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Businesses, Developers, Ex-Politicians Pour Money into Worcester’s Election

By Tom Marino | October 30, 2023
Last Updated: January 4, 2024

WORCESTER – A coalition of 43 business executives, businesses, developers, real estate firms, former politicians, lawyers, and others have contributed over $57,000 to a Super PAC that has spent $21,511  in October to influence voters in Worcester’s municipal elections.

According to its most recent required filing with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance (OCPF), on Oct. 25, the Progress Worcester Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee had $35,814 in the bank to spend through election day on Nov. 7, according to the disclosure state law requires Super PACs.

All the funds spent by Progress Worcester through Oct. 25 have been paid to Foundation Blue Media in Quincy for digital ads.

A series of U.S. supreme Court decisions enables businesses and individuals to contribute unlimited sums to an Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee, often called a Super PAC, to support or oppose political candidates. One of the few restrictions is that a Super PAC cannot coordinate with a candidate or campaign.

No Craving for Affordable Housing

The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce was the first donor to Progress Worcester in August, contributing $10,000. In September, both the Massachusetts Business Development Corporation and Winn Development contributed $10,000 each. Executives at all three are former City of Worcester officials who served at the highest levels of city government.

Tim Murray was the Mayor of Worcester when city council hired Mike O’Brien as city manager in 2004. In Worcester’s governing system, the mayor is the chair of City Council, which hires the city manager, who is the executive that runs the city government day-to-day. As city manager, O’Brien hired Craig Blais who served as acting chief development officer, director of economic development, and deputy development officer.

In March 2012, Blais became president of the Worcester Business Development Corporation. In May 2013, Murray, then Lt. Governor, resigned to become the president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. In January 2014, O’Brien joined Winn Companies, the parent company of Winn Development, as executive vice president and part of its leadership team.

O’Brien submitted his resignation in November 2013 and announced he’d join Winn in January. Then-City Councilor Barbara Haller commented that it surprised her O’Brien would go to Winn, which focuses on affordable housing. She said affordable housing is something for which O’Brien “never had a particular craving.

Less than ten years later, Worcester finds itself in a housing affordability crisis as “the number one most competitive housing market in he country,” according to Worcester Health and Human Services Commissioner Dr. Matilde “Mattie” Castiel, MD.

In his inaugural address, current Worcester City Councilor Eric Batista called O’Brien his mentor.

YouTube video

Development Hasn’t Trickled Down

Since Murray, O’Brien and Blais transitioned into the private sector over a period of less than two years from 2013 to 2015, all three men have contributed to development in Worcester. Murray is often credited with promoting Worcester as attractive to developers and other businesses. Blais has won millions in grant funding for development of several projects its been involved in, including the Hanover Theatre, Mercantile Center, and the upcoming Greendale Revitalization Initiative.

Murray and Blais have also earned significant compensation for their work. Murray’s salary as Lt. Governor in 2013 was $124,296. At the Worcester Chamber, he earned $283,715 in 2021, the last year information is available at the time of publication. In his first full year at the WBDC in 2013, Blais earned $237,234. He earned $407,802 in 2021.

Both the Worcester Chamber and WBDC are organized as non-profit organizations, which makes executive compensation part of the public record through filings with the IRS. Winn, as a for-profit business, does not have to make the same disclosure, making O’Brien’s compensation unknown. Winn says it owns 250 communities and manages $5 billion in real estate across the U.S. When he left his position as city manager in 2004, his salary was $197,000.

Below is a comparison of the changes in Murray and Blais’ compensation since they joined the private sector. When compared to the median household income and the per capita income of Worcester residents, their income from work has increased over 76 times more than median household income in Worcester, when adjusted for inflation.

Starting Annual
Income (year)
2021 Income Change % Change
Murray $148,764
(2013)
$283,175 134,951 90.71%
Blais $287,342.00
(2013)
$407,802 120,460 41.92%
Worcester Median
Household Income
$55,180.00
(2010)
$56,746 1,566 2.84%
Worcester Per
Capita Income
$31,700.00
(2010)
$30,855 -845 -2.67%

Note: Figures in the column “Starting Annual Income” are inflation adjusted for 2021 dollars. According the the U.S. Census in 2010, the median household income for Worcester residents was $42,887 and per capita income was $24,638. The U.S. Department of Labor CPI Inflation Calculator was used to calculate inflation adjusted figures.

Progress Worcester announced endorsements of incumbent Mayor Joe Petty, councilors at-large Moe Bergman and Kate Toomey. It also endorsed Guillermo Creamer for councilor at-large. Creamer is also a candidate for Mayor. In district races, it endorsed Dave Peterson for the open seat in District One, the incumbent Candy Mero-Carlson in District Two, and the challenger Jose Rivera in District Five.

According to its filing with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, through Oct. 25, Progress Worcester spent funds supporting the following candidates: $6,850 supporting Petty, $2,662 supporting Rivera, $1,691 supporting Peterson, and $798 supporting Mero-Carlson. That leaves the Super PAC with over $37,000, plus any additional contributed funds, available to attempt to influence voters.

NOTE: Voters should not interpret the information presented here as reason to vote for or against anyone. Each voter should make their own determination based on each candidate. This piece is intended to provide information for voters to understand who is paying for these ads designed to influence their decision.

