• My endorsements for Sept 14 Preliminary Election; where & how to vote

    I’m writing to share with you the candidates I am supporting in the Somerville City Preliminary Election on Tuesday, September 14. 

    Many Somerville polling locations have changed in the past couple of years, so if you are voting in person, make sure you know where to go.  Of particular interest to folks in Ward 5 – Ward 5 Precinct 2 now votes at the Kennedy School (NOT the Brown School), and Ward 5 Precinct 3 now also votes at the Kennedy School (NOT the Engine 7 Fire Station).   

    You can also vote by mail in the Preliminary Election, and those ballots are available now -- but be aware of the deadlines for both application and receipt of your ballot.  If you are not registered to vote in Somerville, the deadline to register to vote in the September 14 Preliminary is August 25.  

    More info on where to vote and how to vote by mail is below, at the end of this email.

    In this issue:

    • We are fortunate to have tough decisions to make between many good candidates in this election!!
    • Katjana Ballantyne for Mayor
    • Beatriz Gomez Mouakad or Tessa Bridge for Ward 5 City Councilor; I can’t pick one over the other at this point
    • Judy Pineda Neufeld for Ward 7 City Councilor
    • A short guide on how and where to vote in the Preliminary Election – by mail or on September 14 in person

     * * * * * * * * * *

    We are fortunate to have tough decisions to make between many good candidates in this election!!

    I urge you to do your own research on the candidates and decide for yourself.  You can find lots of information on their websites and Facebook pages.  There have also been numerous forums and questionnaires organized by the Somerville Media Center, Somerville Democratic City Committee, Somerville Chamber of Commerce, Community Action Agency of Somerville, Somerville Property Owners Coalition and Our Revolution Somerville. Almost all of these are viewable or readable on line, just google the organization to find their website.

    Ultimately we each have our own set of criteria by which we evaluate the candidates as well as our personal impressions of the candidates.  For me, the factors I take into account in evaluating a candidate are, roughly in this priority order:

    • Do I agree with their values and their policy positions?
    • Do I think they have the toughness and perseverance to implement important policies and programs, even when there is fierce public opposition and opponents of those policies are attacking and denouncing them in the media and in the community?
    • Do they have the ability to learn quickly, absorb a lot of new information, to sort through and analyze that information, to ask good questions about what they don’t understand and to uncover weaknesses in arguments, and to make discriminating decisions on what to support, what to oppose, and what to prioritize?
    • For Mayor: Do they have the experience in government and with leadership and management of large organizations that will enable them to lead and manage the City of Somerville, a large and complex organization? The City of Somerville is a large enterprise, with 1,000 employees and contractors and expenditures of many hundreds of millions of dollars a year. 
    • For Mayor: Do they have the knowledge and experience to thrive in the cultural and political environments of Somerville, the region and the state and federal governments? Many of Somerville’s challenges are regional, and since the City of Somerville often needs support from the state government to get things done, a Mayor needs to work effectively outside of Somerville to achieve our goals.

    Katjana_Ballantyne_2.jpg

    Katjana Ballantyne for Mayor

    After a month of intense consideration between Mary Cassesso and Katjana Ballantyne, I have decided to support Katjana Ballantyne for Mayor. I think they would both do a good job as Mayor. They both have extensive management and leadership experience. They are both progressive in their policy positions. I am going to try to explain why I have chosen Katjana over Mary for my vote, and why I see them as stronger candidates than Will Mbah, whose candidacy I believe also has merit.

    Because of her experience in City government, Katjana would be able to get important stuff done that will make a difference in people’s lives. In her eight years as a City Councilor, she has worked effectively with other leaders in and out of Somerville. While other candidates may be able to learn and grow into the job, doing so will not be quick and easy. Any new Mayor will be overwhelmed from day one.

    Katjana was the President of the City Council for two years and she did an excellent job. During those two years, she served on the School Committee as the Council representative. The Mayor plays a key role in determining the school budget and is involved in many school issues, and the Somerville Public Schools (SPS) is by far the largest City department, so this is important experience. Katjana has also been involved in her daughters’ educations in the SPS as an active parent, so she understands our schools from that perspective as well.

