The Cipro situation

No cops on the City Council please

Richard Cipro, the walking Punisher logo challenging Sean Rose for the District 1 City Council seat, came away from the preliminary election this week with a clear mandate. That sucks big time. 

He beat Rose 1,384 to 1,227, and he received the most votes of any of the candidates in the D1 or District 5 races. 

Cipro is a cop, and worse than that, he’s a real cop’s cop if you know what I mean. A sergeant in the Worcester Police Department, he’s also head of the local chapter of the patrolman’s union and a prolific poster in the Worcester International Brotherhood of Patrolmen Facebook page, which is the most wretched, racist corner of Worcester Internet. 

The success so far of his candidacy is obviously attributed to a single phenomenon. Worcester City Council voted in March to remove police officers from Worcester Public Schools. It’s one of the few good things the city has done in a while, and it’s the only substantive reform to come from months and months of public pressure following the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. 

Cipro, and people like him, cannot fucking stand that the council did this. They see it as a personal affront and they won’t ever in good faith engage with the reams and reams of evidence which shows that police officers monitoring the halls is an overall detriment to the student body. School resource officers criminalize students before they’re even sent into the world, instill a climate of fear, and they don’t stop violence from happening, they simply respond to it. But to Cipro and the rest of the local Thin Blue Line crowd this mild act of decent public policy is a personal affront, and everyone who supported it deserves to be punished. 

First and foremost, that includes Rose, who voted with the slim majority to support a package of police reforms from the City Manager’s Office which included the plan to remove school resource officers.  All of the anger and resentment these people feel has been directed at Rose via Cipro in the lead-up to the preliminary election this week. Scroll through the IBPO Facebook page and it’s just post after post of Cipro and others lambasting Rose for supporting the removal of school resource officers.

Most recently, this crowd—which very much includes Superintendent Maureen Binienda, mind you—has been using a fight at Burncoat High School to justify the need for school resource officers. What happened was three kids who weren’t from Burncoat went to Burncoat shortly after school got out last Friday. They were armed with knives and they tangled with a Burncoat student. A principal got hit, meaning this principal was close enough to the fight and was presumably there to break it up. By the Worcester Police Department’s own admission, the school resource officer did not break up the fight. The resource officer called for help, then ran down a kid who was already fleeing the scene. This, from the department’s own press release:

On September 10th 2021 at about 2 PM, a Worcester Police officer was working at Burncoat High School as a School Resource Officer. The officer was called by a school administrator for a fight with multiple youth in front of Burncoat Junior High School. The officer was told that there were weapons involved. The officer asked for assistance over the radio and went to the location of the fight.

The officer was told that an individual armed with a knife and dressed all in black had fled back toward the high school. The officer ran to the area in which the male had been seen, and another officer came to assist with the foot pursuit. The officers caught up with a fleeing fifteen-year-old male in the backyard of a Burncoat St residence.

So the school resource officer didn’t break up the fight or prevent it. He called for backup, which an administrator could have just as easily done by dialing 911. Still, Binienda is on record in Mass Live saying it was “the perfect example of why we need SROs” and the police union Facebook page was awash with posts blaming Rose personally for the fight. Not only is this brain-dead, it is the definition of “politicizing” an event. You could point out the hypocrisy of this crowd “politicizing” this event after spending the past five years telling people not to “politicize” it when a cop shoots an unarmed person. Sure. You could do that. But hypocrisy is dead. It doesn’t work. There’s no intellectual argument that will win these people over. They have to be ignored and outnumbered.   

In a city like Worcester, with such a deeply entrenched townie political culture stretching from City Hall to the schools to the police and fire departments, a backlash like this is expected. In the School Committee race, it’s likely we’re going to see a similar backlash to both the decision to show Binienda the door and to implement real sex education for the first time in a very long time. But as far as the City Council goes, it’s Rose who drew the short straw here. He was the only councilor who voted for the manager’s police reform bill who also had a preliminary election and, to make matters worse, he had to face a cop. 

Probably the worst thing that could happen locally here in the wake of Black Lives Matter is if we let a package of reforms from the city manager—which was really thin and lacking to begin with—lead to a backlash from the Thin Blue Line cult that shores up the right wing of an already conservative executive board. Really, just turning one or two members of that board and they’ll have the power to convert the police department’s fleet to Humvees if they so choose. It’s very important that we hold the line and that candidates like Cipro and, to a lesser extent, Greg Stratman over in District 5, do not ever see the halls of power. Happy to see Etel Haxhiaj do so well in that race, by the way. Fifty five percent of the vote in a four-way contest. That’s super impressive and a testament to the strenght of her candidacy.

Anyway, if the right pulls a few more seats, all the public pressure and calls for reform were worse than useless. I know I sound a bit dramatic but the possibility of a Cipro victory is certainly there. Cipro has an engaged base and an issue to rally around. Rose really doesn’t. “Look at how good a job I’ve done,” does not bring the voters out. As I said in my post the other other day before the preliminary, Sean Rose is a middle-of-the-road Democrat in the mold of Joe Petty, and he’s being groomed for command. Rose has also already made the mistake of capitulating to these people. Over the summer, Cipro and company went on a smear campaign accusing Rose of voting to defund the police. That’s an obvious lie and anyone who knows anything about Worcester politics knows it. The City Council did not, despite the constant demands of hundreds of residents, decrease the police department budget in any way. In fact they increased it. How, then, could Rose have voted to defund the police? It’s ludicrous. 

