Incorruptible Mass

Local Elections -- Vote this Tuesday Nov 7th!

November 05, 2023 Anna Callahan Season 5 Episode 30
Local Elections -- Vote this Tuesday Nov 7th!
Incorruptible Mass
More Info
Incorruptible Mass
Local Elections -- Vote this Tuesday Nov 7th!
Nov 05, 2023 Season 5 Episode 30
Anna Callahan

Please donate to the show!

Today we talk about city elections in Massachusetts. We'll cover why local elections matter, how to vote, and what to look for in local elected officials.

Jordan Berg Powers, Jonathan Cohn, and Anna Callahan to chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 30. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved.

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Show Notes Transcript

Please donate to the show!

Today we talk about city elections in Massachusetts. We'll cover why local elections matter, how to vote, and what to look for in local elected officials.

Jordan Berg Powers, Jonathan Cohn, and Anna Callahan to chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 30. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved.

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Hello and welcome to Incorruptible, Mass. This is where we all, together, transform state politics. We know that we could have a state legislature that values the policies that would make the lives of the vast majority of our residents of our beautiful state much better. And that is what we are here to do. 

So today we are going to be talking about local elections, that's city elections here in Massachusetts. And we'll be talking about when the vote is, how you can vote early, how to find out more information about them.

We'll talk a little bit specifically about Worcester and about Medford, probably also about Boston, just that's where we all happen to live. But before we do, I will allow my two extra fabulous co hosts to introduce themselves. I will start with Jordan.

Jordan Berg Powers. He him his, I live in Worcester, Massachusetts. And although last week was our Halloween episode, it was too warm. So I'm excited for my disability justice Halloween shirt. Thank you, got it on TikTok. That's fine.

And yeah, I hope everybody has a joyous and wonderful and however you celebrate one of my favorite holidays day. 

And we are recording this on Halloween, although it won't be out. You will not hear it on Halloween.

But I hope you had a wonderful time. I hope you've gotten a little sick eating your loved ones candy or however you've acquired candy. 

And Jonathan. 

Jonathan Cohn, he him his, joining from Boston, have been active in different electoral and issue campaigns here in Massachusetts for a decade.

I can just describe my Halloween costume as my typical strategy of I can either be kind of Arnold from the Magic School Bus, but an adult, Chuckie Finster from Rugrats, but an adult, or an unidentified member of the Weasley family. 

Nice. And I am Anna Callahan, she her, coming at you from Medford. Always excited to talk local politics, as it was my thing for many, many years. So today we are going to talk about the elections which are happening on and before November 7.

We have, what, 51 cities in Massachusetts plus almost 300 towns. Does that sound about accurate to you guys? And the cities vote on November 7. Town elections often happen in the spring, but the cities in Massachusetts are voting on November 7 of this year.

This is an odd year, so no other elections will be on your ballot, though there might be some local ballot measures. And what else is there to say about local elections? What can we say about the importance of local elections? 

Just quickly, in terms of the no other things on the ballot, I would not promote the one candidate because I don't think he's going to be good if the Democrat gets elected. So I don't really care for either of them.

But there is a special election for some folks in central Mass for the state Senate race to replace Anne Goby. Good to know. Yeah.

Don't vote for either of them. That's not an official position, but they're both yeah. I have no formal position on that race. Hard for me to see what the real difference will be in the daily lives of regular people. 

Well, I have something to say about the importance of local elections. For many years, that was really the focus of my life was to help train people around the country in how to elect better representatives at their city level, city council level, and how to work with them to ensure that our local governments were serving working people and not special interests.

And I have to say, local elections matter for so many reasons. Right. Number one, it really is the place where a candidate who is not super wealthy, who is not funded by moneyed interests can step in and win a seat in government without having a ton of money by just knocking on doors and talking to people.

It's difficult to do that at other levels, at the state and the national level. But if you can do it at the local level, then you can move up to the state level and move up to the national level. That's something that is really a good pathway for the kinds of candidates and elected officials who are not there to represent moneyed interests right.

Who are not taking money from places that we don't want them to be influenced by. So that's one reason. There are many other reasons you guys want to jump in with some other reasons to vote in local elections.

