Board of Aldermen Candidate Profiles, Wards 1-3

Somerville Board of AldermenPhoto by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

Wards 1, 2, and 3 are all seeing contested elections for aldermen seats this November.

The newcomers challenging Ward 1 Alderman Matthew McLaughlin, Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston, and Ward 3 Alderman Robert McWatters are Elio LoRusso, J.T. Scott, and Ben Ewen-Campen.

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 1 — Matthew McLaughlin (Note: McLaughlin currently serves as the Ward 1 alderman.)

What should we know about you?

I am a fourth-generation Somerville native, Iraq War veteran, youth advocate, labor activist, community organizer, and Ward 1 Alderman living in East Somerville. I successfully advocated for affordable housing, criminal justice and drug reform, increases in youth services, local hiring, increased transparency in government, and inclusion in community processes.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

Last election I ran on a platform of affordable housing, local jobs, youth services, and substance abuse treatment. I have delivered on all of these promises. The board passed 20 percent affordable housing, the highest inclusionary rate in the state. Twenty-five percent of jobs in Assembly Row are held by Somerville residents. I successfully advocated for local and veteran hiring in Union Square zoning. We have doubled our youth and recreation staffing and programming. The city dramatically reformed they way we address substance abuse. I promoted the use of Narcan by first responders, which has saved hundreds of lives since 2014. We also instituted measures to prioritize treatment over incarceration and provide pathways to recovery and employment to people struggling with addiction. I am seeking reelection to make sure these promises are kept and to go even further.

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

I think charter reform is necessary for the sake of transparent and accountable democracy. Our strong mayor system renders the board useless around major functions like the budget, appointment of vital positions, traffic issues, and other basic functions of government. We should strengthen the role of the board so we are able to deliver what our constituents expect.

The city is poised to pass citywide zoning. I believe this proposal that heavily favors developers should have a compromise of 25 percent affordable units as well as a meaningful path for community input on proposals.

I look forward to instituting innovative traffic calming and pedestrian friendly measures in the ward. I am already working on the Neighborways program that uses community art to reduce speeding. I am fighting for safe walking paths between East Somerville and Assembly Row and McGrath Highway. We need to come up with innovative measures to reduce cut through traffic and make the ward more accessible.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

What sets me apart from my opponent is a proven track record of community driven accomplishments. I believe if you are voting based on issues and involvement in the community I am the clear choice.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I rode in the only two cog railways in America. One is in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the other at Pike’s Peak in Colorado.

 

Ward 1 — Elio LoRusso

What should we know about you? 

I am a lifelong Ward 1 resident. I am the son of immigrants who settled in Somerville in 1967 and I, along with my family, reside and thrive in Ward 1. I attended Suffolk University and obtained my B.A. in Criminal Justice in 1994. I am a business owner and musician/vocalist. I am a married to my wonderful wife of 10 years, Juscelia. I am the proud parent of MariaGabriella who attends the East Somerville Community School, and like her parents is multi-lingual.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Attacking the growing rodent population in our ward. The rodent population has progressively grown over the past few years.

2) Smart economic development that will further make Somerville a haven for its residents and business owners to work, live, and play.

3) Constituent services: I live in Ward 1, I run my family business in Ward 1. I will be proactive and responsive to your concerns first and foremost.

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

If elected as your Alderman I will join my colleagues on the board and aggressively push new proposals to combat the rodent growth in Ward 1 and throughout the city.

I will make certain that we do not displace our families and be an advocate for affordability in Somerville through smart economic development. In doing so, I will facilitate multi-lingual educational forums to inform tenants and landlords of their responsibilities and rights.

Enforce safety for bicyclist and pedestrians in addition to implementing changes to alleviate vehicle congestion.

 

Ward 2 — J.T. Scott

What should we know about you?

I grew up in rural west Tennessee in a small house my grandfather built on the edge of town. I attended Duke University, and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in both Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering.

I met and began dating my partner Chandra back in 2006. She’s an artist and an activist who lived in Somerville near Teele Square. We still live together on Washington Street today raising our two-year old daughter named Independence.

After over a decade in semiconductors, I changed careers and started a gym in Union Square. Somerville is the perfect place for such a business, and Chandra and I had fallen in love with Union Square.  There’s nowhere else I would rather live, work, and raise my family. I’ve been an activist for progressive causes like transgender rights for many years, and since coming to Somerville I’ve been engaged in local groups such as Union United, Union Square Main Streets, and Union Square Neighbors.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

Affordability: We need bold action to preserve the community we all share, and I’ve outlined a list of policies on my website including a Right of First Refusal Law, establishing a Community Land Trust, and a Benevolent Landlord Tax Credit.

Transparency: The city has a state-of-the-art system for notifying citizens about parades and festivals, but when it comes to important matters that the Board of Aldermen is considering, there is silence. We could use these systems to keep residents informed about ordinances under consideration and how they can get their voices heard. Information about planning and zoning board meetings are only mailed to property owners, even if they don’t live in Somerville; our tenant residents should be getting these notices too.

