My endorsements: November 2 City Election

I’m writing to share with you the candidates I am supporting in the Somerville City  Election on Tuesday, November 2.

In this issue:

  • Where, when and how you can vote
  • We are fortunate to have tough decisions to make between many good candidates in this election!!
  • Katjana Ballantyne for Mayor
  • Jake Wilson, Kristen Strezo, Willie Burnley Jr., Charlotte Kelly for Councilor At Large
  • Beatriz Gomez Mouakad or Tessa Bridge for Ward 5 City Councilor; they’re both terrific, I won’t pick one over the other
  • Judy Pineda Neufeld for Ward 7 City Councilor
  • JT Scott for Ward 2 City Councilor

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Where, when and how you can vote

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).  

There will be early in-person voting at City Hall every day for a week starting Saturday, October 23.  See the link below for early voting hours which vary from day to day.

You can also vote by mail, 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 November 2 City Election is Wednesday, October 13.  

For more info on where to vote, early voting and how to vote by mail go to: https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/elections

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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.  There will surely be more forums and debates between now and Election Day.

I have found three organizations’ questionnaires to be particularly helpful in evaluating the candidates:

Ultimately we each have our own set of criteria by which we evaluate the candidates as well as our personal impressions of the candidates.  I try to base my vote on which candidate will do the best job, regardless of how I feel about them personally.  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 they have the toughness and perseverance to implement progressive policies and programs, even when there is fierce public opposition and opponents of those policies are attacking and denouncing them?
  • Do they have an open mind and are they willing to re-evaluate their positions as they learn more about an issue? Will they make thoughtful decisions on what to support, what to oppose, and what to prioritize?
  • Do they have the ability to learn and to learn quickly; can they absorb a lot of new information, sort through and analyze that information, and ask good questions about what they don’t understand in order to uncover weaknesses in arguments?
  • 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, and to deliver public services effectively? 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.

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Katjana Ballantyne for Mayor

I am supporting Katjana Ballantyne for Mayor due to her extensive management and leadership experience, record of accomplishments as the Ward 7 City Councilor for the past eight years, and progressive policy positions.   I see Katjana as more likely to do a good job as Mayor 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.

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 valuable experience. Katjana has also been involved in her daughters’ educations in the SPS as an active parent.

Katjana is able to think strategically in terms of the big picture implications of policy and budget decisions, without losing sight of the important, and too-often overlooked, details that can determine the success of an initiative.  As a City Councilor, her approach to legislating has been all about transparency and inclusion; before she makes final decisions, she makes sure she understands the ins-and-outs of a proposed ordinance, wherever possible ensuring that her understanding is informed by real data.  She then takes the time to reach out to constituents on all sides of the issue, making sure they receive a clear explanation of the proposed legislation, and have a chance to express their opinions, and have their questions answered and concerns acknowledged.  Because she believes in the power of building consensus, Katjana puts the time and energy into exploring options for reasonably addressing significant concerns without compromising the intent and integrity of the initiatives she supports.

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 requirements for large commercial development; she worked for three years with Green and Open Somerville and the Curtatone Administration hammering out a Native Planting Ordinance; she authored a resolution 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 roadway improvements that will enhance safety and traffic flow on Powderhouse Boulevard, get rid of the crazy rotary where it meets Alewife Brook Parkway, and narrow that dangerous road at that intersection.

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. Those small non-profit organizations dealt with many issues that are relevant to Somerville – affordable housing, job training, climate change and environmental justice, violence prevention, and youth-at-risk.  She was the Executive Director of a small non-profit.  Small non-profits have to deal with major organizational challenges as well as specific issues – and without the large budget or staff  that a 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 creating safer streets and to finding ways to reduce our dependence on automobiles without compromising mobility and accessibility.   She submitted excellent responses to the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition questionnaire (see link above).

While Katjana’s policy positions in her campaign have not been as strong and bold as I know her to be from her record and my discussions with her about the issues, I am satisfied that she is committed to most of the policies that are my priorities for what is needed in Somerville. 

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I have great respect, appreciation, admiration, and affection for Will Mbah.   Will has become a highly-regarded leader in our community as a City Councilor.  People like him whether they agree with his political views or not.  Will is able to inspire others to work with and support him. As an immigrant and Black man 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.   He’s had a wide range of jobs, and he can represent and connect with many in our City who are immigrants, or have low-wage jobs, or have been forced to move time and time again. 

Will has been outspoken on a number of issues that I hope will become City policy.  For example, he supports increasing the affordable housing requirement on large projects to 25% from the current 20%.  He has voted for larger cuts in the police department budget than most Councilors and been a leader on the Council in advocating for reimagining policing.  He supports preventing drug overdose deaths through opening safe consumption/injection sites.  And he prioritizes our City government reaching out aggressively to the most marginalized and underrepresented among us. 

But Will is also saying that he will do things that our City government simply does not have the power to do, such as implement rent control, make public transportation free, and “improve tax and utility cost rebates and exemptions for seniors and lower-income homeowners.”  (The power to do these things lies with the State Legislature and the Governor.)