Yeah. The biggest thing I'll say is that it really controls a lot of the things that you care about. So one of the most striking things about local elections is that the majority of voters in most school elections around the country, and certainly in Massachusetts according to data, are people who no longer have kids in the schools and don't have the same relationship to the schools.

And so school committees often reflect the fact that there aren't sort of recent graduates or graduates of the school districts, and they rarely have parents on school committees of people who are directly affected. So school committees around the state tend to be older, they tend to be more affluent, and they tend to reflect sort of different than the people, than the children who are actually in the schools and the parents who are there. So that's the biggest one is that it's direct control of the schools.

And then the other is that sort of where the rubber literally hits the road. All of those decisions about do you care about the fact that you can't afford to live where you live? Those are mostly local decisions, zoning decisions, what gets built, what doesn't, what local TIFF, what sort of tax breaks are being given to your local people. So everything about sort of your day to day is probably affected from the sidewalk you're walking on to the roads you're driving on to the public transportation that may or may not be on fire, a lot of those decisions are made at your local level.

And so what businesses go in which don't, who gets benefits, all of those things. Yeah, just building on that, that so many of the things that people interface with do have important governance at the local level. Whether that's the schools, whether that's kind of like the local police department, whether that's kind of, let's say, like the parks and recreational spaces around you, whether it's the economic development of the town, whether it's the zoning code, of the town, whether it's kind of different, the many different ways that a city or town can respond to the front of the climate crisis within their power, that there are just kind of a number of different policies.

That will happen, that does happen at the local level as well as just the simple value of if you're able to create positive experiences of people, interfacing with the various kind of government departments that you just need to interface with as a matter of life, on living on the local level that helps build people's belief in the capacity of government at any level to do things for the public good. And that's a critical thing to happen that if you can do that at the local level, that has upward spillover effect. So that if you want to see that better change at the state and federal level, you need to be able to create that belief in people that the government is going to do things that benefit them and take care of the community and advance the community.

Jonathan, I'm so glad you mentioned that. That was something I was going to jump in with as well, is like democracy, right? Our democracy survives only when our government serves people well because people don't feel like their local elected officials are doing a good job. And I hear this at the doors, right? If I'm knocking on doors, I can hear people talk about this, that they do not trust the people in power to do anything because they've seen the roads be totally dilapidated and the schools go to crap and they've seen all this stuff happen so they don't trust government.

And I've had people at the doors say I'm not voting anymore because I tried to get things fixed and nothing happened for years and years and years. So I'm not even going to vote anymore. And when we get into that phase of a dilapidated democracy, then it does, it spills over into state and national elections as well and then we're in deep doodoo.

Let's talk about how people can vote. So the election is technically on November 7, so your polling places will be open on November 7. It's always going to be different per city, but most polling places are open like eight to eight, something like that.

I don't know how regular that is 07:00 A.m. To 08:00 P.m. Is, I think, one of the standards.

Great. 07:00 a.m to 08:00 P.m..

But many cities also have early voting and that means you can go to City Hall or to other official places. I imagine in Boston they have more than just City Hall that you can go to to vote in person, but on a day that's earlier. So in Medford, for example, it's on the first, 2nd, fourth and fifth, I think, opens at 8:30 every day, closes at a different time every single day. But in different cities it'll be different. You can just look it up on your city website as to when you can vote early as well.

As I'll note with that for many cities as well, you do have the ability to vote by mail. I know that's largely a policy that's going to be kind of that the state gave cities the opportunity to do with that. If you listen to this podcast before the election and you still have a mail in ballot that you want to send, do not put it in the mail. Please take it to a dropbox. It is too close to the election to put it in the mail because unless you have that because I do not trust the mail to be fast enough and that they're typically dropboxes whether it's by the City Hall. If it's a place like Boston, they're spread throughout the city, often your libraries or community centers.

Excellent. Who wants to jump in with how to find out info? I know people actually have a really hard time in different cities. It's different.

The answer is there's no good way. I just want to say that there's no good way. In most places.

