open seat. Three-term Councillor Beth Gerard is quitting to spend more time with her cats and less time looking across the aisle at her mortal enemy Flynn. We don’t blame her, and we’re not sure which is the mongoose and which is the snake. The Mack Park Neighborhood Association has united to put forward two-time retread candidate Jerry Ryan as their choice. Jerry was Ward 4 Councilor for a while at the beginning of the decade before running at-large in 2013 and losing. After a term off, he ran again in 2015 and won a at-large seat, only to lose it again in 2017. Having changed addresses in the meantime, now he just can’t stay away and is running for the open Ward 6 seat. We’ve heard about the Mack Park crew, and their endorsement means a big NOPE for us. Fortunately, his opponent that the Clam endorses is Megan Riccardi, who is a political rookie, tech industry pro, and super smart. A bunch of us Clams have met her and you want her elected. Truth.

Ward 7 is Salem’s buffer with Swampscott. And it’s represented by Steve Dibble, who is (in his telling) the most important man in the universe and planted every tree in Salem. He also (if you ask him) wrote the zoning code, teaches chess, and is a blowhard to end all blowhards. Four years of him has been Dunning-Krueger come to life. Andy Varela is his opponent, the owner of Maitland Mountain Farm (pickle experts, not everything experts) – and Andy is everything that Steve thinks he, himself is. Varela is young, dynamic, runs a growing business, and has a perspective shaped by not being a Salem lifer. We like what he brings to the table, plus he has the advantage of not being Steve Dibble. When we have Clam board meetings and Dibble’s name comes up, our Salem members’ eyes twitch.

Pickles

THESE PICKLES WILL CHANGE YOUR DAMN LIFE

Salem School Committee has three seats up for election this year. One of them is open as incumbent Kristine Wilson didn’t run for a second term. Incumbents Jim Fleming and Mary Manning are running for reelection, and Manning is OK, we guess. Fleming, just nope. He’s tied way too much into the whole “neighborhood groups that exist to fight anything Kimmy does” crowd and we’re tired of that crap.

The two we do endorse fully are Beth Anne Cornell and Kristin Pangallo. They’re both college professors (Cornell at Wentworth and Pangallo at Salem State) who have kids in the Salem Schools – and right now there are ZERO parents on the School Committee. Fixing that with college professors WHO ARE ALSO PARENTS seems like a good idea to us.

Also running are Donna Fritz, who is also a Salem parent and a member of the PTO at Witchcraft Heights Elementary, and Jennifer Brown, who attended one debate, confused a rubric with a Rubik’s Cube, and hasn’t appeared at an event, debate, or responded to any media since. So nope. But vote for up to three candidates, and so long as none of them are Fleming or Brown you’re OK with Manning or Fritz. Just pick one of those two.

 

Your The Clam Voting Guide – 2019 Beverly City Elections

Greetings from the Garden City, once home to the Summer White House, Birthplace of the US NAVY (suck it Headers), site of the first cotton mill in the US, and home to 40,000+ residents.

Entering Beverly

Because Beverly AMIRITE???

The Beverly City Council is comprised of 6 ward councilors, and 3 at-large councilors. Unique in the state, the highest vote getter in the Beverly Councilor At-Large race automatically becomes the City Council President. Of these 9 seats, there are only two competitive races, for Ward 3 City Councilor, and for Ward 5.

Beverly rarely has contested races, and 2019 is no exception. 5 out of 6 school committee seats are uncontested (with 2 new candidates that will be elected in Wards 3 and Wards 5). The mayoral election is uncontested. All 3 At large seats are uncontested (or, there are only 3 candidates for the 3 seats, the City Council presidency IS up for vote). 4 out of 6 Ward races are uncontested.

This makes endorsements in contested races pretty easy.

 

CONTESTED SCHOOL COMMITTEE (endorsements in Bold):

For Ward 4 School Committee, the incumbent John Mullady (tl/dr ENDORSED) is running against Jeffery Silva. There is so much good to say about John’s tenure so far on the school committee, he researched and presented the Sanctuary declaration. He lobbied at the state level for the recently passed school funding bill. He has been (until now, another teacher is running in Ward 5) the only professional educator on the School committee for some time.

