We asked Newton’s two mayoral candidates — Scott Lennon, president of the City Council and councilor-at-large for Ward 1, and Ruthanne Fuller, councilor-at-large for Ward 7 — to talk about how they would handle some of the issues on the minds of local voters.
On Nov. 7, Newton residents will elect a replacement for Mayor Setti Warren, who is not seeking a third term. They will also vote on “Question 1,” which would reduce the size of the City Council from 24 members to 12, with one councilor from each of the eight wards and four councilors who can live anywhere in the city. If the new charter is approved, all councilors would be elected by voters citywide.
Below are the candidates’ answers, which have been edited and condensed.
1. If the charter ballot question passes on Nov. 7, and each city councilor is elected by a citywide vote, how will you protect local neighborhood representation?
Lennon: I started my career as a ward councilor, and I understand the value of local neighborhood representation… I know the important work of local representation: keeping the sidewalks clear, parks, making sure our villages remain vibrant, working on constituent services… Whatever happens on [Nov. 7], you are going to have someone in the administration who understands how important that is.
Fuller: As mayor, I will be in the neighborhoods, I’ll be in the villages, I’ll be at elementary schools, I’ll be holding office hours outside of City Hall… I think we can also activate our neighborhood associations, and our neighborhood area councils, even more to give productive input... It’s not something you just activate ignore. It’s hard work and critical work.
2. Will the repair of the city’s roads be a top priority in your first term?
Lennon: First and foremost, my top priority is to ensure we have a well-run and well-managed city… I’m the only candidate in this race who has the work experience managing plans, managing budgets, managing teams. We’re going to take that roads plan [to repair city streets over 10 years], we’re going to implement it throughout the course of my administration.
Fuller: I’m committed to easing traffic congestion, and making Newton safer for bikers and pedestrians. So repairing city roads are a top priority for me. And each road project presents an opportunity to get it right, so we take care of the safety of all of the users, organizing and optimizing and sometimes calming traffic.
3. What is one step you would take to support local business growth in village centers?
Lennon: One of the things we need to do is not only attract new businesses, but also helping existing businesses… I’d like to create a position in the administration that deals strictly with existing businesses, helping them as a resource, attracting new businesses into our village centers, and making sure they understand how they can work in City Hall.
Fuller: A first basic step is to make sure the process of opening a business here is streamlined and clarified, and we at City Hall are making it as easy as possible and make sure that small businesses know that Newton is open for business. We should be proactively creating individual master plans for each unique village and commercial corridor, so it’s clear to businesses what we would like to have come to Newton.
4. How will you create additional affordable housing developments that have the support of local neighborhoods?
Lennon: [Residents] need to be able to have a seat at the table to talk about what we’re doing, where we’re going as a community in terms of what developments look like, and obviously what affordable housing looks like in our community… We need to bring petitioners in, the city in, developers in, planning in, residents in. We need to do it collaboratively.
Fuller: We need substantial, genuine community input from the very beginning, and on an ongoing basis, so neighbors, both residents and business owners, can help shape master plans and our zoning. Each village and commercial corridor is unique, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer… not only do we have to get input on what happens in the village or commercial corridor, but how it transitions into our residential neighborhoods that we want to protect.
5. Explain how you will continue to make Newton an inclusive and welcoming community?
Lennon: I want to make sure we set a tone at the top ensuring that we’re hiring [and] that we respecting different cultures, putting people in places of responsibility, putting people on our boards and commissions that have different viewpoints and different approaches, and that’s how I think we continue to make Newton an inclusive and welcoming community.
Fuller: It matters deeply who we hire at City Hall, and who sits on our commissions. We also have to make sure to have someone at City Hall, in addition to the mayor, who is always looking at issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity across all the decisions we’re making at City Hall, and that we’re thinking about gender, race, ethnicity, political preferences, immigration status, socio-economic backgrounds, and even where people live here in Newton.
6. How will you add bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets into the city?
Lennon: We’ve heard a lot about strategic planning in this race, but we have a transportation strategy, we have a plan that has been done, that has had a lot of different input from different people here in the city… you need someone who is going to roll up his sleeves, pick up the plan, and move on it.
Fuller: As we improve the condition of our streets and the sidewalks, we have to be very strategic about making sure the streets serve all users, whether they are driving, walking, or biking, whether they are young or old, and that our streets are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
7. Describe how your administration would protect open space.
Lennon: There’s a plan [for open space] in place… that we need to continue to implement and look at the ability to utilize conservation restrictions [and] preservation restrictions… We’ve done a good job with our core city services, now I want to start looking at the arts, culture, our environment, and our senior services, and our parks and recreation.
Fuller: With open space, we should be actively looking to acquire open space, and provide the funding from the CPA and the city, if need be. We don’t want to lose buy-it-now or lose-it-forever opportunities. And we have to preserve and maintain our green and open spaces, and allocating more budget and staff if need be. The other important aspect is to put restrictions so that they are preserved in perpetuity.
8. In your first term, would you back a project to repair or replace the city’s senior center?
Lennon: Yes, you have to start doing it with the input of the stakeholders. … We’re going to start with that feasibility study, we’re going to look to see what it should look like... and make sure [the project] is an integral part of our capital improvement plan.
Fuller: Our current senior center is both too small and poorly laid out and badly maintained. I am committed in my first year in office to the important first step of doing the feasibility study and let’s create a plan.
9. Can you take these actions and preserve existing services without increasing the tax burden on residents?
Lennon: I would be more open to looking at debt exclusion overrides for capital [projects] right up front because of our good financial standing and our ability to borrow low. . It’s been a while, if ever, that we ever had someone who is a budget professional in the mayor’s office. I really need to be afforded the opportunity to be able to get in and look at all aspects of our budget, where we’re going, [and] analyze our financial forecasts.
Fuller: We do have many initiatives before us to make sure Newton is vital and attractive. But we at the same time have to make sure these ambitions don’t evolve into unchecked expectations… I served as vice chair of the citizen’s advisory group after the 2007 and 2008 financial collapse, and led the strategy for us to be financially sound. I’m proud that Setti Warren has used our work as a blueprint. I am particularly well qualified to have both a clear vision and the experience to deliver excellent services in a financially sustainable way.
10. What is one problem you want to fix as the next mayor?
Lennon: There is a lot of divisiveness throughout our community right now, about politics, and what we’re doing. I can be a bridge to a lot of that. I can be a unifier for this city… you need people to start talking to one another and understanding each other’s differences.
Fuller: To use multiple ways to make sure everyone’s voice is genuinely heard inside City Hall and the decisions we make respond to their concerns. [That’s the] most fundamental issue, and it’s related to making sure that I am a mayor for all of Newton.John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.