If you're lucky enough to still have some sort of local paper, it's usually just interviews where candidates will lie, especially elected officials will lie about what they did or what they believe. I think unless you're in a larger place, there's probably not local people doing vetting. I find it's really helpful to look around to public access TV.

They usually do interviews where you'll get a better flavor for candidates. Usually the newspaper or some local thing will try to do some interviews where you can get some sense of where they fill out questions on questionnaires. I would say for people who are trying to decipher those things, like looking on Facebook, look for things.

What I look for when I'm looking for candidates to see if I don't know anything about them is are they actually answering questions or are they just sort of giving platitudes? So if you're listening to this, you probably are a policy person, so you're probably not going to be easily swayed. But just in case, I would say look for specifics. Do they have specific ideas on how they'll actually enact those? They read between the lines.

One of my favorite candidates, who's terrible, Jose Rivera here in Worcester, will say things like we need to implement the plan. Well, if there's a plan, it's likely being implemented and a city councilor doesn't have a say. They can just ask the city manager to implement it here in Worcester or the mayor, but they don't implement it.

They're not an executive branch. So just stuff like that. Look out for just nonsense for people.

They'll say things like public safety. Well what does that mean? That can mean a lot of things. It's sort of, again, a nonsense term.

Most cities and towns, the number one thing they spend money on is education. The second thing that they spend money on is policing. And so find out what that actually means for them.

So I would look out for platitudes and nonsense and look for real answers to what it is they plan to do to address some of the concerns in your town. Ask for real money, amounts of money from schools, not just platitudes like how much money are you going to put in, how much more than you need to? And ask for where do they think tax cuts should go? Where should businesses go? What are you doing to make housing more affordable? Look for specifics and look for candidates with specifics. 

One thing that I would note, I wanted to make a quick plug for the cities where we do have questionnaires, where some of Progressive mass's chapters did collect questionnaires.

They do offer a good opportunity to see candidates answering different questions. It's at It's under the State House Spotlight section under elections and endorsements.

So that's slash state house slash elections where we do have questionnaires from some of the candidates running in Boston and Newton, in Framingham and Marlborough and Salem and in Lowell, and that there aren't nearly as many public questionnaires across different races in cities as there really should be, we wanted to highlight them, or if there are other local organizations in the place that are getting candidates on record across a number of different areas. Because it's always helpful when you can see them. If they are forced to answer yes or no questions or given opportunities to expand on their positions on issues, you can get a better sense of where candidates stand on things.

The other thing that I always say when I'm looking for information is I always like vetting candidates websites to see how much content that they actually are willing to give me about what they want to do, as well as looking at endorsements. I always find endorsements to be good proxies. If I don't know a whole lot about a specific race, that's often how if I'm looking at a race in, let's say in another state that I haven't been following very actively, I'm always curious to see like, okay, what do I know about the different organizations behind candidates? Because knowing that any candidate who gets elected ultimately has some type of coalition behind them that gets them into office and that they are going to be, at least to some extent, accountable to the people who brought them there.

And there will be some coalition that aligns with your values more than another coalition. And it's always useful to get a sense of that when you see okay, both what are they saying about themselves and who is validating what they're saying about themselves? Yeah. 

We wanted to talk just for a minute, Jordan, what's happening in Worcester? What can you tell us that's interesting about the elections in Worcester and the sort of involvement of organizations in Worcester? 

Yeah, so one of the things that we noticed locally a few years ago is that our local newspaper is like most of the local newspapers around Massachusetts, just a little bit to the left of Attila the Hun. They're usually run by people who think of themselves as moderates, but actually espouse pretty radical ideas on taxation, like, for example, platforming tax extremists who don't believe in any taxation.

They tend to be for anything the Chamber of Commerce asks for. And they tend to be pretty hostile to any conversations about race or racism or the pleas or concerns of people of color, especially young people of color. And so that was happening in Worcester, where our Telegram, literally the Worcester Telegram, had cartoons with pictures of Barack Obama with elongated and racist features, wrote things against the NAACP, like just extremist views that our newspaper had.

And we were frustrated that that's how they covered our local politics. And so we realized that we needed a way to talk to people outside of those avenues. And so we searched around and created a PAC.