Values and policy positions, in my view, while important, are not the only thing to consider.  Management and leadership experience, being able to get legislation passed, being able to effectively manage the City government and deliver public services are a close second for me. The challenges of leading and managing the City of Somerville now are immense.  There is so much change and development occurring, and so many difficult problems that our City government needs to deal with.  I am supporting Katjana Ballantyne for Mayor because I believe she will be best able to manage the City government and move forward with implementing progressive change that makes residents’ lives better.

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Jake Wilson, Kristen Strezo, Willie Burnley Jr., Charlotte Kelly for Councilor At Large

I had the opportunity and pleasure to sit down for an hour or longer to talk face-to-face with each of the eight At Large candidates.  We each can vote for as many as four candidates for Councilor At Large.  If there are one or two you really want to win, and no others you are wild about, you may want to “bullet” your vote, i.e., vote just for those one or two so that you don’t give their opponents an additional vote.  Here are the four that I will be voting for.

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Jake Wilson for City Councilor At Large

Jake Wilson is my #1 choice for Councilor At Large, the candidate I most want to see elected.  Jake is a strong progressive, knowledgeable and analytical, but is not ideologically driven.  He looks deeply into the issues and the facts. He asks a lot of questions.  He knows how to work effectively with people of different backgrounds and views.  I think he would be a positive force on the City Council.

A particular focus for Jake is families with children.  He has worked selflessly for many years in two organizations that make a big difference in the lives of many children and families: Somerville Youth Soccer League (SYSL) and Friends of the Healey School.  SYSL involves over 1,000 kids and in recent years has done successful outreach to include immigrant and low-income children.  Youth sports are important in the social lives and health of children -- and often their parents as well.  The Healey School has many students from the Mystic Public Housing Development and its student body is one of the lowest-income and highest immigrant percentage in the City.  Jake has devoted enormous amounts of time to both of these organizations and made a huge difference in their work.

Jake has thoughtful progressive views and is a strong environmentalist.  I am particularly enthusiastic about Jake’s commitment to the most important life-and-death issues in Somerville: safe injection sites and safe streets.  Take a look at his excellent responses to the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition questionnaire (see link above).  Jake has said that if elected, he wants to serve on the Council’s Traffic and Parking Committee.  To me, pedestrian safety, along with drug overdoses from opioids, are by far the most important public safety issues in Somerville.  We’ve had five pedestrians killed by motor vehicles in the past three years.  In 2020, 14 Somerville residents died of drug overdoses.   

Traffic and parking issues are also critical for reducing the City’s carbon footprint and making better use of the huge amount of our precious public space (Somerville is only 4.1 square miles) that is currently devoted to storing and moving motor vehicles.  We will need champions like Jake on the City Council to make the controversial decisions necessary to continue to make our streets safer, reduce the demand for parking, decrease motor vehicle travel and support other, healthier and more environmentally-friendly, forms of mobility.

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Kristen Strezo for City Councilor At Large

I'll be voting to re-elect Kristen Strezo because she understands that the most important role of government is to help those in our society who need help the most.  She focuses her work, her caring and her attention on those marginalized, underrepresented, and often needy constituencies.  Kristen herself lives in affordable housing and is a single mother of two children.  So she understands and can personally relate to the struggles that many people in Somerville experience. She speaks up for them.

In her first term, Kristen has been a champion for affordable housing, for women, for childcare, for people with disabilities, and for families with children.  She's focused on issues of life and death in Somerville: environmental justice and safe streets, and she supports safe injection (overdose prevention) sites.  While we have disagreed on some issues, such as police department staffing and funding, she pushes aggressively and passionately for what she and the constituents she represents believe in.

Kristen is a hard worker and she is out there in the community, meeting people where they are at and listening to their struggles, concerns and issues. Next year, there will be at least five new City Councilors (out of a total of 11).  As an incumbent, Kristen knows how things work in the City, knows the players, and knows how to do the job.

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Willie Burnley Jr. for City Councilor At Large

I’ll be voting for Willie Burnley Jr. because he will push the edge of the policy envelope on the City Council.  I think it is important to have a few Councilors who are pushing hard for changes that may not seem politically possible and that many people are uncomfortable with.  Willie is an organizer who understands power, how to get things done and how to win.  He’s been involved in organizing in Somerville on affordable housing and police issues, and he’s worked as a staffer on both Senator Ed Markey’s and Elizabeth Warren’s campaigns.

(Full disclosure: Willie is friend and a former housemate of my daughter and lived for a year in a property that my family owns; he was my tenant and I was his landlord.)  I have known Willie for three years and I’ve had many discussions with him about political issues and politics in Somerville, most of them before he was a candidate.  I know he is thoughtful, intelligent, knowledgeable and well-read. 

