Etel Haxhiaj and her family were sitting down for dinner Friday when they heard it: a bang against the side of the house.
“It shook the living room,” said Haxhiaj, a progressive member of the Worcester City Council and the first Muslim to serve on it, on Sunday. Outside, they found a baseball in the shrubs by the porch, and the nine political lawn signs she had, for herself and others, were strewn about the yard.
Also at the end of last week, another city councilor, Donna Colorio, a Republican, said her car was egged while it was outside of her home a couple of days after someone scrawled “racist” on one of her signs in front of another house.
Colorio, who described herself as on “the opposite side” of the political spectrum from Haxhiaj, said in an interview Sunday afternoon: “Normal people don’t like that — Etel being targeted or me being targeted. Just don’t do this.”
It’s been a nasty election cycle this year in Worcester, where debates around homelessness, crisis-pregnancy centers, and the governmental system of the city are at the core of heated arguments, further inflamed by the current national mood of superheated politics.
And Haxhiaj said there’s been a “wave of hate” during this election season, with a lot of “personal attacks and harassment.”
“This isn’t a story of an isolated incident,” she said.
Haxhiaj said she’s been the target of personal attacks, particularly online, for her progressive stances around issues such as homelessness. She called the incident at her home “political targeting.”
Mayor Joseph Petty of Worcester, denounced the incident involving Haxhiaj.
“I want to make it unequivocally clear that violence against any individual, including current city councilors running for office, has no place in our democratic process,” he said in a statement.
Worcester police spokesman Lieutenant Sean Murtha said Haxhiaj made a police report, though it was not publicly available Sunday.
Murtha said the department receives complaints about lawn signs “disappearing” during most election cycles.
But, he said, “Reports of vandalism like this are unusual.”
Haxhiaj advanced through the preliminary election Tuesday in efforts to keep her Worcester district council seat.
Facing her in the November election will be Jose Rivera, a businessman and former boxer who’s politically unenrolled and describes himself as a moderate.
Rivera denounced the incident at Haxhiaj’s home and said that’s something that should not be part of how the political fight plays out.
“Worcester can do better,” Rivera said in a phone interview Sunday.
He said he hasn’t had any such incidents at his home, but he said he’s faced angry voters and seen posts online about thefts of lawn signs supporting him.
“I’ve never seen Worcester politics get to this level,” Rivera said. “I’m not sure why it’s getting this way.”
Nationally, political debate has been increasingly enflamed in recent years. But local politics are also increasingly the forum for debate on national issues such as immigration and identity politics.
This is far from the first time in Worcester’s history that its politics have been contentious, but the City Council, has become well known for its frequent meetings extended by digressions and arguments.