Who I’m voting for and supporting in Nov 7 City election

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I’m writing to share with you who I will be voting for and who I am supporting in the Somerville City election on Tuesday, November 7th.

First and foremost, please vote.  This is when your vote counts most.  Unlike a Presidential election or state election, in a City election turnout is usually quite low, around 20% of the voters.  A small number of votes can make the difference.  In Somerville, elections are often decided by less than 50 votes.  One person who speaks to a dozen friends, neighbors and family and asks them to vote for a candidate can swing an election. 

If you live in Ward 5, I would appreciate your vote.  I am running unopposed, so you might think that your vote doesn’t matter.  But your vote would be an expression of support for me and the work that I do as the Ward 5 Alderman, and that means a great deal to me.  I do not take it for granted.

Here are the candidates I will be voting for or am supporting, with some reasons why.  I am happy to hear your thoughts or discuss my choices with you over the phone or face-to-face. 

I begin with Aldermen-at-Large, then the contested Ward Aldermen and School Committee races, and conclude with my endorsement for Mayor.  Because the position of Mayor is so important in Somerville -- the Mayor has so much power here due to the strong Mayor form of government in the City Charter – I conclude with some lengthy discussion about the record of the Curtatone Administration.

Thank you for your consideration of my opinions regarding the upcoming election.

Alderman-at-Large -- Note: Each of us can vote for up to four candidates for Alderman-at-Large.  The order reflects my priorities.

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Bill White, Alderman-at-Large

I cannot emphasize how important it is to re-elect Bill White.  Bill has been President of the Board of Aldermen (BOA) for five years now, and he has been a superb leader in that capacity.  He makes all of us Aldermen do our jobs better.  He is tremendously knowledgeable, experienced and capable.  We share similar progressive values.  I turn to him frequently for help in getting ordinances drafted, trying to figure out how to address important issues and solve problems, and just figuring out how best to proceed to make the changes that are needed to improve life in Somerville.  Bill is everything one could ask for in a leader.   https://aldermanwhite.org/

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Stephanie Hirsch, Alderman-at-Large

I am pleased to endorse and vote for Stephanie Hirsch for Alderman-at-Large. Stephanie would be a terrific Alderman.  I have known Stephanie for a decade. She is incredibly smart, hard-working and knowledgeable about City issues and government. She cares deeply about helping people and families, especially those who are worst off.  She loves Somerville and has already committed a decade of her working life to it. She is passionate about the issues and not afraid to take on big ones. Her heart follows her head: she is a data geek, but her analysis moves her to act to change things for the better. She is independent and thinks for herself, often in unusual and insightful ways.  She is a mother of three children and has worked hard to make our public schools the excellent schools they are, both as a parent and a data analyst. Learn more about her on her Facebook page and at http://www.stephanieforsomerville.com/

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Mary Jo Rossetti, Alderman-at-Large

I’ve served with Mary Jo for 12 years. We were together for eight years on the School Committee and four years as Aldermen.  I have come to deeply respect Mary Jo and to appreciate her as a colleague.  She is extremely hardworking, diligent and comes prepared to every meeting.  She really cares about helping all types of people throughout the City and makes great efforts to represent people.  She is determined and persistent in trying to solve problems.  She asks tons of questions and is unafraid to challenge anyone in the Administration.  She has done a terrific job as Chair of the Legislative Matters Committee, in which takes place deliberation on all the ordinances (laws) that the BOA considers. https://www.facebook.com/AldermanRossetti/

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Will Mbah, Alderman-at-Large

I got to know Will over the last couple of years, talking with him at the many City meetings he has attended. When I heard him speak at public hearings, I was impressed.  Will is a thoughtful and caring person, married, and father of a young child, and he speaks five languages.  He is also really committed to Somerville.  He’s made huge efforts to find an apartment in Somerville when he had to move – five times in the last six years!  The fact that Will is a renter is actually one of the reasons I support him – almost all elected officials in Somerville are homeowners, but two thirds of our population are renters.  Renters need representation.

Will is passionately on the side of working people, and cares deeply about the issues that I care about – affordable housing, development that benefits residents and the City, fair treatment and a welcoming hand to immigrants, and decent wages and treatment for workers.  I see Will as part of the next generation of progressive leaders in Somerville. 

