Ahead of a high-stakes Newton City Council election Nov. 5 that will shape the future of development and housing in the city, four local groups have issued endorsements for candidates running in citywide and ward-level races.
The endorsements, which roughly split the roster of candidates into two slates, reveal the divide in Newton politics over how to balance the city’s need for new housing against the impacts of large developments.
Engine 6 and Voters for a Vibrant Newton have endorsed a dozen of the same candidates, while RightSize Newton and Newton Democracy have endorsed many of the opponents in those races.
“I think Newton is at a crossroads,” said Nancy Zollers, a member of Engine 6, which advocates for affordable housing. “We need councilors who are willing to tackle these pressing issues.”
Engine 6 said in a statement that the candidates it endorsed “recognize that in order to be a truly welcoming and diverse community, Newton needs to build a lot more housing, both market-rate and affordable.”
RightSize Newton, which criticizes the scale of development being proposed in the city, said in a statement that it endorsed candidates who “will be thoughtful voices for moderate growth and will be advocates for slowing down the mega-projects proposed by developers and favored by some elected officials in Newton.”
The City Council is currently considering a pair of large mixed-use developments that could bring more than 1,300 units of housing to Newton. Next year, after new members take their seats, the council is expected to debate citywide zoning reform for the first time in more than 30 years.
The City Council consists of 24 members, with each of Newton’s eight wards represented by three city councilors.
Sixteen at-large councilors are elected by citywide vote. The remaining eight are elected solely by the residents of the ward those councilors represent.
The candidates backed by Engine 6 and Voters for a Vibrant Newton included at-large council incumbents Susan Albright and Jake Auchincloss of Ward 2; Andrea Kelley of Ward 3; Deborah Crossley and Andreae Downs of Ward 5; and Vicki Danberg of Ward 6.
They also supported Alicia Bowman, a challenger seeking an at-large seat representing Ward 6.
The two organizations also endorsed candidates running in local ward races: incumbents Maria Scibelli Greenberg of Ward 1 and Brenda Noel of Ward 6; plus challengers Bryan Barash of Ward 2; Carolina Ventura of Ward 3; and Bill Humphrey of Ward 5.
Engine 6 also endorsed at-large incumbents Alison Leary of Ward 1 and Becky Walker Grossman of Ward 7, who are running unopposed for reelection.
Voters for a Vibrant Newton was formed as a political action committee earlier this month to back candidates running for City Council who “support smart growth initiatives throughout the city,” according to filings with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The PAC has raised $3,550 as of Oct. 21 from 16 donors.
“We believe that well-planned, thoughtful development near village centers and transit will help us do our part in the battle against climate change. The candidates we endorse reflect these values,” Allison Sharma, chairwoman of Voters for a Vibrant Newton, said in a statement.
RightSize Newton and Newton Democracy both endorsed many of the opponents in those races: at-large challengers Jennifer Bentley and Tarik Lucas of Ward 2; Pamela Wright of Ward 3; and Paul Coletti in Ward 5.
In local ward races, RightSize Newton and Newton Democracy backed incumbent Emily Norton of Ward 2; along with challengers Allan Ciccone Sr. of Ward 1; Julia Malakie in Ward 3; and Lisa Gordon in Ward 6.
The two groups backed challenger Rena Getz, who is mounting a write-in campaign for the Ward 5 councilor seat.
Newton Democracy also supported Ward 6 at-large incumbent Greg Schwartz.
RightSize Newton spent $1,242.65 to create voter guide flyers and stickers, according to a Oct. 22 independent expenditure report filed with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Randall Block, a founder of the group, said the group is a civic nonprofit organization. Because it is not a political action committee, RightSize is not required to report its donors, he said.
“We are following OCPF regulations scrupulously. As you can see from the amount of spending, our work is almost entirely a volunteer operation,” Block said in an e-mail.
The Newton Democracy political action committee was founded in April by Gordon, who is running against Noel for the Ward 6 councilor seat. Gordon was the chair and treasurer of Newton Democracy, “but resigned when I decided to run myself,” she said in an e-mail.
Newton Democracy raised a total of $2,826 from 14 donors since July, spending $215 on graphic design work in August and $1,381.25 on brochures in October, according to those filings. The bulk of fundraising occurred after Gordon left the group in July.
Simon French, the current chairman and treasurer, said in an e-mail that the City Council “should work on behalf of voters, rather than for large, for-profit developers.”
“We support village-scale development and affordable housing rather than luxury units. We are endorsing the following candidates who will represent all citizens of Newton and favor constrained right-sized development,” French said.