Board of Aldermen Candidate Profiles, Wards 4-7

Somerville Board of AldermenPhoto by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

Tony Lafuente is leaving his Ward 4 seat open for next term, and two candidates—Jesse Clingan and Omar Boukili—are looking to fill the void.

Mark Niedergang of Ward 5, Lance Davis of Ward 6, and Katjana Ballantyne of Ward 7 are running unopposed for reelection.

Scout is putting together profiles on all candidates running for office so voters can get informed about the slate of people who could shape Somerville for the next two years.

Election Day is Nov. 7. You can find your voting location here and check your ward and precinct here, and also read up on our profiles of the at-large candidates.

 

Ward 4 — Jesse Clingan

What should we know about you? 

I grew up in Somerville, attended Somerville Public Schools. I am known in the community for my many years of activism and volunteer work. I have organized efforts around many issues such as workers rights, local hire, affordable housing and the opiate crises. I have seen, firsthand, the incredible evolution of the city we call home. While much of the change has been for the better, I think we are at a point where we the people need to take the reins and work together to advocate for developments that will benefit all of our community. I will be the go-to for my ward, a voice for my community, and will address the issues of responsive and accessible government, affordable and middle income housing, and continuing the fight against opiate abuse. I met my wife Michelle in high school and we currently live in Ten Hills with our 10-year old-daughter Allie, who attends Somerville public schools.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Community-led development: One of the my top priorities is seeing through the development of the abandoned Star Market site on Broadway. It’s the top issue that continually comes up as I talk with people while I’m out knocking doors. I will be a strong advocate for community led development and making sure Ward 4 residents have many opportunities to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed.

2) Transparency, accountability, and responsiveness: Constituent service is the most important job of a Ward Alderman. Prompt responses and proactively solving everyday problems as well as good communication is crucial. I want to build community by building bridges and bring people to the table. I will hold meetings so residents will know about important issues facing the ward and make sure that everyone knows their voice counts.

3) Traffic safety: We need to continue to make our major streets more friendly and safe for both bicyclists and pedestrians. GPS apps like Waze direct more and more traffic through our residential streets in order to provide users with the quickest route. These speeding cars through are residential streets affect our quality of life. I will make traffic calming a top priority and advocate for such programs as Neighborways and other proven traffic calming strategies.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

1) Quality of life: Route 93 cuts right through Ward 4. I will advocate for reclaiming space under the 93 overpass for public use while reconnecting East Somerville, Ten Hills, Winter Hill, and Assembly Row. I want to see the city and the state address air and sound pollution around McGrath Highway and 93 including placing highway sound barriers to improve quality of life in the district. The Mystic River runs alongside Ten Hills and is a vastly underused recreational resource. Plans to improve the surrounding park with community input will be a great asset the ward.

2) Affordability: One of the ways I would like to address housing affordability is by creating a program that rewards benevolent landlords who keep their rents below market rate. We need to keep developers accountable to the newly mandated 20 percent affordable units on new developments as well as improve maintenance in our existing Somerville Housing Authority buildings for seniors and families.

3) Addiction treatment and prevention: I am a co-founder of Somerville Overcoming Addiction, which successfully lobbied for First Responders to carry Narcan, a life saving tool in the fight against opiate abuse. We need to continue to advocate for treatment programs, as well as strong school and after-school youth programs to prevent this epidemic from spreading further.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My independence. An independent Board of Alderman is key to restoring people’s faith in local government. Many Americans feel like our political system is one big club and they aren’t in it. My only interest is helping the people through my elected position and being accountable to them. I am entering into politics from the outside. I have never worked for the mayor, nor do I have any family members currently working for the City of Somerville. These are important distinctions and should be considered when deciding who to vote for. I have also pledged not to accept any money from developers.

Give us a fun fact about you.

