Who I am voting for in the Nov 5 City election

Dear Friend --

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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 5th.

First, my focus in this election has been the Councilor-at-Large race.  Please vote for the four incumbents: Bill White, Stephanie Hirsch, Will Mbah, and Mary Jo Rossetti.  They deserve to be re-elected.  Please DO NOT vote for Jack Connolly.  I explain in some detail below, I hope you will read and consider what I have to say.

Second,  please vote!  This is when your vote counts most.  In a Presidential election or state election, your vote is one of millions or one of hundreds-of-thousands.  But in a City election turnout is usually quite low, around 20% of the voters.  This election will have a turnout of around 12-15,000 I would guess.    A small number of votes can make the difference.  In Somerville, elections are often decided by less than 50 votes.  There was an Alderman-at-Large election 20 years ago that was decided by literally one – a single -- vote.  One person who speaks to or emails a dozen friends, neighbors and family and asks them to vote for a candidate can swing an election. 

Third, if you live in Ward 5, I would appreciate your vote.  I am running unopposed (as are all seven of the incumbent Ward Councilors).  So you might think that voting for me doesn’t really matter.  But it does to me!  And to many other politicos who analyze the returns -- especially to see the number of blanks and write-ins, which can indicate an unopposed candidate’s potential vulnerability going forward and the popularity of the policies that candidate supports.  Your vote would be an expression of support for the work that I do and the policies I support as the Ward 5 City Councilor.  That means a great deal to me and I do not take your support for granted. 

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

Councilor-at-Large

The Councilor-at-Large race has drawn the most attention this fall.  There are eight candidates, including the four incumbents, running for four seats.   Each of us can vote for up to four candidates for Councilor-at-Large.  Please vote for the four incumbents: Bill White, Stephanie Hirsch, Will Mbah, and Mary Jo Rossetti.  They deserve to be re-elected.  Please DO NOT vote for Jack Connolly. 

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Bill White for Councilor-at-Large

I cannot emphasize how important it is to re-elect Bill White.  Bill was President of the Board of Aldermen for an unprecedented five straight years, and he was a good leader.  As Chair of the Finance Committee, he has guided the Council superbly in one of its most important responsibilities, overseeing the City budget.  Bill helped me learn the job when I got elected in 2013.  He is someone I continue to turn to discuss issues and how to get things done.  With his 20+ years of experience he makes all of us Councilors do our jobs better.  And Bill was championing progressive policies, especially around real estate development issues, years ago, long before they were politically popular in Somerville.

Bill is an incredible source of institutional and legal knowledge.  As State Representative Denise Provost noted in her October 2019 Newsletter, "Bill White is…a civic treasure. No one on our Council knows more about our municipal finances, long-term debt, zoning law, parliamentary procedure, Somerville history - and many other topics besides.”

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Stephanie Hirsch for Councilor-at-Large

I endorsed Stephanie when she was a challenger two years ago, and I am so glad I did.  She has been a terrific City Councilor.  I have worked closely with her on a range of issues: traffic calming and pedestrian safety; zoning for affordable housing; helping seniors who are house-rich but cash- and income-poor to stay in their homes; porta-potties in parks; and more.  She is 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 devoted a decade of her professional 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, non-dogmatic and often comes up with solutions to problems that are unusual -- but they work.  She understands the mechanics of delivering public services and is attentive to the concerns of people with diverse viewpoints. Stephanie is anything but your typical politician, as evidenced by her recommendation that voters donate to favorite non-profits instead of to her campaign, and by her candid disclosure that she might not be able to serve out her entire term due to potential family care responsibilities, if re-elected. 

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Will Mbah for Councilor-at-Large

Before I endorsed him in 2017 (even though I incorrectly thought he had no chance of winning as a first time candidate and recent immigrant and citizen) I got to know Will by talking with him at the many City meetings he attended. When I heard him speak at public hearings, I was impressed.  Will is a thoughtful and caring person, married, the father of two young children, 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 eight 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 residents are renters.   

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.   

Will has triumphed over adversity that I have never had to face and can hardly imagine. 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 enable him to represent the concerns of a significant part of Somerville’s population, one that has no other representation in elected positions. 

