See Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone's January 6, 2020 Inaugural Address
Good evening and Happy New Year! Welcome.
Welcome to U.S. Senator Ed Markey, State Senator Pat Jehlen, State Representatives Denise Provost and Mike Connolly, Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern, Somerville Mayor Emeritus Gene Brune, and former Somerville Mayor the Honorable Dorothy Kelly Gay.
Welcome to our new City Council President Matt McLaughlin, Vice President Mary Jo Rossetti, School Committee Chairperson Carrie Normand, and Vice Chairperson Emily Ackman.
Welcome also to all of our Honorable Members of the City Council and School Committee, Superintendent Mary Skipper, Chief David Fallon, Chief Charles Breen, and all our Honored Guests, Friends, and Family, as well as my fellow residents of Somerville and my fellow public servants.
We have many familiar faces on the stage this year, as well as three new school committee members.
So I’d like to recognize our re-elected incumbents and welcome our newly elected School Committee members, Ilana Krepchin in Ward 2, Sarah Phillips in Ward 3, EllenorBarish in Ward 6.
Everyone, please join me in congratulating our new and returning officials.
In the coming year, I look forward to working with the City Council and School Committee on the many important issues that affect Somerville.
And I want to thank President McLaughlin and Chairperson Normand for the thought and consideration they have already put into 2020’s goals.
Sadly, there are also some familiar faces that are missing this year.
In 2019 we lost dedicated public servants who worked day in and day out on issues big and small that affect Somerville.
Among them were DPW Commissioner Stan Koty, an extraordinary Somervillian who loved this city and served it selflessly for decades in a range of roles.
Whether fighting for our neighborhoods and youth as an Alderman or protecting our safety as Commissioner in the thick of a snowstorm, Stan got it done. Somerville is better for having been home to him.
We also lost Somerville High School Associate Principal Leo DeSimone, an exceptional educator who cared deeply about the youth of our city.
Leo spent decades ensuring the youth he served were given every support possible to keep them headed for bright futures.
We will never know just how many lives he changed for the better. But we do know that through them, his legacy as a champion of knowledge and growth will continue.
Both men truly cared about the work that they did and the community they served, as did their families who are here tonight in their honor. I want to thank both families for sharing these remarkable men with us. Before we continue, please join me in a moment of silence to remember them as well as our other colleagues who passed in 2019.
I’d also like to take a moment for a few personal thank yous.
I couldn’t do this job without the support I get from my family - my mother Maria; my wife Nancy; our four sons Cosmo, Joey, Patrick, and James; and my sister Maria, otherwise known as the Middlesex County Register of Deeds. Thank you all for all the love and encouragement you give me every day.
Thank you to tonight’s emcee, Howard Horton, Somerville’s Poet Laureate Lloyd Schwartz, Bishop Henry Moultrie and the Mission Church Choir, and Jack Torres for adding a youth perspective to this event and for his leadership on issues like climate change and gun control.
And thank you to all the students and residents who volunteered to perform and participate in tonight’s ceremony.
Finally, I want to thank all of you here and the full community. Ultimately, it’s you who inspire me, who drive me, and who I strive daily to serve. It’s your vision, determination, and grit that fuels my work to achieve our goals. So thank you for allowing me to continue to serve you for another two years and for my ninth term.
It is just as much of an honor to serve you now as it was back in 2004 when I was first sworn in.
The importance of the daily work we do to provide core services has not changed. Things like offering flu shots, picking up the garbage, stretching every dollar in the City budget, and educating our children. People are just as concerned about those things today as they were during my first campaign for Mayor.
And I’m still just as determined that Somerville does those things better than anyone else. We’ve been dubbed the Best Run City in Massachusetts and I aim to keep it that way.
But something else has changed.
As I campaigned this year, I heard more and more from residents about big picture issues that go beyond our borders.
They felt their concerns aren’t being addressed at the federal or state level, so they’re turning to local government.
Residents don’t want us just to provide those core services, they also want us to defend our community’s values.
The stakes are simply higher.
We face an existential climate threat, a transportation system that’s in chaos, and a regional housing crisis that’s spinning out of control. We have people dying from overdoses and a federal government that’s targeting our immigrant residents. And we have students - tomorrow’s leaders - who are effectively barred from college because of the cost.
I heard from so many who are worried, angry, or cynical, about how federal policy is failing us. Frankly, I’m angry too.
But the amazing thing - the thing that should make every one of us so proud to be in Somerville - is this. The message that came loud and clear from you wasn’t defeat.
If our values are under assault, then let’s roll up our sleeves and fix it.
At past inaugurations, I got up here and listed off the details of dozens of things we’ve done to serve you and to fight for our values and goals. Then I listed off dozens more that we’re going to do in the coming term. It’s hard not to do that because there’s so much to report, and I know not everyone knows about every initiative, policy, and effort we work on every day for you.
