Hello, friends. Do you keep an eye on your local government? Do you know who is running and what they stand for? Most people don’t. But when schools are closed and non-essential workers are home, local government matters.
What is driving political change in your town or city?
In many places, there have been shifts in political representation, galvanized by key issues of housing and environment. Are you paying attention to how this is playing out where you live? Does your area have different or additional agendas? For some places, homelessness, immigrant safety, policing, or business development are key, or at least on par with housing and environmental concerns.
Is there a generational shift taking place?
Here’s a story from Somerville, Massachusetts. The past three years saw earthshaking change to our representation in Somerville. Starting in the 2017 election, about half of the incumbent City Council members were voted out of office and replaced with new voices. In the 2018 election, long-time U.S. Representative Mike Capuano was upset by challenger Ayanna Pressley.
These changes didn’t occur because of malfeasance, corruption, or even unpopularity of the existing members. Instead, there was a groundswell of voters who wanted voices that spoke for them and what was important to them. That meant more minorities, more women, and more young people who are deeply affected by the affordable housing crisis in our region and are deeply concerned about environmental sustainability.
In the first three years after the shift in the Somerville City Council, city government turned its will toward addressing economic and environmental sustainability issues (especially revamping zoning requirements). New affordable housing and housing stability programs were funded and implemented.
The 2017 City Council saw a new, rising star in Stephanie Hirsch. She added what seemed like endless energy, deep knowledge of City government, and facility with data and communication to the Council. Her work was recognized. She was the top vote-getter in the eight-way race for Councilor-at-large in 2019.
Stephanie is leaving town, mid-term, because of family matters out of state. So, what happens to her position on the City Council?
How is a Councilor at-large replaced in Somerville?
When an at-large City Councilor leaves office mid-term, the councilor is replaced by the next-highest vote-getter from the previous election. Since the at-large seats have more people running than seats, almost every time, there is a willing candidate who can be tapped. This year, that candidate is Kristen Strezo.
Kristen ran a tireless campaign. She talked to Somerville residents one to one, door-knocking all spring, summer, and fall of 2019. Her efforts got her fifth place, behind the incumbents. Here is her statement:
Any family that wants to stay and work in Somerville should be able to do so. This is a problem that affects everyone, our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends. It’s not a far-off problem, it’s around every corner, it’s a topic in every coffee shop and it’s making our community weaker when we need to come together and be stronger.
We’ve got an affordable housing crisis in Somerville. How could anyone hear the pleas of citizens desperate to stay in their beloved community and do nothing?
My impatience drives me to listen to those in the community and work with the best and the brightest minds to find immediate and long-term policy solutions. There are other cities and countries that have experimented with sensible solutions to the affordable housing crisis for years. Some communities have affordable rental-to-homeownership programs to ensure that their residents can stay in their communities. This is one of the many policy solutions that must be considered if we are going to keep Somerville a community for everyone.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We can incorporate successful systems from other regions and make them purely Somerville.
Kristen comes to the council with the life experience to understand Somervillains across the town-gown divide. She is a single parent caring for her grandmother (who lives with her). She felt the crunch of the affordable housing crisis when she would have been forced out of town without the luck of her name being pulled in a housing lottery for an affordable apartment. She knows the stresses of single parenthood, economic struggle, and the related pressures women feel when they are juggling family care and career. She strives to represent these underheard voices.
Now she gets to prove herself, as she finishes Stephanie’s term.
2019 election results:
Joe Curtatone – 59.78 percent (winner)
Marianne Walles – 39.74 percent
Stephanie Hirsch – 18.55 percent (incumbent – winner)
Will Mbah – 18.42 percent (incumbent – winner)
Bill White – 17.18 percent (incumbent – winner)
Mary Jo Rossetti – 18.28 percent (incumbent – winner)
Kristen Strezo – 10.64 percent
Jack Connolly – 9.51 percent
JoAnn Bocca-Rivieccio – 4.50 percent
Kevin Jura – 2.61 percent