At 11 years old I rode my bicycle from Somerville to Plymouth, N.H. with my father. We took secondary roads, so the route was roughly 125 miles. It’s was hot and the steep inclines seemed never ending. The journey taught me early on the satisfaction of setting and achieving a goal through and work and determination.

 

Ward 4 — Omar Boukili

What should we know about you?

I was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco and I immigrated to the U.S. in 2002. I’ve worked really hard to adapt to a new country, get myself through college, and do what I enjoy most—help improve lives through effective and engaging government. I moved here in 2008 and worked for the City of Somerville as an advisor to Mayor Curtatone, and for the City of Revere, as their chief administrative officer. I believe that government’s core duty is to help improve people’s lives. That is why I decided to run. As an immigrant and and an American citizen, I offer an uncommon, progressive, results-oriented vision and an understanding of governmental functions that would be a positive addition to the Board of Aldermen.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Quality of life and housing

2) Constituent services

3) Green space and the environment

What are specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

1) Immediately propose an increase to the homeowner-occupied residential property tax exemption from 35 percent to 40 percent, thereby reducing the tax burden on the most vulnerable homeowners.

2) Advocate for a publicly financed campaign option in which the candidates would qualify for public funds.

3) Advocate for same-day voter registration.

4) Work to increase the city’s investment in its sidewalks and roadways to ensure the safety of all users and to give residents healthier options to move about the city.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

Both my personal and professional backgrounds set me apart. As an immigrant, I’m grateful to have been able to do the work I’m most passionate about while helping to improve people’s lives. I want to make sure that everyone in our city is given an honest chance to do what they love while giving back to their community. As a municipal manager, I have worked to help enact policy and legislation that help make people’s lives better. I can hit the ground running on day one, giving the residents of Ward 4 an effective, progressive, and results-oriented advocate at city hall.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I LOVE TACOS. I could have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

 

Ward 5 — Mark Niedergang (Note: Niedergang currently serves as the Ward 5 alderman.)

What should we know about you?

I have lived in Somerville for 35 years and served as the Ward 5 School Committee member for eight years and have been the Ward 5 Alderman since 2014. I worked most of my life for non-profit organizations as staff or as a consultant, helping them solve problems and accomplish their goals.  I worked for the City of Somerville under Mayor Mike Capuano from 1995-1998 in the Mayor’s Office of Human Services and in the Somerville Police Department as the Grant Manager. I am married to Marya Axner, who is the Director of the New England Jewish Labor Committee, and we have a daughter who went to the Healey School and graduated from Somerville High School in 2010.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Affordable housing

2) Restraining development in our neighborhoods and passing a citywide zoning overhaul

3) Helping constituents with the issues and problems that they face on their streets and in their neighborhoods such as rats, traffic calming, trees, parking, etc.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

1) Try to dramatically increase the amount of affordable housing for low- and middle-income families

2) Reform the city’s parking regulations so that people who need to park on the street are able to find parking spaces more easily

3) Add a city staff person whose job it is to reach out to seniors who are house-rich and cash-poor to help them get access to tax abatements and deferrals and to use the tremendous value of their home to enable them to pay taxes and bills and stay in Somerville

What has your greatest accomplishment been so far? What have you not made as much progress on as you’d hoped?

My greatest accomplishment was helping to pass the 20 percent affordable (inclusionary) housing requirement for new developments in 2014.

We have not made as much progress on recycling and composting in the Somerville Public Schools and in establishing a pay-as-you-throw garbage program and composting program in the City.  We generate a lot more trash than we need to, which costs us money to get rid of and adds carbon to the environment due to truck hauling.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I was co-captain of my high school soccer and baseball teams and I still play a pretty good shortstop (softball) even at 63 years of age.

 

Ward 6 — Lance Davis (Note: Davis currently serves as the Ward 6 alderman.)

What should we know about you?