Will has triumphed over adversity that I, and many people born in the U.S., have never had to face. Originally from Cameroon, Will went to university in Sweden, immigrated to the U.S. on a green card in 2010 and became a citizen in 2015.  As a recent immigrant, he has a set of experiences that will enable him to represent a significant part of Somerville’s population, one that has no representation in elected positions.  Given the challenges that Will has overcome, I have no doubt that he will learn quickly and master the job of Alderman-at-Large if he wins. http://www.willmbah.com/

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Matt McLaughlin, Ward 1 Alderman

If you live in Ward 1, please vote for Matt McLaughlin, who is running for a third two-year term.  Matt is a terrific Alderman. He is hard-working and responsive to Ward 1 residents, constantly pushing City officials to respond to problems on the ground, whether it’s rats, traffic, trees, or development projects. Matt is progressive and outspoken, both on Ward 1 and citywide issues. He has provided important leadership on affordable housing, addiction and opioid abuse, immigrant issues, youth, labor unions, and veterans. (Matt is an Iraq war veteran.)  With Somerville’s strong Mayor form of government, one of the most important responsibilities for the BOA is to provide a check and balance to (any) Mayor’s power.  Matt does this as well as any of us; he has challenged the Administration when they are off course. Raised in Somerville, he has lifelong ties to many residents, and he understands the challenges many families are facing in today’s gentrifying Somerville. For more info about Matt, go to http://matthewmclaughlin.nationbuilder.com/

A note about the Ward 2 and Ward 3 Alderman races

I am not taking a position on these contests.  I know all four of the candidates pretty well, and I think highly of all of them.  I believe that all of them would do a good job representing their Wards.   I will be pleased to work closely with whoever wins these two races.   

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Jesse Clingan, Ward 4 Alderman

If you live in Ward 4, I urge you to vote for Jesse Clingan. Jesse has already made significant contributions to the community. He’d do a great job representing Ward 4 residents. I first met Jesse when he was organizing community events and meetings for Somerville Overcoming Addiction, a grassroots organization which has raised public awareness about the epidemic of opioid abuse and other drug addiction.  He’s pushed City government for more progressive policies on handling addiction, with great success.

What has especially impressed me about Jesse’s leadership is his humility.  He did most of his leading from behind, and seems uninterested in being in the limelight. He is a family man and has been very involved in youth sports.

Jesse is an independent voice; he would be beholden to only the residents of Ward 4.  He shares my progressive values and commitment to more affordable housing.  He understands personally how important that is, having been forced to move out of the City himself at one point.  Ward 4 has a lot of problems, and desperately needs good leadership to bring people together to tackle them.  I believe Jesse will be able to do that.  For more info about Jesse, go to http://www.jesseclingan.org/

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Emily Ackman, Ward 1 School Committee

If you live in Ward 1, I urge you to vote for Emily Ackman.  It is hard to imagine a more impressive or qualified candidate for School Committee than Emily.  She is the mother of two young children, has been a teacher, has worked as a researcher for the Massachusetts Dept. of Education, and has a Ph. D. in education policy.  She is a homeowner and a Board Member of East Somerville Main Streets.  All in all, she has over a decade of experience in public education, and she also attended public school in Cambridge from kindergarten through high school.  She understands the role of the School Committee (i.e., it is not to run programs or volunteer in a school but is a policy-making board position working closely with the Superintendent of Schools).  Since over half of the Somerville City budget goes to fund our public schools, and since our children are the future, we all have an interest in a strong School Committee, whether we have kids or not.   http://emilyackman.com/#!/home

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Dan Futrell, Ward 2 School Committee

If you live in Ward 2, I encourage you to vote to re-elect Dan Futrell who has represented Ward 2 on the School Committee for four years.  Dan has been focused on balancing social and emotional learning with the traditional requirements of academic instruction.  He has a remarkable life story which I encourage you to read on his website.  He started life as a foster child, got help from teachers, friends, and coaches, went to college on an ROTC scholarship, served as a US Army Infantry officer in Iraq, and got a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard.  He is the Board Chair of the Community Action Agency of Somerville, which runs the Head Start program and works to lift families out of poverty.  If re-elected, Dan will continue to focus our schools on helping every child realize their full potential.  For more information, see http://www.danfutrell.com/about.


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Joe Curtatone, Mayor

I am supporting Joe Curtatone for Mayor and will vote for him because he is the only viable candidate.  Being the Mayor of a City like Somerville is a tough job.  Running a City with a budget of over $230 million and hundreds of employees is not something I want to entrust to someone without experience, maturity and judgment.

Somerville’s strong Mayor form of government is enshrined in the City Charter, which can only be changed through a home rule petition to the State Legislature that the Mayor himself must sign.  That makes it difficult to limit the power of the Mayor.  Because of the strong Mayor form of government in Somerville, the executive branch has most of the power in our City.   

