By Martina Jackson
On November 7th I will vote NO on the Charter Commission’s proposal to restructure the Newton City Council. In eliminating our eight locally elected council members, the commission has removed our local voice. Their argument that the new model is more democratic because everyone votes for everybody is disingenuous: expedient, but not democratic.
In the commission’s model, a ward may vote for a candidate who is defeated by the vote of the rest of the city. Moreover, with four candidates running without any residency requirement, at least 4 wards will have only one resident councilor while others may have several, or possibly, one may have as many as 5. The Commission is an example of that inequity: Ward 2 had four members; Ward 5, 2 –both from Waban- and Wards 3,4, and 6 had one each. There were no commission members from Wards 1,7, and 8: nearly 40% of the city was not represented.
Clearly, the commission wants a dissent-free council, with members elected in slates. The Newton League of Women Voters is leading the “Yes” charge and pressuring candidates to endorse their position. “Yes” slates are emerging. As an example of the “Yes” campaign’s unwillingness to compromise, when Commissioner Jane Frantz proposed the modest adjustment of replacing the 4 non-residency seats with 4 at-large district seats and the commission voted 5 to 4 in favor, the “Yes” proponents at the hearing vociferously objected and stormed out of the Council chamber followed by Commission vice-chair Rhanna Kidwell. At its next meeting, the commission reversed itself.
In the proposed council model, money and special interests will determine successful candidates. Candidates of limited means could not afford to run citywide without likely special interest backing. The last council member to run at-large in a contested race spent more than $30,000 to achieve his victory. Successful candidates will need an agenda acceptable to a well-financed slate or have considerable personal financial resources.
As a longtime community activist and proponent of affordable housing – I supported the Austin Street project in my neighborhood and Engine 6 – I want Newton to attract an economically diverse population and I will continue to advocate for more affordable housing. But, that goal is achievable without sacrificing our local vote or by replacing our democratically elected council with a meritocracy.
115 Lowell Avenue, Newtonville