One of the primary concerns expressed here and elsewhere by opponents of the proposed new charter is a concern that the elimination of ward-elected city councilors will make our council less diverse. Rev. Howard Haywood, a life-long Newton resident who was a member of the Charter Commission, addressed this topic in a letter to the TAB. Andy Levin shared a copy with us so it can run in its entirety.
Recent letter writers to the TAB have expressed their opposition to the proposed changes to our city charter on the grounds that elimination of ward-only elected councilors will prevent the election of minority representatives to the City Council. As a member of the Newton African-American community, and one of the nine members of the Newton Charter Commission elected at-large to serve our community, I most strongly disagree.
Newton does have a diverse population. Having lived here my entire life, over time I have witnessed Newton become a much more welcoming community and am proud that our minority community has increased significantly over the years. I am also proud that Newton’s minority citizens are spread throughout the city and live in every village.
However, because the minority community is spread throughout the city, minority candidates in Newton have a much better chance of being elected at-large, in city-wide voting. They can appeal to voters from across the city who share their values and priorities.
That has already been demonstrated here where all of our minority representatives have been elected at-large. Our mayor, Setti Warren, was, of course, elected citywide. Currently, there is an African-American member on the School Committee, Angela Pitter Wright, and previously another African- American, Kathy Jones, served on the School Committee, both elected citywide. Of the 24 current City Council members, only one represents a minority group and that councilor (Amy Sangiolo of Asian descent) was elected at-large. Two previous aldermen from the minority community, Matthew Jefferson and Carol Robinson, were both elected at-large. Members of the Charter Commission were elected citywide, and resulted in my election to the Commission.
Restricting voters to vote by ward residence only will limit the opportunity for minorities to be elected to public office in the city of Newton. If the Charter Commission had been elected by ward votes only, I would not have been elected.
In addition to requiring that all councilors be elected citywide, the proposed new charter creates a new category of four councilors who can live anywhere in the city and will be elected citywide from a pool of candidates. Candidates will have an opportunity to win with a plurality of votes rather than a majority, which could be helpful for candidates who represent a minority group or point of view.
So, if diversity of our elected officials is an issue that concerns you, vote in favor of the proposed changes to the charter.