We are at a key point in the history of our City, when decisions made now will shape what our City looks like and feels like – and who will be able to live here – for decades, perhaps generations to come.  The City is being remade by real estate development and changes that technology and a new urbanism are bringing.  Many of these are positive changes, but some are not.  It is up to our elected leaders to support the positive changes and fight the negative ones, and be clear about which are which.  We must honor our past and our traditions while supporting innovation that makes our residents’ lives better. 

Because the position of Mayor is so important, I am going to share with you my assessment of Joe Curtatone’s tenure as our Mayor.  Despite the many important things his Administration has accomplished and the leadership he has provided, I have mixed feelings about the performance of our Mayor of 14 years.  Below, you can read some of the great things I think he has done and the reasons I support him.  Further below, you can read about some of his policies and actions that I find deeply troubling and not in the City’s best interests.

Despite these disagreements and disappointments, I will be voting for Joe Curtatone for Mayor.  He has made a significant positive difference for Somerville as an elected leader here for more than 20 years.  But Somerville faces a new set of problems now, due to development and gentrification, and these problems require a different approach from our Mayor.  I have seen Joe Curtatone grow and change for the better in his time in public office.  I write this assessment in the hope that over the next two years he continues to grow and change for the better. 

Mayor Curtatone has been the longest-serving Mayor in Somerville’s history, and he has helped transform Somerville to a happening place where huge numbers of people want to live, work, play and hang out.  He is intelligent and knowledgeable, a family man with four kids, and after 14 years, still engaged on a day-to-day basis with what’s going on in the City. He works hard. 

 He and his Administration have many outstanding accomplishments:

  • Provided strong leadership and support for the Somerville Public Schools.  He has perhaps been, along with former Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi, the most important person in taking our schools from between bad and mediocre 15 years ago to one of the top urban school districts in the nation today.
  • Provided excellent financial stewardship for the City, navigating us through the worst recession of the past 100 years with relatively few cuts and less pain than most surrounding communities.  In doing so, he had to do some deeply unpopular things.
  • Created a culture of hard work and innovation in our City government, and made many superb hires of talented professionals who have transformed the way the City operates.
  • Lead the way in the successful development of Assembly Square, and is making progress on the redevelopment of Union Square as Somerville’s central business district -- two long-term goals that no other Mayor has accomplished.
  • Provided visionary leadership on climate change and environmental issues and set an ambitious goal for Somerville to be carbon neutral by 2050.
  • Provided courageous and upstanding leadership in support of immigrants’ rights, even when, as recently as 5-10 years ago, this was politically unpopular in Somerville.
  • Spoken out against racism and hung the Black Lives Matter banner over City Hall, which garnered much support but also deeply angered many people in Somerville.
  • Provided effective City services and been responsive to constituents’ needs, with the innovative 311 program, effective public works, and the best snow removal in the region.
  • Improved the Somerville Police Department by pushing for more community policing and taking the Chief’s position out of civil service, and then appointing a progressive and capable Chief in David Fallon. 
  • Supported music and the arts, and promoted the eclectic, offbeat, funky vibe that so many people love about Somerville.
  • There are many other accomplishments of the Curtatone Administration; too many to write up here.

Nonetheless, I strongly disagree with some of his policies on the most important and challenging issues we face. I am deeply concerned about the direction in which Mayor Curtatone is leading our City.  I have expressed these concerns frequently in public, and I discuss them with the Mayor in our one-on-one meetings every six weeks or so.  Here are the key areas where I am hoping the Mayor will do better in his next term:

  • Affordable Housing – After many years in which the Mayor and most Aldermen did not see this as a major issue, we saw a change after a bunch of progressive candidates won Aldermen’s seats in 2013.  Now the Mayor clearly gets it and has proposed some bold steps to develop a lot more affordable housing.  This can only be done by raising enough money to take large numbers of housing units out of the private market and making them permanently affordable.  He talks about “not losing our soul.”  But he hasn’t done nearly enough to fight the powerful tide of gentrification that may be changing Somerville forever, turning it from the diverse, mixed-income community we love into one in which only wealthy people can afford to live.  I have been pushing the Mayor to do more and faster, and to hire more staff to work on affordable housing issues. But he hasn’t done it, yet.   The City’s Housing Department is too understaffed to accomplish a lot quickly.  While the Mayor talks a good game, from his Administration’s actions, one would not know that we are in a crisis, an affordable housing emergency, which if not addressed will change the very nature and feel of Somerville.
  • Real estate development -- The Mayor, in my opinion, has been too quick to protect the interests of developers - especially big developers  in the City.  We see this not only in decisions made directly by the Administration, but in decisions made by critical City bodies such as the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA) and the Planning Board, whose staff work is done by members of his Administration.  The Mayor appoints the members of these bodies, subject to approval by the BOA.  The BOA, and I, share some of the blame – we have made mistakes by approving some appointments.  But the Mayor has been unwilling to subject his appointees to re-confirmation by the BOA when their terms expire.  Unfortunately, this is permitted by state law.  So the people who serve on these key Boards and make critical decisions about development in our neighborhoods are not accountable to anyone except the Mayor.  The SRA and the Planning Board have made some terrible decisions that advance the interests of developers at the expense of Somerville residents.