But tonight I want to put the focus on the big picture issues.
Tonight, I’m here to say, “Somerville, our sleeves are rolled up. We are ready to stand up for our goals and values.”
So, let’s start with the housing crisis that has put all of greater Boston in jeopardy. Nothing else we do here matters for someone who can’t afford to live here.
Costs are exploding in every city and town in this region. The federal and state government have failed our residents on this front and it’s up to us - the local officials, government employees, and residents, who are seeing this crisis play out in our neighborhoods - to do something.
In Somerville, we’re lucky to have residents and a state delegation that understand the severity of the housing crisis. I want to thank the community for speaking up and Sen. Jehlen, and Representatives Barber, Connolly, and Provost for their tireless efforts on this issue.
Make no mistake, our representatives are fighting for us at the State House,
just as U.S. Senators Markey and Warren are fighting for us in Washington.
And we’re not alone in recognizing the severity of this crisis. With some of our partner communities through the Metro Mayors Coalition of Greater Boston, we’ve made a commitment to add 185,000 new housing units by 2030.
But unfortunately, we just marked another year in which Beacon Hill did nothing to address this crisis when it should be passing every housing-related bill that gets proposed.
We don’t have time for housing bills to be stuck in committee.
We have a housing crisis now. We need action now.
In the new session, I hope to see swift action on Rep. Connolly’s bill to restore the ability of city government to implement rent control. California and Oregon recently passed statewide rent control measures because they work.
All we’re proposing in Massachusetts is the freedom to do it at the local level.
It’s going to take us a couple of decades to build out the affordable housing we need. Yet the social fabric of our communities is being torn apart now. Renters need stability.
They need immediate relief. And I’m confident that cities and towns can develop rent control policies that still allow landlords to protect their investments and earn rental income while also protecting our residents from steep rent increases.
And if the state is going to drag its feet on this, we need to take rent control to a statewide ballot.
What’s especially frustrating is that in Somerville, we know it’s possible to take swift action.
I cannot thank our City Council enough for the long hours and hard work it put into treating our housing crisis like a true priority and collaborating with us on real change.
We are far from done, but our shared commitment has been plain for all to see.This is what true public service looks like.
In the past two years we have worked with the Council to establish the Office of Housing Stability.
We revised our condo conversion ordinance to include better tenant protections, especially for our most vulnerable residents.
We regulated short-term rentals to stop much needed housing from coming off the market.
We supported the creation of our city’s first affordable housing land trust.
We passed new legislation that ensures tenants facing eviction know their rights and where to get legal or other supports.
Not only did we finally pass the zoning overhaul we desperately needed, but we wove a number of regulations into it aimed at creating more affordable housing.
We relaunched our lead paint removal program to increase the amount of family-friendly housing units in the city.
We passed a transfer fee on real estate speculation and a right-to-purchase ordinance for tenants too. We’re waiting for approval from the state to enact those.
Through our 100 Homes Program, we’ve even been jumping into the market to purchase homes so we can make them permanently affordable.
Like I said, it’s possible to move quickly in a crisis.
However, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re spiking the football here and declaring victory.
The reality is everything we’ve put in place will take time to make a widespread difference.
Until hundreds of thousands of new housing units crop up all around Greater Boston, we are going to have the problem of too many people fighting to get into too little housing.
Housing prices are breaking the backs of our families, our seniors and our young people. Financial insecurity is becoming too common.
We cannot afford more delays on housing.
So in Somerville, in 2020, we will continue to be bold, we will continue to be quick, and we will continue to take on the housing crisis.
Not only do we have to bear the crushing weight of this housing crisis, we have the heartbreak of an opioid epidemic that is taking the lives of family, friends, and neighbors. But there are steps we can take right now to help stop this.
From 2014 through 2018, we know of 77 Somerville residents who died from overdoses.
First responders also deployed Narcan more than 300 times to prevent others from becoming another overdose statistic.
It’s an epidemic that’s raging in all of our neighborhoods. It doesn’t care about your family income, your skin color, or your ethnic background: the grips of addiction can come for anyone, at any time.
It’s time we stopped failing the people battling addiction and the people who love them.
We need to treat addiction like the medical condition it is, not as a moral failure.
We need to think differently about addiction treatment and drug policy. We need to admit that what we’ve been doing is not working and look for new strategies.
We need to do things differently, but we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Outside of the U.S., several countries have adopted more humane drug policies.
I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I started learning about some of their strategies around harm reduction, like supervised consumption sites.
But I learned that although people visit these sites to use drugs, there are people there who can intervene in case of an overdose. There are also people there who can point visitors to recovery services when they are ready.
And it turns out, when you treat people with compassion, show them you value their life, and try to understand their needs, they respond. Data from Canada and Europe show decreases in overdose deaths when a supervised consumption site is opened. As well as increases in people seeking treatment.
