Environmentalism leads to electoral politics

Environmentalism leads to electoral politics

Two activists run for Mayor

By David McCorquodale, Green Party of Delaware

Frustrated with government resistance to demands for positive environmental action, Amy Roe and Joseph Car­val­ho, both long time environmental act­ivists, took their activism into the political arena by running for mayor on the Green Party line. From their involvement in local issues they both had a strong base of community support to build solid but challenging campaigns. However, as calls for change fell upon deaf ears, it became increasingly clear trying to take political power was the only option left.

Joe Carvalho
Joe Carvalho

Joseph Carvalho

Joe Carvalho ran for mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts. A life-long resident, Carvalho is a Vietnam era veteran, who was a teacher, coach and social worker. In recent years Carvalho has been involved in numerous community organizations. The most suc­cessful endeavors have been as chair of the Coalition to Stop the New BFI Dump and as president of the Coalition for Respon­sible Siting of LNG facilities. The latter in­volves ongoing vigilance as the Hess Oil Company still has the rights to buy 73 acres where the plant would be sited.

Such efforts had made Carvalho well known to people in Fall River. He gained enough support to survive the preliminary election in August. With four other candidates eliminated, Carvalho faced off against two-time incumbent Will Flana­gan, who garnered more than two and half times as many votes as the five other candidates in the preliminary election.

But the incumbent was not without baggage. The Massachusetts Office of Cam­paign and Political Finance cited Flana­gan twice for accepting individual donations above the legal limit for his campaign. In early 2012 an attempted recall effort stalled mostly due to Flanagan’s firing of a longtime city planner who questioned his decisions. Flanagan also was close to Joseph Ruggerio, who was identified as a member of the New England Cosa Nostra. In mid-October, city employees received an inflammatory email, purportedly from Car­valho, which Carvalho suspected came from the Flanagan campaign team.

Always struggling for funds, Carvalho polled close to 4,000 votes—about half of the total Flanagan received. But a political campaign is only a stage in Carvalho’s ongoing activism on behalf of the citizens and the environment of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Amy Roe. photo by Emily Duck
Amy Roe. photo by Emily Duck

Amy Roe

Long before registering as a Green a few years ago, Amy Roe carried the values of the Green Party. As a long-time resident of Newark, DE, home to the University of Delaware, Roe pursued four different degrees from the U of DE, the last a Ph.D. in Energy and Environmental Policy. An opponent of the use of tar sands oil and of fracking for natural gas, Roe is the conservation chair of the Delaware Sierra Club. In that position she forced the Del­aware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to hold a hearing on the application of the Delaware City refinery, which was requesting to ex­pand the amount of Bakken crude oil it could bring by train to its site.

During June 2013, the Sierra Club met with Data Centers LLC, which wants to build a facility on the U of DE’s STAR campus for high tech businesses along with a gas-fired power plant to supply “reliable energy” to the Data Center. This attempt to greenwash the project by getting the approval of the Sierra Club backfired as Roe understood the significance of the size of the plant—potentially half the size of an ordinary utility energy-generating facility. The plant would generate five times more energy than the entire town of Newark, the University and the STAR campus combined would require. It appeared the Data Center was simply a cover in order to build a power plant, which would be located in the midst of Newark neighborhoods.

Frequenting city council meetings, Roe called the attention of Newark City Coun­cil and city staff to these developments. Eventually it was discovered that the city manager had been in negotiations with the Data Center, the U. of DE and state officials for over a year on this project. The governor of Delaware, Jack Markell, had already pledged $7.5 million to build a gas pipeline, which more than likely would have been routed through a protected scenic state park. Unaware of any of this, residents had only heard of an influx of jobs, which was an exaggerated number.

As the facts about the proposed Data Center became public, Vance Funk resigned as mayor. A special election was set for November 26 to replace the mayor for the remaining period of his term (two more years). Seven candidates emerged, including one current member of city council. Convinced that none of the candidates would represent the interests of Newark residents, Roe felt she had no choice but to run for mayor.

As the election approached, the Data Center formed a united front between the Democratic governor Jack Markell, Re­pub­lican legislators and unions. The Data Cen­ter had people handing out door hangers, making push poll phone calls, and writing scathing letters in the local newspaper that Delaware could become known as hostile to jobs. The Governor publicly attacked John Kowalko, a Democratic member of the legislature who publicly supported Roe, and in whose district the plant would be built and whose residents were extremely concerned about the health risks.

Most of the candidates were following Roe’s lead in calling for more openness in the process, with two not opposing the Data Center idea. Those who were pro-Data Center supported, Polly Sierer, who was pro-business but would not publicly commit to the Data Center. A few days before the election, it was discovered that a PAC, “I Like Polly’s Plan!” was created and had received all of its $45,000 from an organization composed of local business leaders, union officials, and the U of DE’s head of real estate. That amount overshadowed the funds raised by any of the candidates, including Sierer herself.

The divisive issues of the Data Center and the lack of government accountability led to a relatively strong turnout for a special election on a cold rainy Novem­ber day. Roughly 24 percent of the registered city residents voted, about one thousand more than in the previous mayoral election. While Roe won in the districts closest to the proposed power plant location, Sierer was stronger in other areas of the city. Sierer received 1,509 or 41percent of the votes, while Roe received 1,391 or 38 percent.

While a few Greens are bitter about several of the other candidates remaining in the race when it was obvious they would not win, the situation presents a strong scenario for arguing for the introduction of Instant Run-off Voting in Newark elections.

It is clear that the issues surrounding the Data Center and the gas power plant are not over. Meanwhile Roe and other Greens continue advocating for openness and accountability of the Newark City Coun­cil. The residents of the town are now much more aware of the issues and involvement in council meetings is much higher than it has been for years. The Green Party of Delaware celebrates what portends to be the beginning of a growth period for the party after the only close election struggle it has ever waged.

Roe summed up her view of the results with this message to her volunteers: “We lost this election by only 3 percent of the vote in a 7-way race, for which I am very proud. We had very high ethical standards for our campaign and focused our efforts on engaging the issues, respecting other candidates, sharing our vision for the future and offering specific alternatives to improve city affairs. I am proud that we ran an honorable campaign.”

Since the election opposition to building a gas-fired power plant has increased in Newark. The faculty senate at the U of DE voted 43-0 with eight abstentions to oppose such a plant, stating that it was not in keeping with the mission of the Univer­sity or the purported propose of the STAR campus. Hun­dreds of students, faculty and residents demonstrated against such a plant outside a recent U of DE board of trustees meeting. Finally, Newark City Council passed a resolution asking the Del­aware Muni­ci­pal Energy Coun­cil to delay its action on an agreement with the Data Center to purchase energy from such a plant.

On July 10 the Board of Trustees of the University of Delaware terminated its contract with The Data Center LLC. A working group of the board noted many of the issues, which Newark Citizens Against the Power Plant originally pointed out, in its reasoning for justifying the end of the agreement. Whether the U of DE board would have even formed a group to look into the issues without pressure from the citizens of Newark is questionable. This victory shows what is possible when an awakened citizenry confronts the powers-that-be.

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