Supporters saw inclusive leaders in political newcomers

WORCESTER – Richard Boateng said he first heard of Etel Haxhiaj when he brought his West African restaurant Anokye Krom to Coes Square and heard about the work Haxhiaj was doing in the neighborhood.

He said that the Haxhiaj city council candidate’s commitment to District 5 and bringing federal money to projects in the district was a key selling point for him.

“She wants to make sure her district has a slice of the federal pie,” Boateng said.

Boateng informed customers about his restaurant in Haxhiaj and his investment in community development in his district. When she won, Boateng said he expected her to come out victorious and her victory party was in Anokye Krom.

“Everyone was happy, it was an unforgettable evening,” said Boateng.

This month’s municipal elections brought several new faces to Worcester’s city council and school boards, and behind those candidates were supporters and organizers who believed in their candidates and a more inclusive city.

In the municipal elections of November 2, five new candidates were elected to public office, two to the municipal council and three to the school committee. At the city council, Thu Nguyen was elected to a general council seat and Haxhiaj was elected to the district 5 seat. The school committee will include new members Jermain Johnson, Sue Coghlin Mailman and Jermoh Kamara.

Some supporters and those who gave their time to the candidates have known the future elected officials for a long time, while others have become aware of it throughout the campaign.

Ann T. Lisi, former President and CEO of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, supported Etel Haxhiaj.

Anne Lisi

Ann Lisi, former President and CEO of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, has known Haxhiaj for many years through Haxhiaj’s work at the YWCA and other initiatives.

After retiring from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, Lisi said she tried to stay active in the city and saw potential in the 2021 election, where several seats were open and she got involved in the Haxhiaj campaign.

“I saw her as an added value because she cares about equality and asks: ‘is this going to work for the most disadvantaged? Lisi says. “She thinks of vulnerable people first and when you do that as a leader you are probably going to make things better for everyone from top to bottom.”

Lisi helped manage fundraising for Haxhiaj’s campaign to support mailings and helped with preparations for debate and public speaking.

Meghan Rhondeau

Meghan Rhondeau works with Johnson at the State Department for Children and Families and said she knew Johnson would be a good member of the school committee who would be fully dedicated to the post.

“Jermaine is someone who is a natural leader, so when he asked me to join his campaign and help him, I was really honored that he came to see me because I admire him so much,” Rhondeau said. “To have that kind of mutual respect, I was honored. He’s a natural leader here, he’s a steward in the office, he supports his colleagues a lot and that really draws people to him.”

Rhondeau had been with Johnson’s campaign team since he started running. She said her role included fundraising, door-to-door and social media.

Johnson’s campaign plans on youth programs and socio-emotional support for students were pillars that Rhondeau said would benefit Worcester public schools.

“He has this first-hand knowledge and sees the direct impact that youth programs have on these children, especially at-risk youth,” Rhondeau said.

After months of campaigning, Johnson’s team were confident they would rank among the top six candidates, Rhondeau said. Johnson was the top voter after the vote count.

Sarah callinan

Sarah Callinan said she usually doesn’t pay much attention to local elections and usually votes for candidates she knows, but decided to do so this year amid growing controversies to which school boards are concerned. across the country are facing COVID-19 protocols.

“I realized how important local elections are and how they have an immediate effect on our lives more than anything Congress does or doesn’t do,” Callinan said.

Shortly before the election, Callinan uploaded her ballot and began researching candidates, and she was impressed with Johnson’s website and its stated priorities, including student mental health and safety. Additionally, Johnson’s emphasis on supporting the arts resonated with Callinan, a music teacher at Worcester’s Joy of Music program.

James Léo Bédard

James Leo Bedard, former city council candidate and member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, said he immediately got involved in Mailman’s campaign because he said Mailman has a good track record and listens to student needs.

