Somerville Elections

Somerville Elections

The candidates get specific on Wal-Mart and their ideas for shaping the city

By Adam Vaccaro

With City elections set for Nov. 8, we wanted to hear from the candidates one last time about the issues most central to Somerville, as well as the issues most central to themselves.

We asked the candidates to tell us how they felt about the proposed Wal-Mart opening in Assembly Square, and we asked them to elaborate on what they told us in the September/October Scout about what they would change about Somerville.

The Sept. 13 Ward 7 aldermanic preliminary election eliminated Joan Whitney Puglia from the field, narrowing the list of candidates for that seat from three to two. In the Nov. 8 election, residents will choose between two aldermanic candidates not only in ward 7, but also in wards 3 and 4. Incumbents in the other four wards – 1, 2, 5 and 6 – are running unopposed. In addition, residents will elect four of the seven candidates for alderman-at large. Then there’s the mayor, who’s running unopposed.

All told, that makes 18 candidates. And we asked each one of them: “What is your opinion of Wal-Mart’s plan to open a 34,000 square foot grocery store on the site of the old Circuit City in Assembly Square?”

Their individualized questions – following up on their comments in the last Scout – are listed beneath the Wal-Mart responses in their profiles.

For Mayor

 Joseph A (Joe) Curtatone
130 Ten Hills Rd
Somerville, MA 02145

On Wal-Mart: A Wal-Mart fresh food market in Assembly Square will get the same level of consideration and scrutiny we would give any other fresh food market at that location. We are still awaiting a formal submission from Wal-Mart. There are those in our community both strongly for and against it, with both sides making social justice arguments, but we will not know what all of the issues are for Somerville until we see a concrete proposal.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of making Somerville a great place to work, play and raise a family…despite constrained revenues. In an atmosphere where you have to compete with other mayors for state and national funds, how will you do this?
Comment: Somerville has an abundance of advantages when competing for state and federal dollars. The city is a vital node in our regional transportation network. Also, given our population density, projects here can have a positive impact for a greater number of people. On top of that, we have thriving city squares plus award-winning schools, parks and public housing projects. Somerville is recognized far and wide as a healthy city, a great place to raise a family and an innovative city. Demonstrated success and clear vision play a big role when competing for state and federal funding. Plus, Somerville rocks.

For Alderman at Large

John M (Jack) Connolly, Jr
17 Winslow Ave
Somerville, MA 02144

On Wal-Mart: The reuse of the Circuit City building for a grocery store is a great concept. I support the idea wholeheartedly. I understand it will also include a pharmacy, which also works well. The sooner the better!
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of continuing fiscal oversight of the city and local corporations. What will you personally do differently to pursue this oversight, than you have done in previous terms?
Comment: Fiscal oversight techniques are more thorough now than in years past since technology has given us many more tools. I can spend more time reviewing specific or detailed fiscal matters; because of the internet and different search engines for comparative data, I can compare more communities similar to Somerville than ever before.

Bruce M Desmond
220A Summer St
Somerville, MA 02143

On Wal-Mart: Somerville certainly needs to boost its commercial tax base. I have always believed that the city and our business community are partners working together to make Somerville a better place. However, in our rush to enhance our commercial revenue we must be selective of who we partner with. We need businesses offering good paying jobs with good working conditions and who will give Somerville residents a hiring preference. Wal-Mart doesn’t fit that description.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of getting more commercial business into the city. What will you do, personally, in pursuit of this goal, that you have not done before?
Comment: It’s not about what I have or haven’t done personally. It’s about being part of a team with the common goal of attracting good businesses to this great city. As a potential business partner Somerville has re-zoned our business areas, made huge investments in physical improvements to our squares, streets and sidewalks by redesigning traffic flow, improved lighting and resurfaced pavements. We have enhanced our restaurant licenses with extended hours of operation and the ability to seasonally operate outdoors. Now we need to inform the world of our philosophy and our commitment as a business partner.

Dennis Michael Sullivan
138 Ten Hills Rd
Somerville, MA 02145

On Wal-Mart: I have serious concerns regarding Wal-Mart’s treatment of workers, especially female workers. Wal-Mart should be given a fair opportunity to make their case. If Wal-Mart moves forward, I will work to make sure they are a responsible employer and corporate neighbor.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned working on a domestic violence policy for city workers. What actions will you take to make this plan a reality?
Comment: Approximately one year ago, I passed a resolution for a creation of a Domestic Violence Policy for the city of Somerville. The purpose of this policy is to create an awareness of domestic violence and provide guidelines for addressing domestic violence by assisting victims in finding appropriate resources, and by assisting abusers in finding treatment programs. I will continue to advocate for this needed policy.

