NEWTON — With less than six weeks before Election Day, two veteran city councilors vying to become Newton’s next mayor laid out their views on housing and development in a debate Thursday night.
Ruthanne Schwartz Fuller and Scott F. Lennon, the top two vote-getters in last month’s preliminary election, will face off on Nov. 7, when voters decide on a replacement for Mayor Setti Warren, who is not seeking a third term.
Both candidates, who are city councilors at large, said they would promote more affordable housing in the city. They said less expensive housing is needed for seniors, workers, city employees, and to attract more business to Newton.
Warren, who is leaving the mayor’s office to run for governor, also prioritized housing. But efforts have been slowed as some proposed developments have faced stiff opposition from neighbors.
Fuller said city officials should seek input from residents and local businesses to create master plans for neighborhoods.
“Let’s get out in front, and let’s zone it to match our vision so the developer knows what we want,” Fuller said.
The two candidates said they want to examine ways to extend the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires developers of six or more units to set aside a portion to be affordable to people earning up to 80 percent of the area’s median income.
“You have to make progress; we have to show this community we are committed to it,” Lennon said of affordable housing.
Both candidates also back a controversial proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot that would reduce the size of the City Council and eliminate ward-only voting for councilors.
“The citywide issues that we are [facing] here in the city with regard to zoning and with regard to development are all... initiatives that I feel all councilors should be held accountable (to),” said Lennon, the City Council’s president.
Each has served lengthy terms on the City Council and said they would carry on many of Warren’s priorities, including infrastructure investment, funding retirement costs for city workers, supporting schools, and bolstering economic development.
Fuller and Lennon focused on policy details to differentiate themselves, such as how they would tackle opioid misuse.
Both strongly supported the city’s taking aggressive action to address opioid addiction in Newton, but split on the details: Fuller said she wanted to hire new staff, while Lennon said the city already had the expertise in-house.
The debate at the Eliot Church was moderated by Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber, and sponsored by Uniting Citizens for Housing Affordability in Newton, Engine 6, and the Newton Interfaith Clergy Association.
Both candidates pledged to reach out to residents and encourage active participation in city government.
“I have been going door to door for a while,” said Lennon, “and have encountered these folks who don’t even know how to get involved at City Hall.”
Fuller said that as mayor she’d look for ways for residents to communicate with city officials.
“People are saying over and over to me, ‘My voice is not being genuinely heard at City Hall.’ That’s going to change with a Fuller administration,” she said.John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.