The Mayor seems to have, in particular, a bias in favor of large, powerful developers such as Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT, Assembly Square) and Union Square Station Associates (US2, Union Square).  There is a consistent pattern of this Administration providing favorable treatment and unreasonably good terms at residents’ and taxpayers’ expense to major developers.  Some examples are the Master Land Disposition Agreement negotiated with US2 by the Administration and approved by the SRA; the Development Covenant for Union Square negotiated between the Mayor and US2; and the affordable housing waiver agreement for the 500-unit development on Block 8 in Assembly Square that allowed FRIT to provide less than the 20% of affordable housing that is now required for large apartment buildings.  This was negotiated by the Administration with FRIT and approved by the Planning Board.  Put simply, the Mayor and his Administration have not gotten the best deals for the City in negotiations with these developers; in fact, these developers have eaten our lunch.

While nobody can document a cause-effect relationship, Mayor Curtatone gets large campaign contributions from developers, their family members and their hired agents -- lawyers, architects, engineers, etc.  These have amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars during his 14 years in office.  This is all perfectly legal, unfortunately.  But in my opinion, it is unethical – especially now, when development is our #1 issue.  A reasonable person would wonder if large sums in campaign contributions from developers would influence an elected official’s actions towards those developers.  Perhaps not consciously…but it is human to act favorably towards those who help us out.  And, as the saying goes, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”  I do not take campaign contributions from for-profit developers, their family members or their agents.  And I don’t think the Mayor or other Aldermen should either.

  • Poor treatment of and bad relationships with unions.  The City unions, especially the Somerville Municipal Employees Association (SMEA), which represents the largest number of non-school City workers, have complained publicly and bitterly about the way the Curtatone Administration has treated them.  (The School Committee negotiates with the Somerville Teachers Association and the other school unions, largely without rancor.)   The Mayor has alienated many unionized City employees by not negotiating in good faith (for example, trying to get rid of the Evergreen Clause, which is standard in municipal employee contracts throughout Massachusetts) and by taking extremely tough positions in negotiations. While non-union employees have received generous (and well-deserved) raises in recent years, City unions have been fighting unsuccessfully for the salary increases they too deserve.  In addition, the Mayor has not established a climate in which developers are expected to use union labor for large developments in Somerville, as have neighboring cities like Boston and Cambridge.  Union labor ensures decent wages, benefits and working conditions for the workers.  The Mayor has not spoken out about bad labor practices in the building trades, well-documented by the Carpenters Union, by contractors working for FRIT in Assembly Square. From his Administration’s actions, many people have concluded that this Administration does not really care about working people.  It looks like the Mayor has played hardball with unions, but softball with developers.  It should be the other way around.
  • An apparent lack of concern for the many senior citizen homeowners in Somerville who are house rich and cash poor.  Many of these folks live on fixed incomes and are having trouble keeping up with rising taxes and fees, but they now live in million dollar homes.  It is heartbreaking to hear so many of them talk in public about their fear of being forced to sell their homes and move out of the City.  There are state tax deferment and exemption programs that could help some, as could some financial counseling, but the Administration has done little to reach out to our seniors to help them navigate the financial squeeze they find themselves in.  This should be a priority, since these are the people who lived here through bad times and good.
  • Nepotism, patronage and personnel issues – While rewarding your friends with City jobs and punishing your enemies is typical of big city mayors and has certainly been done by past Mayors, that does not make it OK.  The Mayor has rewarded three former Aldermen and many other supporters with jobs, sometimes high-paying jobs for which they were not clearly qualified.  (Under the leadership of Ward 4 Alderman Tony Lafuente, the BOA passed an anti-nepotism ordinance in 2014 to stop the practice of Aldermen getting City jobs soon after leaving their elected position.)  The Curtatone Administration has also manipulated civil service rules to advance the job prospects of favored applicants for the Fire and Police Department.  It has treated some employees unreasonably favorably, and others shockingly harshly, apparently for personal reasons.

If you’ve read this far, to the end, thank you!  If you want to share your thoughts, or ask me more about mine, please give me a call at (617) 629-8033 or talk to me when you see me around.


Sincerely,

Mark Niedergang

Ward 5 Alderman

617-629-8033

Mark@MarkNiedergang.com

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