Just as we will continue to offer and expand our traditional recovery and support services, and just as we will continue to police with a focus on recovery, not criminalization, we are also moving with purpose toward having a supervised consumption facility in Somerville, hopefully this year.
I want to thank the City Council, in particular President McLaughlin, Councilor Clingan, and Councilor Hirsch, and advocates in the community for their ongoing work around the opioid epidemic.
Addiction is a complicated disease and I’m asking that you keep an open heart and an open mind as we look at new ways to help people in the throes of it.
The status quo is killing people, but Somerville is determined to save every life.
Just like the War on Drugs has failed to address addiction, efforts to “fix” immigration have only created a cruel system that traumatizes immigrants and pulls communities apart. It’s changed from a wildly ineffective bureaucracy to a system actively persecuting immigrants.
I want everyone to understand that our federal government is changing regulations and stripping people of their residency status as fast as it can in an effort to purge immigrants - especially immigrants of color - from our country.
This hits us particularly hard in Somerville, where roughly 20,000 residents are foreign-born and half of the kids in our schools speak a first language other than English.
We’re talking about thousands of people in danger of being driven from their homes and having their families ripped apart. This isn’t happening in some far away part of the country. This is happening right here.
For anyone who insists their ancestors came here and followed the rules and it was fine, they didn’t have rules like this. For anyone who says, “Why don’t they stand in line like my ancestors did?” let me be clear - there is no line to stand in.
The rule now is the Trump administration wants you out, and however they’ve got to stack things against you to make that happen, that’s what they’ll do.
If this had been the system when my parents came over from Italy, it’s anyone’s guess whether we’d have been able to build a life here and become part of this community. But they were able to come here, and this Somerville kid is going to be sure Somerville will continue to be a Sanctuary City, a Welcoming City.
But that’s not enough. So that immigrants in our city and the rest of Massachusetts don’t have to live in fear, it’s time for the State to pass the Safe Communities Act.
We are going to continue to engage our immigrant residents in the neighborhoods where they live and where their children attend school to make sure they’re getting the support and services they need to stay - and contribute - in our community.
We’re going to continue to help them open businesses, get job training, apply for housing, and find legal help when they need it.
We’re going to ensure immigrants continue to breathe life and hope into the fabric of our city.
And some day, one of the kids from a family we’re fighting for today is going to become Mayor of Somerville … and when they do, I’ll be sitting in the crowd at their inauguration, proud to know the values that built Somerville will be a core part of its future.
And if the stakes weren’t already high enough on protecting our most vulnerable residents, city government is now tackling the existential crisis of climate change.
Tragically, the Trump administration is full of climate deniers. If they’re not going to take action, we must.
We’re one of the 438 cities in the U.S. that have pledged to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement. Think about that for a second, local officials have to sign on to an international accord that seeks to prevent planetary calamity because the White House has abdicated all sense of responsibility. Someway, somehow, we’re supposed to fix this.
The good news is Somerville has a plan. We put together our community-driven Somerville Climate Forward plan a little over a year ago based on several years of careful analysis, baseline studies, and community discussion.
Let me say that clearly: Somerville Climate Forward is our Green New Deal.
And thank you to Senator Markey for his leadership on this important issue.
Our plan calls for being carbon neutral by 2050, though just recently I joined together with nine other mayors in Massachusetts to up the ante. We’ve pledged to shift to 100% clean, renewable energy for all uses by 2045.And because we’ve been at this for some time, it’s a goal we are on track to beat.
The time to shift to clean power generation is now.
The technology is here and the prices will continue to drop. There is no excuse to put it off. Fossil fuel is a relic of the past and one we cannot afford to keep around.
We also have to take on the gas leaks dotting our neighborhoods. For too long, natural gas leaks have been accepted. It would be easy to throw our hands up and say cities can’t do anything about it, but we have to take a stand.
We will continue to work with advocates such as Mothers Out Front to push for an end to gas leaks, but also the outdated use of gas to heat our buildings.
This year, I will work with the City Council to create restrictions on new natural gas hookups - and we will create a model for doing this with an eye to equity.We can’t live in a Somerville where clean, efficient homes are just for those who can afford it.
Along with advocacy, we want to put our money where our mouth is. It’s bizarre that we’re still being forced to invest our pension fund in fossil fuels even though we’re trying to use less and less of them.
Dirty energy is a bubble we’re trying to pop. We asked the state for permission in 2017 to divest from fossil fuels. We’ve crunched the numbers, and if we had gotten that permission, our pension fund would be nearly a half million dollars richer for it.
Mark my words, in 2020, Somerville is going to keep fighting for the right to divest from fossil fuels.
When it comes to climate, we have to change almost everything.
