2019 Candidate Survey: Councilor-At-Large

Photo from somervillema.gov

Welcome to Scout Somerville’s candidate survey for the 2019 municipal elections, which will take place on Tuesday, November 5. We sent surveys to all candidates running in opposed races for Somerville mayor, council at large, and school committee, and present their answers to you here.

Today we are featuring the councilor-at-large race. All candidates were given the same five questions, and were limited in the directions to 50 words in their answer; longer answers have been truncated and are indicated with an asterisk (*) at the end of the text. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

You can find the mayor’s race survey answers here.

John M. Jack Connolly, Jr.
Pronouns: he/him
Somerville resident: Lifetime


1) What are the three top issues the city will face in this coming term?
1. Public Safety and Health. It is very important, and the primary reason why City Government Exists.
2. Housing. Not Just affordable, but all. Housing needs to be regionalized and we need more of it of all types and for all income levels
3.Zoning and Citywide infrastructure maintenance

2) The Green Line Extension and the condominium conversion ordinance are among many pressing issues in Somerville. What’s one challenge the city is facing that you think isn’t receiving enough attention?
The lack of attention to small businesses in Somerville Squares, especially those effected by bridge closures. Commerce is crucial to the success and growth of a city; small businesses need our help more than ever.

3) What should be the top three priorities in the next city budget?
1. Public Health and Public Safety.
2. Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Treatment Programs.
3. Veteran Services 

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?I have three decades of experience as an elected official at the ward/citywide Level. If elected I will work with the city council to address problems, we can actually fix and do it now; not just have meetings to make plans and proposals for much later in the future.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I achieved a third degree black belt in Shotokan karate.

Kevin F. Jura
Pronouns: he/him
Somerville resident: Since May 2018


1) What are the three top issues the city will face in this coming term?
Affordable housing, public safety, and gentrification

2) The Green Line Extension and the condominium conversion ordinance are among many pressing issues in Somerville. What’s one challenge the city is facing that you think isn’t receiving enough attention?
Public safety

3) What should be the top three priorities in the next city budget?
Affordable housing, public safety, and gentrification

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
My dedication and integrity.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I’ve been a paramedic for almost 20 years.

Stephanie Hirsch (incumbent)
Pronouns: she/her
Somerville resident: 15 years


1) What are the three top issues the city will face in this coming term?
As a City Councilor, I have focused on affordability, quality of life issues (traffic, rats), community building and supports, and sustainability issues. I maintain a list of goals and send out a monthly newsletter with updates. Please get in touch with me to be added to my mailing list. 

2) The Green Line Extension and the condominium conversion ordinance are among many pressing issues in Somerville. What’s one challenge the city is facing that you think isn’t receiving enough attention?
Increasing commercial tax revenue will help us achieve all other goals, like affordability or sustainability. Between 2003 and 2018, the INCREASE alone in Cambridge’s revenue exceeded our entire budget. Cambridge has almost three times more to spend each year than Somerville, and the difference shows in parks, streets, libraries, etc.

3) What should be the top three priorities in the next city budget?
Related to the larger priorities, three specific needs include: 1. Resources to map a route to achieving at least 20-30% deed-restricted units; 2. Increase in funding for recreation programming and other supports for youth-serving divisions/organizations; 3. Funding for the Police Department to do traffic enforcement.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
Different councilors focus on different aspects of the job. My focus has been trying to communicate to people, advocate for their issues, and look for policy solutions that are win-wins or reasonable compromises. Even if I can’t champion every issue, I can connect people who can work together to advocate.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
As a young person, I wanted to be a reporter. During college, I spent one summer as a reporter for the Monroe Evening Times in the small town of Monroe, Wisconsin, and another as a reporter for the Des Moines Register.

Will Mbah (incumbent)
Pronouns: he/him
Somerville resident: Since 2011


1) What are the three top issues the city will face in this coming term?
Housing, Equity and Environmental Justice. We need to build more affordable housing, create more revenue for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, pass stronger tenant protections and empower community groups to lead on development. We have to prioritize equity and do everything we can as a city to flight climate change.

2) The Green Line Extension and the condominium conversion ordinance are among many pressing issues in Somerville. What’s one challenge the city is facing that you think isn’t receiving enough attention?
Equity. In my first term I submitted board orders requesting the city study how gentrification and development are affecting businesses owned by immigrants and people of color. It took two years, but the city is finally going to be studying this and looking to protect our diversity as a community.

3) What should be the top three priorities in the next city budget?
Great question- as city councilor, I only get to cut from the budget proposed by the mayor. However, if I were him/her, I would prioritize 1)Housing (funding Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Office of Housing Stability), 2) Creating Green and Open Space, and 3) Creating safer streets/traffic patterns.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I think I bring a unique perspective to the council- both through my experience as an immigrant moving to Somerville and as the only person of color on the council. I strive to represent the community here in Somerville, especially those who haven’t traditionally had a voice in city government.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I like to have a dance party with my son Joel before bedtime, rocking out to some Ed Sheeran … just don’t tell anyone about it!

