A mayoral debate, a Ward 7 city council debate, and Scape Davis Square LLC will hold a public meeting
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Somerville Media Center holds 2021 Somerville Mayoral Debate
The Somerville Media Center hosted a 2021 Somerville Mayoral Debate on August 10, featuring guests Katjana Ballantyne, Mary Cassesso, Will Mbah, and Billy Tauro. The debate was moderated by SMC executive director Kat Powers. The event was divided into three sections: first, candidates were given time to introduce themselves. Second, candidates responded to a round of questions, with one minute to answer each question. Third, candidates were given the opportunity to ask each other questions followed by closing statements.
Powers’ questions in the first segment covered a variety of topics concerning candidate positions. Candidates replied to questions about policing, with Powers asking how they would respond to the discussion about reimagining and reforming the police force, or restricting what calls get an armed response. They also discussed the issue of housing and the tools they would use to keep families in Somerville. Powers then asked the candidates, if the federal, bi-partisan infrastructure bill became law, how they would spend money for Somerville?
“[We need to] improve our transportation infrastructure by building protective bike lanes, try to create a city where people can be less dependent on cars,” said Mbah. “This is something that I look forward to doing. There’s a lot we can do. If you’re a senior here, or a person with a disability, you’re almost invisible. So how do we create city streets that are safe for people with disabilities, so that we can all enjoy this same community as one community and not just for the rich?”
Powers turned the conversation to education, saying that COVID has turned the school system upside down. Cassesso commented on the beauty of the new high school but said that there must be universal pre-k and free transportation to get people there.
“Let’s make certain that the new, innovative economy contributes to internships, in the technical end, but also in the academic end, and have academic credits towards college, from the higher ed institutions in Somerville, and finally, to have parents and other adults have job training to get better paid jobs…” said Cassesso.
In the segment where candidates were free to ask each other questions, Tauro asked Cassesso and Ballantyne, “As mayor, how would you handle ongoing development projects that both of your husbands have been involved in for the past seven years, that are involved with Mayor Curtatone as a silent partner?” Cassesso clarified that her husband has done one development project in Somerville, which took place 13 years ago, and she added that he has stated he will not be involved in any projects in the City of Somerville. She also said that her husband has never been involved in a legal battle. Ballantyne said that Tauro’s question was factually incorrect. Tauro attempted to refute these claims, but Powers concluded that the information could not be proved in the forum.
Ballantyne posed a question to Cassesso, asking her how supporting a Republican administration against Democrats does not contradict her claims of having progressive values. Cassesso said that she reached across the aisle to make sure expanded funds for mental health and substance use treatment were accessible. Ballantyne also asked Tauro about his having endorsed Donald Trump in 2016. Since Trump only received 10% of the vote in Somerville, she said, “How can you be mayor when your personal judgement is so out of touch with 90% of the voters?” Tauro replied that he had also previously endorsed Curtatone and Ballantyne, which he considered to be mistakes. He now sees himself as an independent, no longer a democrat or republican.
Mbah asked the three other candidates why they have not rejected developer money or not supported rent control. Ballantyne said that the question was incorrect and that she is not currently taking any developer money and that her stance on rent control is on her website. Tauro said that he does not endorse rent control and that developers should not be singled out. Cassesso said that she would not accept money from developers doing business in Somerville and who have proposed projects in Somerville.
See the full Somerville Media Center mayoral debate here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IlXucukvy4&t=2439s
Somerville Media Center hosts Ward 7 City Council Debate
On August 12, the Somerville Media Center held a debate between the three Ward 7 City Council candidates, Alex Anderson, Becca Miller, and Judy Pineda Neufeld. The discussion was moderated by Keri Rodrigues, founder of Massachusetts Parents United.
Candidates addressed topics such as increasing the safety of roadways, a designated bus lane, housing and redevelopment, and COVID-19 response. One issue that they addressed was why Somerville was one of the last school districts in the area to bring special education and English language learners back to the classrooms, last year.
“This particular scenario pitted teachers against parents, against the administration, against elected officials. And the folks that lost were our students,” said Neufeld. “… There were ventilation challenges with our aging schools, and that’s something the City Council could do something about, in the coming years, as we think about money coming in for infrastructure.”
The candidates participated in a segment where they could ask questions of each other. Miller asked the other two candidates about climate change, posing the question of how their policies around housing and climate change are different from past ones, and how Somerville will meet climate goals by 2030.
“If we want to move forward in terms of real climate change, the levers that the City Council itself can pull are to make sure we’re getting transportation and infrastructure right,” said Anderson. “Bicycles and walking are 10 times more impactful than electric vehicles … This is also a massive public health issue, because of the conditions that cars create, not just in terms of immediate harm, but long term public health harm.”
Neufeld asked the other two candidates how they would propose money from American Rescue Plan Act funds be spent.
“I would focus on affordable housing and building affordable, net-zero public housing for the lowest income folks in our city,” said Miller. She added, “I really think that investing in sustainable futures with public housing, especially near transit stops, where the City owns land, is a huge opportunity that we could use some of this ARPA money for, as well as piloting a fare-free MBTA, investing in the most impacted from the pandemic with mental health programming, and increasing cultural events, when it’s safe to do so…”
See the video of this debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIXAiZHjjEo
Neighborhood meeting to be held by Scape
Scape Davis Square, LLC, will be holding a virtual neighborhood meeting on August 25, at 6:30 p.m., regarding the proposed development of a property. A notice was mailed to all direct abutters and abutters of abutters within 300 feet of 231-249 Elm Street and 6-8 & 12 Grove Street. The proposed redevelopment will be for a four-story building intended for commercial, service, retail, and office uses. The meeting has been scheduled in consultation with City Councilor Lance Davis and the City’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development.
According to a mailed notice, the purpose of the meeting is “to provide the public with an opportunity to review a conceptual design proposal and identify and discuss issues and potential impacts with the Applicant prior to the Development of more detailed schematic design proposals.”
Those interested in attending can register at the link below:
Somerville Charter Review Committee to hold kick-off event
All Somerville residents are invited to attend a charter review kick-off event at Foss Park, on August 28, from 3:00 until 4:30 p.m. Somerville is reviewing its governing document, the charter, and would like community input.
According to the City of Somerville’s website, “The charter review process seeks to comprehensively review the City’s current charter and to recommend changes to ensure Somerville’s government meets the current and anticipated needs of our residents and is responsive to the challenges of today and tomorrow. The Charter Review Committee will be responsible for reviewing the City’s current charter and making recommendations for amendments to the Mayor and the City Council in an effort to improve and modernize the City’s structure and governance. The Committee will also engage the community in robust discussions about potential charter amendments.”
A Facebook post explained the nature of the event, stating, “Our City Charter was written in 1899, with many amendments since then. As a result, it’s a difficult document to read, and much of it has been overridden by State Law. At a minimum, we will be modernizing the language and structure of the document. But we can do more than that – we can make it reflect our values and make City Government more equitable and accessible.”
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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.