Alderman-at-Large Candidate Profiles

Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

Seven candidates are vying for the Board of Aldermen’s four at-large seats this November.

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.

The newcomers challenging four incumbents are Will Mbah, Kevin Tarpley, and Stephanie Hirsch.

Election Day is Nov. 7, and the last day to register to vote is Oct. 18. You can find your voting location here and check your ward and precinct here. Keep an eye out for profiles on candidates for specific wards, and in the meantime you can also read about the School Committee candidates.

Here are your alderman-at-large candidates:

 

Dennis Sullivan (incumbent)

What should we know about you?

I am married to my wife Melissa and have a beautiful daughter Jaclyn. I am one of the incumbent alderman-at-large and previously served on the School Committee.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Opioid epidemic — Working with our State and federal delegation, we need treatment on demand and a new strategy in addressing this major public health crisis.

2) Affordability — We need to continue to look at our inclusionary housing percentage for new development and the linkage rate commercial developers pay into the housing trust fund to develop affordable units.

3) Rezoning of the city — We need to continue work with residents to ensure the new zoning does not negatively impact the quality of life for our residents.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I am very proud of my accessibility. I conduct neighborhood office hours year-round to listen and address residents’ concerns.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I served as a combat medic in the National Guard based out of the Highland Ave. Armory in the late eighties/early nineties.

 

Will Mbah

What should we know about you?

I was born and raised in Cameroon, and Somerville has become my “promised land”—a city that celebrates diversity, values its residents, and fosters opportunities for growth and success. I was orphaned at a young age, and depended on my extended family and community for support as I completed my education. I even spent some time in foster care, and ultimately my family had to sell our house in order to send me to college.

In 2010, I moved to Massachusetts after winning the American Diversity Lottery—the blessing of my life. But despite my credentials, the process of finding work and settling down here was challenging. I know this sentiment will be familiar to all immigrants and working people.

I took on odd jobs, but eventually I attained a position in MIT’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety, where I work as a technologist. I also earned my United States citizenship. But I was not immune to the forces of gentrification and displacement. I had to move five times as skyrocketing rents pushed me and my young family out of home after home. At one point, I was even forced to leave Somerville. These experiences have inspired me to run for office in Somerville, a city I have worked so hard to call home.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

We need to focus on affordability, community-led development and economic fairness. We need to end the forces of displacement that are destroying our communities. Forcing out our local businesses. Our artists. Our Workers. Our neighbors. Our diversity. We need fair deals with developers that protect workers and residents. My goal is to help build a city where ALL residents are valued, have access to quality jobs and housing, and can meaningfully shape the development plan for their city.

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

I have a five-point plan for affordability in Somerville that is full of new ideas to make the city more livable for working and middle class residents. I will highlight three ideas from that plan:

1) We need to increase the current 20 percent required affordable housing on bigger new construction projects to 25 percent.

2) The city can’t just rely on private development to get us out of our affordable housing crisis. The city itself must take a more active role.

3) In order to create even more opportunities for community land trusts we need to empower tenants with the right of first refusal or “right to purchase” if their building is sold to be converted to condos. We should allow them to collectively buy the property with 5 percent down. That 5 percent down could come partly from community housing organizations or housing trust funds. This would only apply to buildings of 3 or more units that are not owner-occupied.

What sets you apart from other candidates? 

I think that my lived experiences sets me apart from the other candidates running for at-large. I lived the working class experience here in Somerville, I lived the immigrant experience here in Somerville, I have faced the forces of displacement and battled to stay. In addition, I would be the only renter on the Board of Aldermen. Finally, I think we would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that I am seeking to become the only person of color on the Board of Alderman. Our diversity is a our strength here in Somerville, and I think it is important for residents of color to see themselves represented in city government.

Give us a fun fact about you.

