City Council Candidate Profiles, Group 1 of 5

Cambridge city hallCambridge City Hall. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

Cantabrigians have a wide array of choices for City Council seats this November, with 26 candidates running for nine spots.

For those who are new to Cambridge’s municipal elections, the voting format is likely unfamiliar. The city runs a proportional representation election where all candidates run at large and are not connected to specific districts of the city. Voters rank as many candidates as they’d like on their ballots, which are tallied in a way that ensures minority groups of voters are duly represented but that a majority group of voters will elect the majority of the Council.

There is no mayoral race in Cambridge—once the nine city councilors take office in January, they choose which of them will become mayor. The City Council also appoints the city manager, city clerk, and city auditor.

Scout is putting together profiles on every candidate running for City Council so that voters can get informed about the slate of people who could shape Cambridge for the next two years.

Election Day is Nov. 7, and the last day to register to vote is Oct. 18. Find your voting location here.

The City Council candidate profiles are not grouped in any particular order. Keep an eye out for the next four groups of candidates. Candidates’ answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

Alanna Mallon

What should we know about you?

I grew up in Brockton, Mass., a working class city that suffered during times of economic downturn. Although my family experienced poverty and food insecurity when I was a child, I benefitted from an activist municipal government and the social safety net programs it promoted. That’s why I’m running for City Council today, to continue to pay that forward here in the City of Cambridge, where I have lived with my husband and two children for the past 13 years. As the founder of the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program, which sends food home with over 500 low-income students every weekend, I have a proven track record of finding and filling gaps in social services. Through that work, I was hired as the Education Liaison to Mayor David Maher, and in this position I learned how strategic public policy combined with dedicated public service makes a positive impact on the lives of our residents.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

Wrap around services for our kids and families, affordable housing and housing affordability to maintain the economic diversity of our residents, and bike and pedestrian safety.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

We need to make sure that no child is falling through the cracks, especially when transitioning between schools. I want to work with the City Department of Human Services to create a dashboard that keeps track of all of the city’s resources and the families who need them, so that we are providing for our children all the way from K-12.

Zoning reform needs to be a priority, because we have a moral and social justice imperative to maintain economic diversity in our city. We need to be increasing the supply of our housing stock, especially targeted supply to our low- and middle-income residents. Our inclusionary zoning laws and increased linkage fees will never have any impact if we do not create new units, neighborhoods, and communities.

Our modes of transportation are diverse, and we need policies that support all choices and lifestyles to ensure safer streets for everyone. I am for well designed protected bike lanes, upgrading our sidewalks to meet accessibility standards, and working with the city and state to ensure a robust MBTA system.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I am a trusted member of the Cambridge Community because I have done the work it takes to make our residents’ lives better. In addition to my work with the Weekend Backpack Program, I am also the program director at Food for Free, and have taken on projects such as free pop-up produce markets in the park and home delivery of food for our low-income elderly and disabled residents. As the Education Liaison to Mayor David Maher, I am the only non-incumbent who has worked in City Hall, building relationships with the City Council, School Committee, municipal department heads, and CPS schools. I will be a fresh face with new ideas, but have the experience necessary to get to work on day one.

Give us a fun fact about you.

My son and I have a standing date every week to watch episodes of “Parks and Recreation” together.

 

Gregg Moree

What should we know about you?

I was born in Cambridge, Mass. over 50 years ago on Mount Vernon Street, and grew up in North Cambridge. After attending the M. E. Fitzgerald School (now the Peabody School) and then Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, I went to the North Bennett Trade School, in Boston’s North End, for carpentry. I have been a proud Cantabrigian all my life!  

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

Education—I believe that there should be more opportunities for more youth apprenticeship programs. Also, Cambridge has so many great companies and hi-tech opportunities that there should be more internship programs.  Companies and developers should have mandatory signed contracts with the city to develop internships for young Cambridge residents.

Jobs & Equal Pay—I support boosting the minimum wage, equal pay for all, enforcing city ordinances on city jobs and linking construction jobs for Cambridge workers to permits and project approval. I support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Housing—We must use programs like co-housing to make living in Cambridge more affordable and respectable.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

A mandatory Youth Apprenticeship Program for all new business construction in Cambridge.