Let’s turn to today’s (10/30/2019) Salem News coverage of the debate last night, to understand the difference between these two candidates, in their own words:

“Mullady said he decided to run for School Committee after seeing the impact of budget decisions made by “people outside of education.”

“I felt I would use my experience in the classroom,” he said. “I know the consequences of cutting a budget for the sake of meeting the bottom line.”

“Education is my passion,” Mullady added. “I made a lot of sacrifices for myself and my family to pursue a career in education. I don’t have a personal agenda that I’m trying to push. I’m trying to work with all the other (School Committee) members and I’d like to keep that going.”

Silva said he is running because he discovered that he enjoyed volunteer working through his experiences as a coach in youth soccer and lacrosse. He also said he has served as a role model working with high school and college interns at his company.”

 

Contested City Council

Ward 3 City Councilor:

The seat has finally been vacated by long time councilor, generally good guy, and Salem resident, Jim Latter.

Ward 3 is at the heart of the city, and includes the Cummings Center, both the Middle School AND the High School, and Beverly Hospital.

Kris Silverstein, who currently serves as the school committee representative from Ward 3, and as the School Committee Chair, is running for the seat against business owner, and active community member, Stacy Ames (TL/DR ENDORSED). Ames is new to politics, but not new to city engagement, and her primary results speak to how much effort she HAS put into this election, and how hard she is willing to work for the residents of Ward 3. Given that Kris has served as an elected official for this ward for over a decade, her primary results between the 2 precincts say an awful lot about how residents in the entirety of the ward feel about her service. Ames won the primary (with 4 candidates) with 227 of the 598 votes cast. In precinct 1, Ames received 115, to Silverstein’s 31 votes. Silverstein won precinct 2 by 60 votes, but, she LOST precinct 1 by 84 votes to Ames (and, notably, but 10 votes to perennial candidate for everything, Rick Marciano*).

Kris oversaw a controversial and disappointing Superintendent search (NOT because of the eventual hire, but because it was poorly run, and gave only lip service to transparency, which was revealed through a freedom of information act cache of communications sought by a parent who was deeply troubled by the process). That same cache revealed how often she acquiesced to requests from the Mayor (who, HAS a VOTING SEAT on the School Committee). Beverly, in addition to having the lowest spending per pupil in our area for our schools, is also in the very small percentage of communities in the Commonwealth that charges a fee for Full Day Kindergarten. There has been regular, widespread community advocacy to eliminate this fee, and, with annual city budget surpluses in the millions, to increase funding to our schools. Communications show that the Mayor asked Kris NOT to allow a vote on eliminating the Kindergarten fee. Communications show, despite the advocacy efforts of dozens of parents who spoke at a School Committee Meeting, Silverstein honoring the Mayor’s request that she not the city council to consider the need for more funding in the city budget in the schools, going so far as to personally write each with that request.

Silverstein is running as “an independent” voice, but we believe her record has not shown that. The educational outcomes of kids in Ward 3 are different than the educational outcomes of kids in our wealthier wards, and, as School Committee Chair and longest serving member, she has not demonstrated a skill set in advocating well or standing up for her youngest constituents. There is little to suggest she would or could do so for the rest.

Ward 5 City Council:

Ward 5 City Councilor.: Incumbent Don Martin vs Kathleen Feldman (TL/DR ENDORSED). Fun fact. Councilor Martin cannot be reached via email, or phone, per the city website! He is also a conservative who voted to reject protections for trans citizens in Beverly. We feel he pushes traffic-generating retail commercial development harder than housing – and we’re housing fans here. He is also not very energetic about solar power (hee hee).

Kathleen Feldman is a force to be reckoned with, a leader at the North Beverly PTO, she has made a point to knock on more doors this campaign cycle than Martin has in his many years of service.