Accountability: I think of local office as a service, not a career. I live and work in Union Square; I will hold frequent office hours and return your phone calls. In addition, unelected boards hold too much power in our city, and that needs to change. When the developers at Assembly Square requested a waiver from building the legally mandated 20 percent affordable housing, and aldermen spoke against granting the waiver, the unelected Planning Board granted the waiver anyway. We need to do better as a city at ensuring people’s voices are heard.

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

Right of First Refusal Law: I would work to introduce a Tenant Right of First Refusal Law, which would mean that when an owner sells a property with rental units, the first opportunity to buy would go to the tenants already living there. Tenants can form co-ops and purchase the homes they rent together, immediately stabilizing the neighborhood, preventing displacement, slowing gentrification, increasing homeownership, and helping to nurture the sense of community here in Somerville. It doesn’t hurt the seller in any way and doesn’t cost the city a dime. 

Establish a Community Land Trust: Home buyers work in cooperation with the CLT to buy property, leaving ownership of the Land in the Trust while retaining ownership of their buildings. These organizations help tenants purchase properties by reducing costs, since their mortgage only needs to cover the building and not the land beneath it. This is another proven method for preserving affordable housing while putting community members and residents in the driver’s seat in terms of governing their own neighborhood. 

Reform our Unelected Boards: Too many decisions are made by unelected boards in this city. I will work with my colleagues on the board to take back powers that they had granted to these boards where appropriate, and work to reform the process for their appointment. 

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I’m not accepting any contributions from real estate developers or real estate lawyers–not because I think they’re bad people, but because I believe your alderman should only work for you. Your voice as a resident of Somerville should define how our city evolves. Then we can find and work with developers who will fit into that vision.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I used to perform gigs as a sideshow acrobat and fire performer: eating, breathing, and generally playing with fire. I’ve performed at several IGNITE festivals in Union Square!

 

Ward 2 — Maryann Heuston (Note: Heuston currently serves as the Ward 2 alderman.)

What should we know about you?

I am a Somerville girl, a lifelong resident of Somerville. I grew up in a working class family, attended UMass, and received a Masters Degree in Sociology from BU. I have an extensive career in healthcare and currently serve as senior director at the Cambridge Health Alliance. I am also the chair of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee, and, for the past 16 years, I have been honored to serve as the Ward 2 Alderman. When I first ran for office, I was driven by commitment to community and the city I grew up in. I still am in every way.

What would your top priorities be if elected?

Affordability: I believe in exploring all options to make sure our residents aren’t priced out of their homes. This
includes implementing a right of first refusal, implementing a transfer fee, setting aside an
inclusionary percentage of new retail space for local businesses, promoting workforce housing. And to
get to the root of the problem, we must promote commercial development to ease the tax burden on
residential property owners.

Better access, better notification, and better enforcement: I have pushed for more timely updates on the City website for construction projects and will insist on better ways to communicate with residents. I have already asked for a comprehensive mobility plan for Ward 2, including the creation of a Pedestrian Safety Committee. The city has many tools to make our streets safer, but I will make sure that their changes are built off of residents’ feedback and
knowledge.

Protecting neighborhoods: Through adoption of a new city-wide zoning overhaul, we can take the decisions of how our neighborhoods look and feel and put them in the hands of our residents and communities and not in the hands of developers. Current zoning is especially detrimental to neighborhoods. The zoning overhaul must remediate that problem.

Building a Strong Somerville: I believe in a back to basics approach to the City budget and those departments that deliver important basic services. For me, that means that there is adequate support for departments such as Fire, Police and DPW, good wages, adequate staffing, equipment, and resources. The location of Police and Fire in Union Square is a priority for me and I will make sure that both are located to serve Union Square and the surrounding neighborhoods.

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

1) Revise our parking regulations and residential parking permit system to protect parking for Somerville residents and businesses

2) Require a public hearing for all transportation and infrastructure projects prior to such projects moving forward

3) Request the city establish an oversight team that is specifically charged with monitoring developer/construction projects, contractors working on street scape projects, and utility company work on our streets. This is critical to managing the enormous amount of activity which will only increase. Without oversight residents and neighborhoods cannot be assured of protection.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

In order to serve a constituency in these changing times it takes experience and innovative thinking. Grasping the big picture and its benefits is the approach I have always taken to tackle complicated problems. It’s not enough to identify a problem, you have to seek solutions. I have a proven record of problem solving. Just a few examples of many: When confronted with the decades old flooding problem in Ward 2, I created the flood forum committee of the Board of Aldermen to put this problem front and center and insisted on a comprehensive plan for addressing the problem. When a rodent problem began to plague Ward 2 and other parts of the city I created and chaired the rodent task force of the Board of Aldermen.

A new trash ordinance and dumpster ordinance were passed and my committee worked with city departments to forge new protocols and educational materials to address this problem and looked to best practices and professionals for advice. We can now say we have a comprehensive approach to this problem and, while not totally eradicated, many parts of ward 2 have seen significant improvement.

When confronted with cut through speeding traffic I organized a Neighborways with many Ward 2 residents to try something innovative along with other more traditional traffic calming measures.

