Mark Niedergang first came to Somerville in 1975 to attend Tufts University. He has lived in Somerville for more than 30 years because he loves this “wonderful, diverse, dynamic, close-knit” city.
In 1986, Mark earned a master’s degree in International Relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, where he studied international economics and American foreign policy. He returned to Somerville and rented a third-floor apartment on Liberty Avenue. He lived there for 11 years before buying the two-family on Conwell Street in which he lives with his family.
Mark grew up in New York City, where his grandparents had settled when they immigrated from Poland and Russia. In the U.S. they found freedom, worked hard, earned a modest living, and encouraged their children to seize the opportunity America provided for them.
Mark’s father was an infantryman in combat in France and Germany in World War II, attended Harvard Law School on the GI Bill, worked as a real estate lawyer, and taught his children to be ethical and have a sense of civic responsibility. His mother was a bookkeeper who taught them thrift and sound financial management…as well as how to cook and bake.
In Somerville, Mark found a city of honest, unpretentious working people and immigrants, like his grandparents, as well as professionals, like his parents. He found a place with an exceptionally strong sense of community and an unusually high level of participation by residents in volunteer activities. He fell in love with Somerville.
He then fell in love with Marya Axner, an artist, potter and art teacher, who had come to Somerville from Portland, Oregon to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Education. They’ve now been married 21 years. (Marya currently works as the Director of the New England Jewish Labor Committee.) In 1997, they bought a house on Conwell Street, where they found lots of trees and shade, peace and quiet, welcoming neighbors, and room to plant a garden. Their daughter Rae went through the Somerville Public Schools and received an excellent education, attending the Healey School and Somerville High School. She is now a student at Tufts University.
As a young adult, Mark had a lot of different jobs, including dishwasher, carpenter’s apprentice, and youth worker. Since 1982, he has worked for or consulted to a broad array of nonprofit organizations, working to make them more effective and efficient and helping them to accomplish their missions and goals.
From 1995 through 1998, he worked in the administration of Mayor Michael Capuano. He was a Planner in the Mayor’s Office of Human Services and the Grant Manager in the Somerville Police Department. Mark raised more than $1.5 million to support community policing, domestic violence-prevention training, police computer and technology upgrades, and the Cops and Kids program.
During this time, he helped create and won funding for the Somerville Conversations Project. From 1996 to 2003 it brought together thousands of diverse Somerville residents to discuss matters of mutual concern and civic action, issues such as building strong
neighborhoods, school improvement, youth development, and racism and race relations.
Mark currently works as the Project Manager for a small research center at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Center of Excellence. Funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, the mission of the PDMP Center of Excellence is to help stop the prescription drug abuse epidemic by providing evaluation and analysis to help state prescription drug monitoring programs operate more effectively.
Over the years, Mark has volunteered with and helped lead a variety of Somerville nonprofit and service organizations, including serving as President of the Somerville Community Corporation, the primary developer of affordable housing in Somerville, and on the Board of Eagle Eye Institute, a youth-development organization that “uses the power of nature to transform urban youth.” He was Executive Director, served on the Board, and taught Sunday school for 10 years at Congregation B’nai Brith, the synagogue on Central Street.
Since his daughter was in kindergarten, Mark has worked to improve the Somerville Public Schools, as a classroom volunteer, tutor, parent leader, community activist, and, since 2005, as the Ward 5 School Committee representative. You can find some of the positive changes he has helped to accomplish in the School Committee section of this website.
Mark is a lifelong Democrat, has volunteered on many local and statewide campaigns of Democratic candidates, and is an elected member of the Ward 5 Democratic City Committee.
Mark loves baseball and played Little League, Babe Ruth League, high school and adult league softball until a few years ago, when the many School Committee meetings on May and June evenings forced him into retirement. He hopes to play again someday. While he grew up in New York City as a Yankees fan, he discovered the error of his ways when he came to Somerville in 1975 and has been an ardent Red Sox fan since then. He enjoys gardening and yard work, reading, singing, and hiking.