This is pretty simple, do you vote for the guy who does not affirm equal civil rights for all citizens, and, CAN’T ACTUALLY BE REACHED; or the woman who will meet you for coffee tomorrow if you need her, and, if you need her, you can reach her RIGHT NOW?

Fortune Cookie

SHE’S EVEN PROMOTED BY FORTUNE COOKIES HOW CAN YOU NOT VOTE FOR HER

City Councilor at Large:

As mentioned earlier, the top vote getter in this race will become the City Council President. 2 out of the 3 candidates HAVE served in this capacity before (Paul Guanci and Tim Flaherty). Flaherty voted against protecting the civil rights of transgender people in Beverly in a city council meeting prior to the state wide vote to rescind those rights (Ballot measure 3 in 2018, which, was soundly defeated). Guanci does not like to be called a Republican in local elections (which are officially non-partisan), but his Twitter feed shows that he isn’t a “Bill Weld” acceptable kind of Republican, he is a “Send the Squad back to their home countries” liking Republican. We can do better.

The Clam will be voting for Julie Flowers, seeking her second term, she has been a progressive voice on the city council and in her short tenure has advanced protections for trans people in Beverly, and, got the “bag ban” ordinance implemented. Given the unique nature of the Beverly City Council President race (and since all three candidates will be seated), we recommend ONLY voting for Julie (this is called “bullet voting”), and leaving the other two spots blank, OR writing in your favorite local volunteer.

Endorsed in uncontested races:

Ward One SC: Rachael Abel

Ward Two City Council: Estelle Rand

Ward Three School Committee: Kimberley J. Coelho

Ward 4 City Council: Scott Houseman

Ward 5 School Committee: Kaarin L. Robinson

Ward 6 School Committee : Lorinda Visnick

Races where we really can’t find anything decent to say about the uncontested incumbent, and recommend a write in, or, mobilizing around an opponent and printings stickers. Or starting to fundraise now for 2021:

Mayor

Ward 2 School Committee

2 out of 3 At Large Seats

Your The Clam Voting Guide – 2019 Gloucester City Elections

Good day, my dudes (gender neutral).

The Clam is back with a vengeance – (ok, we’re back from a sadbender that lasted all summer while we figured out how to move this site forward for you all), and we’ve still been following things even though we weren’t writing posts. And guess what? Even without our dear leader Jim Dowd who is now mostly space dust and the property of science at large, it turns out the rest of us still have several heavy sacks full of opinions to unload on you all.

And you know, there’s an election coming up. In fact, there’s a shitload of them. In going with the ecumenical multi-city nature of Clam Nation, we’ve decided to expand our horizons for local politics over the bridge, and make Clamdorsements in a few different cities this time but starting with our beloved Gloucester. So if you’re in Beverly or Salem, stay tuned.

If you’re new to our writing or forgot (I wouldn’t blame you), our endorsements aren’t decided by one person – they’re all based on group discussion and shared writing, so there’s a lot more to these than the bylines. But I got the job of collecting it for a post. I wish I could take credit for all the jokes, though. We have people who are way too inside baseball in each town so we’re mostly working around them and just letting it rip. So with that said, here we go back on the track!

Gloucester’s got a lot of uncontested wards this year and the mayor is running unopposed, so that takes a lot of off our plate. Honestly, it’s a pretty quiet year, except for School Committee and At-Large, where there’s a lot of variation that needs to be considered. And this year, we’ve decided that 5 at-large candidates are worthy of our vote for different reasons, so picking just 4 will be difficult.

On the City Council side of things, we had some good change two years ago. We’ve got some great things going for us these days – the beautiful new West Parish school, the absolutely beautiful Biotech lab on the waterfront- but we can do so much more to make this a better city for everyone. Gloucester itself is changing, but it’s also the greater world beyond the bridge that’s changing and Gloucester’s boats are just rising with the tide. This was meant to be figurative but I guess it’s also literal. We’re going to need a new water treatment plant, at least 2 new schools, and a plan to deal with 2030. This city struggles today because of a lack of action that kicked the can down the road in the past, and we need councilors who understand how to best manage that without shying away from a hard discussion and a hard decision.

