WHY BEN?

By now, you’ve hopefully had the chance to meet me or one of my volunteers face to face, and you’ve likely seen campaign literature from me and from my opponent. I'd like to explain some of the key differences between me and my opponent in the Ward 3 Alderman race, and why my campaign has earned the endorsements of major progressive organizations at the city, state, and national levels. This page is a bit long, but I want to make sure you have details on these issues. 

My message has been clear from the beginning: we need a Board of Aldermen who will take action to address the housing affordability crisis in Somerville. We need a city government that is transparent, accountable, and works equally for all of our diverse residents. As a scientist, my background is based on tackling tough problems, and I’m passionate about working on the complex issues facing Somerville. I have been and remain the only candidate in this race with a progressive approach the issues facing our city - specifically, real estate development, campaign finance reform, and protecting the rights of our immigrant community.

 

Fair dealing with real estate developers

 

Somerville does need development; to build more housing for the 99%, to expand commercial industry, and to provide much needed tax revenue and generate good new jobs. Yet, we are facing a breakdown of public trust in our City Hall’s dealings with real estate developers. Just a few months ago, our Planning Board voted - against overwhelming public opinion - to waive our hard-fought 20% affordable housing ordinance for the benefit of Federal Realty Investment Trust, a for-profit developer worth $9 billion. This decision was made just 24 hours after releasing the details of the waiver, and with no opportunity for public comment. We need to rebuild public trust in City Hall, and an important part of that is to limit the ability of real estate developers to donate to political campaigns.

Alderman McWatters was a crucial swing vote to block a bill that would have limited campaign contributions from real estate developers. I would have voted differently, because I believe we need to do everything in our power to get corporate money out of politics, including at the local level. We are seeing an unprecedented boom in luxury development, and to make sure these developments actually benefit everyone in our diverse community, we need real change to limit the influence of real estate developers and other special interests on decisions made by City Hall. Unlike my opponent, I have not accepted contributions from for-profit real estate developers or their lawyers, despite statements to the contrary(In this election cycle, Alderman McWatters accepted contributions from Peter Miller and Francis Shea, the two partners at Dark Horse Capital, a real estate development firm with ongoing projects in Somerville. Information is publicly available through the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, http://www.ocpf.us/.)

 

Housing affordability

 

We need to take bold policy action to protect our diverse residents of all incomes for both renters and homeowners. This will not be easy, but there are concrete policies that we should implement as soon as possible to address the affordability crisis. Throughout my campaign, I have made it clear that pushing for real action on affordability policy will be a top priority in office. As outlined in my housing platform, I have taken a clear stance in favor of increasing our affordable housing requirement (“inclusionary zoning”) from 20% to 25% for new developments, with no waivers. This issue will almost certainly come up in the next term, and with my support I believe we can achieve it. I will work to create a Somerville Office of Housing Stability, much like what was recently established in Boston, to advocate on behalf of tenants, and to research and implement policies on displacement and gentrification. I support updating and strengthening our Condo Conversion Ordinance to discourage rampant real estate speculation and illegal evictions, which are not well enforced by the city. In contrast, my opponent has taken campaign donations from a real estate lawyer who is actively suing Somerville to get rid of tenant protections during condo conversions (the lawyer mentioned in this article, Richard Di Girolamo, contributed $500 to my opponent's campaign in 2016) . While Alderman McWatters now lists housing affordability as a top priority in his re-election campaign, he has not introduced substantial legislation on housing affordability during his time in office.

 

Development without displacement

 

When the city agrees to allow new developments in Somerville, it should ensure that they come with tangible, meaningful benefits to the community. For example, in Union Square, we have not done nearly enough to ensure that the people who live, work, and run businesses in Somerville will receive substantial community benefits through direct negotiations between the community and the developers, who will profit from the changes in our community. I want to be sure that our beloved local restaurants and businesses are not displaced by development. I want to be sure that the new jobs created will pay dignified wages. I want to be sure that US2, the corporation that is redeveloping Union Square, will truly negotiate, in good faith, with an elected board of community representatives. I have consistently supported the formation of the Union Square Neighborhood Council, a democratically elected community group trying to reach a Community Benefits Agreement with US2, while my opponent has not taken a clear stance on this issue.