Positive political and social change is easy to talk about but rarely easy to implement because it often arouses intense opposition.  Willie is part of a movement – Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Our Revolution Somerville (ORS).  These organizations have many members in Somerville who care deeply and will work hard to support progressive change.  Willie will be a leader on affordable housing and tenant protections, requiring developers to sign community benefits agreements, safe streets, environmental justice, addressing climate change and other key issues.  And he will have an organized movement to back him up.

While I disagree strongly with Willie’s position to defund and eventually abolish the police, this is only one issue.  And I know that he will be advocating for changes in the Somerville Police Department that I believe are desperately needed.  Given the failure of the City Council this year to make significant cuts in the Somerville Police Department (SPD) budget and reallocate those funds for greater positive community impact, there will need to be significant political pressure to effect change in the SPD.  It won’t be easy to reimagine policing, assert civilian control over the police department, and use funds that currently go to SPD to establish a non-armed emergency response agency (made up of social workers, mental health counselors, drug counselors, youth workers, homelessness advocates, etc.).  Willie will represent and mobilize residents who want to change and improve policing in Somerville and who will advocate for a host of other progressive changes as well.  

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Charlotte Kelly for City Councilor At Large

I am supporting Charlotte Kelly for many of the same reasons that I am supporting Willey Burnley Jr.  While I don’t know Charlotte as well as I do Willie, they are closely aligned politically and have a similar focus on helping the most marginalized and underrepresented residents by enacting progressive legislation and programs to address major problems in our community.  Many of the things that I have said above in support of Willie’s positions on the issues are also true about Charlotte.

Two things in particular about Charlotte as a candidate stand out for me and bode well for her service on the City Council should she win election. 

The first is that she has a lot of experience as a political organizer, at a variety of levels.  She was Executive Director of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, the organization that brought thousands of people together and successfully advocated for a $1.5 billion increase in state public school funding.  These funds will make the biggest difference in school districts that serve the poorest and most disadvantaged children.  And she was Field Director for State Senator Pat Jehlen’s re-election campaign in 2016. 

Second, Charlotte and her family have a long history in Somerville. Charlotte grew up in neighboring Medford and graduated from Medford High School.  Charlotte’s mother grew up in West Somerville and her grandmother still lives there. So Charlotte has a lifelong history and understanding of our City, the different cultures here, and the challenges we face.  Ten years ago, one could say this about most candidates for public office in Somerville.   Now, many candidates haven’t even lived here for 10 years.  While I would never vote for a candidate just because they are a “lifelong Somerville resident,” I do think it is valuable to have elected officials with extensive lived experience and relationships in Somerville.

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    Beatriz_Gómez-Mouakad.jpg               Tessa_Bridge.jpg

BEATRIZ GOMEZ MOUAKAD;                 TESSA BRIDGE

Beatriz Gomez Mouakad or Tessa Bridge for Ward 5 City Councilor; they’re both terrific, I won’t pick one over the other

These two women are both so terrific I simply cannot chose one over the other.  Both would be excellent City Councilors. They have different focuses but both have impressive strengths.   

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 longtime Ward 5 resident who has been deeply involved in 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 in and under our streets, as well as much private real estate development that is regulated and overseen by City staff.  Beatriz would bring expertise on construction and building issues that would be an asset.

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 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 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 passed without those ORS-supported candidates in office.  Tessa was also a key community organizer in support of the Somerville Public Schools paraprofessionals’ successful campaign to get a big salary increase to $25,000 a year.

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. 

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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; her leadership in strengthening immigrant services within the Somerville City government; because of her longstanding commitment and work in support of progressive values and politics – including her tenure as the Executive Director of Emerge, an organization committed to encouraging and mentoring women interested in running for public office; 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  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.

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JT Scott for Ward 2 City Councilor

I'm supporting Ward 2 Councilor JT Scott for re-election on November 2 because he is an incredibly smart, hardworking, progressive, passionate and impactful force on the City Council.  I've seen scores of Aldermen and City Councilors in action in my 35 years in Somerville, and JT is one of the most effective.  He works hard, does his homework, does extensive research, and analyzes issues deeply. 

JT is a champion for progressive policies and organizations.  JT and I have worked closely together on issues such as developing the City's Tree Protection Ordinance, zoning, and making thoughtful cuts in the police department budget.  While we often disagree on things and don’t vote the same way on the Council, JT makes significant contributions to the Council’s discussions and debates.  I always find his positions thoughtful, well-researched, and well-argued. 

Ward 2 may be the most challenging ward for a Ward Councilor due to the enormous changes taking place in Union Square and the massive redevelopment in Union Square and Boynton Yards.  The Ward 2 Councilor needs to understand complex development proposals put forward by developers in order to help neighbors weigh in and make sure that the neighborhood and the community are not taken advantage of by developers.  I've attended many development project meetings that JT has facilitated, and he is masterful.  This is an important role that a Ward Councilor plays.  The City needs a Ward 2 Councilor with the skills, smarts and commitment to the community's well-being that JT Scott has proven that he has.

Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 City Councilor

mark@markniedergang.com 617 629-8033

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published this page in Updates 2021-10-06 16:42:58 -0400

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