William A (Bill) White, Jr
16 Browning Rd
Somerville, MA 02145

On Wal-Mart: The Special Permit for the Circuit City site excluded supermarkets as a use. Therefore, if Wal-Mart is serious, it must apply for a Special Permit with Site Plan Review under zoning law. The Planning Board, not the Board of Aldermen, will decide whether Wal-Mart will open. Personally, I do not favor Wal-Mart’s treatment of employees. I would, however, solicit opinions and listen to the public prior to taking any formal position before the Planning Board.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of fostering further civic participation by Somerville residents. What actions can you take in the next two years to fulfill this goal, especially when it comes to participation by ethnic minorities?
Comment: I will continue the practices I have followed for many years. The simplest one is having an “open phone” and “open door” to respond to resident concerns. Other practices include bringing government to the people by holding Aldermanic Committee meetings in those neighborhoods that are impacted by the issues under debate. Also, when issues are important, I have asked that the Board hold public hearings to allow the public to speak. I have encouraged our many resident groups, including those of ethnic minorities, in their missions by sponsoring such groups before the Board and appearing at meetings held by those groups.

Todd E Easton
35 Hudson St
Somerville, MA 02143

On Wal-Mart: This isn’t about whether we want Wal-Mart in our city or not. It’s about the fact that we need to serve the members of our community who need access to affordable food. East Somerville is experiencing an issue with food access. Star left and the space has yet to attract another supermarket. The key is to create an environment to attract businesses that share the community-minded values of Somerville.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of making the schools “the best they can be” and, specifically, preventing school flight. What actions can you take as alderman in pursuit of these goals?
Comment: First, I would like to clarify that I was misquoted in the last issue. The concern I mentioned was preventing school “flight.” (Scout had erroneously reported Easton as saying “fight.”) Our children attend Somerville Public Schools. In contrast with the current aldermen, none of whom have school-aged children, I am in the schools every day talking with families, teachers, and administrators and volunteering my time. I know firsthand that Somerville loses families every year because of concerns with the academic strength of our schools. As alderman, I will work with the School Committee to focus on improving student achievement; build stronger partnerships with universities, businesses and the arts community; introduce foreign languages in the earlier grades; and foster greater community volunteerism in ours schools.

Sean J Fitzgerald
46 Garrison Ave
Somerville, M 02144

On Wal-Mart: I am strongly opposed to Wal-Mart opening a grocery store in the Assembly Square complex. Put simply, Wal-Mart prices smaller competitors out of the market, and in many instances, out of existence, see K B Toys. Their onerous business practices include, but are not limited to, low wages and benefits, predatory pricing, traffic congestion, environmental concerns, public safety issues, absentee landlordism, and extremely poor public relations. Somerville should follow Boston’s lead and reject this project.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you said you’d “join the growing call for the immediate start to the extension of the Green Line.” What steps will you actually take to pressure the State to move faster?
Comment: I would ask the State Delegation to aggressively lobby the Governor to reconsider the decision to delay, yet again, the Green Line extension into Somerville. This community stood with the Governor in 2006 and 2010, when the Green Line extension was part of his transportation platform. I would rally the community by staging a high-profile media campaign to garner as much attention to this issue as possible. One example might be human chain of hundreds of residents linking arms from Lechmere all along the proposed Green Line extension route to the proposed terminus. That should certainly get the media’s attention!

Michael D Nionakis
30 Mansfield St
Somerville, MA 02143

On Wal-Mart: I am definitely for it. It would expand the city’s business tax base, possibly create jobs for Somerville residents and create competition for Somerville consumers. I am in favor of Wal-Mart’s plan to move into the now vacant Circuit City property before it turns into another Star Market fiasco.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you said you did not condone fiscal recklessness. What actions can you take, personally, if elected, to make the city more fiscally responsible?
Comment: I would try to act, along with other board members, to set forth initiatives that would thoroughly examine departmental budgets to insure that each department is making the most of taxpayer dollars. For instance, the school budget is approximately 1/3 of the city’s overall budget and among some of the highest in the state, and yet, according to the state’s MCAS reports the elementary school results are in the lowest ten percentile statewide. To me, that is a totally unacceptable result. I would also like to create a yearly review, and job justification policy, of the city’s administrative employees.