For your Councilors at Large:

Jen Holmgren

Obviously, she’s going to be our top choice. She’s a good friend of ours, but don’t hold that against her. She’s better than all of us, no lie. Jen has a seemingly endless well of empathy and compassion for everyone in this town, which isn’t surprising, since she’s a nurse. She works tirelessly for issues like affordable and working class housing, in a city where we are so far behind in providing that for our community and a vast swath of our population is indifferent to it. Jen is level-headed and truly researches a topic before rendering a reasonable decision. She’s not afraid to say “I need to look into that further and get back to you.” She’s incredibly bright and dedicated, and she’s had a great first term. She unfortunately has been targeted by a few of the really vocal anti-Espressos folks since she voted yes on that project (a shitstorm we were too busy working, having lives, and baby-raising to really address correctly but holy crap that was ridiculous), and that’s pretty unfair considering she’s working for a lot of the interests the no-vote people hold dear.

Chris DiMercurio-Sicuranza

Chris is new to electoral politics, but an old hand. He was really active in Salem when he lived there, and when he fell in love with his husband Frank and moved to Gloucester it was a total win for us. His time working in the Mayor’s office really helped him. He’s smart, a great communicator, and he’s passionate, progressive and pragmatic as can be. You’ll love him once you elect him.

And boy does he have a lot of plans. He sent us a huge list of things he’s planning on addressing: optimization around city services like app-based parking for Main Street and at beaches; Blue economy gains through Community Dev and Econ. Dev to increase support for marine based education (GMGI), research and potential new industries (like Sea Machines, autonomous sea vessels); more cross-collaboration of special events and studying traffic, merchant and tourism data with one centralized source that can help us see patterns by working together and sharing resources – also gaining revenue for all the above. Coastal resiliency, affordable housing, Gloucester 400th and DMO/Discover Gloucester are also critical, too. Getting younger people involved especially on boards on commissions but setting up better web/social media pages across all depts. to make public more aware and easier to follow.

As for schools, he also explained: definitely more in favor of the MSBA supported new school as we need the resources for social workers, special education, theater, arts, etc. all of which will be jeopardized if we put funding toward repairing older and antiquated schools. I want a true facilities manager who can be responsible with realistic budgets for the short term and long term though in any scenario as falling tiles and moldy conditions are not only unsafe, they are disgraceful conditions for our students, teachers, administrators, parents and makes top talent within schools want to leave or not take jobs here.

John McCarthy

John’s best known for being the Chief of Police, and he’s worked his whole life for the city, starting on the waterfront as a kid. Unlike some of the police issues we’ve seen across the country  he set the tone for a compassionate police force and was at the forefront of community policing before that was even a thing. He has been a strong supporter of Action, Inc for years, and he also actively participated in Gloucester s high-risk task force, a coalition of city officials and nonprofit staff members, about 50 people, that meet monthly to discuss strategies on how best to serve our most vulnerable people, including repeat offenders. He is compassionate and understanding toward people who may not immediately elicit empathy from others. And that goes a long way. And as a department head, he understands how the city budget works. In all honestly, this is incredibly important for our elected officials especially over the next few years when some big decisions need to be made. He’s an all-around family man, and we’ve never had a negative interaction with the guy. We hope he gets in, as he checks a lot of boxes for a lot of people and seems like he’ll do a great job of listening.

Melissa Cox

Melissa is involved in so much of this city, and when you have a question or emergency, she’s on top of it no matter what. She excels at being totally accessible. She saved KT’s wedding 2 years ago after she spaced on PICKING UP HER ENTIRE MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE from the clerk’s office. She panicked and messaged Melissa, who immediately contacted somebody on a Saturday to meet her to literally unlock City Hall and help her out. That’s the kind of thing Melissa does without blinking. She’s always had Leslie Knope vibes. However, we don’t always 100% line up with our goals for Gloucester’s future. Her priorities aren’t necessarily bad – she’s warning us we need to cover a new sewer plant first, and seemingly a school second – so we’re worried that a new school isn’t something she’s going to fight for, but she’s also a rational human being who doesn’t immediately respond with passion or emotion. She’ll take a look at an issue from all sides and make an informed decision.

