I was as close to Rena’s campaign as anyone outside her own family, so I have a few observations that I think may be of interest. If you had asked me to give an honest assessment of the campaign even three weeks ago, I would have told you that I expected Rena to run a far distant third. The story here is not that Rena fell a few votes short, but that she came so close. I’d like to share some reasons I think this happened.
The first is Rena herself. She and I worked on Brian Yates last four reelection campaigns and a range of citywide, ward and village issues. In the process, we have become close friends and confidants. I became increasingly taken by Rena’s intimate and detailed knowledge of Newton’s governments and villages, her unvarnished willingness to speak truth to power and the joyful enthusiasm she brings to everything she does. I knew she would make an outstanding City Councilor if she could somehow make it across some yet undefined finish line. Rena’s a natural leader and she also turned out to be one of the most formidable campaigners I’ve ever seen on the hustings in Newton. I saw it in action whether she was meeting groups of voters, hitting voters during one on one door to door canvassing, or discussing her positions with full clarity and conviction on the debate stage. Rena radiates confidence, wry humor, blunt honesty and contagious optimism. All these personal and political assets are the main factors that helped turn a perceived lost cause into a very close race.
The second point relates to Rena’s late entry into the Ward 5 contest. The problem was that there were no promising options in Ward 5 or in a citywide race as the campaign season got underway and this stymied her decision. At the start, we had no large sources of funding or defined base of support while her two opponents started their campaigns with both of these assets strongly in place. Councilor John Rice’s decision to back Kathy and to campaign with her was his clear prerogative, but the esteem John is held in by everyone in this Ward seemed at first to put an already difficult challenge beyond reach. It was a clear leap of faith for Rena to run under these circumstances, but once she did, she ran balls to the wall from her announcement right up to when the polls closed on Tuesday evening. In the process she began to draw groups and people to her side from across the political spectrum. I felt this combustion in the closing weeks of the campaign.
The third point has to do with the impact of development issues on the results. Rena’s landslide win in Upper Falls was obviously due, in part, to her clearly stated concerns about the unresolved size and traffic transportation challenges from the Northland development, but it also derived from her close past association with Brian Yates and her very visible leadership presence in the Friends of Hemlock Gorge. In short, Rena was anything but a one issue candidate. The record will show she addressed a full range of issues and challenges in her campaign literature and in debates and other forums. And the argument that her loss was somehow a defeat for those of us favoring a more prudent approach to development is also way off the mark. I knocked on at least 300 doors in the Highlands for Rena in August and September. I found plenty of concern about the impact of possible changes in the village center and in other parts of the village, but I also found most folks want a balance between sound development and preserving the best from our past. All these broader development issues outside Upper Falls just never got that clearly defined in the preliminary election.
Finally, this campaign has established Rena as a credible and formidable leader within both the ward and city. She was clearly surging at the end and I think the best from her is yet to come.