Petty has been on the other side of a Super PAC before. In his run for State Senator in 2022, the Massachusetts Women for Progress Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee spent over $31,000 in support of his opponent, now State Senator Robyn Kennedy.

Other Donors

Richard Burke, CEO of Fallon Health – $250

On Sept. 12, the Worcester Chamber announced the launch of the Worcester Guardian, “an independent, free, nonprofit digital news organization,” and donated $50,000 to the effort. The Guardian announced its nine-member board of directors on Oct. 4, which includes Murray.

Another of its board members, Mary Beth Burke, is a former professor at Assumption University and former interim director of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau.

Thirteen days announcing the board of the Guardian, Richard Burke, the President and CEO of Fallon Health and spouse of Mary Beth Burke, donated $250 to Progress Worcester.

Since 2002, Richard Burke has made 137 political donations totaling $18,175. Burke’s contribution to Progress Worcester is tied with six other transactions for his fourth highest single contribution ever in Massachusetts. Burke donated $500 to Charlie Baker in 2015, $500 to Mitt Romney in 2004, and $400 to Murray in 2009.

In 2023 Burke has donated to Progress Worcester, Petty for $100, and $200 to State Senator Michael Rodriges.

Burke is also the Governor’s appointee to the Worcester Redevelopment Authority. His term expires in 2025.

Ralph Crowley, President, Polar Beverages – $5,000

This donation is the only political contribution Crowley has made in 2023. Crowley contributed $100,000 to the Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment, which aggressively aired advertisements against the ballot question for a tax on income over $1 million. Voters passed the question.

Crowley donated $100 to Petty in 2022 and $100 to Richard Cipro in 2021 in his failed campaign against then-incumbent Sean Rose in District One.

RH Gallo Builders Inc. (Robert Gallo, President) – $2,500

RH Gallo President Robert Gallo contributed $1,200 in 2023, including two $500 contributions to Russell and a $200 contribution to Worcester County District Attorney Joe Early. Jr.

Another director of the company, Janice Gallo, has also donated $500 to Russell this year.

240 Shrewsbury Street, LLC (Jeanne Rafferty) – $2,500

Rafferty’s business lists its address as 238 Shrewsbury St., the same address as the location of Eden Rafferty Attorneys at Law, where her husband Richard Rafferty is a founding partner. According to the firm’s website, Attorney Rafferty “concentrates his practice in the areas of Personal Injury, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Medical Malpractice, and Criminal Law.”

According to property records, Jeanne Rafferty purchased the property at 240 Shrewsbury St. in 2020 for $428,000. She transferred it to the ownership of 240 Shrewsbury St., where she is the only member of management reported to the state, in 2021.

Hmyatim Ventures LLC, (Hassan Yatim) – $2,000

Yatim is a co-owner of the Massachusetts Pirates, who announced last week they will leave Worcester for Lowell.

Yatim is involved in several other ventures, including being the owner of Riverside Gulf at 1530 Concord St. in Framingham, Gulf Station/Chop Chop Convenience at 590 Southbridge St. and 528 Pleasant St. in Worcester, and multiple business entities registered to a virtual office in Marlborough.

He is also co-founder and the former Chief Operating Officer of Yatco Energy, which currently operates 13 retail gas station and convenience stores in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut.

The Glodis Group (Guy Glodis) – $1,000

Former Worcester County Sheriff Guy Glodis started this lobbying firm after a failed bid for State Auditor in 2010. Glodis previously served in the state house and state senate.

His lobbyist registration filing for 2023 says he collected $184,000 in lobbying fees last year. His clients included the State Police Commissioned Officers Association Of Mass., Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, Massachusetts Cemetery Association, Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Massachusetts, and Brennan’s Smoke Shop.

Glodis wote an op-ed in 2020 arguing against the police reform bill then pending at the state house, which eventually passed and is the law, saying the bill “sought to destabilize, defund and demoralize public safety in Massachusetts.” Public safety has neither been destabilized nor defunded.

In 2023, he has made 15 contributions for $2,650, which includes $200 to Bergman and $150 to Toomey. All 15 contributions were to incumbents.

Robert J Hennigan Attorney At Law – $1,000

Hennigan was a city councilor in the 90s and is a local attorney. Most recently, Hennigan was hired by the Diocese of Worcester in 2022 to investigate claims of abuse at the  St. John Food for the Poor Program.

Hennigan’s only other contribution in 2023 is $500 to Petty.

See the full list of donors to Progress Worcester, below.

Another Worcester Super PAC

The Worcester Working Families Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee has also been spending in this election cycle in Worcester. It launched in 2021 and has raised $35,976 while spending $25,733, according to its most recent OCPF filing. This year it received $16,82 and spent $10,946 through Oct. 29 .supporting Jenny Pacillo for the open District One seat, challenger Rob Bilotta in District Two, incumbent Etel Haxhiaj in District Five, At-Large incumbent Thu Nguyen, and Al-Large challengers Johanna Hampton-Dance, Guillermo Creamer, Maydee Morales, Domenica Perrone, and At-Large incumbent and Mayoral challenger Khrystian King.

Worcester Working Families has not received a business contribution in its history. Its largest donation was $6,757.59 received from the Deborah Hall Committee. Hall was a candidate for Worcester City Council in 2021. The contribution was all of the Hall Committee’s remaining funds.

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