EDIT: She did let us know she’s behind the consolidation and exclusion, just wasn’t 100% happy with the whole process and final choice, which is fair!

A dramatization of when someone dumps a couch on Kondelin Road

Joe Ciolino (alternate)

In the past we haven’t really pushed voting for Joe. He’s voted in ways we liked and disliked, but he hadn’t really moved us in one direction or the other. He’s always pushed downtown business because that’s what he’s personally involved in, which is great for downtown Main St, but can leave retail businesses outside of the Block Party area feeling a little overlooked. Also, he recently mentioned at the GOP meet and greet that he still hands out plastic bags at his store which is against the laws the city council itself created. So he’s either disrespectful or blowing smoke, neither of which are a good look. He’s also stated the reason we have tourists is because we still have a fishing industry, and we need to be protecting that. It’s a common sense idea that is almost low hanging fruit to pander to, because literally no one seeking office is going to say “I don’t care about the fishing industry” if they enjoy having unbroken bones. People come here for beaches, but they also come here for the Wicked Tuna boats and because George Clooney made a movie about the Crow’s Nest and they wanna see that stuff in person. But you know, you keep having your dumb bags blow into the harbor and there aren’t gonna be a ton of fish left here.

It’s 2019 and people still come here assuming this is factually correct. Taking their money is in all of our best interests.

However, we really like that one of his priorities is getting a new school built because we are very pro GET THIS DONE NOW WHILE WE HAVE FUNDING FROM THE STATE. Recently he said he thinks a 71 year old school built before cities were mandated to take all students and you couldn’t send them to institutions anymore will need replacing, which is so true but unfortunately not believed by everyone which is exhausting but that’s Gloucester for you. So maybe if you are dead set against voting for one of the above because they looked at your puppy wrong you can go this way instead.

That’s it. That’s what we have for now. There are other candidates that didn’t make the cut for a myriad of reasons, and we don’t have a strong opinion on the only contested ward to make an impassioned plea (Though we do like Joe Giacalone).

We will throw another post up shortly about the school committee race, for which we will have several other opinions.

Your Helpful Ballot Question Clamsplainer: Question 2

Written by Friend of the Clam Larry Oaks or “Lawrence Okenclam,” as he is now known across the lands.

Question 2: This is an easy one:

Vote Yes if you know the Gorton’s fisherman isn’t a real life fisherman with the same inalienable rights as you and me.

Image result for gortons fisherman

He is hipster AF though

Read more if you’re bored or whatever:

It wasn’t so long ago in this country that corporations had to navigate a set of rules put in place to promote fair elections. Of course companies went ahead anyway and funneled obscene amounts of money into the coffers of the candidate of their choice – after all the rules didn’t go anywhere near far enough toward limiting the influence of private wealth on our elections – but at least there were rules! Remember those days? Good times!

And what might you ask does any of this have to do with the Gortons fisherman?

Eight years ago the already weak campaign finance rules in place all changed. And not for the better.

In the now infamous 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens V. United Election Commission the Court through a narrow 5-4 decision (thanks Antonin Scalia) struck down any remaining limits on corporate political spending and in the process placed the rights of corporations and special interests on equal footing with those of actual human beings.

In effect, the court decided that corporations are people. Not pretend people, drinking in Williamsburgh with dudes named “Tigh” but real, actual people.

Corporations are people? As if!

Image result for corporate personhood

Meet 2020 Presidential Candidate Rod McBuildingface

Look, we all know corporations aren’t anything like actual people, right people? After all you can’t grab a brew with Archer, Daniels and Midland – you wouldn’t spill your secrets to Johnson & Johnson and who the hell would wanna spend an afternoon at Good Harbor Beach with Proctor and Gamble?