For Alderman Ward 1

William M Roche
17 MacArthur St
Somerville, MA  02145

On Wal-Mart: First of all Wal-Mart would need zoning relief to open in the former Circuit City location and that is a public process where residents could speak in favor or against. Their concept is interesting and I am willing to speak with anyone looking to operate in that location. Wal-Mart would bring competition to Somerville’s other food markets and that is a good thing. Wal-Mart has indicated that they want to be a community partner in ongoing initiatives and also has indicated interest in a local hire agreement. There are many residents in East Somerville in need of a job and Wal-Mart could bring that relief to the neighborhood. However, Wal-Mart does bring some baggage regarding their labor policies.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned high-end development at Assembly Square as a top priority. What steps can you take, as an alderman, to lure and speed up high-end development?
Comment: Assembly Row at Assembly Square is the next great neighborhood in the greater Boston area. Authorizing the $25 million bond was the first aggressive step to assure high-end development would take place at Assembly Row. This will result in a total of 405 housing units, and a hotel.

For Alderman Ward 2

Maryann M Heuston
115 Beacon St
Somerville, MA 02143

On Wal-Mart: I do not have any detail on what is being proposed, but on the whole, the concept of a grocery store in the old Circuit City space seems like a reasonable idea, bringing new jobs to the city and an additional option for food shopping for residents.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned plans for the Green Line and future of the Brickbottom area were a priority for you. Specifically, what leadership role do you plan to take regarding either or both of these priorities?
Comment: Regarding the Green Line extension, I continue to be a strong advocate questioning aspects of it that would negatively impact the neighborhoods in my ward, as I did with the maintenance facility: attending meetings where MassDOT provided noise and shadow analysis to residents of Brickbottom; participating in meetings regarding station design; signing on to petitions where we have protested the delay of the extension; and continuing to follow this very closely both in terms of the impact on economic development in Union Square and diligence in making sure that the State’s commitment and mandate are met.

For Alderman Ward 3

Thomas F Taylor
32 Vinal Ave
Somerville, MA 02143

Taylor was unable to answer Scout’s questions as he remains in the hospital. In the September/October Scout, Taylor said stabilizing the City’s budget and addressing the lack of parking spots in and around Union Square were issues he would prioritize.

Stephen A Delani
43 Berkeley St
Somerville, MA 02143

On Wal-Mart: I am open to Wal-Mart coming into the vacant building of Circuit City. It should create some well-needed jobs. It also generates some capital for local contractors and potential tax revenue. If I am correct on the vacant building we can only collect property tax. Now this will change.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you lamented the raising of city fees. In a fiscal climate like this one, what would you do to help the city to stay afloat without raising existing fees or creating new ones?
Comment: In regards to the fees, I was and still am opposed to their being increased. We could look at new ways to create revenue. How about increasing penalties for offenders who are avoiding these fees? How many dogs are in the city? How many do not have a dog license? Why not enforce this? The fines would offset the increase and not penalize those who abide by the law. Somerville has just started to enforce and check on expired registrations. This willalso create new capital. But we should also look at the spending in the city. In this tough economic time why did the city budget for 2012 increase over 2011?

For Alderman Ward 4

Christine P Barber
87 Thurston St
Somerville, MA 02145

On Wal-Mart: I am opposed to Wal-Mart’s proposal. Wal-Mart historically has paid its employees poorly and provided them with few benefits. It has also been found to discriminate against women employees. I am very concerned that Wal-Mart will compete with Somerville’s local businesses and has an unfair advantage. In assessing the Wal-Mart proposal, we need to think carefully about the kind of businesses we want in our city, and how to provide the best jobs for residents.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of making sure your neighborhood stays affordable. How would you define “affordable,” and what actions can an alderman actually take in pursuit of this goal?
Comment: One way of ensuring our neighborhood is affordable is by creating and keeping good jobs for local residents so people can afford to stay here. We have opportunities in Ward 4 to do this – by filling empty storefronts like the Star Market building with businesses that will benefit the community, and holding developers accountable to provide jobs for residents. As alderman, I will work with officials, owners and developers to keep housing affordable and the community livable for people here. This means maintaining the affordable housing options in our neighborhood, and expanding the availability of housing for the middle class.