Cambridge Resident Jobs—Cambridge residents must have a percentage of the jobs in new businesses and construction.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety—Too many people trying to cross the street, or cyclists, are injured or killed on our streets. We have to make our roads safer for everyone.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My wiliness to listen to my constituents and follow up on their concerns, needs, and ideas.

Give us a fun fact about you.

My uncle, Joe Sakey, was the former director of the Cambridge Public Library and my mentor. He helped with FDR’s second bill of rights in 1944, and was instrumental in starting CCTV in the early 1980s. CCTV gives out an annual award in his name.

 

Nadya Okamoto

What should we know about you? 
My background is mostly in nonprofit management: I am the Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD, the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health and the fastest growing one here in the United States. Since I founded the organization, the organization has addressed almost 110,000 periods and has registered over 100 campus chapters. I am also the co-founder of E Pluribus, a post-partisan media platform that engages young people in discussions around issues that they truly care about, and pushes them to take action.

I was born in NYC, but growing up with domestic violence and housing instability, Cambridge was a safe place my family would return to regularly throughout my childhood. I grew up thinking of Cambridge as a home since my godmother lives here. Cambridge is facing issues now that are challenging this city being a stable “home” for many of its residents because the city is too expensive to live in and its localism is constantly being threatened. I want to fight for this city to feel like a true home for all residents, regardless of their socioeconomic status, racial identity, or place of origin.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

Housing affordability, education equity, and sustainable living (with an overall focus on community-minded university relations and civic engagement):

I am running for young people to have direct representation and trust in their government, for families struggling to secure affordable and stable housing, for equitable opportunities in education and employment, and progress toward more sustainable living. Affordable housing is definitely one of my top priorities, and I would like to explore the potential of pushing universities to house 100 percent of their graduate students (right now 54 percent of graduate students live off campus, taking the more affordable living options in the city). Doing this would open up over 9,500 units that are currently short-term rentals to students, to instead be long-term solutions for Cambridge families.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?
A. Housing Affordability — If I were to be elected, my top priority would be housing affordability. I would do this through multiple pathways: (1) through enforcing the 20 percent inclusionary zoning of affordable housing units in new real estate developments; (2) pushing the council to actually invest in building more affordable housing for the purposes of affordability—we have an Affordable Housing Trust that we could be improving much more; and (3) really pushing forward more community-minded university relations in this well-known college town. 

B. Education Equity — In Cambridge, the schools are mostly governed by the elected School Committee. That being said, I think that the City Councilors have the responsibility for advocating for ALL of their constituents, and this is especially important in a city like Cambridge where all councilors are at-large. I am a strong believer in the right to quality public school education, meant for the benefit or learning, which is why I do not support the privatization of any schools (especially the charter schools here). As a potential city councilor, I would use the power of my office to both raise awareness about this, but also work any angle to push forward quality public education. One of my priorities on my policy platform is education equity, and trying to find innovative ways to support students both in and out of the classroom — and to find ways to make success in the educational system more equitable. This includes fighting for access to municipal broadband and technology for all students.

C. Sustainable Living and Safer Streets — In a city known for innovation, it is unacceptable how much more progress we have to make in forming a climate change preparedness plan, moving more toward solar and renewable energy, and accomplishing net zero building. We also have opportunities to continue improving waste management, safer streets for all (this includes implementing more benches for streets to be more accessible for our senior residents), and more open public park spaces.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

As someone who has experienced housing instability, I hope to add diversity to the council both in experience and diverse representation.

Cambridge, of all cities, should have youth/student representation on council. In this city, over 35 percent of the demographic is under the age of 25-years-old, and over 34 percent of the adult population is enrolled in the universities in some way—yet we do not have student or youth representation. I am running because I think that this younger demographic (that uses the city resources, supports businesses, and walks the streets) has a say and should be able to be heard and participate. 

Give us a fun fact about you.
I love to dance! My favorite event all year in Cambridge is the Cambridge City Dance Party.

 

E. Denise Simmons (Note: Simmons currently serves as the mayor of Cambridge.)

What should we know about you?  

