After hearing from candidates at a packed forum in late July, on Aug 1 Our Revolution Somerville (ORS) officially endorsed mayoral challenger Marianne Walles for mayor, seven candidates for City Council, and six for school committee:
- City Councilor-at-Large: Wilfred Mbah, Mary Jo Rossetti, Bill White.
- City Councilors: Matt McLaughlin (Ward 1), JT Scott (Ward 2), Ben Ewen-Campen (Ward 3), Lance Davis (Ward 7)
- School Committee: Emily Ackman (Ward 1), Ilana Krepchin (Ward 2), Sarah Phillips (Ward 3), Andre Green (Ward 4), Laura Pitone (Ward 5), Carrie Normand (Ward 7)
Affiliated with the national group Our Revolution, which spun out of the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, ORS is active in electoral, labor, affordable housing, and other social justice issues in Somerville. The endorsements could be key for the candidates, including mayoral challenger Walles, who faces incumbent and seven-term Mayor Joe Curtatone.
Two years ago, nine ORS- supported candidates swept onto the City Council (then called “Board of Aldermen”), in some cases defeating aldermen who had held office for multiple terms.
“All of our candidates were elected, and that’s out of a board of 11,” ORS member Jon Leonard said in a telephone interview.
Leonard, who helped organize the July 24 candidate forum, said an ORS endorsement can make a significant difference.
“We actually come out and knock doors for the candidate, in big numbers,” he explained. “We plan to get out there and do it again.”
ORS did not endorse candidates in all races because some of the candidates backed in 2017 did not get the two-thirds approval rating from the ORS members who voted online this time around. Leonard said that he thought some members withheld their approval because they didn’t agree on some positions taken by officials over the past two years.
In July, more than 100 people attended the two-hour forum at the Somerville City Club co-sponsored by Somerville Stands Together, Union United, Jobs for Somerville, and the Somerville Climate Coalition. It was taped by Somerville Media Center’s SCATV and is being aired on Channel 3 in the city. It is also posted online.
At the event, many of the candidates—whether running for reelection or seeking a seat for the first time—stressed the importance of fighting for more affordable housing, as well as more and better public transportation, and of continuing to build a progressive movement that addresses economic and social injustice.
School committee candidates also focused on the need to address the so-called “achievement gap,” the lack of diverse school staff and faculty, and challenges related to mandatory testing.
The forum was one of the first times Walles, a social worker and union organizer, appeared before voters. The mayoral challenger was quizzed for 20 minutes on how she would tackle the affordable housing crisis, transparency, and dealing with real estate developers. Among other pledges, the long-time city resident said that any negotiations she carried out would “benefit the residents of Somerville before they benefit the developers.” She also stressed that, if elected, she would focus on “collaboration.”
“Sometimes in the city there are many different groups that don’t feel heard,” Walles said.
When four of the eight candidates vying for four councilor-at-large seats squared off, housing and economic inequality were key themes. Wilfred Mbah, seeking reelection, talked about his struggles finding an affordable place to live when he first came to the city. “I moved five times in six years,” he said. Challenger Kristen Strezo noted that her family “benefited from inclusionary housing.”
An earlier panel of city councilors running for reelection unopposed stressed the progress they feel they and their colleagues had made over the past two years. Ward 5 Council Mark Niedergang ticked off a list that included the real estate transfer fee, which funds and creates affordable housing, and the facial recognition technology ban.
“We are now the political establishment in Somerville,” Councilor McLaughlin noted to thunderous applause.
McLaughlin went on to talk about the need to continue to work for social justice, in Somerville as well as in neighboring communities, and vowed to “export this political revolution that we’ve started.”
“If your movement is not growing, it’s dying,” he said.
Agreeing with McLaughlin, Ward 2 Councilor JT Scott stressed that more work needed to be done, and claimed that the “executive branch … obstructs at every turn the work for equity.”
Ben Ewen-Campen, running for reelection for Ward 3, said he hoped the turnout on election day would be high; the 2017 election “earthquake,” he said, was only possible because of high participation.
There were also two school committee-related panels: one with candidates running uncontested, and another with the contenders for wards 7 and 3.
Ward 7’s Caroline Normand, running for a fourth term, talked about her accomplishments. Challenger Tara Ten Eyck, who works at Charlestown High School, responded, “I believe it’s time for a change.”
Three women are running to represent Ward 3; two of them were at the forum. Public school teacher Michele Lippens said she thinks her background and work would benefit the committee. Sarah Phillips, a former social worker, noted the importance of teachers unions as “part of the solution, not the problem,” which elicited enthusiastic applause.
Only candidates who filled out and returned ORS questionnaires were invited: nine Council candidates, and seven vying for school committee. The only candidate for the contested mayoral election to participate was Walles. Neither incumbent Mayor Joe Curtatone nor challenger Kenneth Vanbuskirk II responded.