In his first term, Will demonstrated a "passion for inclusion and equity" [Rep. Denise Provost] and a consistent "voice for equity and marginalized communities in Somerville, bringing insights and lived experiences that are so vital to solving the challenges of our community" [School Committee Member Andre Green]. Will also brings to City Council discussions the knowledge of an environmental technologist from his work at MIT.  His values and commitment to environmental and social justice and affordability have informed his votes on the Council.

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Mary Jo Rossetti for Councilor-at-Large

I’ve served with Mary Jo now for 14 years. We were together for eight years on the School Committee and six years as Aldermen/City Councilor.  I have come to respect Mary Jo and to appreciate her as a colleague.  She is hardworking, diligent and comes prepared to every meeting.  She is responsive to constituents.  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 is a deliberative and thoughtful member of the City Council, who strives to ensure that the concerns of advocates, families and long-term City residents don’t get overlooked.  

Please DO NOT vote for Jack Connolly for Councilor-at-Large

My priority in the Councilor-at-Large race is to preserve the progressive and thoughtful makeup of the current City Council, and that means asking people to not vote for Jack Connolly, who has:

  • Worked against affordable housing initiatives in Somerville;
  • Championed big developers as they ignored demands to protect neighborhoods, prevent displacement and provide more community benefits;
  • Used racist rhetoric and campaign literature to win office in 2007, deceptively depicting a Latino opponent as sympathetic to criminal gangs.

Jack was a leader in the fight against increasing the inclusionary affordable housing requirement from 12 ½% to 20%; a leader in arguing for granting Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) a waiver from the full 20% inclusionary housing requirement in Assembly Square; a leader in fighting against the Real Estate Transfer Fee to fund affordable housing; a leader against requiring the Union Square master developer to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement with the Union  Square Neighborhood Council; and the author of the most offensive, racist and fear-mongering campaign literature piece that I have seen in 35 years of involvement in Somerville politics.  For details -- in Jack Connolly's own words and a photo of his racist campaign piece – take three minutes to read the Case Against Jack Connolly at https://medium.com/@strangebuttrue/the-case-against-jack-connolly-538f57cbed46 which contains links to his editorials, legislative proposals, and an image of that despicable campaign mailer.

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Joe Curtatone for Mayor

I am supporting Joe Curtatone for Mayor.  Two years ago, in my election endorsements, I wrote a long and detailed analysis of Mayor Curtatone’s record, describing his  many major accomplishments as well as speaking frankly about some significant negatives in his record. If you are interested, you can find that here: https://www.markniedergang.com/?page=18

I am pleased to say that Mayor Curtatone has dramatically improved in most of the half-dozen areas about which I expressed concern in 2017.  He has been a strong, principled and outstanding leader on affordable housing, establishing the Office of Housing Stability with a top-notch staff of six affordable housing advocates.  He has positioned the City to extract more community benefits from big developers and helped to facilitate the Community Benefits Agreement in Union Square by letting the elected Neighborhood Council negotiate with the Master Developer without interference from City Hall.  He has settled almost all of the outstanding contracts with City unions.

In addition, he has continued the policies that I have long admired and respected.  Mayor Curtatone has whole-heartedly promoted Somerville as a welcoming and tolerant city, especially for immigrants.  The Black Lives Matter banner continues to hang outside City Hall.  He set a goal for Somerville to become carbon neutral by 2050, and he is supporting many initiatives to help Somerville become a "greener" city.  He has hired many top-notch, hard-working, super-competent professionals to work in his Administration, people that we are lucky to have working for us in Somerville. He has worked with the City Council on a wide range of progressive legislation, from being the second city in the U.S. to ban facial recognition technology to a Home Rule Petition so we can develop an ordinance for a tenant right of first refusal to purchase the apartment they live in – something which we are working on right now. 

However, there are still a few areas where I believe Mayor Curtatone needs to, and can, do better.  Seeing the improvements in the last two years, I am hopeful that these problems will be fixed if he is re-elected.