But I want to caution because people hear PAC, and they think candidate endorsement. And we really don't think of our PAC as candidate endorsement. We think of our PAC as general education for voters because of the mainstream media failure to connect dots and to remind people of things that happened earlier that influence the things that are happening now.

Right. Like connecting, hey, that thing happened six months ago, and guess what? It led to this thing very predictably. So I'll just give you an easy example that's relevant now.

So, for example, Worcester has a bunch of crisis pregnancy centers, which are centers that lie to women. One such incident, they pretended to give care to a pregnant person, who then went on to actually need real care and lost, reportedly, according to the news and the lawsuit, lost the ability to have future children, or maybe did. And so I want to be careful.

It's something like I think they could lose the chance, but it was serious. They had to go to the hospital. Their life could have been in danger.

And this is something we see around the country. And so how the local newspaper covers it is our conservative city councilors opposed any sort of looking into it, finally got guilted into looking into it. Then the city manager did nothing about it, tried to pretend like he didn't want to look into it.

And then when he was forced to look into it, they finally voted down any sort of oversight of CPCs, regardless of the fact that they're very dangerous. And how the media covers it is like every incident happened and no other incident around it happened. So they don't provide any reminder or context of how city officials actually voted.

So we have a city councilor saying like, oh, it was a really hard decision to vote against this ordinance, but she had already voted against an ordinance affirming Roe and an ordinance against even looking into it. So it's not like she had a tough decision. She had already come out despite being quoted as saying that she's pro choice, she had already voted many times against choice.

So that's the sort of thing, I mean, is like just providing that context for voters, reminding voters of things that happen, those weren't happening. And so we created an outside media to have a consistent conversation with voters through social media about the things that are happening on the city council. So somebody takes a bad vote, we remind them that that bad vote happened, that these people did something, they did something to make it less affordable, or to get tax cuts to rich people.

And I want to encourage you to do this. I want to say that you can do this, that if you can get together some donors, you can get together some people, you can run ads on Instagram, at Meta, on other platforms relatively, it's not inexpensive, but it's not the most expensive thing. And you can be reminding people constantly the way in which your city council is acting towards the things we care about, making it more affordable, making it more livable, making it more green and resilient, right? And so that's the sort of thing we did locally.

We really thought of it, we really think of it as an education opportunity for voters in the absence of the media's role because local reporting has basically collapsed across the country. Unfortunately, like, I would rather us have it. But I'll tell you what's interesting is that the thing that happened is that what has come out of it is we've grown a culture, a progressive culture, and there is now a media that's covering locally and now there are people who like, Mystery Science Theater the local city council meetings, right? So we've taken this one entity has grown a larger sort of network of progressive people who I promise you, in your place, there are people thirsty for this type of information, younger people, but if you try to get it into a newspaper, it's going to be lost on them.

And we really focused on trying to be where people are and that has really transformed the conversation. And now our elected officials are spending time angrily reacting to the PAC and we are really pushing a lot of the conversation and pushing our values, progressive values, into the conversation, which I think ultimately is the most important thing. Well, I mean, power is most important.

I want to just pause for 1 second on that “Mystery Science Theater” of the city council meetings because that's something that we have something similar happening in Medford that I think is incredibly helpful. So if it's possible to make these city council meetings more accessible to people, more interesting for people, they're incredibly boring, honestly. So making them in some way interesting and worth people's time to kind of take a few minutes to check in and see even, like, summaries of the city council meetings is good.

So that's something that just year round is quite a service to the community, is making those meetings, like what's actually happening on the city council at the local level, accessible to folks. Fantastic. Yeah, we weren't responsible for it, but I just think it came up organically.

I think as you target people with this conversation now, it took some years, it wasn't just overnight, but as you target people with conversation, people then become thirsty for other people to have those conversations with and it grows its own. Yeah. Excuse me.

So I would love to hear from both of you guys what you think makes a good city councilor. I'm going to go last because it's going to kind of segue into the final section, you know, what do you think makes somebody a good city councilor? 

Jonathan, do you want me to go first? Do it. Okay.