But Rose made the mistake of trying to correct the record, in effect capitulating to a mob who does not care at all what he’s done on any issue. 

This is what I wrote at the time and I stand by it. 

Statements that won’t appease anyone who bows at the altar of the Thin Blue Line. Statements that only show to those people weakness and a capitulation. They’ve already decided who their enemies are and they won’t have their minds changed. They are lost to anyone who does not worship at the same altar. They will never capitulate. Until they are outnumbered, nothing will change. Police departments have the hard power of state-sanctioned violence and the threat of it. They also have the soft power of a community of people around them, be it wives, children, parents, friends, etc. who refuse to acknowledge any problem at all with the criminal justice system and see any attempt at rectifying said problem as a personal attack. Through their influence in city elections, they act as a bulwark against reform.

You won’t win any ground with these people and you won’t change their mind. To try is to show weakness. You’d be better off leaning into pushing for police reform but a guy like Rose is just not going to do that. As I said before, a challenger of the status quo he is not, and that leaves him entirely too vulnerable to attacks from the right. 

But, after the preliminary on Tuesday, Rose has gone on the offensive. He’s attacking Cipro from the position that, as a cop, Cipro would be functionally useless as a city councilor on police matters. He wouldn’t be able to vote on anything police department related without breaking state ethics law. Rose is calling on Cipro to release an opinion from the state ethics commission demonstrating what he can and can’t do should he be elected. 

As a campaign strategy, this is going to accomplish zilch, zero, nada. No one in the bag or even on the fence about Cipro is going to know or care about recusals and state ethics law, and it makes Rose seem like a teacher’s pet type, pointing at the rulebook and going “that’s not fair!!”

But it is interesting to consider that Cipro, if elected, wouldn’t be able to do anything at all about the police department outside using his position to lobby the City Manager’s Office, which is itself dubious. It wouldn’t be illegal, but it would certainly be unethical. 

I reached out to the city spokesman to see just how legal it is for a police officer to serve on the city council and he sent me a concise writeup of the law and how it would pertain in this situation. 

“Under Mass General Law, a City employee may hold the position  of City Councilor without needing to take a leave of absence. The employee cannot, however, receive compensation for both positions, and is entitled to choose which compensation they will receive. As a Councilor, the individual may not vote or act on any matter within the purview of the agency by which they are employed or over which they have official responsibility. The individual is also not eligible for appointment to an additional position, including internal department promotions, while a member of the Council or for six months thereafter. 

So Cipro wouldn’t be able to “vote or act” on anything related to the police department. He wouldn’t be able to participate in budget reviews of the department, he wouldn’t be able to vote on the budget, he wouldn’t be able to vote on capital requests like, say, new cars for the department’s fleet. He wouldn’t be able to vote on a body camera proposal or on another (unlikely) package of police reforms. 

He wouldn’t be able to take the city councilor stipend. In Cipro’s campaign literature, he says he would “forgo” his stipend, which I suppose is one way of putting it, and instead direct it to agencies that fight addiction and homelessness. This is a lie. Unless Cipro forgoes his pay as a cop, which is a lot more than the $32,000 he would make as a councilor, he has no say at all over where that stipend goes. He could, hypothetically, decide to not get paid as a cop and instead get paid as a city councilor. Then he could take his city council money and give it to charity. But that’s obviously not what he means. Unless he gives up his pay as a cop, the councilor stipend wasn’t his to begin with, and as such he can’t direct it anywhere. 

But calling candidates out on lying doesn’t accomplish anything, especially a right-wing candidate like this. His base likes that he lies. 

So what do we do? We just have to make sure more people show up on Nov. 2. And I believe the best possible messaging is just, plainly, “Cipro is a cop. If you don’t want a cop on your city council, go vote for Rose.”

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It’s election season baby buckle up! I got a bunch of other nuttiness to get to as Nov. 2 draws nearer and nearer. If you haven’t subscribed and you want to hit that button right there under this word.

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If you missed it I wrote for Welcome To Hell World over the weekend about a group of prison abolitionists who want a five-year ban on all new prison construction in the state. It was fun going out marching with them and I was happy to help get the message across. Abolition all the way.

As a quick follow-up to my last piece on the subject, the School Committee is already starting to show signs of wishy-washyness when it comes to how they’re going to select Superintendent Maureen Binienda’s replacement. Though they voted last week to do a national search, some school committee members have been on record in the days following saying there’s enough talent within the district and so has the president of the teachers union. School Committee member Diana Biancheria and Education Association of Worcester President Roger Nugent were on record in a recent Telegram article saying there’s pleeeenty of talent within the district for the superintendent role. Coincidentally these two people are both firmly in the Binienda camp. Kudos to School Committee member Tracy Novick for holding the line:

“I was a teacher, I am a parent, we absolutely need people steeped in the work of the classroom,” she said. “But I wouldn’t want us to short-shrift what it means to be the top executive of such a large system,” one that enrolls around 25,000 students and operates on a nearly half-billion dollar budget each year.

“It involves management of a lot of different pieces,” Novick said. “I want to have a superintendent who doesn’t have to learn that part of the job.”

I think it’s likely as this superintendent search advances that the Binienda camp will try to sneak one of their own into the position, so that’s something we gotta be on the lookout for between now and February.

This is a really good song