Tony Lafuente
137 Sycamore St
Somerville, MA 02145

On Wal-Mart: Competition is healthy – especially among food stores. My concerns about Wal-Mart are shared by people all over Somerville – namely the way they treat employees. As a small businessman in the city with 15 employees, I know firsthand how important it is to treat employees fairly – with dignity and respect. If Wal-Mart can satisfy the community that they will treat their employees properly, I would be in favor of Wal-Mart applying to do business in Somerville.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned talking to the owners of storefronts and getting them involved in city renovations. What sort of participation are you seeking and, if it’s fiscal, how can you feasibly motivate cash-strapped small business owners to subsidize what ought to be the city’s responsibility?
Comment: Fortunately, the city has available funds for small businesses throughout the city to improve storefronts. Businesses with new storefronts not only look good – they help make individual businesses and business districts more profitable by encouraging commerce. And they increase property values in the surrounding neighborhoods. Ward 4 has not taken advantage of the Storefront Improvement Program like other parts of the city. If elected, I will take a proactive approach to this program. I’ll encourage local businesses to take advantage of the grants available – and work with owners to get these grants.

For Alderman Ward 5

Sean T O’Donovan
30 Warwick St
Somerville, MA 02145

On Wal-Mart: It was always a storefront and I know some people object to it coming to the City. I don’t like to see empty storefronts. I like to see activity and jobs for the community. So having nothing there doesn’t help anybody. We’ll have to work with the alderman for Ward 1 and see what the neighbors and the people around there feel is best for the people around there, and also the administration, but I’m a pro-business person and think that there might be some jobs there for some people from Somerville.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of stimulating economic growth in the ward’s square. What concrete steps will you actually take in pursuit of this goal?
Comment: I think we need to work with the shop owners, the landowners, the residents and the city planners to come up with a game plan and a vision going forward for how to economically stimulate Magoun Square. The Green Line extension is something that will have an effect, but it’s not in the square, it’s down the road 100 yards to the Lowell Street bridge.

For Alderman Ward 6

Rebekah L Gewirtz
131 Morrison Ave
Somerville, MA 02144

On Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart has a lot of explaining to do about the poor treatment of workers in their stores before we should even consider their application to come to Somerville. Additionally, one of my priorities in office has been making sure we protect and support our locally owned and operated, independent businesses. Wal-Mart stores have historically made it difficult if not impossible for small businesses, which pay good wages and create unique communities, to thrive.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned promoting transparency and openness in local government. What is one example of something in Somerville’s government that you wish were more transparent, and what steps will you take in pursuit of that transparency?
Comment: To me, part of transparent government is community members having access to the best and most up-to-date information about important decisions at city hall. One way I help to foster this is through my quarterly e-newsletter where I also ask people for their feedback on important issues facing the city. Government works best when community members are engaged in the process as it’s happening and not after it’s too late.

For Alderman Ward 7

Robert C Trane
70 Hooker Ave
Somerville, MA 02144

On Wal-Mart: I have concerns with Wal-Mart and the numerous issues they have had as employers. Wal-Mart has been sued by female workers for substandard pay and they have a dismal record with labor: everything from forced overtime without overtime pay to a low pay scale compared to other retail operations. I would be open to hear what Wal-Mart would be offering the City before I could even consider any support for a Somerville location.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of implementing community policing. What steps will you personally take in this effort?
Comment: As the current ward alderman I have been a longtime advocate for community policing and Somerville has already begun implementing it. An important component of community policing is bringing officers into our neighborhoods. I am very proud of our success in this area through the opening of the Teele Sq police station, a new deployment plan of police officers to ensure better response times and allowing officers more time to interact with our residents.

Katjana Ballantyne
49 Russell Rd
Somerville, MA 02144

On Wal-Mart: As alderman, I will support new businesses that make positive contributions according to the following three questions: Will the business provide good jobs that are open to residents? Will the business provide goods and/or services that benefit both residents and existing businesses in Somerville? And will the business pay taxes or make contributions that will pay the cost of the city services required by their operations? Businesses that provide positive responses to these questions deserve our support.
Scout: In the September/October Scout, you mentioned the goal of keeping Ward 7 affordable. How would you define “affordable,” and what steps can you take, as an alderman, in pursuit of that affordability?
Comment: Sustainable affordability in Somerville requires that our residents have access to good jobs and that residents can afford the cost of living here. As Alderman I’ll work to increase office space and new businesses that will provide good jobs for Somerville residents. New businesses in Somerville will help to pay the cost of city services, so that Somerville will be more affordable for residents. I’ll promote efforts to create affordable business space and housing options in Somerville, and I’ll keep working to help residents find access to job training and good jobs.

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