Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Profiles In Discouraged – Part IV

Southbridge's Two Party System         

Kenneth M. O’Brien 

Southbridge’s political system is technically “non-partisan”.

Candidates for public office are not identified by any form of label as belonging to any political party.

However, over the last 15 years that has changed. The following is, of necessity, an abbreviated summary of the course of events that have shaped the current political landscape.

The watershed event occurred around the turn of the millennium with the “restore confidence” campaign spearheaded by former Southbridge resident and would-be political ubermeister Ron Chernisky.

In reality this was a thinly disguised effort to unseat the then town manager.

Following its success the core of this group became a strong source in support of local, compliant business interests. The key base of support was in the Downtown Business Partnership.

In subsequent elections they developed and broadened their base of support among managerial and public safety town employees,

The next major development in the evolution of what I will henceforth call the “Confidence Party” or “Cons” revolved around a budgetary crisis in the schools that led to a proposed proposition 2-1/2 override. The failure of this proposal led to numerous teacher layoffs.

The next major evolution of the “Cons” came with the transition in management of the town’s landfill from Wood Recycling to Casella. A close alliance then emerged between the town manager and the “Cons”. In addition, the “Cons” expanded their game to engaging elements of the teaching community through their support of ancillary programs such as the restoration of the previously aborted Recreation Committee. This became increasingly central with the downward spiral in the community’s economic fortunes. These misfortunes resulted in the decline of the Downtown Business Partnership as a meaningful power base.

As things currently stand, the “Cons” game is built upon a three-legged stool. First is unwavering support of the interests of Casella. Second is a close alliance with the Town Manager that employs his appointment power to the benefit of their adherents. Third is support of town employees’ financial interests that ensures the “Cons” electoral success.

The first organized effort to counter the Cons developed in relation to the Proposition 2-1/2 override issue. With the defeat of the override proposal, this group quickly disappeared.

The next major organized opposition arose from the landfill issue. This comprised a widely based group concerned with what was seen as the exploitation of a town resource at the expense of the environment. I will refer to this as the “My Environment” party.

A number of advocates arose in this group opposing the landfill expansion as well as ancillary issues both locally and in adjacent communities. Several candidates for town council sided with this group and advocated their position. Over time, however, the core group of advocates devolved into feuding elements each seeking to portray themselves as the true champions of the cause betrayed by the ego-based interests of others.

Those who were not allied with the Confidence Party, sought to ally themselves with the various factions of the “My Environment” group to establish an electoral base. In so doing, they failed to develop any electoral platform other than their opposition to the landfill and the access road issue. While there was much posturing on the need to improve the business climate and bring business to the community, there were little more than platitudes and the reliance on the appeal of personality.

The “My Environment” Party (the “ME” party) achieved a short-lived victory with the restoration of a three-member Board of Health at the end of 2010.

However, their loss in a special election last month led to a virtually total cave-in on the issue of renewing the contract of the current town manager. I use the term “cave-in” advisedly in light of their evaluations of the town manager as provided on Speak Out Southbridge. It can also be assumed that the prior five-member Board of Health will be restored by the new majority to the benefit of Casella.

The ME party has apparently adopted a new strategy. The basis of this strategy is perhaps best summarized by the words of former Senator Arlen Specter in his words as reported in a campaign ad by his primary opponent Joe Sestak.

Perhaps they have forgotten how that worked out for Specter.

Lest I be perceived as overly critical, I offer the following visual gift to my friends on the council:



  1. There is a third party Those people in town with above average IQs. They know who they are so I don't have to mention names. I shall call them the "IQ" Party. These people have the leadership qualities to help the "ME" Party unite against the "CON" Party. The so-called "ME" Party is, after all, not just concerned about the environment. There's also the health of the citizens of Southbridge. So in a way, the "MEs" are really the "US" Party. Although sometimes I admit, they seem fractured. This is where the "IQs" could help unite the "MEs" and even bridge the gap between the "MEs" and the "CONs." Unfortunately, the "IQ" Party also stands for something else. You see, when the going gets tough, when push comes to shove, the "IQs" always seem to throw in the towel. So the "IQ" party also stands for the "I Quit" Party.

  2. Good history lesson and analysis from both Ken and MikeM. The Cons are effective because they are purely power and profit driven and they have their system entrenched in town hall and the local media. Winning makes them wealthier. The MEs and IQs are quality of life driven. They are susceptible to missteps and lapses because they have to earn an unrelated income. The CON system needs to be dismantled via relentless corruption and conflict of interest probes at the State and Fed level as well as exposure through new media sources.


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