    Katjana has been the foremost leader on environmental and climate change issues on the City Council, sponsoring key ordinances and zoning amendments. For example, she championed a zoning amendment to require LEED Platinum building efficiency requirements for large, new commercial development; she worked for three years with Green and Open Somerville and the Administration to develop the Native Planting Ordinance; she authored and sponsored a resolution supporting the Green New Deal that lays out a detailed roadmap for a Somerville Green New Deal, see: http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_LegiFile.aspx?ID=21627&highlightTerms=green%20new%20deal

    On affordable housing, Katjana led and managed the process to redevelop the decrepit Clarendon Hill (North Street) Public Housing Development. This will result not only in replacement of those 200 public housing units but the construction of an additional 100 workforce housing units and 300 market rate units. As part of this project, she helped secure state funds for important roadway improvements that will enhance safety and traffic flow on Powderhouse Boulevard and the rotary where it meets Alewife Brook Parkway.

    Another strength that Katjana would bring as Mayor is her broad range of professional experience.  She worked in a large international business and in many small non-profit organizations. The small non-profit organizations that Katjana has worked for dealt with many issues that are important in Somerville – affordable housing, job training, climate change and environmental justice, violence prevention, youth-at-risk, and others.  She was the Executive Director of a small non-profit.  Small non-profits have to deal with major organizational challenges as well as the issues they work on -- and without the large budget or staff  that the Somerville city government has.  This teaches a leader to be resourceful, to do more with less, to prioritize, and to get the most important things done. 

    Katjana’s family does not have a car.  This is remarkable for a family of five, one of whom is her 90-year-old father.  It demonstrates her personal commitment to safe streets and to changing the way that people get around town.  She submitted excellent responses to the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition questionnaire, which also covers affordable housing, real estate development and climate change issues, see: https://www.visionzerocoalition.org/2021_somerville_mayor

    In evaluating candidates, I seek out the views of community leaders in Somerville whose advocacy, hard work and values I respect and admire.  The endorsements and testimonials on Katjana’s website are impressive. I know many of these people well and regard their opinions highly.  There is also great racial and cultural diversity among her endorsers.  I encourage you to take a look at these two pages on her website: https://katjana.org/en/testimonials and https://katjana.org/en/endorsements

    While Katjana is not the most progressive candidate in the race, I am satisfied that she is committed to most of the progressive policies that I think are important.  We don’t agree on some issues, but I don’t need to agree with every position a candidate has in order to vote for them.

    * * *

    Broad professional experience is also a strength that Mary Cassesso also has, in City government, state government, as Dean of the Harvard University Dental School, and at the Cambridge Health Alliance.  I first got to know Mary Cassesso when I served for four years as the City Council representative on the Affordable  Housing Trust Fund, which Mary served on for 30 years and chaired for many years.  I have also gotten to know her in her capacity as the Director of Community Affairs for the Cambridge Health Alliance.  Mary has been an incredibly dedicated public servant and effective manager in large organizations for decades. She has worked mostly in agencies and departments that provide safety net services.  I greatly admire and appreciate her commitment to helping the people who most need help in Somerville and greater Boston.  Mary is able to express and articulate empathy, compassion and caring in words that I find inspiring.  She has a strong progressive approach to policy and similar values to my own.   If you are going to vote for her, I won’t argue with you! 

    I’ve spent a lot of time the last month learning about Mary’s policy positions and views on City issues.   Many of these views are still in formation. Mary has a lot of experience with affordable housing and public health issues, but she appears to be catching up on other important issues and with the current structure and policies of the Somerville city government.  She is smart, quick on her feet and a fast learner, but there is a lot to learn in a short amount of time. She has never run for elected office and has no experience as an elected official.  She’s not a politician.  Some people will believe that is a strength and a reason to support her, but I don’t.  Like any challenging business or profession, learning how to do the job of an elected official takes years.  It’s a role that is very public and exposed – which makes it different from most other leadership roles, with some unique pressures and demands that are not easy to adjust to. 

    * * *

    I have great respect, appreciation, admiration, and affection for Will Mbah.   As an immigrant who arrived in the U.S. 10 years ago and has lived in Somerville for less time than that, he has had to overcome many challenges.  In that short time period, Will has become a highly-regarded leader in our community and a City Councilor.  People in Somerville like him whether they agree with his political views or not.  Will is able to inspire others to work with and support him.

