Campaign Week-in-Review 5/3/19: Listening Tour Completed

Door-Knocking Listening Tour Completed

On Tuesday, April 30, I completed my first pass through all of Ward 5, which I began in the first week of February, knocking on 2,183 doors and speaking to 700 voters. The conversations during this listening tour were overwhelmingly positive.

The top three issues were: 1) Road/Sidewalk Repair, 2) Development & Zoning (many voters just asking questions about the processes, but not taking a pro or con position), and 3) Environment, Climate Change, & Clean Energy. Generally, voters volunteered the issues they brought up, without prompting from me.

I’m looking forward to starting door-knocking over from the beginning again next week and continuing to make my case for a Ward 5 councilor who will fight for Newton to be a community for everyone.

On Wednesday May 1, I pulled my nomination papers to appear on the ballot. If you are a Ward 5 registered voter and wish to sign them, please let me know when you are available. I just need 50 to qualify.

Campaign Meet & Greet on Sunday!

Please join me for a neighborhood meet & greet this Sunday, May 5, at 4 PM at 170 Evelyn Rd in Waban, hosted by Ward 5 environmental activists Marcia Cooper and Helen Rittenberg. We’ll be talking about the urgency of climate action, green energy, and strong public transportation at the municipal level, as well as any other local issues on your mind. No donation necessary to attend, but contributions of any amount are always welcome. Email irina at to RSVP.

Hemlock Gorge Cleanup & NewtonSERVES recap

Saturday morning last weekend was the annual Friends of Hemlock Gorge cleanup day – the first without the late City Councilor Brian Yates, founder of the yearly event. A big Hemlock tree had fallen and I was one of the people assigned to pick up logs and branches and throw them into the gorge.

Sunday was also a busy morning doing NewtonSERVES projects at Richardson Field and Waban Common. I was assigned to rake mulch into place in both projects, and I had a chance to talk to a lot of the folks I was working alongside and hear about the issues they've been facing on their streets lately. Quite a few mentioned having met me or received literature from me during my door-knocking rounds over the past 3 months.

The Regional Housing & Transportation Crisis

In my listening tour, affordable housing and transportation were the 5th and 10th most frequently mentioned issues from voters. This week, I attended a Livable Newton meeting Wednesday and a Newton-Needham Chamber Spring Business Breakfast this morning (Friday), each focusing on how both of these issues together are creating a crisis in our community. According to the Chamber, 89% of workers in Newton commute from outside Newton. Lack of housing here and lack of better transportation options is a problem for workers that has gotten so dire it's affecting the businesses too. (Learn more.) Some workers in Ward 5 now spend 4 hours each day in round-trip commuting to work in Newton from a more affordable community. Moreover, among residents who already live here, some 5,000 households of low to moderate incomes are already spending more than 30% of their incomes on housing costs, according to the 2016 Newton Housing Strategy Report. We are short several thousand affordable units.

On the combined issue of housing and transportation, Mayor Fuller noted this morning that our climate emissions will grow if our Boston-area commuter population keeps spreading deeper in number and wider in geographical area, rather than being able by diverse housing supply and transit access to live close to the inner-ring and downtown jobs without long single-occupancy car commutes.

Ultimately, the housing issue is going to play a key dividing line in this race. As Ward 5 affordable housing activist Fran Godine puts it, “Bill is the only candidate in this race who has consistently championed affordable housing instead of fighting against it.”

This also ties in closely with the development and zoning issues voters mentioned so frequently on the doors. Earlier this week a conservative voter on Chatham Rd in Newton Highlands told me, consistent with national polling I’ve seen on the issue, that he is willing to accept larger and higher density housing development projects in Newton as long as they include a significant percentage of affordable units. He brought up that observation without any prompting from me, and I think that view is a majority view in Ward 5.

Newton Highlands Area Council meeting

On Thursday night, as usual I attended the monthly meeting of the Newton Highlands Area Council. The main agenda item was a presentation by the petitioners for a small retail marijuana store at Four Corners in Newton Highlands at the former Jaylin Cleaners location. Traffic remained a concern for nearby residents and business owners, as with any project in Four Corners.

For me, the concern after hearing the presentation was slightly different. Most of the partners and two of the consultants were former public officials in Boston, and three of them were former law enforcement officials who not only opposed legalization (or medicinalization), but at least two also indicated that they continued to believe it was a mistake. While some audience members seemed impressed by this “law & order” approach, I found it to be troubling, particularly as the tone of the presentation came off as very cynical. I realize that this is a lucrative business where someone is going to make a lot of money off of it, but the presenters seemed fairly open about the fact that they did not support marijuana – and had previously used their power to try to stop legalization and to “destroy lives” as one of them put it – but wanted to cash in now. I was also extremely unsettled to hear during the presentation that the security consultant on the project previously consulted for the police in Ferguson, Missouri on public relations and riot control against their own citizens in 2014 during the civilian protests against the unjust murder of Mike Brown and failure to indict his killer. I asked a follow-up question during the presentation to make sure that I was understanding this background correctly.

Rather than getting a sense of whether or not this was a good site for a retail marijuana location, I came away from this meeting wondering whether these petitioners were a good fit to be in the industry at all.

Let me know what you think or if you have additional questions. Detailed notes of the presentation will be available soon from the Newton Highlands Area Council.