“Vows to ‘takeover’ our city’s political agenda clearly backfired.”
The Boston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America had a rude awakening on election day. The city of Somerville wasn’t ready to be taken over by a Boston-based group that backed a slate of candidates who did their best to conceal their support for the “abolish the police movement” as well as its goal of making Somerville the first city in the history of New England to have a socialist majority control its city council.
While Boston DSA did all it could to provide its slate of seven candidates for Somerville’s City Council with considerable resources over the past four months, its heavy-handed vows to “takeover” our city’s political agenda clearly backfired. And for anyone who thinks that calling out DSA’s goal of taking over Somerville’s political future has only been based on a single quote by a DSA spokesman that appeared in Politico last spring, the fact is that the Boston chapter of DSA made very similar vows on its Facebook page on at least two different occasions.
Perhaps DSA’s greatest accomplishment in Somerville is that it has, for all practical purposes, taken over Our Revolution Somerville. Though another way of putting it is that the two organizations have essentially become one and the same.
Despite the substantial amount of money that came from contributions from all over the U.S., and the hundreds of out-of-town volunteers that DSA recruited, DSA/ORS backed candidates lost three of the five competitive races for City Council that they ran in. All in all, including incumbents Ben Ewen-Campen and J.T. Scott, DSA/ORS backed candidates will only have four of the eleven seats on the incoming City Council.
Furthermore, in the city’s most important election, the one for mayor, the DSA/ORS backed candidate, Will Mbah, lost to Katjana Ballantyne by a margin of 56%-38%.
Now, to be fair and clear up any possible confusion by what I have said so far, Will Mbah was endorsed by ORS but was not officially endorsed by DSA. Though given the amount of support DSA helped to generate for Will’s campaign, not endorsing him was a meaningless technicality. Of more importance, unlike DSA/ORS, Will doesn’t support abolishing the police and didn’t play into the hands of Republican Party propaganda by using the “defund the police” slogan. It should also be noted that out of all of the DSA endorsed candidates for city council, Ben Ewen-Campen was alone in not going on record in support of the abolish the police movement.
Here I’d like to reiterate something I’ve suggested in previous columns. My disagreements with DSA/ORS haven’t been based on any fundamental differences in political philosophy. As I’ve said before, I myself have been a socialist since my senior year of college back in 1970-71. Instead, my objections have mostly had to do with the ways in which DSA/ORS conducted this campaign. For example: DSA displayed sheer political arrogance with its vow to “take over” Somerville’s political agenda; DSA/ORS candidates went on record in support of the totally unrealistic and downright foolish notion of abolishing the police; and DSA/ORS demonstrated a basic lack of political transparency by not being open and upfront about what their short and long-term goals were really all about.
On a much more upbeat note, let’s take a look at who won on election day. As previously indicated, come January 3, Katjana Ballantyne will be our new mayor. The fact that Katjana won by such an overwhelming margin is clear proof that most Somervillians believe that she has the kind of experience, qualifications, and temperament to help lead us in the coming years. Personally, I think she is going to be an outstanding mayor and am really looking forward to having a new voice and vision leading our city government.
The four people elected to the At-Large seats on the Council are (in the order of the number of votes they received): Kristen Strezo, who is the only incumbent who ran for reelection, and first-time candidates Willie Burnley Jr., Charlotte Kelly, and Jake Wilson.
Kristen, as most people know, is a passionate supporter of women’s rights, affordable housing, and the fight for equal justice. Willie Burnley Jr., one of the two DSA/ORS first-time candidates elected to the Council, has been active in a range of movements for political and social equality. Charlotte Kelly, the other first-time DSA/ORS candidate elected this year, has worked as a community organizer as well as serving as the Executive Director of the Mass. Education Justice Alliance. Jake Wilson has served as the president of Somerville Youth Soccer, and under his leadership, SYS reached out to recruit hundreds of additional children and families from immigrant communities into the city’s youth soccer leagues.
In Wards 5 and 7, voters elected the first Latinas (or Latinos) to public office in the history of Somerville – a milestone that has been long overdue!
Ward 5’s new councilor (as of Jan. 3), Beatriz Gómez Mouakad, has held upper-level positions in architecture, affordable housing, and project management. She’s also been active in efforts to achieve greater social equity, including reducing language barriers in Somerville’s immigrant communities. Judy Pineda Neufeld, Ward 7’s new councilor, has worked with non-profit organizations to recruit, train, and support thousands of women and people of color to run for office and serve their communities through political leadership. In addition, since April of 2020, Judy has led Somerville’s Immigrant Services Unit as part of the city’s response to the crisis created by Covid-19.
In my view, the incoming City Council will have what I hope will be a creative balance between pragmatic progressives and progressives who will, at times, advocate for more radical change. And I can’t think of anyone more qualified than our incoming mayor, Katjana Ballantyne, to help lead Somervillians of all political stripes in the years ahead.
Now that the Somerville elections are over and done with, at least for the next two years, it’s my hope that we can join together to tackle the most pressing problems our community faces.
At the same time, I also hope that we can find ways to work together on issues and threats
that emanate far beyond the 4 square miles of our city. It was good to see that nearly every candidate who ran for office in Somerville this year stressed the urgency of fighting against the ongoing destruction and chaos caused by climate change.
But the truth is that our country, along with much of the rest of the world, faces an even more imminent threat than climate change. As anyone who follows the national news knows all too well, the far-right Republican Party, through gerrymandering and the voter suppression laws it has passed in state after state, has been very effectively laying the groundwork for a “legal” coup d’etat that will return Donald Trump to the White House in 2024.
Those of us here in Somerville won’t have to worry about Trump, or some other Trumpist Republican, carrying solid blue Mass. in 2024. Which means that if we want to preserve our (highly imperfect) democracy, we need to join hands and find ways to help other states to stop the right-wing juggernaut before it destroys so much of what we all hold dear.
The all-important midterm elections are now less than a year away. Let’s all do our best to work on issues like affordable housing here in Somerville, while also fighting like hell to keep hope – and our democracy – alive in the dangerous days that lie ahead.
Ken Brociner has lived in Somerville since 1975. His essays, columns, and reviews have appeared in Dissent, In These Times, the Boston Phoenix, and the Somerville Journal, among other publications.