Not running for re-election in November 2021

cropped_1st_summer_2005_family_foto.jpg cropped_2020_Family_photo_1.jpg

Left: Rae. Marya and Mark, Summer 2005; Right: Mark, Marya and Rae, Fall 2020

Dear Ward 5 neighbors, Somerville community members, friends, and supporters,

I am writing to let you know that I will not be a candidate for re-election for Ward 5 City Councilor in the November 2, 2021 City election. The past 15 years serving on the School Committee and City Council have been the highlight of my work life. I am grateful to have had this opportunity and grateful to have met and worked with so many caring, committed, smart and wonderful people.

I will serve out my full current term through the end of 2021. I look forward to continuing in my current role and working with you for the next year. So it is way too early for you to say goodbye to me! Or for me or anyone else to reflect on the 15 years that I have had the privilege to represent Ward 5 in Somerville -- first on the School Committee for eight years and now on the Council for seven. There is more to come!

I make this announcement now because I want to give potential candidates time to talk with family and friends and prepare to run a campaign and serve in 2022 if elected. I’m happy to talk with anyone who is considering running for Ward 5 City Council about what it’s like to campaign and what it’s like to do the job. Don’t hesitate to contact me.

I care deeply about Somerville and especially the many people I know who live in Ward 5. I want us to have a hardworking, capable and progressive representative on the City Council. I hope there will be a bunch of candidates and that they will engage in constructive discussion and debate about the issues and the challenges we face to maintain Somerville as a mixed-income and diverse community. Elections are always about the future.

I am looking forward to a productive 2021 on the City Council and to making progress on affordable housing, civilian oversight and reimagining the Somerville Police Department, weighing in on appointments to key City Boards and real-estate development projects (especially in Ward 5), and helping to add more open space and trees and addressing climate change at the local level. I serve on the Legislative Matters Committee, which develops most of the new or revised ordinances for the Council, and on the Land Use Committee, which develops and considers zoning amendments, so those will continue to be priorities for me.

I am the Chair of the City Council Traffic and Parking Committee, and traffic calming is one of the top concerns of Ward 5 residents. I have been an urban cyclist for almost 50 years. I worked closely with former Councilor-at-Large Stephanie Hirsch on pedestrian safety before she moved back to Wisconsin. For these reasons, my primary focus and top goal will be to make major progress on traffic calming -- especially pedestrian safety and bicyclist safety. Leah Zallman was the fourth pedestrian to be killed on our streets in the last two years. I want to work with the Mayor, City staff in the Mobility and Parking Departments, my colleagues, members of the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee, the Bicycle Committee, and the many committed activists in the community so that her death is the last. Pedestrian safety is a public health and public safety crisis in Somerville! It is past time for the City to commit the money for staff and infrastructure so that you don’t have to take your life in your hands when you cross the street.

I am not planning to run for any other elected position. I will be almost 67 ½ years old on December 31, 2021 (God willing). While being a City Councilor is wonderful in many ways, it is a challenging and often difficult job that requires a lot of energy and many night meetings, some of them going quite late. The City Council has had an infusion of younger, smart, talented, hardworking and committed members in recent years. It is a strong and capable group that works well together. I am sure I will be missed, but the show will go on and it will be a good show without me.

I have 100 ideas about what to do with my time starting in 2022 but no idea which of them I will actually want to pursue. I expect to continue to do volunteer work of various sorts, including political work and advocacy work. And I expect to continue to be involved in public life here in our City, but in a different way.

There are so many people I want to thank and appreciate for their help and for working together with me. I hope to have the opportunity to do so in person in the coming year. Hopefully that will be possible.

For now, I do want to offer some preliminary thank yous. Perhaps that is premature as I still have over a year on the City Council, but it’s never a bad time to be grateful and say thanks.

First of all, I want to thank the Ward 5 voters who elected me eight times.

Thank you to the many volunteers who worked on my campaigns and the donors who contributed their hard-earned money to my Campaign Committee.

Thank you to my Campaign Committee/Kitchen Cabinet. This wonderful group of about two dozen people helped me win elections, gave me good counsel on political matters, and advised me wisely on the key issues that we have grappled with in Somerville over the years.

Thank you to my Campaign Manager Mary Regan. I have been so lucky that Mary has stuck with me since 2013! Her excellent advice, organizing ability, communications skills, and progressive values have helped me enormously. And to Sarah Fischman, who ran my first campaign for School Committee in 2005, which I won by only 50 votes.

Thank you to the many community members who have given me feedback, input, advice, criticism and advocated on the issues over the years. And to those who worked with me developing legislation and policies. It would be impossible to do this job well without the concerns, perspectives and information that community members regularly share with us Councilors. Many of you are more knowledgeable than I am on specific issues and I have learned so much from emails and discussions with you.

Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 City Councilor

About Mark Niedergang

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.

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