Let’s just say that I am the Somerville version of Matt Damon’s character in “Good Will Hunting,” and my name also happens to be Will. One night while working as a custodian at MIT, I was in a classroom early for my shift and had my laptop out to work on my application for an internship at the Department of Environmental Protection. An administrator walked by and stopped me and starting asking me lots of technical questions, because he thought I was the “IT guy.” He was surprised to learn that I was only the janitor, but he saw my resume and realized I already had my master’s degree in soil science. This late-night encounter ended up getting me promoted to the position I hold today as a technologist! How do like them apples?

 

Kevin Tarpley

What should we know about you?

Former Ward 2 Alderman that is best known for working on behalf of residents. Created the Ward 2 Advisory Committee made up of ordinary residents who wanted to have greater input on issues concerning the ward.

Established citizen groups to meet with developers to ensure that new projects did not impact the neighborhood.

Required developers to meet residential needs and concern such as off-street or underground parking, affordable units and what are now called community benefits.

Proposed legislation to address development, which pushed for greater influence over projects by residents. Proposal called for slowing the process down until residents’ concerns were addressed and part of any permit and zoning approval of a proposed development project.

Worked on behalf of residents and act independently to ensure that it is residents who are represented while serving on the board.

The only alderman who on my first day on the board called for investigation of the DPW due to concerns of gender, age and racial discrimination that was levied by DPW personnel.

Proposed the new Plan Unit Development legisaltion after working with officials to ensure that sensible development was part of the future development within the city of Somerville.

What would your top priorities be if elected?

1) Development and reintroduction of legislation slowing the development changes that are making Somerville too expensive to live. That will grant residents great say about development. Will require developers to meet the concerns of residents as well as “Community Benefits.”

2) Address the concerns of residents who want a great say in how the city makes decisions by creating a new pathway for participation.

3) Term limits for officials so that there is turnover with an opportunity to serve after a term of absence.

4) Charter review committee

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My record and actions while serving on the board speaks to my public service.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I like riding horses.

 

Mary Jo Rossetti (incumbent)

What should we know about you?

Born and raised in Somerville, I am the daughter and granddaughter of former Somerville firefighters. Some of my prior involvements in the community have included the responsibilities of holding office in our local PTA, co-chairing multiple school councils, and my roles as Girl Scout leader, CCD instructor, and Ward 7 School Committee representative. I additionally had the honor of being elected by my peers to represent them, and their communities, as President of Tthe Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC). Appointed by Governor Patrick, I served the Commonwealth on the Local Government Advisory Commission, and also had responsibility as chair of the ever-important state-wide Advocacy Committee.

 

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Health and safety

2) Housing affordability

3) Fiscal responsibility

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

1) As I stated during our recent budget talks, the Board of Aldermen must have involvement in the upcoming negotiation of the Tufts University PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) Agreement. With an endowment of over $2 billion, Tufts can and should do better.

2) Recent data from The Greater Boston Food Bank has indicated they have been serving MORE THAN DOUBLE their anticipated number of families here in Somerville. Our own neighbors are struggling to survive. Affordability is in crisis for far too many. We must seriously review an increase of our community’s Residential Tax Exemption rate, and hold absentee landlord developers more accountable.

3) The creation of neighborhood councils is another important step of assuring increased transparency and voice for the community.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

1) I am currently the only female at-large alderman.

2) Representing the voices of public school families and staff across the entire state of Massachusetts both in Washington D.C. and countrywide was an honor I never took for granted. Assisting in the coordination of prioritizing talks with federal and state legislators, hosting extensive professional development conferences and workshops throughout the country for all school boards, was for me an experience like no other. The powerful lessons learned during this chapter in my life continue to guide me today.

Give us a fun fact about you.

Former Somerville High School Majorette. Former volunteer baton twirling instructor for Somerville’s Open Air Circus.

 

Bill White (incumbent)

What should we know about you?