Somerville is my home, I have been here my whole life and I am not going anywhere. Those are important qualities to have in a local representative particularly as it relates to determining Somerville’s future. I will live with the decisions that are made now well into the future. You will not need to wonder where I am. I listen to all voices, new Somerville as well as old.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I was the second female bartender in the history of Durgin Park Restaurant, where I tended bar during my years in graduate school. It is one of the oldest restaurants in Boston, established in 1827, and had a tradition of hiring only male bartenders. We’ve come a long way baby!

 

Ward 3 — Robert McWatters (Note: McWatters currently serves as the Ward 3 alderman.)

What should we know about you?

am currently the two-term Ward 3 alderman seeking a third term. I am a lifelong resident of Somerville and had the privilege of growing up in this fabulous city. I am the oldest sibling of four. I was the first person in my family to attend college. I could only afford state colleges and I studied at UMass Boston. I received my degree in political science. I am the proud father Bobby McWatters, who is in his second year in the Harvard Business School.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

Affordable housing, sustainability, and traffic calming measures.

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

1) I want to continue to work with my colleagues, housing advocates, nonprofits, activists, and the administration to provide more affordable housing for our residents and city employees.

2) I want to work with my colleagues, administration, activists, and environmentalists to create more pocket parks, to plant more trees, and to work on providing more open and green space in Somerville.

3) I want to work with my colleagues and the administration in proposing and implementing as many traffic calming measures as possible to ensure safe passage for our pedestrians and bicyclists.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I am very responsive to the constituents needs in Ward 3. I pay attention to detail and every issue the residents have. I am able to deliver results in Ward 3 and in my opinion that is what sets me apart from other candidates.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I am a practical joker and love playing jokes on my friends.

 

Ward 3 — Ben Ewen-Campen

What should we know about you?

I’m a biologist, and my background is grounded in problem-solving. I grew up a few minutes away in Central Square, moved to Union Square after college, and have lived here ever since. This past April I got married up on Prospect Hill, and my wife Alex and I live just up the hill from Union Square on Warren Avenue. I’m running for alderman because I think we need to get serious about the affordability crisis in Somerville, and I want to bring a fresh perspective to this challenge and other big issues facing our diverse community.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

The biggest issue facing our community is housing affordability–Somerville has always been an incredibly diverse city, both culturally and economically, and we need to be doing everything we can to protect our residents and businesses from displacement, and to ensure that new developments that bring meaningful benefits to everyone in our diverse community.

New developments bring challenges, and one of the biggest challenges is smart transportation. I want to work to ensure our streets are safe and enjoyable for residents of all ages. We need to invest in public transportation, bike and pedestrian safety infrastructure, and innovative parking solutions.

I also believe that we need to build robust local industry, and that our local economy must be based on principles of economic justice–workers’ rights, dignified wages, and clean energy. Bringing good, mid-sized businesses to Somerville will not only create new jobs for Somervillians, but will provide crucial new tax revenue so we can invest in our city’s future and ease the burden on property owners, which are passed on to renters.

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

Nearly two years ago, the Somerville Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group released their recommendations for high-priority policy proposals regarding affordability, yet we’ve seen very little movement on actually implementing them. I will work to create a specialized Office of Housing Stability that will directly help residents facing displacement, and will track data and test innovate new ideas. I will work to improve and strengthen our Condo Conversion Ordinance in order to prevent illegal evictions and protect vulnerable tenants from displacement. I will work with others on the Board to increase our affordable housing requirement for new developments (“inclusionary zoning”) from 20 percent to 25 percent. I have also called for creating a specialized fund to provide housing assistance to Somerville municipal employees, a program that has been implemented in Boston that I would like to see here.

Additionally, I will work diligently to address the needs of our diverse city in partnership with the incredible community organizations throughout Somerville. I strongly support working with immigrants’ rights groups such as The Welcome Project to develop a safe and secure municipal IDs system so that all of our residents can access city services. And I support expanding financial and logistical support for Somerville First Source Jobs program, run by the amazing Somerville Community Corporation.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

While Alderman McWatters and I share many values, there are also key policy differences between us. For example, since the beginning of this race I have consistently put housing affordability at the center of my platform, and have supported a number of specific policies, including increasing our affordable housing requirement to 25 percent. This is an issue that will almost certainly be introduced in the next term, and my support will likely be critical for achieving it.

I also believe that real estate developers often have too much say in local decisions, and that we should do everything we can to limit the influence of special interests at City Hall. In contrast, my opponent voted to block an ordinance that would have limited campaign contributions from real estate developers (the so-called “Pay-to-Play Ordinance”). Unlike my opponent, I support the idea backed by several members of the board that everyone, including immigrants who are not citizens, should be able to vote in municipal-level elections because it’s the simplest and most direct way to make sure that all of our neighbors have an equal voice in our local government. Thus, while Alderman McWatters and I both share a deep commitment to serving the people of Somerville, there are important distinctions between our platforms.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I began my career as a wildlife biologist in Alaska, and I was first person to witness and document the nesting behavior of the Arctic Warbler in North America—these are a rare and threatened species that only breeds in remote regions of Alaska. Also, my wife and I live with two rescued Persian cats (the kind with the smooshed faces).

 

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

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