The Hill and the Hall Week in Review
Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week: The fight for the soul of Somerville.
Somerville does few things better than eat its young. It has to. The city is so solidly Democratic that if its politicians didn’t cannibalize each other, there would be nothing for anybody to do—no scheming, no name-calling, no axes cleaving the backsides of inattentive bystanders. No savagery at all. The boredom would become insufferable. The city would become Arlington, or something.
There’s no danger of that happening, thankfully.
The city’s lust for internecine conflict last made headlines in November, when Mayor Joe Curtatone faced down Richard Scirocco, an alleged batterer who had been arrested for providing alcohol to minors. That wasn’t exciting enough, so Lenny DiCiccio, a longtime Curtatone family friend, godfather to the mayor’s brother, and brains (the term is employed loosely) behind the Scirocco campaign, allegedly warned Curtatone supporters, “Don’t stand too close to the mayor this weekend,” because, “We’re going to bury this guy.” Curtatone responded by securing a police detail.
“It was the only excitement we had in the damn thing,” DiCiccio complained later. DiCiccio has also revealed that he only ran Scirocco against the mayor in the first place because Curtatone wouldn’t put him on the city licensing commission: “He said I was going to shake everybody down for liquor licenses, so I stuck Rick in the race just to make him spend some money.”
This particular brand of bloodlust will be on display again come September, when two-term State Rep. Carl Sciortino will try to beat back a challenge from Alderman Bob Trane. Both men are Democrats, so the race will hinge less on actual issues than on name-calling and revenge politics. As it should.
Sciortino took the seat in 2004 by bouncing an entrenched Rep, Vinnie Ciampa, in what was essentially a gay-marriage vote. Among the more interesting turns of phrase bandied about was the labeling of Sciortino as a, “homosexual, anti-Catholic extremist.” Those charges didn’t stick, and the Globe declared the contest a bellwether race in the city’s transformation from rotting townie dump to insufferable yuppie enclave.
Somerville’s progressives, falling solidly in the latter camp, used the momentum from Sciortino’s election to elevate Pat Jehlen to the Senate, and slide Denise Provost into Jehlen’s House seat.
But that wasn’t enough. They got greedy. Or bored. It doesn’t matter now. Whatever it was, they appeared set on replacing every vanilla Dem in town with a tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show. And that, predictably enough, has brought some wicked retribution to Sciortino’s doorstep.
A progressive candidate, Beacon Hill staffer Rachel Heller, challenged Trane in last November’s alderman race. Sciortino endorsed her – a significant affront to the incumbent, if you assume that “Democrat” and “Progressive Democrat” aren’t completely antithetical. Heller lost, but not before throwing a few wild swings at Trane, including an eleventh–hour flyer that implied that the alderman was on the take and hated poor people.
Then Heller took another run at Trane in February, fielding a Democratic City Committee slate on primary day that succeeded in bouncing some of the alderman’s allies off the committee. Trane called the fact that anybody had actually bothered to contest the race, “out of left field.”
And that, it seems, was enough to provoke a blood feud.
Trane didn’t just respond by taking a run at an incumbent state rep from his own party, he launched a barrage of vitriolic gibberish at Sciortino, calling the rep, “absolutely an elitist,” and, “out of touch with the district.”
Elitist and out of touch? That doesn’t sound familiar, does it? But in this case, those words are a lot more than just empty, shameless pandering. The politics of gentrification and identity are unusually raw in the district Sciortino and Trane are fighting over, and elitism is a remarkably loaded charge (or, if you’re on the receiving end, slur).
There’s a real cultural chasm between Sciortino’s natural base and Trane’s. The utterly filthy Curtatone-Scirocco-DiCiccio fracas was just bored guys busting balls, but here, in the combatants’ minds at least, the city’s future is on the line. Which is to say, the race has the potential to be very nasty. And a hell of a lot of fun to watch.