The year began on a hopeful note for Somerville politics, as the city’s heroically suntanned Mayor Joe Curtatone promised to “build America’s greatest urban living experience” at his inauguration in January. As those things go, the hack city employees in attendance offered polite but reluctant applause.
As it turned out, an open and honest government was not part of the master plan. In the first few months, two aldermen timed their resignations to bypass voters, pick their own replacements, and kick local democracy in the nuts. One of them even secured a six-figure city job the day after he resigned, while the other tapped a friendly local blogger to replace him without bothering to consult voters.
As the usual subterfuge chugged along, Curtatone began floating the idea of running for governor. He even released a web video entitled “Imagine Massachusetts.” From where we were watching, the proposition was beyond presumptuous.
In June, DigBoston began publishing The Somerville Files–the fruits of a year-long investigation that turned up numerous campaign and municipal violations, plus exposed gross general incompetence among city leaders. Following the series, Curtatone announced reforms in several areas that our team impugned.
Nevertheless, the sideshows continued. In September, one of the aforementioned aldermanic appointees was ousted in the primary election. The following month, Curtatone announced he would not run for governor. As one longtime Beacon Hill consultant told the Dig, our series might not have buried the mayor’s career, but we did unearth enough dirt to make it easy for potential challengers to smear him.
Meanwhile, voters may finally be sick of shady politics. In the November election, in Ward 5–the seat of Somerville’s political machine–the other alderman appointed through a closed process was defeated by a certifiably progressive candidate. In all, five new aldermen–including three such lefties–will start at City Hall in 2014. This is a major change for a board that saw just one seat flip between 2007 and 2012.
For his whole career, Curtatone has enjoyed a charmed relationship with aldermen, and has apparently used that position to reward cronies and skirt regulations. When he stops to contemplate the power that he lost in 2013, we hope the mayor pins at least a little bit of blame on us.