The way we did things in the late 20th century is unsustainable. And our children aren’t going to take it well if we try to explain that we knew better, but we couldn’t be bothered to change our ways.
Their future shouldn’t be held hostage by our conveniences.
Nowhere is that more apparent than transportation. We built a world for cars, and then the cars swallowed us whole. Greater Boston suffers from some of the worst traffic in the nation. Our roadways are choked and no amount of new pavement is going to fix it.
Getting more people out of their cars is the only way we’re going to alleviate the traffic congestion gridlocking our region and reduce its outsized contribution to our carbon footprint.
But people aren’t going to leave their cars behind until there are safe, reliable, and convenient alternatives.
For too long we starved the MBTA of needed maintenance funding and neglected to build out the service to match the region’s growing population. But we don’t have a choice when it comes to making it work.
We’ve got to take our rickety, undependable transit system and turn it into a 21st century network.
We need transit infrastructure capable of serving a diverse urban area with a booming economy.
As we saw with the Green Line Extension, sustained pressure on the state can get us the improvements and services we need.
But it’s not just about the state and the MBTA.As a City, we have control of our streets and sidewalks and we can - and must - make them safer and design them to accommodate all modes of transportation.
That’s why in 2020, we’ll continue to focus on crosswalks, walking routes, bike routes, and accessibility. We’ll look for more opportunities to create dedicated bike and bus lanes. We’re looking at new ways to advance sidewalk repairs. And we’ll continue to invest in traffic calming measures that make the streets safer for everyone.
We’ll be providing core transportation services while continuing to push for the big ideas - like free fares on public transit - that could spark a huge mobility shift. It’s time to figure out how to put big ideas into action.
To do that we need more resources and more staff working on transportation issues.We must match our investments to our values. I’ve heard that from you. I’ve seen it on our streets. Our City Council has voiced this. Our staff have studied this.
It’s time to take this to the next level. I am calling for an unprecedented focus and investment in safe and sustainable transportation in Somerville.
This year we will create a new Transportation Department that will put the best talent, the most effective solutions, the smartest mobility policies, and your input and ideas to work for us right here in Somerville.
We’ve made our Climate Forward commitment. Since the first days of Shape Up Somerville, we’ve been fighting for healthy options for how we get around. And we have joined roughly 40 other U.S. cities in vowing to pursue VisionZero, meaning we are striving to put an end to traffic deaths and serious injuries in our cities.
We must now match our resources to the enormity and the importance of those critical tasks.
Later this week, we’ll be releasing our five-year draft VisionZero plan. I’m asking you - elected officials, residents, and advocates - to get involved. Give us your feedback. Let us know where you see safety issues on your commute.
Let’s make Somerville a model for how to create safe, sustainable, accessible transportationfor and bya community.
As we look to the future and tackling big issues, we cannotlook away from the challenges our youth face in a changing economy.
Twenty-first century pressures on the job market and current barriers to college access will continue to deepen the divide between the haves and have-nots if our generation fails to do something about it.
College access has become one of the defining issues of the presidential campaign for good reason. There are profound burdens and inequalities in our system, which is a risk to us all.
For many, college can be a step in fighting back against a system stacked against them. But too many people are barred from higher education and economic opportunities because of the cost of college.
We must change this.
Our nation needs plans now for how to make sure all our young people are prepared for the jobs and challenges of the future. But we must also look for local solutions.
Our schools already strive for excellence in our vocational training, and we’ve launched programs so that our current students can take free college courses. That’s a start. But right here, right now I’m proposing our next big opportunity to make a bold difference.
I am calling on us to make sure that any Somerville High School student who wants to attend college can do so. Last month, the Superintendent and I submitted a proposal to the city’s Job Creation and Retention Trust, which is funded by developer fees. We’ve asked them to allocate funds to pay for community college tuition for any and all Somerville High School graduates who choose to go.
The outsize cost of college has been baking inequality into our society for far too long, but in Somerville, I say we can - and will -ensure the door to higher ed is open for all of our graduates.
Like I said before, local government has become a higher stakes affair. We won’t forget our old responsibilities just because we have taken on new ones.
We’ll still be plowing the streets after it snows, helping couples apply for marriage licenses, and running recreation programs for kids.
But we will also keep taking on issues - big and small - that speak to the values that are at the center of our community’s soul. And we will fight like hell for them.
Look around at the people in this auditorium. They’re the friends and allies who are going to be standing beside you through these trying times. We either confront these issues together or they won’t get fixed.
So here’s what I can promise you over the next two years. I promise you exhaustion. I promise you the issues we’re trying to tackle will involve human stories that will break your heart. I promise you that change will not come easy.
But I also promise you we will make a difference in these 4.1 square miles we call home.
We will do right not just for the people who live here in Somerville, but we will light the way for the rest of the state - and the nation - to follow.
The call has sounded, and we will be the people who answer.