A mayoral candidate debate, a councilor-at-large debate, and a City forum on ARPA funding.
An event for Somerville, MA residents only, 10/20
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SMC hosts mayoral candidate debate
The Somerville Media Center held a debate between the two mayoral candidates who will be proceeding to the election in November, Councilor Katjana Ballantyne and Councilor Will Mbah. The event was moderated by Steve Brown of WBUR. As they responded to questions, the candidates tackled issues such as gardens and green spaces, the police budget, and labor unions.
The two had the opportunity to ask questions of each other, and one topic that Ballantyne raised was the problem of how women, specifically women of color, have been economically impacted by the pandemic. Mbah spoke to the sacrifices women have made and added that he would use SomerStat to analyze the disparities in pay between men and women. Ballantyne responded to a question about the possibility of bringing police back into schools or reinstating school resource officers.
“I don’t believe there should be armed police in our schools,” said Ballantyne. “I think the only time there would be a need for that is if there was some violent issue going on that would require that.” Mbah agreed that he does not think police need a place in schools.
Ballantyne stated that in September 2019, Mbah voted for a Green New Deal that she wrote. She asked why Mbah is proposing his own version of the program.
“I think your Green New Deal was a statement of values and intent. It summarizes what Somerville Climate Forward is looking for. … I think it is limited in scope,” said Mbah. “The wealth gap wasn’t there. Racial justice wasn’t there. I did not see anything about equality.” Ballantyne asked if she could “correct the record,” stating that her plan “talks about the built environment, vulnerable populations … green economy jobs … what the international community is doing, what the Somerville community is doing.”
Mbah asked Ballantyne why she had “flip flopped” on the subject of accepting developer money. She said that less than 1% of her campaign donations has come from developers, similar to Mbah, and that she and he have both said that they would return the money, if they get it. There is no dominance of developer money in her bank account, Ballantyne said. The two candidates appear to be in the same boat, she stated.
“It appears that we both believe in the same thing,” said Ballantyne.
SMC holds councilor-at-large debate
The Somerville Media Center hosted a debate between the City’s councilor-at-large candidates. Judy Perlman moderated the eight candidates: Willie Burnley Jr., Virginia Hussey, Charlotte Kelly, Justin Klekota, Tracey Leah Pratt, Eve Seitchik, Kristen Strezo, and Jacob Wilson. At the start of the debate, Perlman asked them whether they supported initiatives such as rent control, a Green New Deal, universal pre-k, defunding the police, and a free MBTA. The candidates also had the chance to ask questions of each other.
Over the course of the debate, candidates touched on many pertinent topics. One of these was Our Revolution’s decision to block city council candidate Stephenson Aman from participating in a candidates’ forum, because he submitted his questionnaire after the deadline. Klekota asked Pratt what the role of diversity and inclusion in government is.
When I was approached with the news … the very first question that I asked was, is this about winning or is this about doing what’s right?” said Pratt. She added, “I don’t necessarily believe that this person was blocked because he’s a Haitian son of immigrants. I don’t think that he was blocked for that reason. But I do question if he was blocked because he wasn’t the popular candidate. … One thing that I was very proud of was the organization did decide to step back. They decided to review their policies. So if nothing else, that’s one thing that came out of it.”
Burnley addressed the topic of SomerVision 2040, adding that environmental justice is an important issue to him. SomerVision “had a lot of great goals,” he said, but its deadlines are too far out. To meet the scale of the climate crisis, progress towards goals, which have “lagged,” must be expedited with urgency. Hussey spoke to her experience as the only candidate who has served in the military. She said that the city needs more programs to help veterans when they return to Somerville. When she came back from service, she was homeless.
“They train us to go overseas and do what we have to do, but when we get back and we get out, there’s no program to get you back into civilization, [to] a regular, normal life,” said Hussey. “Just paying bills, just the little things, are a lot.”
City holds forum on ARPA funding
On Oct 27, at 7 p.m., the City of Somerville will be holding a virtual forum on funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. In March, President Joe Biden signed ARPA into law. The $1.9 trillion package is meant to combat public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 virus. So far it has funded vaccines, assistance for vulnerable people, education, economic recovery, and more.
“Somerville will receive more than $77 million dollars in Local Relief Funds from ARPA. The Virtual ARPA Forum will begin our community-wide discussion exploring how Somerville can use this once-in-a-generation investment of federal funds,” reads a press release from the City. “The City has engaged the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s community engagement team to facilitate a range of conversations to be sure we hear from the full community. Focus groups with residents, outreach to local business owners, listening sessions with residents and community leaders, input gathering from nonprofits, a community survey supported by a multilingual team of outreach workers, and more will follow.”
Join online, call in from any phone, or livestream. Visit somervillema.gov/virtualtownhall at the start time of the meeting for the online link or the call-in number. Or, call 311 (617-666- 3311) for the meeting call-in number.
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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.