I was born in Somerville, graduated from Somerville High School, and received a B.A. in government and economics from Harvard College and a law degree from Georgetown Law. I was a law clerk to a federal judge. I live in the Ten Hills section of Somerville and have a law office in Davis Square. I have served as President of the Board of Aldermen for the last five years.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Bringing good commercial development to the City of Somerville to help ease the property tax burden of our homeowners. This type of development would also provide employment opportunities to the residents of our city, especially those recent graduates who are finding it difficult to obtain good-paying jobs.

2) Creating affordable housing units across a range of income levels. As our city continues to gentrify, housing costs for both home owners and renters are rapidly increasing. As more buildings are being purchased at high prices by absentee landlords, rents are skyrocketing, making it difficult for families, the elderly, and young people to remain here. I would like to give priority to Somerville residents, especially those being displaced, in our affordable housing program.

3) Preserving our residential neighborhoods when new zoning is passed. It is anticipated that new zoning will be presented to the Board of Aldermen in the near future. That zoning must protect our residential neighborhoods from dense, out-of-character developments that will worsen the quality of life of our residents and take away green and open space that we need.

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

1) The enactment of new zoning that preserves sufficient space in our transformational districts for commercial development to bring jobs and help our taxpayers. The new zoning should protect our residential neighborhoods from out-of-scale, dense developments, and provide for green and open space. It also should contain energy efficiency standards that reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

2) Creating additional affordable housing units in our existing neighborhoods. Much of the new housing is created in large, high rise buildings. We should also utilize funding to purchase existing housing in our neighborhoods to maintain affordable units.

3) Programs to address the opioid crisis in Somerville. The city and many members of our community are involved already in combating this crisis by programs in prevention, intervention and recovery. I would like to increase those programs, especially to provide assistance to those in the treatment and recovery stage. We are surrounded by leading medical facilities and an effort should be made to have them participate in this program. There are a number of non-profit medical institutions in Somerville that do not pay property taxes. An effort should be made to ask them to contribute further to our city by funding and making beds available for those in treatment or recovery.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I grew up near the last operating slaughter house in Somerville in a working class community. My friends and neighbors came from a broad variety of ethnic backgrounds. We all had a true sense of neighborhood. That environment left a lasting impression on me about the need for Somerville to have good economic development. It also convinced me about the need to preserve our residential neighborhoods where people from a broad variety of backgrounds know one another and cooperate to build a better community. The values learned as a youth, combined with my educational background at Harvard, Georgetown Law, and my legal experience, provide me with a rather unique combination of qualities. I believe that these qualities in an elected official are of great importance to a community like Somerville that is going through gentrification and development pressures.

Give us a fun fact about you.

When I was young, I was an ice hockey goaltender. My nickname was “Red Light White.”

 

Jack Connolly

What should we know about you?

Lifetime resident, second generation grandson of Irish emigrants, educated in local schools. Worked my way through Boston College undergrad (honors BA degree) and grad school (Masters in Ed; concentration in Business Tech). Also studied at Tufts and Harvard JFK School of Government.

Own and operate award-winning small insurance agency, employing local Somervilians in Davis Sq.

Only candidate who has served as both a ward alderman (ward six) and an as alderman-at-large with three decades of experience. Served as board of aldermen president or vice president multiple times, and chaired or served on virtually on all board of aldermen committees over three decades of elective service to Somerville.

Actively volunteer time to produce recreational events such as the 5K races held several times per year that donate thousands to important non-profit Somerville organizations such as the Somerville High School Track Team Scholarship fund.

Together with my wife Gail, raised three daughters all attending Somerville Schools. Major supporter of the building of the new SHS.

Living and working in Somerville for most of my life, I am pleased to be part of the proven progress Somerville has achieved, especially in public transportation and new transit oriented development, particularly Assembly Square.

What would your top priorities be if elected?

Watchdog City Budget, and monitor the Green Line Extension to Union Sq. and on through the other planned stops in Somerville.

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

1) Recommend adjustments to zoning code to allow homeowners the opportunity to create an apartment within their homes or on their lot without major zoning special permits in order to allow older residents to supplement their incomes.

