Mayor Joseph Curtatone On His Re-election Bid

joe curtatoneMayor Curtatone, photograph by Jess Benjamin.

What should we know about you?

I was born and raised in Somerville, part of an immigrant family that came here from Gaeta, Italy. In my youth, my parents worked in area factories, cut hair, drove a snow plow, and ran a nursing home. I attended Somerville High School, where I was in the marching band and played for the football team. I went to Boston College and the New England School of Law, eventually starting my own legal practice. In 1995, at the age of 29, I was elected to the Board of Aldermen. Eight years later, I was elected mayor of Somerville, and I’ve been proud to serve this city in that capacity for the past 14 years. During my time as mayor, I went back to school, getting a master’s of public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government because I thought it was important to be the best-prepared mayor I can be for the people of Somerville.

Over the years we’ve reformed our city government—overhauling our budget process, instituting the first 311 city information service in New England, establishing the SomerStat program to give us a data-driven government, and holding twice-a-year ResiStat meetings for residents in every ward of the city to engage directly with them about city government. Our schools are performing better than ever, our crime rate is the lowest it’s ever been, and our city events are the envy of every other community in Massachusetts.

I live in Ten Hills with my wife Nancy and our sons Cosmo, Joey, Patrick, and James. We can be reliably found at local hockey rinks, baseball fields, and soccer fields.

What would your top three priorities be if re-elected?

The biggest challenge facing our community is affordability. The cost of housing here is rising due to a massive housing shortage in Greater Boston. It’s heightened in Somerville because we’ve become a more livable city with good schools and a low crime rate. People who live in Somerville want to stay here and people who don’t want to move in. We have the most aggressive affordable housing development taking place in the area, with 245 new affordable units in the last six years and 330 more in the pipeline. Yet that only addresses part of the problem. We’re in the middle of instituting a slate of recommendations from the Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group we convened in 2015. Next up is a transfer fee on real estate speculation. We have our 100 Homes program, designed to convert homes in our existing neighborhoods into affordable units. We have proposed a progressive zoning ordinance designed to replace our existing zoning. It will give us a greater diversity of housing in the city, including new artist/maker spaces. I am also working with other mayors to forge a regional response to address this housing shortage.

Our schools remain a constant priority. We’ve increased school spending 47 percent over the past 14 years and we will continue to drive our municipal investment into our schools. In particular, we are stressing early childhood education, moving toward universal pre-K as quickly as we can get there. We have improved our schools at every level to accommodate a greater diversity of student learning types, and it’s paying real-life dividends. The number of Somerville High graduates moving on to higher and further education has increased from 59 percent to 80 percent since 2003. The key thing is that we’ve achieved this by supporting our school officials and educators rather than politicizing our schools, and I pledge to continue that approach.

The Green Line extension also looms as the biggest, most important project to take place in Somerville in generations. We have fought for decades to make it a reality, securing federal funding and state commitments, even paying $50 million of our own money to make it a reality. The major construction phase starts in 2018 and it will change the way tens of thousands people live in this city, drastically
reducing the cost of living for many of our residents as well as taking a major step toward reducing our carbon emissions to zero. From
the city side, the key elements of the GLX moving forward are making sure we get the project we’ve been promised and in planning around the new stations so that we get in front of new development.

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

New zoning is critical to our efforts to provide more affordable and middle-income housing. The future of our artist/maker community, our city squares, and our ability to create new open space depends on taking this step forward. We have a system in place that only works for moneyed interests. It’s all average people can do just to perform basic upgrades on their own homes, almost all of which are considered non-conforming structures. It is also the key to make sure we get inappropriate development out of our existing neighborhoods and target it toward transformational districts like the Inner Belt. We have spent years putting together this proposal and it’s time to take action. We need to start addressing our problems rather than bemoaning them.

I mentioned the transfer fee on real estate speculation earlier. We’re looking to collect up to $4 million per year to fund affordable housing development in Somerville. In a runaway real estate market, we need money to compete. This will give us a lot more financial firepower.

Just this past week I was pleased to announce that we plan to move forward with the ArtFarm project on the old incinerator site in Brickbottom. This is a really exciting project, providing needed artist and open space, as well as transforming one of the gateways to our city. We know what we’d like to do. Now comes the hard work of making it a reality.

What sets you apart from Payton Corbett?

Experience and accomplishment are the key differences in this race. I’m proud to say we’ve accomplished things no one thought possible during my administration. I heard for much of my life how Assembly Square was never going to be anything but a post-industrial wasteland. Now it’s home to a new neighborhood and the headquarters of the largest employer in New England. If you go there on a weekend when people flock to it as as social destination, it’s filled with the most diverse mix of people in Greater Boston. You’ll lose track of how many different languages you hear.

People also said the Green Line Extension would never happen, but our relentless advocacy has it on the brink of becoming a reality. We’ve been told there’s no point in pursing excellence in an urban school district and now we’re proving those naysayers wrong. I’m proud to say that during the past 14 years we’ve done more big, seemingly impossible things than any other community in the state. We’re a community that rises to meet its challenges, and I’m proud to have led those efforts as its mayor.

When it comes to affordability, we face serious issues that affect real people and we need a serious mayor to tackle them.