 

Constituent Services

 

All of Somerville’s residents deserve efficient and timely responses to their local concerns, big or small. Both Alderman McWatters and I are both committed to diligently responding to constituent service needs. Where we differ is that I believe that it is essential to continually advocate for legislation and structural changes at City Hall that make these services equally available to all residents. While I will always be available to help constituents navigate our city’s services, I will also push for continual improvements to our 311 system - a transparent system which makes all requests publicly available through our city’s website. I believe Somerville should work to ensure that excellent constituent services are provided to all residents, especially those who aren’t experts at navigating our local government.

 

PROACTIVE LEADERSHIP

This chart shows the total number of agenda items introduced by each Alderman from 2014-2016. Our current Alderman has been one of the least active members of the Board. While he now lists affordability as a top priority, he has not used his time in office to introduce substantial legislation on this important, ongoing issue. (Source: City Clerk's Office)

This chart shows the total number of agenda items introduced by each Alderman from 2014-2016. Our current Alderman has been one of the least active members of the Board. While he now lists affordability as a top priority, he has not used his time in office to introduce substantial legislation on this important, ongoing issue. (Source: City Clerk's Office)

 

Government Transparency

 

The residents of Ward 3 deserve to be kept in the loop about major changes planned for our neighborhood. Ward 3 is made up of deeply civic-minded people, with profound expertise on a wide variety of issues. I have pledged to maintain a regular newsletter to constituents, an up-to-date online presence, and regular open office hours. I believe that maintaining an easily accessible presence both online and in-person is important for residents who, for any number of reasons, aren’t able to attend every community meeting. During his time in office, Alderman McWatters has not maintained a mailing list or online presence, and only established an up-to-date website recently.

 

Immigrants’ Rights

 

Somerville is a proud Sanctuary City. Our challenge today is to ensure that all of our residents have a seat at the table when it comes to deciding the future of our city. Cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco now provide non-citizens with municipal IDs so that they may access public and private services throughout the city. Like the majority of the Aldermen who currently serve on the Board, I believe we should adopt municipal IDs in Somerville. I also believe, unlike Alderman McWatters, that Somerville should extend the right to vote in local elections to all of our residents, including non-citizen immigrants. It’s the simplest and most direct way to make sure that all of our neighbors have an equal voice in our local government. And after the last election in November, I think many of us want to ensure that this is possible.

 

Progressive Endorsements

 

Since I started my campaign in May, I have received the support of multiple organizations, including SEIU Local 888, a local labor union of city workers. I’m especially proud of this endorsement because I believe that workers rights are fundamental to economic justice. I have also received the endorsement of Our Revolution (the national organization that grew out of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign), Our Revolution Somerville (the local chapter of Our Revolution), the Working Families Party (a national organization focused to recruiting and electing the next generation of progressive political leaders), Mass Alliance (the largest progressive coalition of labor unions, pro-choice, environmental, and other groups in Massachusetts), and the Boston Chapter of the Democratic Socialists for America.

I received these progressive organizational endorsements because these organizations believe that my values will be put to work. Not only am I out knocking doors every day for my campaign, my volunteers and I are also collecting signatures for paid family medical leave and a $15 minimum wage (as part of the Raise Up Massachusetts effort) to get these issues onto the MA state ballot in 2018.

 

The long and short of it: my opponent and I differ on our approaches and priorities. I am the only candidate in this race that advocates for:

 

  • Taking bold action to address our housing affordability crisis, including increasing the inclusionary affordable housing rate to 25% for every new development (from the current 20%), establishing an Office of Housing Stability, and strengthening our Condo Conversion Ordinance.
  • Campaign finance reform to limit contributions from for-profit real estate developers.
  • Requiring large developers to directly negotiate with neighborhood councils.
  • Extending the right vote to all Somerville residents, including immigrants, in local elections. This is the simplest and most direct way to make sure that all of our neighbors have an equal voice in our local government.

 

I would be honored to have your support at the polls on Tuesday, November 7th. Polls are open between 7am-8pm (and your employer legally must give you time off to vote!).

 

Thank you for reading, thank you for your consideration, and please feel free to reach out anytime!

 

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