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Newton election season heats up as two candidates launch challenges to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, left, is running for a second term this year. She faces challenges from Amy Mah Sangiolo, center, a former Ward 4 Councilor-at-large; and Albert Cecchinelli.

Newton’s race for mayor is heating up this election season, as Mayor Ruthanne Fuller faces two opponents who are working to challenge her bid for a second term.

Amy Mah Sangiolo, a former city councilor-at-large, and Albert Cecchinelli are gathering signatures to appear on the city’s ballot this fall. Both candidates have criticized Fuller’s leadership of Newton and her work engaging residents on issues such as zoning and budget priorities.

Sangiolo, who launched her campaign June 16, said she would be a leader who will be more transparent and more accountable to residents. She would be the city’s first Asian American resident, and the second woman, to serve as mayor if elected.

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“The mayor’s role is to be a bridge, to bring the people together on both sides of the issue. And if anything, I feel I am extremely accessible,” Sangiolo said in an interview. “People know they can talk to me, and people know that I am actually listening.”

Cecchinelli, who pulled nomination papers when they became available May 3, said he is focused on issues such as retaining single-family home zoning in the city.

“I am interested in serving because I am not happy with the direction that the city is headed and the lack of leadership from the current administration,” he said in an e-mail.

Fuller, who was elected in 2017 and is the first woman to serve as Newton’s mayor, said in a statement that she is energized by the prospect of leading Newton for another four years.

“I’m proud to have led our community through this devastating pandemic and to have communicated with my fellow residents to keep them fully informed at all times,” Fuller said. “We have a robust and bold agenda to move forward to recover and rebuild more strongly than ever.”

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Nomination papers for the city’s mayor’s race, along with positions on the City Council and School Committee, are now available, according to the city clerk’s office. Forms are due back Tuesday, July 27, at 5 p.m., and mayoral candidates need 400 signatures certified by the clerk’s office.

If more than two mayoral candidates have gathered enough certified signatures, the city will hold a preliminary election Tuesday, Sept. 14. The top two finishers in that vote would appear on the city’s Tuesday Nov. 2 municipal election ballot.

The mayoral race could also liven up the city’s races for City Council and School Committee: Candidates are running unopposed in about two-thirds of the 32 seats up for grabs in November, along with the mayor’s race.

The city’s voters will be asked to choose leaders at a moment when Newton faces major decisions that will shape its future.

Those choices include how to spend about $66.2 million in federal pandemic relief money. The mayor administers about $63 million to the city, and will have a role overseeing another $3.2 million to the schools as a member of the School Committee.

The city also is charting a course for development and zoning reform, and planning investments to improve city buildings, infrastructure, and other public spaces.

This year’s mayor’s race is shaping up as a rematch of the 2017 campaign, in which a field of seven candidates vied to succeed then-Mayor Setti Warren, including Fuller, Sangiolo, and Cecchinelli. In a preliminary election that year, Fuller and then-City Council president Scott Lennon pulled ahead of Sangiolo, who placed third, and fourth-place finisher Cecchinelli.

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Fuller and Sangiolo each have served long stints as local leaders: Fuller has served in elected office since 2010, first as a Ward 7 councilor-at-large and later as mayor. Sangiolo served 20 years as Ward 4 councilor-at-large before her previous run for mayor.

Cecchinelli is a member of the Newton Republican City Committee and has been active in city politics for years.

Fuller and Sangiolo have highlighted their work informing, and connecting with, residents. Both publish regular e-mail newsletters updating readers on Newton’s government business and civic activities.

Fuller said she welcomes an open and honest debate about the city’s future, and described Newton as having successfully weathered the pandemic with the help of the experience and work of city employees. The city also has mounted COVID-19 relief efforts to support hard-hit residents, restaurants, and other businesses, she said.

The mayor highlighted the city’s high bond rating, funding of pensions, and the level of financial support to the city’s school system. Fuller also pointed to preservation efforts such as the eminent domain taking of Webster Woods from Boston College.

The city also has implemented programs such as full-day kindergarten and the launch of the NewMo city transit service, and worked to create affordable housing, including at the former armory in West Newton, she said.

“Education, housing, transportation, climate change, racial and social justice, policing: I’ll work every day to lead Newton judiciously and progressively on all of these important societal issues,” Fuller said. “I’m excited about the future and optimistic for our community.”

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Sangiolo said education needs to be the city’s highest priority. Confidence must be restored in the schools, communication must be improved with families, and relationships must be strengthened with school workers, she said.

Similar outreach is needed for city workers, said Sangiolo, who described her management style as one that creates a work environment for open communication and trust,.

The city also needs to address other issues, she said, including topics surrounding development in Newton. Community engagement and resident buy-inare needed as the city updates its zoning, and Newton needs to create a strategy for affordable housing, she said.

Newton’s politics have become so polarized that progress on zoning and other issues has slowed, Sangiolo said. As mayor, she said she would work to help resolve disagreements in the city by bringing diverse viewpoints together.

“Informing residents is the same as empowering residents which is why I work hard to get that weekly newsletter out on Monday mornings,” Sangiolo said. “I will keep Newton informed and engaged.”

Cecchinelli said he is concerned about the city’s pension liability, and wants to protect single-family zoning and avoid erosion of city neighborhoods. He criticized Fuller’s handling of the display of a firefighter memorial flag.

Many people in West Newton and Newtonville are unhappy with issues in their neighborhoods due to disruptions of traffic patterns, work to narrow roadways, and the loss of parking, he said.

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He wants to open a clinic where city employees and at-risk residents can choose to receive their primary health care.

As mayor, Cecchinelli said he would bring the reputation of the Newton schools “back to the high levels of the past.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.