2) Advocate for the city to acquire Foss Park from the state to use for recreation and a possible community center in one of the most accessible locales in the city.

3) Advocate for the increase in services to residents with addiction and opioid issues, and a greater collaboration with major health providers to improve care and treatment.

 

Give us a fun fact about you.

Have been a certified basketball official at the tournament level for four decades.

I am an aging athlete, having been a competitive runner, with hundreds of races including having finished 18 marathons.

Also earned a third degree black belt in shotakan karate in my fifties.

 

Stephanie Hirsch

What should we know about you?

I grew up in a small community in north central Wisconsin in the ’70s and’80s. My hometown of Eau Claire had a strong middle class, and we all attended public school together and shared community institutions, like the YMCA and library.

After college, I worked in Philadelphia and rural Georgia. In both places, children did not have a good chance to grow into providers for their families or communities. I made a life commitment to try to fix the brokenness of government systems that lead to lifelong missed opportunities. I studied finance and statistics at the University of Chicago and Harvard, and then worked to improve child welfare in New York and reduce youth violence at the Boston Police Department. Since 2004, I’ve worked to improve how Somerville runs, by starting SomerStat, ResiStat, and 311 and helping the schools perform at the top of the state.

During my years in Somerville, I got married and put down roots in Union Square. My kids think I’ll be a good slderman because, in their words: “My mom helps everyone, she makes fun things happen, and she fixes things.”

I’m running because I want to combine my deep knowledge of how the city works with the energy and independence of organizing from the ground up to tackle long-standing points of pain.


What would your top priorities be if elected?

If I am elected, I will work on opportunities for connection, problem solving, and innovation:

Connections to each other: While door knocking, I’ll meet a person on one end of the block who shares his or her concerns. At the other end of the block, I meet someone who has the same worries, but doesn’t know about the first person. If I get elected, I promise to work with existing groups and elected officials to help each neighborhood create its own ways to communicate, to study data to understand problems, to set goals, and then to track progress on goals.

Affordability: Almost every person I talk to worries about affordability. My goals include: preventing displacement of families (low-income families with children face the toughest housing burdens); providing opportunities for ownership; preserving and expanding a middle class population; keeping all neighborhoods inclusive; helping seniors stay in their neighborhoods; and helping artists, artisans, and small business or non-profit leaders secure affordable places to live and work. Because I care so much about these issues and want to maintain an independent voice, I have committed to not accept campaign contributions from developers.

Quality of life: The local, state, and national worries are big. But sometimes what hits closest to home is a sense of safety in our backyard or on our street. Rats, cut-through traffic, and other quality of life issues make people unhappy and make it hard to connect with neighbors. We will organize to tackle these issues.

Community institutions: I believe strong community institutions matter. They level the playing field and give us a place to form friendships. I pledge to work on expanding and investing in our community places, organizations, and services that provide universal coverage, with high quality programs that meet the needs of all.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I have spent thousands of hours in the last 12 years with children and families of all backgrounds in Somerville, and I believe I have taken to heart how they see the world around them. I have a deep institutional knowledge of how the city works, but in the last eight months my perspective has shifted. I no longer report to the mayor or superintendent–as an alderman I will report to YOU as residents. I will use my skills, knowledge, and energy to meet your needs as I work on the job full-time. The problems we face are so complex, our community will benefit from having an alderman who has deep knowledge of city management, who can spend all her time working to solve problems, who listens to everyone to try to find common ground, and who has an independent and strong voice on the issues that matter.

Give us a fun fact about you.

For the last eight years I have organized a community-wide campout in a park in Somerville. It’s been amazing to see seniors, first time campers, teenagers, and everyone in between spend the night together in our fields so as to experience one of our public spaces in a new way. At recent campouts, we’ve roasted marshmallows, the kids played flashlight tag in the dark, and my 65-year-old neighbor, who camped with her grandkids said, “I’ve spent my whole live in Lincoln Park, but never slept in the soccer field.”

 

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

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