    I would say that of all the candidates for Mayor, Will is the one who best expresses my values and political views.  His positions on a number of issues are stronger and more progressive than any other Mayoral candidate’s, such as proposing that the affordable housing requirement on large projects to be increased to 25% from the current 20%, calling for “community led development,” and stating clearly that our City government must make huge efforts to reach out to, include and benefit the most marginalized and underrepresented among us. 

    * * *

    However, values and policy positions, in my view, while the most important thing in a candidate, are not the only thing to consider.  Management and leadership experience and being able to get things done are a close second for me. The challenges of leading and managing the City of Somerville at this period in time are immense.  There is so much change and development occurring.  That is why I am supporting Katjana Ballantyne for Mayor: she is ready and able.

    * * * * * * * * * *

     Beatriz_Gómez-Mouakad.jpg  Tessa_Bridge.jpg

    Beatriz Gomez Mouakad;                 Tessa Bridge

    Beatriz Gomez Mouakad or Tessa Bridge for Ward 5 City Councilor

    I feel a bit sheepish not making a clear choice in this three-candidate race.  But Beatriz and Tessa are both such strong candidates and would be excellent City Councilors. They have very different but impressive strengths.  With what I know about them now, I’m not ready to choose one over the other.  I hope they both make it into the final so we have some more time to consider their candidacies.   

    I’ll start with Beatriz Gomez Mouakad, since I have known her longer.  (Full disclosure: Beatriz was a member of my “Kitchen Cabinet,” for three years.  This is a group of about two-dozen, mostly-Ward 5 residents  that I convene a few times a year for frank discussions and to give me advice on politics and policy.) 

    Beatriz is a long-time Ward 5 resident who has been deeply involved in the community life for 15 years.  She’s served on several City and non-profit boards.  She has a down-to-earth, on-the-ground understanding of and engagement in key issues in Ward 5 such as safe streets and traffic calming, open space and trees, and the small local businesses in Ball and Magoun Squares. For many years, she has been communicating with me about various City and Somerville Public School issues.  We have had many long discussions about these issues.  While I haven’t always agreed with her, I have always found what she has shared with me to be valuable.

    Beatriz would bring a special perspective to the City Council in two key ways: she has experience in government and other large organizations as well as expertise about construction and buildings.  She is an architect and works as a project manager on large construction projects.  She worked for MassPort, for Just-a-Start (an affordable housing developer) and currently she’s overseeing a major construction project for a hospital.  Some of the biggest issues and problems in our city right now concern City-owned and School buildings.  There is also a lot of infrastructure construction going on and under our streets, as well as a huge amount of private real estate development that is regulated and overseen by City staff.  Beatriz would bring expertise on construction and building issues that would be a huge asset on the Council.

    Beatriz is from Puerto Rico and is a native Spanish speaker, with strong ties to the Latino community in Somerville.  This community is among those most in need of help from the City government. Beatriz would offer, as a City Councilor, both representation and an ear for Latinos in Somerville.  She would also provide deep insight into the challenges faced by Latinos from different countries, cultures and backgrounds.

    You might say, “Given how highly you regard Beatriz, how can you not support her?”  My answer is that Tessa Bridge is also a terrific candidate, someone who I believe would be tremendously effective as a City Councilor and political leader in the City.

    Tessa would bring to the Council a focus, understanding, and commitment to enacting key policies that would make a difference for large number of residents of Somerville. She is focused on what I consider to be the most important issues in the City.  She has articulated clearly what those issues are and what she would do to address them.  She understands power and how to develop the leverage needed to create political change.  She is an experienced organizer and facilitator and would be able to work with other Councilors and community organizations to develop the political pressure that is needed to build support for new solutions to old problems.

    Tessa’s work is in training and coaching.  She is a co-founder of Canopy Equity Coaching, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting company that supports organizations to become anti-racist.  This is an important area of work that the City Council and the City government have only just started to take on.  She would be an asset in this work. 

    I have observed Tessa in action as an effective organizer and leader in two important campaigns in Somerville.  She was one of the leaders of Our Revolution Somerville (ORS) at its inception, and one of the key leaders in that organization’s success in the 2017 City elections, when three of their endorsed candidates, JT Scott, Ben Ewen-Campen and Will Mbah defeated incumbents.  Elections have consequences.  The 2017 election changed the City Council for the better, leading to a host of progressive policies and programs in the following years that would likely not have been enacted if those ORS-supported candidates had not been elected.  Tessa was also a key community organizer in support of the Somerville Public Schools paraprofessionals’ campaign to get a living wage of $25,000 a year, which was successful.