I am currently serving my first term as Ward 6 Alderman and have been active in the community since my wife and I moved to Highland Avenue in 2001. Our two children attend the Brown School and the Kennedy School. I have long been an advocate for public schools, open space and the environment, and addressing the housing crisis. By day I am an attorney, negotiating complex consulting, software license, and cloud services agreements.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Addressing the housing affordability crisis and the causes of displacement in our community, including increasing the supply of affordable housing and related funding, increasing the commercial property base, and expanding job training and job opportunities.

2) Increasing transparency in our city government, at all levels.

3) Speeding the re-investment in infrastructure and related projects in Davis Square.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

1) Expanding the inclusionary zoning percentage to 25 percent

2) Expanding jobs linkage fees

3) Establishing a real estate transfer fee to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund

What has your greatest accomplishment been so far? What have you not made as much progress on as you’d hoped?

My greatest accomplishment was guiding the expansion of inclusionary zoning to 20 percent city wide through to passage as chair of the Land Use Committee in just my fifth month in office. This was my primary campaign goal and it took many long hours to make it happen—I got pushback from developers, from the administration, and even from within the Board of Aldermen, but we did not give up.

On the other side of the equation, we still need to move faster on expanding the commercial tax base, increasing publicly accessible green and open space, and getting the administration to invest in Davis Square improvements.

Give us a fun fact about you.

This year I rode my 12th consecutive Pan-Mass Challenge to raise money for cancer treatment and research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. For the past eight years I’ve started a day early and 100 miles to the west so I could ride from the New York border. Yes, it turns a 200-mile ride into a 300-mile ride and adds the Berkshires into the equation, but “pan” means “across,” and if you’ve watched me work on zoning amendments you know that I’m very particular about the meaning of words!

 

Ward 7 — Katjana Ballantyne (Note: Ballantyne currently serves as the Ward 7 alderman.)

What should we know about you?

Mom, MBA with experience in community development, corporate and start-up businesses in international markets, and public health/violence prevention realm. I’ve lived in Somerville almost 25 years and love my community, mad
crazy about cycling and skiing, and speak three languages.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Street-by-street issues are different on each block for each resident; trash, noise, streets sidewalks trees, etc. As Alderman I’ll reach out to residents and do my best to attend to these daily issues.

2) Development in the ward, including: Clarendon Hill/North St. Housing Project, the open site in Teele Square, and finishing of Powderhouse Redevelopment. I’ll continue to encourage the development of a mix of commercial space for small businesses wherever possible.

3) The Green Line Extension all the way to Route 16/Boston Avenue: I will continue to advocate for the extension, and I’ll to work to mitigate against the potentially harmful effects of new development and transportation improvements.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

My three top overall priorities are open, inclusive government, affordability and local jobs. As alderman I’ll work to make our city government open and inclusive, because I believe that our government works best when we all work together. Our city’s greatest resource is its residents; we are an active group with many, various talents, backgrounds, and perspectives. I will work to give residents the information that they need to become involved early and to stay involved regularly to help us all work together on the important issues in our Ward. I’ll work for affordability by working to increase the number of available, affordable housing options, and by working to connect residents to local jobs.

What has your greatest accomplishment been so far? What have you not made as much progress on as you’d hoped?

1) Open, accessible government: Communications – nearly weekly emails, in-person meetings in homes, at housing developments, cafes with community groups. Organize bi-annual Ward 7 joint open office hours with local and state elected officials, Senator Jehlen, Rep. Barber, Ward 7 Alderman and School Rep. Ward 7. Transparency in government: Requested progress reports twice a year for SomerVisions and other confirmed plans

2) Affordability: Require revenue projections along with new zoning, worked toward increasing MMUR to 50:50 ration of commercial to housing development in Union Square. Request financial discussion adjacent to proposed
community plans – don’t make decisions in a vacuum.

3) Sustainability: Successfully created new sustainability section in the Union Square Overlay Zoning District which will then be put in the citywide zoning code.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I LOVE garlic and put it in almost all my cooking, sandwiches, salads, yogurt…

 

Editor’s note: Candidates’ answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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