My biggest disappointment with Mayor Curtatone and his Administration at this time is that while he improved the way that City government deals with traffic and infrastructure on our streets, he has not put enough staff and resources into traffic calming and making our streets safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.  As a result, there are many dangerous intersections and streets in Somerville.  Traffic is a mess everywhere in greater Boston, and even more so in Somerville with the bridge closures for the Green Line Extension, Somerville High School redevelopment, and Union Square all dug up for sewer and water improvements.  But traffic is more dangerous here than it needs to be.  The City needs to invest a lot more money and hire more staff to make our streets safer and work better for all users.  I have repeatedly and will continue to call for the Mayor to add staff and funding to the Mobility Department in City Hall that deals with traffic calming and for more police enforcement of traffic laws on our chaotic and dangerous streets.

A second area where the Mayor can do better is on appointments to key Boards.  While the Mayor finally began to submit to the City Council for reconfirmation sitting members of powerful Boards like the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Redevelopment Authority, this process has moved too slowly.  And the Mayor has not followed through in some cases.  In August 2018, the City Council voted overwhelmingly to not reconfirm two Mayoral appointees to the Planning Board, the body that approves major development proposals in Somerville such as what will soon go up in Union Square.  Yet 14 months later, those two appointees, who the Council voted down, are still serving on the Planning Board and voting on major development projects!  (Unfortunately, state law allows Board members whose terms have expired to remain on those Boards until they die if the Mayor chooses to not kick them off.)  I actually think that almost all the people that the Mayor has been nominating for Boards and Commissions in the last few years have been good choices.  However, he needs to get rid of those whose performance has been lacking.  There are plenty of qualified, talented and experienced people in our community who could ably serve on these powerful Boards.

A third area in which I am not happy with the Administration’s performance is on personnel and hiring policies.  This is too complicated to get into in detail here, but the City Council has been frustrated by the lack of transparency and clarity about process and unwillingness to share essential information about Mayoral appointments, especially in the Police Department.     

Being the Mayor of a City like Somerville is a tough job.  Running a City with a budget of close to $250 million and hundreds of employees is not something I want to entrust to someone without experience in City government and knowledge of how the City works.  Mayor Curtatone’s opponent, Marianne Walles, is articulate and thoughtful, has done union organizing and negotiated contracts, and is a social worker.  She clearly has much to offer.  However, as far as I can tell, she has no experience with Somerville City government.  In my 14 years as an elected official, I have seen her at only one City or community meeting.  She was not involved in Somerville’s public life until she began her campaign for Mayor.  I don’t believe in giving people a job in which they have not demonstrated experience or interest, especially one as important and powerful as Mayor of Somerville.

A note about the Ward 3 School Committee race

I am not taking a position in this race.  I have been tremendously impressed by both candidates, Mary Marshall and Sarah Phillips.  They both have much to offer the Somerville Public Schools and the School Committee.  I will be happy to see either one of them representing Ward 3 on the School Committee.  Ward 3 voters – you have a tough choice between two excellent candidates who also seem to be running strong campaigns.

Carrie Normand for Ward 7 School Committee

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If you live in Ward 7, I encourage you to vote for Carrie Normand, the incumbent School Committee Member representing Ward 7.  Carrie has done a great job on the School Committee, and has been a leader in continuing to improve the Somerville Public Schools.  I am thrilled by the direction in which the School Committee has taken things since I left it six years ago.  Carrie is involved with a lot of different organizations and has a wide range of relationships and networks throughout the community.  You can read more about her here: https://somerville.wickedlocal.com/news/20190829/somerville-candidate-profile-carrie-normand-for-ward-7-school-committee

Three of the seven elected School Committee members are not running for re-election this year.  (The Mayor and President of the City Council also serve on the School Committee, but the time that they can devote to that work is limited due to their other responsibilities.)  At a time when there will be three new members out of the seven, continuity is particularly important.  This is another reason to vote for Carrie with her six years of experience.

Carrie’s opponent, Tara Ten Eyck, has impressed me and is unquestionably qualified to serve on the School Committee.  I have nothing negative to say about her.  However, I believe that when someone is doing a job well, as Carrie Normand has, and wants to stay in that job, they deserve to be re-elected.


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.

Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 City Councilor
http://www.markniedergang.com/

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