Listen, those may sound like real people but they’re definitely not.

A “yes” vote on Question 2 means you’ll be joining us over at the Clam in supporting the creation of a Citizens Commission to investigate and report on the effects that Citizens United and similar court cases have had on our political discourse.

We Clammers see this one as a no-brainer. It doesn’t matter (or at least it shouldn’t) what political view you happen to hold. Who isn’t for fair elections? Who doesn’t believe in equal representation? Who doesn’t think campaign finance reform is needed?

Who thinks corporations are people?

Oh, right. A lot of greedy politicians, that’s who!

So be sure to vote “Yes” on question 2. Let’s form a group of real life people and have them report back to ‘we the people’ on how to begin getting the money out of politics.

And in the meantime remember people, Stanley Morgan is your friend, your neighbor and a real life person. Morgan Stanley is a bank. And the Gorton’s fisherman? He isn’t a real fisherman.

On education: from Josh Turiel, the Clam’s Token Elected Official

(even if he is from Salem, not Gloucester)

Question 2 is on the ballot this fall, and charter schools are a massively polarizing issue even among the left of progressives that tend to make up the Clam’s braintrust and much of our readership. Many progressives and liberals are on different sides of this issue. In short, Question 2 proposes to allow the creation of up to 12 new charter schools per year. Those schools would favor districts in the bottom 25% of statewide districts.

Advocates paint this as an issue of improving access to quality education for our most vulnerable students and families (a large proportion of whom favor charter school expansion). Opponents see this as taking away resources from our already struggling public schools and an attempt to privatize a public good.

In many senses, they are both right. Full disclosure though, after 9 years in our city’s public system my own son opted to attend Salem’s charter school for high school and we allowed that (a decision that spawned much Facebook abuse from some of Salem’s “characters”) and supported his decision. I’m a fan of our public schools, and I have done a lot to support them, but I’m no longer a public school parent.

My own opinion on this ballot question is that charter schools themselves are neither good nor bad per se. Gloucester had a very bad experience with their charter school, which was poorly run and wound up being closed down. Salem’s has been very positive with Salem Academy Charter – ranking in the top handful of schools statewide and well-managed.

In a perfect world, the presence of a charter school in a district can be used to spur innovation and growth in the public school district it lives in and gets students from. In practice, though, the district shuns the charter, and the charters take an elitist attitude over the rest of the district.

Dudes, you get your kids by lottery. They’re the same group the rest of the district gets. If you game the lottery, you ought to lose your charter. Period. I think some of this split has to do with outcomes, though. And that bugs me more than a little.

Education and knowledge are important in today’s world. But progressives tend to over-value secondary education. And they undervalue the use of actual work – the kind where regular people make and fix things. Charters are popular with many because they send a lot of kids to college. Well, college isn’t all that. If you have a career path that’s not served by college, then maybe it doesn’t make sense for you. Maybe the best answer is a trade education (something sadly neglected in today’s world), combined with an apprenticeship. Maybe it’s a general liberal arts college education. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a specialized college education combined with a postgraduate education in a specialty (law, engineering, architecture, medicine, whatever). And maybe I’m biased as a college dropout who went on to a career in corporate IT management before starting my own company 13 years ago.

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But anyways. The important thing is for every kid to have the best outcome for that kid. Not just whatever the workforce need is, or whatever is perceived to create the Renaissance Person. So, ultimately I do support charter schools as a solid educational alternative that ideally should be part of the educational system.

So Question 2 should be a no-brainer, right?

Wrong.

At the same time that charter schools are (I believe) a good part of the system, there’s a growing movement among both “education first” liberals and “privatize everything” conservatives to turn more and more of our educational system over to charters – and there’s also a growing movement to turn charter schools into a for-profit industry. I really don’t like that. As I mentioned above, in Salem we had a positive charter experience where community members basically brought the Salem Academy Charter into existence. Gloucester tried to do the same, but never was able to get their school onto a solid footing and has been without ever since.

basically the GCACS

Basically the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School

Since that time we set up an in-district charter for troubled students (New Liberty Innovation School, which transitioned this year away from being a charter and back into the system), and Bentley Academy (formerly the Bentley School – the school whose problems were what brought the Salem district into Level 4) was a political football – an incredibly divisive topic driven at least partly by the use of the aforementioned private charter companies to get the ball rolling.

