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EDITORIAL

Four cities, four mayors

The choices in Newton, Lawrence, Somerville, and Lynn.

Ruthanne Fuller, Kendrys Vasquez, Katjana Ballantyne, and Jared NicholsonPat Greenhouse/Globe staff, handout

Mayors matter; that’s one of the clear lessons from these last tumultuous two years. Whether it’s reforming police departments (or not) and managing COVID-19 school closures (or not), some of the most critical government actions play out in city halls.

This year, the Globe is endorsing candidates in several of the most high-profile mayoral races in Massachusetts. These four candidates have convinced us they’d be good not just for the city they hope to lead, but would also help find solutions to region-wide challenges, like housing costs, that every Greater Boston community shares.

▪ In affluent Newton, mayor Ruthanne Fuller has been on the right side of the city’s fights over housing. Greater Boston has a desperate need for more housing for a growing population and to tame rising prices, and Fuller understands that Newton has to do its part. She backed the controversial Northland development, for instance, which will bring hundreds of new housing units to the city.

Her opponent, Amy Sangiolo, opposed Northland and has taken a more skeptical approach to housing growth. But in other areas, some of her criticisms of Fuller ring true. For public school parents who lost faith in Fuller after the slow reopening of public schools, Sangiolo is a credible alternative.

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Still, while she can adroitly critique Fuller’s record over the last four years, Sangiolo has less to offer for the next four.

The Globe editorial board endorses Fuller, but also urges her to be bolder in a second term. Although she favors more housing, Fuller has spent this campaign trying to reassure voters she wouldn’t push too hard to legalize multifamily housing in too much of the city. But the fact is that she — along with Newton’s city councilors — should be pushing. Rules preventing landowners from building multifamily housing have been the cornerstone of residential segregation in Newton and across the United States, and while tearing down those barriers won’t lead overnight to a more equitable society, it would be a first step.

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Fuller should also move more aggressively to make sure different parts of Newton have school buildings of comparable quality. Newton is famous (or maybe infamous) for its opulent school facilities; that’s great, but not if only some residents get to benefit from them.

▪ In the gateway city of Lawrence, Kendrys Vasquez deserves a chance to serve a full term as mayor. Since he took over as interim mayor in January, Vasquez has shown Lawrencians what he is capable of. The former City Council president has aptly steered the city through the 2021 phase of the pandemic, including the critical vaccination period. In this Merrimack Valley city, which has the highest share of Hispanics in the state, at 82 percent, roughly 81 percent of the population currently eligible for a vaccine has received at least one shot. In early February, as the state was struggling to get its appointment system online and off the ground, Vasquez set up a bilingual call center to help residents with the process. He was cognizant of the language barriers — 70 percent of Lawrencians speak Spanish and nearly a third have limited English proficiency — and the digital divide among the population.

It was the first city-run “call center for registrations in the state,” said Vasquez. The city also offered late-night vaccination sites, partnering withnightclubs and different restaurants where customers could get the vaccine as late as midnight.

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Beyond the pandemic and economic revitalization, perhaps no challenge in Lawrence is as urgent as its public schools, which have been controlled by the state for the past decade. Vasquez, like most local politicians, supports ending receivership “because it’s not working,” he said.

Some stakeholders used the recent violent incidents at the high school as evidence that the state’s intervention is failing. That’s as misguided as it is dishonest. School violence has been on the rise across the country as well as the Commonwealth, state receivership or not. Instead of seeking to kick out the state right away, if he’s elected for a full mayoral term, Vasquez should focus on what really matters: using a collaborative and unifying approach to improve student achievement outcomes and put the schools on a sustainable path to independence.

▪ In the past nearly two decades under Mayor Joe Curtatone, Somerville has become a virtual Boomtown USA — a trendy city of rapid growth and rising property values. Today the new Green Line extension and a planned second phase of the enormously successful Assembly Square development hold the promise of more to come.

But with Curtatone moving on, it’s critical that Somerville’s next mayor bring a similar skill set, and an understanding that the city’s prosperity hasn’t always been shared across that great economic divide that still exists there.

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Katjana Ballantyne, first elected to the City Council in 2013 and twice chosen as council president, has the experience, the vision, and the heart to lead the city into the next phase of its development. Her expertise in the creation of affordable housing comes from years working in the field, including a stint as board president of the Somerville Community Corporation.

But she also understands the link between housing and jobs and the need to create a tax base in the city that can sustain the level of services its citizens need — and that means expanding its commercial base as well as its clearly burgeoning residential component.

“We have to be able to fund our values,” she told the Globe editorial board, by which she means a host of traditional progressive priorities, including affordable housing.

Her opponent, Will Mbah, has an interesting life story as an émigré from Cameroon, but little in the way of concrete plans on how he would tackle some of the city’s growing pains.

By contrast, Ballantyne, who emigrated from Greece with her adoptive parents as a child, has put forth detailed zoning proposals and her own version of a Green New Deal that is comprehensive, thoughtful, and uniquely suited to one of the nation’s most densely populated urban areas. Her plan puts an emphasis on open space, bike paths, and “15-minute neighborhoods,” where most of life’s necessities are within walking distance.

“I’m for getting things done,” she added and that means working with developers and building coalitions — something that takes the kind of experience Ballantyne will bring to the job.

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▪ The key question in the race for mayor of Lynn is which candidate can best tap into the city’s potential for balanced growth and positive change. Lynn has a diverse population and a poverty rate of 16.6 percent. But under outgoing Mayor Tom McGee, it’s trying to harness proximity to Boston and access to commuter rail at the same time it keeps housing affordable for current residents. McGee believes the candidate best prepared to do that is Jared Nicholson, and the Globe editorial board agrees. “He’s a leader, he’s a consensus builder, he’s inclusive. He brings the kind of talent the next mayor of Lynn needs to bring,” said McGee.

Nicholson, 35, is a Northeastern University law professor who speaks Spanish and is serving his third term on the School Committee. He grew up in Sudbury, went to Princeton and Harvard Law School, and moved to Lynn seven years ago, after he got a fellowship to provide free legal help to small businesses. He now lives there with his wife and young son. According to his campaign website, he also has a Lynn family connection: His great-grandfather graduated from Lynn Classical.

The top vote-getter in the preliminary election, Nicholson supports affordable housing and a regional approach to transportation. In an interview, Nicholson said that Lynn is at a “once-in-a-generation” pivot point, and that he would keep Lynn on the “forward-looking planning track” that McGee established. “The key is to make planning part of the city’s DNA,” he said.

The other candidate, Darren Cyr, is a life-long Lynn resident, 16-year member of the Lynn City Council, and has served as council president for the past four years. His father also served on the Lynn City Council. Cyr declined to talk to the Globe. In an interview he gave to Lynn Community Television, he said he had “issues” with a proposed affordable housing plan, which he said is “a way to stop development.” Cyr clearly cares about Lynn, and has more traditional political experience than Nicholson. But even if Nicholson is a comparative newcomer to politics and Lynn, he says he “loves the minutiae” of city issues, has a thick skin, and is eager to chart Lynn’s path to a new future.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.