JoAnn Bocca Rivieccio
Pronouns: NA
Somerville resident: 26 years


1) What are the three top issues the city will face in this coming term?
Traffic, green space, parking.

2) The Green Line Extension and the condominium conversion ordinance are among many pressing issues in Somerville. What’s one challenge the city is facing that you think isn’t receiving enough attention
Substance use disorder, mental health, homeless issues.

3) What should be the top three priorities in the next city budget?
Affordable housing for all. Lower taxes and water bills. More recreational opportunities for the children, green space. There are many priorities, all important.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I’m not your average politician. I’m a senior with many years of life’s experience retiring for the second time looking for my next fulfilling challenge.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I love to sing and dance.

Mary Jo Rossetti (incumbent)
Pronouns: she/her
Somerville resident: Lifetime

1) What are the three top issues the city will face in this coming term?
Updated citywide zoning Code (including but not limited to climate change, sustainability, green and open space, increasing commercial tax base).
Traffic and pedestrian safety.
Affordability.

2) The Green Line Extension and the condominium conversion ordinance are among many pressing issues in Somerville. What’s one challenge the city is facing that you think isn’t receiving enough attention?
There are many important issues before the Council, each with its own heightened importance. To choose one is quite challenging. I recommend the Council hold a weekend Retreat (open to the public) whereby goal setting might be established.  (I have seen this process met with success on the School Committee).

3) What should be the top three priorities in the next city budget?
This answer would relate to our prioritized goals as mentioned above. Please also keep in mind I have always closely scrutinized the administration’s recommended budget. Some have referred to me as the “Beast of the Budget.”

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I pride myself on constituent services. Responding to the concerns of my community is always forefront. I do my utmost to get the answer they await and deserve, whether positive or negative. Additionally, I do my homework prior to each and every committee meeting. I arrive prepared.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I was a majorette at Somerville High School, twirling fire batons during our Thanksgiving Day football games.

Kristen Strezo
Pronouns: she/her
Somerville resident: 5 years


1) What are the three top issues the city will face in this coming term?
Affordability: Supporting rent control, paths to homeownership programs, increased home stability for lower- and moderate-income families.
Environmental sustainability: Greener commuting options, protected bike lanes, expanding our tree canopy, and protecting our air quality.
Accessibility: Bringing all voices to the table and validating our collective lived experiences.

2) The Green Line Extension and the condominium conversion ordinance are among many pressing issues in Somerville. What’s one challenge the city is facing that you think isn’t receiving enough attention?
I see the bus lanes on Broadway as an improvement to Somerville. But, I feel that there has been a disconnect in their introduction. Residents tell me there’s confusion on who can use them and when. I am concerned that this confusion could impact traffic safety and future lane proposals.

3) What should be the top three priorities in the next city budget?
Housing affordability: Supporting programs that will help us achieve our goals—the Office of Housing Stability and the 100 Homes Program.
Safety enhancements and accessibility: Protecting bike lanes and maintaining infrastructure.
Addressing local needs sometimes underutilized at local levels, such as food insecurity and mental health support.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I bring a unique voice to city council; I live in affordable housing. I know the difficult decisions families face and I understand how this inclusionary zoning can change lives. We all deserve to live, remain, and thrive in the city we love, whether we are long-time residents of newcomers.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I was the lead singer in a feminist punk band for over a decade. I relished the stage and the ability to bring meaning and attention to social injustices. After knocking four thousand doors in Somerville, I’m inspired to call out inequities and fight for your best quality of life.

Bill White (incumbent)
Pronouns: he/him
Somerville resident: 52 years



1) What are the three top issues the city will face in this coming term?
Creating new housing, especially affordable, through zoning that maintains traditional residential neighborhoods with more intense development in transformative districts.
Directing commercial development to create a broad mix of employment opportunities and to generate tax revenue, lowering the tax burden on residential homeowners and renters.
Climate change, reducing carbon footprint.

2) The Green Line Extension and the condominium conversion ordinance are among many pressing issues in Somerville. What’s one challenge the city is facing that you think isn’t receiving enough attention?
One challenge that the City should pay attention to is what I consider to be an “overall environmental challenge.” This challenge includes taking climate action to reduce our carbon footprint, together with the creation of additional green and open space that can be utilized by all of our residents.

3) What should be the top three priorities in the next city budget?
1. Insuring that our schools are appropriately funded to achieve the realization of the full intellectual, physical, social, and emotional potential of all students.
2. Creating additional playing fields, recreational areas, parks and green space.
3. Creating additional affordable housing opportunities for renters and buyers, especially for families. 

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
My combination of education, training, real-world experience, and track record during my service on the Board of Aldermen/City Council. I have played a leading role in areas such as regulating development, creating affordable housing, reducing Somerville’s carbon footprint, and restricting campaign contributions from developers.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
When I was younger I was a goalie in ice hockey. When a player scores a goal in hockey, the red light behind the goal goes on. My nickname was “Red Light White.”

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