So what I always say when it comes to being a good city councilor, what I always like is the combination between somebody who has attention to kind of both the nuts and bolts of doing the job well, of the functioning of city services. Responding to constituents. Somebody who knows that they buy goodwill for anything that they want to do by responding to people's emails, but also thinks innovatively, creatively and thinks big about what the city can be doing to make the experience of living there for both all of the residents and anybody who may want who may be moving into the city kind of in the future and somebody who will both ask good questions. Of the city officials who come in for hearings who won't believe themselves with holding, let's say, harsher accountability if a council and a mayor are opposed. Friendly accountability if they're in line. But you still are an important source of accountability when it comes to what an executive office is doing of somebody who's interested in coming up with different ordinances related to kind of how to improve the policy in the city on a number of issues whether it's housing, whether it's climate, whether it's transportation on a number of issues and is willing to learn from what's happening in other cities and eager to partner with folks in other cities.

Knowing that the entire knowledge of good policy does not and never will reside in one city. And you can pass on stuff to folks nearby, and they can pass on stuff to you, and you all benefit from having that connection, I think, is one thing that I always like seeing from people. If they have that type of mindset that's creative, I would say that's a creative mindset.

Both creative, as we think of in that definition of kind of imaginative, but creative also in the sense of creating things of that they want to basically kind of concretely make the city a better place and use the various tools of city government to do that and create the different infrastructures needed for that to carry on both during their term and the terms of those who serve after. 

Yeah, I'll just add I think the other piece is just a willingness to really see people to be I think one of the things that makes some of the older folks is that they're just unwilling to let in people who are different, people who they don't sort of think of as a part of the community, whatever that weird thing is. And so I think some of the best City Councilors are people who really see all the people who see all of their residents as residents and care deeply about them regardless of those things.

And then I think the other is just to be brave. I just really think there's one of my favorite diddies that one political activist said is every elected official is progressive about the level of government they don't have power over. So you'll see a lot of City Councilors, they'll be happy to vote on motions that they don't have, that they enact, but then when they have a position of power, they don't do the right thing or vote the right way because it's actually really difficult.

I have a small window into that on the zoning board in Worcester. I know what it's like. They'll come in and they'll say, like, we are going to spend $3 million on this thing, and it's a person, right? And you're like, that's a lot of money.

And it is really hard to then stick to your guns and stick to your values and to really, with that sort of pressure, somebody's running for City Council in Worcester entirely on adding gas stations to the city. Like, imagine that's like a 2023 thing that you're doing, and the City Council doesn't have power over it. The zoning board voted it down.

We got together a bunch of people who are like, no, what are we doing? We have 60 gas stations. We don't need more gas stations. This is ridiculous, right? But there was a lot of pressure.

The city came down pretty hard on us. They were like, we need the 67th gas station. And we were just like, but no, that's our job is to be like, is this something that's needed for our community? I think there was a lot of pressure, and I think we still did the right thing.

But I think it is tough. It is tough. I think you need bravery is another piece to it.

Absolutely. Anna, what do you think makes a good city councilor? 

Well, these guys convinced me that I had to let y'all know that I'm running for city council in Medford. It is a weird, it does feel like a breaking of the fourth wall, you know, our podcast about state politics.

But I will say and when I talk to people at the doors, I mentioned this, as I call it, my special sauce, right? I think that the most important thing that any city councilor can do is really to prioritize their time in the community, listening to the people who are not likely to come and reach out to you. So we've talked before on this podcast about how the people who are most likely to reach out to their city councilors or to any elected official are the people who are wealthier. They're more likely to be homeowners, they're more likely to be wider, more likely to have a higher education than the average person.

And frankly, the number of people who reach out to you is a pretty small percentage of the population of your city. So if you want to really understand the lives and the concerns and the needs of those people who aren't reaching out to you, you're going to have to do it yourself. You're going to have to go out there.

And this is part of what I'm really excited to do, is to go out of my way to set up meetings with not one at a time, right? Because it's hard to reach 65,000 people one at a time. But, like, groups of people, which I think when you have a conversation with, when you facilitate a conversation with a group of people who know each other, right? You go to a Haitian church, you go to the senior center, you go to the Tufts specific group of college kids, whatever it might be, and you get them talking about their lives. Then they also brainstorm about ideas and solutions.