    Tessa has articulated a clear and focused set of policy priorities for Somerville.  While I do not consider myself a socialist, I agree with all of Tessa’s major policy priorities, except her support for a 10% cut in the police budget each of the next two years. (I have been, over the past three years, along with J.T. Scott, the strongest advocate on the Council for significant cuts in the Somerville Police Department budget to fund other, more urgent public safety and community needs.  But I did not base proposed cuts on a percentage figure, but rather on unneeded positions.)  Bottom line: even if I disagree strongly with a particular candidate’s position on some issues, I may still support them. 

    * * * * * * * * * *

    Judy_Pineda_Neufeld_2.jpg

    Judy Pineda Neufeld for Ward 7 City Councilor

    I have known Judy for over 15 years, and have always admired and respected her work and her commitment to social justice and political change.  This has been her life’s work.  I am supporting Judy because of her experience living in Somerville and working for the Somerville City government, because of her longstanding commitment and work in support of progressive values and politics, because of her commitment and demonstrated success working to help those who most need government's help, and because of her deep understanding and nuanced views on the major issues that face the City.

    Judy currently works as a strategic planner and has spent her career developing comprehensive plans for city departments and large national non-profits. Most recently she has been leading the city of Somerville through the Covid-19 crisis as the head of the Immigrant Services Unit.  Judy is a Mexican-American and Jewish woman, and the daughter of immigrants. She brings a keen understanding of cultural competency that helps her value diverse perspectives and find commonalities where others cannot.  

    With at least five new City Councilors coming into office in 2022, it is especially important at this time to add Councilors to the mix who have experience in Somerville government and politics and will know how to advocate effectively for the progressive policies that can address the major issues that our community and City face.

    I have been impressed by Becca Miller and Alex Anderson as candidates, and believe they have a bright political future.  I appreciate Becca’s strong progressive views  and commitment to social justice.  Alex is the only candidate who has spoken out about what I believe is the #1 public safety issue in Somerville: pedestrian safety.  A lot more people are being killed in Somerville by motor vehicles than by guns, knives or violence. 

    * * * * * * * * * *

    vote.jpg

    A short guide on how and where to vote in the Preliminary Election – by mail or on September 14 in person

    If you are not registered to vote in Somerville, the deadline to register for  the September 14 Preliminary Election is August 25.   Information about how to register to vote is here: https://www.somervillema.gov/page/register-vote

    Many Somerville polling locations have changed in the past couple of years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors, so if you are voting in person, make sure you know where to go!

    Note that in Ward 5: Ward 5 Precinct 2 now votes at the Kennedy School on Cherry Street  (NOT at the Brown School), and Ward 5 Precinct 3 now also votes at the Kennedy School (NOT at the Engine 7 Fire Station).  

    To find the correct polling place for your precinct in any ward, go to: https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/elections/polling-places

    If you are not sure which precinct you live in, you can look that up for your address here: https://www.somervillema.gov/mysomerville

    All polling places in Somerville are open from 7 AM to 8 PM.

    You can also vote by mail in the Preliminary Election, and those ballots are available now -- but be aware of the deadlines for both application and receipt of your ballot.  You can get complete instructions including where to mail or drop off your ballot and all the forms you need to vote by mail in the September 14 Preliminary Election here: https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/elections/vote-mail

    But be aware of the deadlines for both application and receipt of your ballot.  This is from the City website: 

    Important Deadlines for the September 14, 2021 Preliminary Election

    • September 8, Applications: 
      Completed applications to vote by mail must be received (not postmarked) by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, September 8, in order to vote by mail in the September 14 Preliminary Election. 
    • September 14, Ballots: 
      Voter mail-in ballots must be received (not postmarked) by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, September 14.

    You can also vote by absentee ballot.  This is somewhat similar to voting by mail, but the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is later than for voting by mail -- noon on Monday September 13.  So if you were planning to vote in person but something comes up in the week before the election and you can’t, you could go up to City Hall and get an absentee ballot.  For instructions, see: https://www.somervillema.gov/absenteevoting

    Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 City Councilor

    mark@markniedergang.com 617 629-8033

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