Will Mbah begins a run for mayor, Virginia Hussey campaigns for city councilor, and a native plants ordinance is passed
Welcome to the Somerville Wire’s April 6 Weekly Roundup—a fast look at local news published every Tuesday at somervillewire.news. Readers with Somerville-focused news tips or press releases or calendar items or letter and opinion submissions can send them to Wire staff at email@example.com. Or call us at (617) 209-9511.
Miniature houses provide page-turners to people of all ages.
The agency’s structure will be developed through a community process.
Will Mbah announces campaign for mayor
Councilor at-large Will Mbah announced on April 2 that he will be running for mayor in the 2021 election. Having immigrated to Somerville from Cameroon in 2011, the issues of immigrants are particularly important to him, and as the father of two young children, he said that he is dedicated towards making the city a more inclusive place.
While the possibility of running has certainly been at the back of his mind, Mbah said that when current Mayor Joe Curtatone announced that he would not be campaigning for reelection, the urge to enter the race became stronger. According to a press release, Mbah formerly volunteered on the Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health, served as diversity chair of the Democratic City Committee, and was a member of Our Revolution Somerville. He was also active in community organizing in Sweden and Cameroon.
“For me, it’s about leading with values,” said Mbah. “I’m trying to realign the way the conversation should go, so that we don’t leave anybody behind.”
Issues that are important to Mbah include a belief that Black lives matter, the idea of Somerville being a sanctuary city, affordability, education, the arts, a Green New Deal for Somerville, the lives of the elderly, and supporting local businesses. The eviction crisis and the city’s path forward from the coronavirus will be key concerns. In a newly released video, Mbah said that Somerville needs a mayor who will stand up to adversity and push for bold solutions to the city’s challenges.
“We need a mayor who has seen up close the ways in which our actions have fallen short of our stated beliefs,” said Mbah, in the video. “We need a mayor who will be both a good leader of the city government, and more importantly, someone that will speak truth to power.”
Racial justice and the reimagining of the police force will be a critical part of his vision for the city. Recently, Mbah was involved in the hiring of Somerville’s first director of racial and social justice, Denise Molina Capers.
“When you talk about racial and social justice, I talk about my approach to public safety, which is guided by a few central principles,” said Mbah. “I mention that we need to create a diverse police force, to reduce and eventually eliminate harm caused by law enforcement. These [issues] all overlap.”
Virginia Hussey runs for city councilor
Virginia Hussey, a third generation Somervillian, a single mother, and graduate of Somerville High School, announced on March 18 that she will be running for the city councilor. She is also a veteran, who served with the United States Army in Iraq.
“Somerville is a great city that is rapidly changing. This change brings excitement but also problems,” wrote Hussey, in a statement. “Many of the people I grew up with have been forced out of the city as home prices are out of reach. I myself was on a waitlist for affordable housing–with priority as a disabled veteran and single parent–for three years. There were many more resources available in neighboring Boston and Cambridge, and not in my own city, which was heartbreaking to see in a city I love. Our neighborhoods have been completely transformed in my lifetime, and not for the better. For too long, developers changed the landscape and the social networks I knew as Somerville.”
Hussey stated that she is also invested in changing Somerville’s police force, “particularly engaging to interact with our youth and community and bridging the gaps between.” She is sensitive to the risks taken by first responders and is eager to work with the Somerville Police Department to bring changes into fruition, she wrote. In the army, she served for five years, with two tours of combat in Iraq, and her goal of remaining in the army as a career was cut short when she was injured, becoming a disabled veteran.
“Since returning from Iraq, I have been serving our city for years,” wrote Hussey. “I’ve coached youth, helped at my son’s school, and I have fought and won for union labor contracts in Somerville. Now, I want to make this role official as your city councilor.”
City passes native plants ordinance
The City Council passed an ordinance, voting on it on March 25 and the first of its kind in the country, known as “The City of Somerville Native Planting Ordinance,” which demands that native plant species be planted on city-owned land. The ordinance recognizes that in New England, there are 258 plant species recognized as endangered, and it states that its intent is to protect and promote appropriate native vegetation. To this end, the ordinance requires that 100% native plants be introduced in wetlands areas, plazas, and along the Community Path, among other places. Seventy-five percent of new trees planted in city parks must also be native plantings, while 50% of street trees must also be native plants.
“I’m proud to have proposed this ‘native species’ ordinance. This achievement was a collaborative effort,” wrote Councilor Katjana Ballantyne, who co-authored the ordinance with Green & Open Somerville, in a statement. “This would not have happened without the expertise, tireless efforts, and passion from Somerville residents Renee Scott, Tori Antonino, Brendan Shea and David Faulk. With this ordinance we lead the country in restoring our natural urban ecosystem by setting minimum planting percentages. We are in the middle of a mass extinction. It is our responsibility to care for all life on earth and our ecosystems.”
Resolution declaring a state of emergency for women moves forward
On February 25, Councilor Kristen Strezo co-authored and introduced a resolution to the City Council that called for a “state of emergency” for women to be declared. Since then, the mayor’s office has made plans to “support the advancement of local women,” according to an article in Somerville Patch. In a statement to the Somerville Wire, Strezo said that she is working with city departments to address the rollout of the resolution.
“The Resolution of the State of Emergency on the Status of Women that I submitted to the Council addresses the fault lines of inequality that were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Strezo. “We must do what we can to address the catastrophic effects the pandemic has had on women in the workforce, as well as the past missteps and inequity within our community. We must do better than a return to the pre-pandemic sense of “normal”, which left so many people behind. It is the responsibility of each of us to ensure that we leave this pandemic shutdown a stronger Somerville.”
Strezo said that she is working with Denise Molina Capers, the new director of racial and social justice, to address how racial and social justice will be incorporated into the rollout of the legislation. She will also be speaking with the City’s Job Retention Trust Fund in the coming weeks to collaborate and she is reaching out to worker organizations throughout the city. To address inequity, there will need to be expanded access to childcare, support for caretakers of children and elderly relatives, and an investment in industries hard hit by the pandemic that disproportionately employ women, including hospitality, retail, and food service.
“It is unacceptable that women of all colors, creeds and immigration status in the United States and in Somerville should be subjected to return to the unpaid, underpaid, unsupported labor market with inadequate workforce support present such as before and during the COVID shutdown,” wrote Strezo.
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.