A lot of times they've already talked about solutions and what they need and then really learning and taking in that information, but prioritizing that time that you spend listening, not to the usual suspects, not to the self-selected people who come to you, but to those people who will never come to you, most likely. That's one of the things I think is most important.

Jonathan, I loved what you said about working with other cities. I think being, to me, and I often tell this because I was a software developer for 10-12 years. And so I like to say, in the software engineering world, junior developers often want to build their own code. They want to write their own code. And senior engineers understand that really, you want to use existing pieces as much as possible and don't build something from scratch. Don't reinvent the wheel.

Right? And so this, I think when working with other cities, that's a lot of what it's about. It takes a really long time to write legislation if you're not a trained lawyer and you can't be an expert in every subject. So being willing to say, hey, we're not the first city to do this, we're not the only city to have an idea, let's look at many other cities policies on this.

We'll compare, we'll contrast, we'll get some expert help, hopefully pro bono, hopefully free help from people who are experts. And a lot of that you can get from volunteers in your city, which engages them in democracy in a really deep level. So those are things that I think are important and I think are good things to look for in city councilors.

Anna, one thing that I wanted to tag in with what you were saying is it reminds me of the line that I always like to use about how 90% of politics is just showing up. And I think that's true of campaigns, and I think that's also even true of the experience of being somebody in office about how much that value of showing up, because you need to actually hear from people. The ideas for your ordinances don't exist in your head just by themselves.

They don't just come out of nothing there. It has to come from listening to people. And I particularly appreciated your point of not just listening to the people who will always show up and know how to show up and thinking about how to make sure that those who don't have the high degree of civic engagement already still have the ability to be heard.

Yeah, I was thinking a lot about our former city manager, now housing director for the state, who met once a week. I think he inherited this unfairness. It wasn't his decision, but met once a week with the chamber of commerce, and because he was unelected, never met with regular voters.

And so unless you had a problem and you came into his office, he wasn't interacting. And even the best of people, because I don't think he's a bad person. I think he has relatively sort of liberal ideas.

I think even in the best case scenario, if you hear one drumbeat all the time and you don't have to consistently engage with the people with everyday lives, there's no way for it not to skew your sort of worldview, even in the best case scenario. 

Absolutely great. Final words on the election?  Vote on or before November 7 in your local city election, if you live in a city.

Actually, let me go ahead and ask Jonathan specifically anything about Boston that you think would be helpful for people to know where they can get information, because so many people do live in Boston. 

Yes. One thing that I would note in terms of Boston elections, do confirm your polling location before you vote. There are certain parts of the city that had seen their precincts redrawn quite recently and that often led to new polling locations or just the polling locations changed. I know near me in the city and I live kind of at the intersection of back Bay Fenway in the south end that in my ward two thirds of all voters saw their polling location change kind of last year due to either re-precincting or new polling locations. So wherever you are in the state will tell you your polling location. 

If you go to the Boston elections department website you can find the early voting sites for this week as well as where the dropboxes are located around the city. One thing that I will tag in as well on the point of since we are taping on Halloween, it reminds me of for a long time on Twitter now, I have had my name is Jonathan Boo and Vote Cohn, which stems some years ago, back when people were changing their names on Twitter for Halloween.

And I didn't think I had any good clever way of changing Jonathan or changing Cohn. And the elections were coming up and it was kind of in part a response to I've never liked the line that former President Barack Obama would often use about like, don't boo, vote. Because I think you need to do both. You still have your right to boo all of the elected officials if they are doing bad things but you should also vote to get in better people and that they are both necessary parts of the process.

Fantastic. Love it. Wonderful.

Well, thanks everybody. 

Make sure if you live in Medford do vote for Anna. 

Why thank you!

That's my unofficial as somebody who doesn't live in Medford position. I don't know, we're not incorporated. We do this for fun, but I guess, I don't know, but not official position from Incorruptibles. She didn't fill out a questionnaire for us.

I was out canvassing for her this weekend. Yes. 

Thanks gang and thanks everyone for listening.

We always love being here with you all and we look forward to talking to you all next week.