Election season isn’t aways exciting in Somerville—after all, this is a town whose mayor has run uncontested since 2007. But this year, another level of government is about to get interesting. Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz announced late this spring that she will not be seeking reelection for the office she held for a decade, and now four candidates are currently vying for the seat. It’s the first time in more than 30 years that Ward 6 hasn’t had an incumbent to vote for.
While the general election is November 3, the bulk of candidates in Ward 6 triggers a peculiarity in the city’s democratic process: a preliminary election. It’s not a primary—the aldermanic race is non-partisan. It’s just that, by law, only two can run for the seat at a time. Voters will be asked to narrow down the field on Thursday, September 17.
The Board of Aldermen is often the most direct avenue citizens have to city government. Four serve at-large and seven represent individual wards, bringing issues raised by neighbors to the city and state. As the legislative branch of city government, they set policy and budget priorities, draft ordinances and resolutions, and lobby for state funding. Those decisions and agendas are frequently shaped by conversations aldermen have with their neighbors.
The candidates range from young transplant professionals to entrenched, lifelong residents. Their platforms vary from progressive to idealist to pragmatic approach, but they’ve all honed in on a few issues they feel hit Ward 6, a relatively small geographic plot with Davis Square at the center, the hardest. Concerns with the city’s affordable housing, transportation, education and development will likely define the campaign chatter as election day nears.
MEET THE CANDIDATES:
If endorsements mean anything, Lance Davis has emerged as a clear front-runner. He’s never held public office but has the strong endorsements of Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Alderman Gewirtz, Alderman at Large Jack Connolly and former Mayor Eugene C. Brune. Davis is a 43-year-old attorney and co-founder of Progress Together for Somerville.
“When I found out [Gewirtz] wasn’t running, I thought, ‘I have to make sure someone carries on that strong independent voice,’” Davis says. He wants to make sure Somerville remains an attractive place for families. Affordable housing and a strong school system will ensure that, he says.
He also has an aggressive plan for open space in Somerville. He wants to open 125 more acres of parks in the city.
“That’s a huge challenge, but we should do everything we can,” he says, adding that pocket parks and parklets, though small, are an effective way to push for that goal.
Another newcomer to politics, Elizabeth Weinbloom, hopes to be the voice for renters and maintain gender balance on the board. She’s lived in Somerville since 2008. A renter, she says she wants to help ensure the city stays viable for the young professionals and families that see annual rent hikes.
“It’s becoming much more difficult for young people, graduates, artists, old people, immigrants, to make Somerville the vibrant place it is,” she says.
She says she’ll work with groups like the Sustainable Neighborhoods Committee to expand affordable housing projects and look into what she can do as an alderman to give tax breaks to benevolent landlords.
“I think that Somerville, more so than other cities having housing crises like New York, is in a good position to take bold steps should it wish to,” she says. “The city is almost entirely residential.”
Young people and renters are often seen as a demographic not likely to vote. Weinbloom says she’s employing social media campaign strategies to connect with the younger audience.
Similar to Weinbloom, David Lieberman is running on a platform of aggressively pursuing affordable housing.
“Somerville needs a new generation of leaders,” says the 36-year-old attorney. “Its future is really bright, and I want to be a voice to help shape it.”
Lieberman formerly worked as a prosecutor for the State Attorney General’s office, where he dealt with fraud and environmental issues. He carries those threads with him in his private practice.
He wants to impose a “flipping tax” on landlords using Somerville to play the real estate game that leads to higher rents and real estate taxes. He thinks the city should penalize landlords who constantly buy and sell property for a profit, and reward landlords who show a commitment to their tenants.
“People want to raise a family and live their lives here without being priced out,” he says.
He says the city should also impose a “linkage fee” on commercial developments in residential areas and put that money in the affordable housing trust fund.
The most experienced candidate, Charles Chisholm, is a lifelong Somerville resident who served as a Ward 1 alderman in the ‘70s. Public safety and efficient snow removal, especially in the wake of last year’s brutal winter, are of paramount importance to him.
He says the city could save a lot of money by purchasing a fleet of sidewalk plows instead of contracting out the work to private bidders. He also wants to see a state-wide tax on the rich and use that money to subsidize MBTA fares. If public transportation is less expensive, he says, areas farther outside the city will be more attractive to commuters.
Somerville is “close to the work,” he says, which creates a high housing demand. If professionals feel better about moving farther away from Boston, it would put downward pressure on the rents in Somerville.
Chisholm has long been active in Somerville politics, something he says is a great strength.
“The learning curve for new aldermen is practically vertical,” he says. “My experience allows me to hit the ground running.”