Jake Auchincloss, candidate for At-Large Alderman Ward 2, submitted this column to Village 14. After consulting with a few Village 14ers, we decided to post this as an experiment. We will post columns from declared candidates, as submitted and with no editing, but reserve the right to limit the number of columns or ditch this whole idea at any time. Candidates should not use this forum to say negative things about their opponents. (That’s what the comments section is for 🙂 )
Since the winter’s thaw, my campaign for alderman-at-large from Ward 2 has knocked on 3,000 doors towards my 10,000+ goal. Across all eight wards, I have heard from hundreds of engaged voters at their doorstep about what issues in Newton are important to them. Below is a brief summary of what I’m hearing, what I’m not hearing, and what I think it means.
I make no claims that this is a scientific poll, but the selection of representative quotations and the methodology has been consistent and unbiased. My own opinions I save till the end.
What voters are talking about: Housing, schools, and roads.
1) Seniors and young families alike are feeling squeezed by the Newton housing market. Approximately 25% of voters mentioned this issue first.
“My kids can’t afford to come back to Newton with their families.” – 68 year-old female, West Newton.
“I can’t afford the property taxes anymore. I will have to sell soon.” – 78 year-old female, Newtonville.
“Nobody wants a lawn anymore. The new projects are all house.” – 54 year-old female, Newton Corner.
“It already takes me ten minutes to even get out of the driveway in the morning; the new development will make it a mess.” – 58 year-old male, Newton Lower Falls.
“This street has totally changed in the last ten years. My parents left me the house, but most of my friends growing up couldn’t afford to stay.” – 38 year-old female, West Newton.
2) Young parents and empty-nesters alike are generally happy with the schools and wish to see funding for schools maintained, though there is a lively set of opinions about how, precisely, the city directs money for education. Approximately 25% of voters mentioned this issue first.
“We moved here for the schools and I’ve been really happy with the teachers so far.” – 37 year-old female, Oak Hill.
“I want the city to support the teachers. I think their happiness at work affects my kids.” – 42 year-old female, Newton Corner.
“There are too many aides in the schools – it seems like we spend so much on aides but then we can’t afford good buildings.” – 48 year-old male, Newtonville.
“The special education here is superb.” – 64 year-old female, West Newton.
3) Drivers and cyclists are not impressed with the roads. Approximately 10% of voters mentioned this issue first.
“I thought the city was pretty good this winter with the plowing. But in general the potholes are terrible.” – 59 year-old male, Newton Lower Falls.
“I broke an axle on Washington Street. Watertown and Wellesley’s roads look great, but you cross the line into Newton and it’s a different world.” – 62 year-old female, West Newton.
What voters are not talking about: The city’s fiscal policy
Very few voters bring up either short-term or long-term budgetary issues. To borrow a concept from business school, fiscal policy is not a “pain point” for voters. When my team or I put the issue forward, two representative sentiments are:
“I know the city has a good credit rating. That’s important.” – 62 year-old male
“Health care is a mess in the whole country. The city’s probably counting on being less of a mess than everywhere else [in regards to health care costs for municipal employees].” – 54 year-old female
What I think this means for Newton
The defining issues for the City Council over the next 15 years will be housing and the twin deficits in infrastructure investment and the employee benefits fund.
The voters are keenly aware of the development issue and are generally agreed that the city needs more attainable housing for young families and workable housing for seniors, while maintaining the character of a Garden City.
The mandate for Phase 2 of zoning reform is apparent though deeply difficult: Pull back the reins on the mansion-ization of neighborhoods that still have starter homes, moderately increase mixed-use density in village centers, and vigorously preserve green space in the city. I welcome this challenge and have the leadership and policy experience to help thread that narrow needle.
Conversely, there is unfortunately limited public pressure to responsibly fund our $600M+ employee benefits liability. The City Council needs to raise the volume on this unglamorous but momentous issue. I talk about it at every door I knock, and as a councilor-at-large I will work with Ruthanne Fuller and the administration to make sure our children do not pay our bills for us.