Also of note is something that is both a fact and a misleading fact. Yes, money is taken away from a district when those students leave for a charter school. But it’s not like that money just vaporizes, “poof” into the sky. The Mass Taxpayers Foundation (a fairly centrist policy group) put out a study this past week saying that charters aren’t a drain on traditional public schools at all, and though I quibble over a few findings (mostly in the below paragraph, having to do with fixed costs), we are in a state where the “dollars follow the student” system is applied to ANY public-option school. Including School Choice districts (like Hamilton-Wenham, which has brought in large numbers of out of district kids), vocational schools like Essex Tech, and of course, charter schools.

That money is given to the charter school to educate the child. Basically, the same total pool of money educated the same total pool of kids. This said, there IS a cost to the public schools for this. We are not in a true competitive market with schools (not should we be). But public schools have to staff teachers, maintain and operate buildings, provide transportation, and manage all sorts of fixed costs that stay the same if the enrollment goes up or if it goes down a few percent. So if the Chapter 70 money from the state that goes into the school foundation budget equals $7500 per pupil (not an exact figure) and 300 students go to the city’s charter school, that equals $2,250,000 assessed from the city.

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Hahahhaa oh god it’s true sweet fuck

That $2.25m becomes the basis of the charter’s budget – it’s still going to educate your community’s children – in addition to any other grants or funding that school is able to obtain. But depending on things, your regular public school didn’t shed $2.25m in costs. Yes, they did have some costs come out. But not that much.

In their infinite wisdom, the Legislature came up with a funding formula to make up those costs to the district that loses to the charter. Which they don’t fund. Where the argument gets more traction in my view is in an overall comparison of school finances. And this is one of the fundamental flaws in charter school development nowadays  and the whole “for profit” charter school industry. Public schools in many communities are struggling. There are a lot of reasons for this. Demographic shifts. Special education requirements and costs (this is one of the loopholes many charters use – they have more leeway to send children with extensive special education needs back to the public school system). Increasing costs of owning/managing school buildings. Often restrictive teacher union contracts. The failure of the state to keep up with costs in their foundation budgets.

One more common objection to charters is that they aren’t overseen by elected school committees. Well, not every community elects their school committee (most notably in Boston, but regional vocational schools also appoint their school committee members as well). More importantly, charters don’t operate in a vacuum. They all appoint a board of trustees who have that oversight role. If they fail to do it, the state can (and in a few cases, has) stepped in to take oversight or even close the school. Massachusetts is good at this.

But charters aren’t all sunshine and roses. There are threats to the model, and that is a good reason to not just run away willy-nilly and build charter schools everywhere. And this is where the money is. An entire industry has emerged to build charter schools that run like a business, not like a community. And the financial companies and foundations (like the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame) with ties to the for-profit charter businesses are putting plenty of money into the MA fight. On the No side for big bucks is the MA teacher’s union – many of the charter schools are non-union so that’s an obvious place to defend.

The entire battle is a cluster. There are people who would rather see Trump in the White House than see a single new charter school. In our state, we’re doing better than most when it comes to charter management and oversight. But there’s also long waiting lists for charter schools all around the state, especially in districts where the schools are lower-performing.

Personally, I’m voting NO on Question #2, because I like having more brakes on the charter school system. I think there’s room to expand. But not much, and not quickly. And I also think both sides have a long way to go before we can get to a happy medium and run charters the way they can make the biggest difference for the state as a whole.

But our priority has to be on improving our public schools. That’s where the bulk of the resources should be going, that’s where the bulk of the kids are (and should be) educated, and that’s where the rubber meets the road.