Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who has presided over a rapidly changing city during nearly 18 years in office, said Monday he will not seek reelection in November, ending the tenure of the longest-serving chief executive in city history.
Curtatone announced his decision to not seek a 10th term to city officials during a mid-term address Monday afternoon. His departure will mark a sea change in the progressive politics within Somerville; the Democrat’s announcement also is sure to stoke speculation about his political plans in 2022, when the governor’s office will be on the ballot.
In an interview, Curtatone, 54, did not dismiss the possibility of seeking another office at some point, but he said his decision to not return to City Hall was not based on a “political calculus to a calendar or timeline.” Rather, he said, he wanted to avoid staying too long in a position he still loves — the exhaustion from responding to a now year-long pandemic aside.
“I’m tired of COVID — I’m not tired of the job. My passion for public service is there,” he told the Globe. “I feel good about [leaving], but I’m not excited. And that’s good. I can do it another 20 years, but I don’t think I should.”
Curtatone said that he does not have a job lined up for when he leaves office in January and that his intent is to remain focused on guiding the city through what is hoped are the latter stages of the pandemic over the next 10 months.
“I’m not even thinking about what I may or may not want to do. Politics and running for [another] office is science fiction to me,” he said. “Soon enough, I’ll have enough clarity in my mind to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.”
First elected in 2003, Curtatone has cut a reputation as an outspoken executive who has presided over significant change in Somerville, an increasingly liberal enclave of 81,000 people tucked into just over four square miles.
Over the last two decades, Somerville has, with other parts of metropolitan Boston, been transformed from the blue-collar city it once was. Union Square has undergone a makeover, and the city is home to Assembly Row, one of the state’s biggest development projects and a mixed-use urban center that is home to the headquarters of Mass General Brigham.
The city has also built a new high school, and it’s on the verge of realizing the benefits of an extended Green Line through its borders.
Under Curtatone, Somerville was among the first municipalities to display a Black Live Matters banner over City Hall in 2015, putting him at odds with the city’s police union who asked that it be replaced with one that read All Lives Matter. Curtatone declined.
And he kept an active, if sometimes brash, online presence that stretched well beyond his mayoral duties, helping elevate his political profile.
Curtatone caught headlines in 2018 when he vowed on social media he would never drink Samuel Adams beer again after Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch praised then-President Trump at a New Jersey dinner.
Months later, the mayor wrote on Twitter that the bumper-sticker-laden van of a nationwide mail-bomb suspect “looks like the inside of Geoff Diehl’s head,” drawing a clapback from Diehl, a Republican US Senate candidate who is now openly mulling his own gubernatorial bid.
The mayor in recent months has emerged as one of the most vocal municipal critics of Governor Charlie Baker’s decision-making amid the pandemic, further sparking talk that Curtatone has his eye on the governor’s office. Somerville was among the first communities to mandate mask-wearing in public last spring, and Curtatone has at times resisted rolling back restrictions on businesses as quickly as the administration has allowed.
“It has been exhausting,” Curtatone said of the pandemic, “but I’m not exhausted for the job. . . . I would run and win election, but I need to put all my energy into the next 300 days.”
Curtatone, a married father of four school-aged children, said there wasn’t a particular moment that prompted his decision. He said there was only one other time he considered not seeking reelection: in late 2018, after he was hospitalized with a severe case of the shingles virus that forced him to take a break from his schedule for weeks.
“That was the one moment where I said, ‘Should I run again?’” he said.
His address to city leaders Monday offered a natural outlet for the announcement. He told city officials that being mayor has been the “honor of a lifetime,” and he wants to set up the next administration to be successful.
“I love this job — and this community — with every ounce of my being,” Curtatone said.
Those close to Curtatone say he’s indicated he is leaving the door open to seeking a higher office. Mark Horan, a political consultant who has worked for Curtatone and has served as an informal adviser for years, said it would be “extremely difficult” to angle for higher office while also running for reelection, and he believes Curtatone has the “experience, creativity, and success” as mayor to run for governor, should he choose to.
Baker has said he has not decided whether he’ll seek an unprecedented third consecutive term.
“It certainly makes sense that he is considering it,” Horan said of Curtatone, with whom he keeps in touch. “The state tends to elect experienced executives for governor.”