If you haven’t already, please go watch the Ward 5 candidates forum, hosted by the Newton League of Women Voters and produced by NewTV Government. These fora are always informative. This one is also one of the best that I’ve seen.
1. This is a smart group of candidates. Rena Getz is a neurochemist. Kathy Winters is a corporate tax attorney. Bill Humphrey is a history/politics/policy enthusiast/expert. The brainpower was reflected in the high quality of their answers and their clear command of the issues.
2. Candidate Winters is apparently comfortable enough to pleasantly and unequivocally agree with her opponents. She did so several times. It came across as quietly confident.
3. Candidate Humphrey is not shy about drawing distinctions, sometimes sharp, between the other two candidates and himself. He got off perhaps the best line of the hour in response to a question about the size of the council, noting that he’s the only one of the three whose vote on the 2017 ballot initiative matched the preference of the Ward 5 voters.
This is one of a number of examples, of course, where the other folks running in this race and the Waban Area Council as a whole have been out of step with what Waban as a whole wants and what Ward 5 as a whole wants.
He also got both Candidates Getz and Winters back on their heels with his criticism of the Waban Area Council’s communications and his matter-of-fact reference to his campaign web site, his newsletters, and his twitter feed, including live tweeting of community events of interest.
Legitimate distinctions respectfully drawn that served him well.
4. Seniors are going to have a champion in the next Ward 5 ward councilor. Their comments on the NewCAL sitch really didn’t break any ground. None of them took super firm positions on the programming or the site. Candidate Winters would prefer debt funding. Candidate Getz wants to fund it with an impact fee from a developer.
What stood out was not what they had to say about this particular project, but a common, apparently sincere concern for the needs of seniors and the belief that it is city government’s job to provide solutions.
5. This forum format is very dry.
6. Love Candidate Winters’s multiple mentions of the need for street improvements. Would love to hear some deets on what exactly she means by it, but she did say that it would be expensive. (Kathy — or Bill or Rena, if you want some specific policy suggestions, please reach out.)
7. All three candidates credibly stated that the climate crisis is their urgent priority. Candidate Getz used the word “paramount.” But, not a single one of them directly addressed the very real need to reduce the amount of driving people do. All three were strong in principle on the need for more and better transit. Very charitably reading between the lines, their professed desire to provide transit choices might be seen as a lever to reduce driving, but the stated reasons were more to do with addressing the needs of folks without cars to begin with. The city needs to start adopting very strong measures to stop people who are currently driving from driving.* Professed environmentalists should have a position on, say, reducing the amount of driving to and from our public schools.
8. Speaking of reading between the lines, we need to have a much more frank and broad discussion about development. Candidate Getz is probably right: it’s the biggest issue in this year’s election. If you didn’t know any better, you might think there’s not much space among the three candidates. They all spoke of the need for Newton to do its fair share to ease the regional housing crisis, to add more multi-family housing, to make sure that needs of the community are considered, to get a good deal. They all talked about the need for more affordable housing and the fact that we can’t build our way to affordable.
The discussion needs to be more specific. How many more housing units should Newton take on? How many affordable housing units should we have? By when? What type of housing? Should Newton’s zoning allow more by-right development? Where? How should we finance affordable housing?
And, the conversation seems to be all in the context of large-scale development, but upzoning to allow by-right small-scale multi-family housing, like duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexes could play a large role. Is single-family-only zoning still appropriate anywhere in Newton, given the climate, economic, and social justice implications?
There were clues to where the candidates fall on the housing spectrum. Candidate Getz talked about the potential of the current draft zoning plan to increase Newton’s density “by an order of magnitude.” Not factually accurate, but a good indicator of where she stands. On the other hand, Candidate Humphrey shared a revealing (and touching) anecdote about how his grandfather railed against the new houses in his neighborhood that are now his neighbors’ homes. A good indicator of where he stands. Candidate Winters seems to fall in the middle, with a strong statement of the need to be part of the solution to the regional housing shortage, but hedged with a commitment to fight for “community concerns.”
Voters — in this race and others — deserve better than clues. There are plenty of ways to get specific on housing.
9. Fun call outs. Candidate Winters name-checked retiring councilor John Rice (ward, Ward 5) and his excellent record of responsiveness and community building. Candidate Getz favorably cited former Alderman (at-large, Ward 5), 2009 mayoral candidate, and current council candidate (at-large, Ward 5) Paul Coletti’s suggestion that a new senior center should have been built on the Austin St. lot.
10. Candidate Getz is absolutely right that we are not doing enough to plan for additional space in our schools.
11. There were some personality in the hour. Candidate Getz took the unusual position that councilor pay should be treated as an honorarium. Candidate Humphrey talked about traveling with his transit planner father to ride buses and trains in various places around the country. Candidate Winters made a lovely point about the need for more teachers of color in the Newton schools, an issue she’s especially attuned to as the mother of two black children.
11. At this point, mentions of the Blue Ribbon Commission just make me hungry.
12. I don’t know how to put this gently. And, I’m sure I’m going to catch hell for it in the comments as an expression of bias against Candidate Getz. But, wow, she went full Newton First! in her closing statement. It’s as close to close-the-borders as you’re going to get.
Here is a complete transcript of her closing remarks. (Standard caveats about transcription and willingness to correct any transcription errors.)
Hi, Many thanks to the League of Women Voters for hosting this forum tonight.
Newton is at a crossroads. We are a built-out city with a rich, historical built environment. We do not want to commodify our community at the expense of our people. Let’s be respectful and grow sustainably with our eyes wide open. Let’s phase in redevelopment to reconcile the demands on our stressed infrastructure and the impacts to Newton residents. Let’s test and try first.
Newton is a family. Let’s honor this and care for our community. I am proud that we are in Newton that … I am proud that we in Newton have a citizen-legislature form of governance and that we the people have the power to decide our future**. And, I am immensely proud of the level of community volunteerism that I see active in Newton, today.
I thank everyone tonight for this opportunity to participate in this discussion. And, I ask you, my fellow Ward 5 residents, for the honor of serving as your next Ward 5 ward councilor.
This was not and off-the-cuff response to a question; this was a prepared statement that she appeared to read.
Did you watch the video? What did you think? What were your key takeaways?
* This is about reducing the amount of driving people do on a per-person or per-family basis, not about reducing traffic volume. Adding more people to Newton (pro-development) will likely both reduce the amount of driving new residents do (compared to the amount they would drive in, say, Wayland) and generate additional traffic.
** Note: with regard to most development issues, relevant changes require a two-thirds supermajority: rezoning, special permits, &c..