In addition to being an eight-term member of the City Council, two-term mayor, and having served on the school committee for many years prior to this service, I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother raising her grandchildren, a small business owner, a member of the LGBTQ community, and a proud member of the Cambridge community. I have been working in public service in one form or another for three decades, and I first got active in local government because I firmly believe that when you see things in your community you’d like to change or improve upon, you’ve got the obligation to roll up your sleeves and get involved. That’s exactly what I’ve done, I am privileged to serve, and I very much hope to continue on in this important work.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

Anyone who has followed my work will know that I’m very concerned with increasing access to, and the amount of, affordable housing in our community. I’m also very concerned about issues that impact our senior citizens, and about issues of fairness, equity, diversity, and tolerance. All of these have been priorities throughout my time in office, and they shall very much continue being at the center of my work going forward.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

I am looking to establish an Affordable Housing Ombudsman for the City, I am looking to formally institute the yearly practice of holding Information Fares for Service Providers to the Senior Community (as I’ve held each of the past two years), and I am going to keep pushing until we finally see a Cambridge Police outpost or substation established in or near Carl Barron Plaza to finally improve the sense of safety and security in that area. I am also looking to establish a Cambridge Museum, as well as pilot the Commonwealth’s very first LGBTQ-Friendly Senior Housing building.

What sets you apart from other candidates? My experience and my institutional memory—particularly at a time when we are seeing a greater-than-usual amount of turnover on the City Council. I understand how to translate passion and concepts into viable legislation and policies that can actually be passed and implemented.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I absolutely love—LOVE—taking pictures and capturing moments for posterity. I’ve been in public life for close to 30 years, and if you’ve seen me around town, I’ve almost always got my camera by my side (and as nice as smartphone cameras are, I really enjoy the higher-end, professional quality cameras!).

 

Craig Kelley (Note: Kelley currently serves as a Cambridge city councilor.)

What should we know about you? 

I am a 25 year resident of Cambridge, the father of two CPS students, a lawyer and a former environmental consultant who is now a Harvard Research Fellow in Metropolitan Resiliency and Democratic Institutions. A year-round cyclist and alternative transit advocate, I have been on the City Council for 6 terms where I have been the leading voice for bicycle and pedestrian safety.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

A. Bringing the legacy systems of an old city, both logistical and bureaucratic, into the 21st century to best accommodate the emerging “delivery economy,” promote city-wide high speed internet, mitigate our joint carbon footprint, expand housing opportunities, and support changes in personal transportation toward more sustainable options.

B. Building a resilient city where physical infrastructure investments and social cohesion strategies empower the most vulnerable members of our population to successfully navigate a wide variety of immediate challenges ranging from fiscal insecurity to flooding to educational equity.

C. Helping public safety professionals, especially law enforcement, adjust to the challenges, and incorporate the opportunities, of our newly politically charged, technology-focused and data-driven world without sacrificing our civil liberties to overly aggressive surveillance efforts. We ask our police to both fight crime and do social work, and we need to make sure we are training and supporting them properly to carry out these very different functions.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

Working with my Council peers, I would push to:

A. Create a more collaborate and collegial relationship between councilors, encouraging risk taking among members of the body and approaching debate on public policy issues as an opportunity to experiment with partners you trust even when you disagree with each other.

B. Help the mayor run as efficient council meetings as possible by encouraging all participants to understand and follow appropriate debate procedure and to keep discussions focused on agenda items rather than digressing into unrelated topics.

C. Help council and city staff view each other as partners in governance, with effective communication both in and out of council meetings to include better use of the internet—including blogs, websites and email—as a way to track projects and disseminate knowledge about what is going on in the City.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My Marine Corps background combined with my history as a Greenpeace canvasser and worldwide travels give me a perspective that is unique on the council. Cambridge is a fabulous city but it does not exist in a vacuum, so my understanding of, and experiences in, the rest of the world are invaluable in helping Cambridge work on its own and with other municipalities to address our range of challenges ranging from affordable housing to climate change to transportation equity.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I bicycled from the Canadian border in Maine to Washington, D.C. over the past two summers. Along the way, I stopped and asked scores of total strangers “What makes you worry?” and “What makes you feel safe?” The take home point: Whether you are in rural Maine or downtown Baltimore, the overwhelming thing that makes people feel safe is being connected to their families, their streets and their neighborhoods.

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