The final vote on the Austin Street project is likely to take place in eight days and insiders who’ve been trying to predict if the project can get the required 16 votes to pass say it’s very close. A few aldermen are still undecided – or at least reluctant to discuss their decisions – making the Dec. 8 board vote too close to call.
But based on conversations I’ve had, one trend seems clear: The majority of Newton’s 16 at-large aldermen support the Austin Street project while the majority of the city’s eight ward aldermen do not.
Of Newton’s ward aldermen, five of the eight are said to be either opposed to the project or thinking about voting against it: Emily Norton (Ward 2), Barbara Brousal-Glaser (Ward 3), Jay Harney (Ward 4), Dick Blazer (Ward 6), and Lisle Baker (Ward 7).
Of Newton’s 16 at-large aldermen, a maximum of five is believed to be opposed or undecided. They are: Allan Ciccone, Jr. (Ward 1), Jim Cote (Ward 3), Lenny Gentile and Amy Sangiolo (Ward 4), and Brian Yates (Ward 5).
If the votes stay consistent with the backroom talk, then the project would be supported by 69 percent of at-large aldermen and 38 percent of ward aldermen. Yet it would be defeated.
Considering that ward aldermen are elected by such a small percent of Newton (typically about 700-800 voters each), does it make sense that they could stop a project that is supported by most of their colleagues who’ve been elected with city-wide support? In 2015, is it appropriate that ward aldermen – whose job is not to serve the entire city — are making decisions for the entire city?
Theoretically, a ward alderman could know that a vote that will make her constituents happy is a bad decision for the city but still believe she is doing the right thing by voting no. Or ward aldermen might trade votes on projects as in an “I’ll vote against your project if you vote against mine” kind of deal, often without repercussion from constituents.
Obviously this question aligns with a discussion I’d expect the Charter Commission may have regarding possibly reducing the size of the Board of Aldermen.
But my question is not: Should we eliminate ward aldermen to reduce the size of the board?
My questions are this: Does the role of ward alderman deter the city from progressing as a whole? Or, is this representation at the neighborhood level necessary?
*Disclaimer: I support the Austin Street project. However, I have no financial, political or emotional stake in it whatsoever. My life will continue as is regardless of the board’s vote on Dec. 8.