“Sue fully understands the students’ need for support due to the impact last year has on their learning and social development,” said Bedard. “Sue has an excellent track record of serving the residents of the city through her work on numerous boards and a clear vision for how Worcester Public Schools should focus on the future success of our children in an environment of rapidly changing work. ”

The candidates also bring a new diversity to the city government. Haxhiaj will be the first Albanian refugee and the first Muslim to sit on the city council. Nguyen will be Southeast Asia’s first American and also the first non-binary board member. Nguyen uses the pronouns them, them and they. Johnson will be the first black man to sit on the school committee and Kamara will be the first member born in Africa. City political observers also believe the election results will strengthen the progressive faction in city government.

Some supporters of the newcomer campaign said they believed their candidate would work for a more inclusive city.

Ora Ming Lin

Ora Ming Lin, 17, had never been involved in city politics before reading an email about Nguyen’s campaign and being impressed by the “intersectionality” of Nguyen’s identity as than Vietnamese immigrant and non-binary person. Lin is partly Taiwanese and is also non-binary, using the pronouns them, their, and they. Nguyen also appeared to be an approachable person who would focus on listening to his constituents rather than pursuing a specific agenda, Lin said.

“I didn’t expect to see this kind of representation in local government at all,” Lin said. “So seeing that I thought it was really exciting and reached out to them and asked if they wanted to work with me to do some publicity.”

Lin helped Nguyen with their campaign video, which Lin said was a change of pace for them as a video producer, being more used to producing personal YouTube videos. The number of views Nguyen’s video received during the campaign gave Lin the confidence that Nguyen would emerge victorious.

Being part of a winning campaign seemed “empowering” for Lin and gave them a taste for local politics. They plan to stay more involved in city government and learn more about the school committee.

“I’ve been interested in politics for a little while now, but it’s always been a long way off in Washington,” Lin said. “Really talking to people who are potentially going to have power in your local government was really cool to see and it really made my life come alive. “

Marianne Islam

Marianna Islam first contacted Nguyen last summer to draw attention to issues that concern them both and through Nguyen’s work with Mutual Aid Worcester. Nguyen then reached out to Islam, who led Linda Parham’s 2015 campaign for the post of general city councilor, for advice on how to run for office.

“I’m just someone asking a Facebook group how to get my road fixed because I didn’t want to use any connections to fix it. I’m someone who wants my government to work for us, and I have it. feel like this is what Thu offered in their campaign. ”

Islam served in Nguyen’s countryside “kitchen cabinet”. Her role included relationship management for the campaign, fundraising and organized care for those working on Nguyen’s behalf. Islam said Nguyen’s team tried to achieve political success while maintaining the integrity of its participants.

“What we asked ourselves was how to do this and maintain our integrity and how to do it while really showing ourselves with love and care and developing trust,” Islam said.

The campaign worked for voters to understand Nguyen’s non-binary identity and their connection to the people of Worcester, especially youth development, Islam said.

After Nguyen’s victory, Islam said the future city councilor will spend the days leading up to their oath speaking to communities to hear their concerns and desires from the city government.

As the newcomers prepare to be sworn in to two-year terms, their supporters say they are optimistic and will work to improve the city and meet the needs of a changing Worcester.

As well as being pleased with the school committee’s results, Callinan said she was happy to see Nguyen’s victory and believes the easily re-elected mayor Joseph M. Petty has done a great job for the city.

“Good trajectory”

“I think Worcester is on a very good trajectory, I’m optimistic the city is making a real turnaround on a more permanent basis,” Callinan said.

Rhondeau said she felt a sense of relief when she saw the election results and the new diversity in city government.

“The City of Worcester obviously wanted a change in the way things are going now, and there will be that change with who gets elected,” Rhondeau said.

Bédard hopes that the city’s policies can better benefit families and students who need help with the new elected officials.

“I think we have a brilliant opportunity for positive change during this next term as our newly elected candidates truly represent the tapestry of our entire community,” said Bédard. “Specifically, I hope the policy will be changed in favor of working families and students who need extra support.”

Boateng said the city will continue to improve as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you look at how difficult things have been with the pandemic, saying that things have really gone wrong with some of the small businesses and you look at Etel and some of this new crop that’s on board, we think that things will go from good to better, ”Boateng said.

Islam said there was still work to be done with the city government and community listening events should be a priority for elected officials.

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