Watch Mayor Katjana Ballantyne's Inaugural Address
Good evening, Somerville.
I stand before you tonight for an inauguration ceremony that will be unlike any our city has ever seen.
Normally, I’d be addressing a crowd of people and I’d be able to thank Senator Markey and Paula Magnelli in person for their kind words.
I’d have the chance to personally congratulate our newly elected and returning City Councilors and School Committee Members.
Even though you are at home let's take a moment now, to celebrate our incoming officials and recognize this important moment. Our City Council will look different than it ever has before. This is the first time we have representation from our Latino communities, with the election of two Latinas.
Normally, I’d also have the opportunity to shake the hands of our outgoing elected officials and thank them for their dedicated service to our City and Schools. I’d have a chance to personally thank Mayor Joe Curtatone, who has done so much for this city during his 26 years as Mayor and as a Councilor. Instead, I offer my virtual thanks to all of you for your many, many contributions.
I am humbled and honored to have won the vote of so many of you.
And I want every Somervillian to know, no matter how you voted or if you didn’t vote,
I will be listening to you and fighting for you too. At the end of the day, we all love Somerville and want what’s best for our community. Together we can get there.
But tonight, instead of gathering in the new high school, we find ourselves battling yet another new surge of COVID-19.
These are unprecedented times. We are living through a global pandemic. There is fear and uncertainty. However, I’m optimistic.
I’m optimistic because in Somerville, we have this amazing resource and that is our people, our residents, our community members. We can overcome this, not only with smart policy and investments but by working together.
We are a progressive city. During my eight years on the City Council, we've led on social, housing, and climate issues. We are a community full of activists. Our progressive values guide us every time we go to the voting booths.
The challenge before us is, how do we turn progressive values into progress for all. How do we impact everyone for the better?
Because too many people feel like the progress we have seen isn’t their progress.
My vision for Somerville is an inclusive, equitable city where we can all thrive together, and I know that’s the vision this community shares.
I know you’ll join me as we take on the work of making space for all voices and prioritizing those who have often been unheard.
Together we will create progress for all.
I’ll start by telling you about myself, much like I did when I was knocking on doors during this fall’s mayoral election – and on the thousands of doors I’ve knocked on since the very first time
I ran for office in 2011.
My name is Katjana Ballantyne. My pronouns are she and her.
I was the first and only one in my family to go to college. I worked and used student loans to earn first my Bachelor’s degree and then an MBA.
When I moved to the Boston area, I didn’t have much. Friends gave me a place to stay while I sought work and saved up for rent.
In 1993, I moved to Somerville and discovered a place that was fast changing. It was a city embracing its differences, diversity, and progressive values. Somerville was a place where I felt welcomed and included, and I’m grateful that my husband Rick and I and our two daughters, Iliana and Sophia, have built our lives here.
And before I go further, I want to acknowledge my family’s unwavering support throughout both my run for mayor and my campaigns for City Council. Being an elected official has meant many late nights. I appreciate my family’s patience, love, and support, which allows me to serve the city we call home.
I’ve served eight years on the City Council and I served twice as its President. I’ve also been a proud Somerville Public Schools parent for more than 20 years. My daughter Iliana graduated from Somerville High in 2015. Sophia, my youngest, is an 8th grader at East Somerville Community School.
My 30 years of leadership experience spans business, non-profit organizations, and local government, and it’s taught me many things.
I want to share perhaps the most important lesson:
I’ve learned first-hand that inclusive leadership creates shared purpose. It builds enthusiasm.
It makes sure everyone can own and shape the work. I am completely committed to inclusive leadership, because it delivers better results.
My personal experiences have also shaped who I am and how I serve. I was born and orphaned in Greece, and I was adopted there by my Scottish father, and my Czech-German mother. A family of immigrants from three different countries, we came to the United States when I was four years old.
When I was growing up, it wasn’t hard to notice we were different. The foods we ate were different, our clothes were different, our accents were different, our culture was different.
Even though I became a U.S. citizen when I was a teenager, I've been told numerous times as an adult that I'm not a real American because I wasn’t born here. So I know first-hand that some people are afraid of anyone they see as different.
My immigrant experience has taught me to value differences. Because it is the right thing to do, and has served me well, as I have served Somerville.
Because the first step in delivering progress for everyone is making sure we hear every voice.
I can tell you right now that we will remain a Welcoming City, a Sanctuary City. Somerville will remain true to its tradition of embracing newcomers. Somerville will continue to benefit from the hard work, creativity, and entrepreneurialism of our immigrant residents, our new residents, and our long-time residents.
And I will draw on my experience to serve you.
I’ve helped scale up multi-million dollar companies. I’ve worked in innovative, fast-moving start-ups where it was all hands on deck, thinking out of the box. While working at nonprofits, I got to see that beyond every data point there’s a human face. I learned how the people we served could change their lives when connected to new opportunities.
Now I have the honor of being Mayor of Somerville. I pledge to honor that trust you put in me every day I am in this office. I pledge to work with you, not just for you.
Policy setting in my administration will be based on community engagement, best practices, data, science and fiscal responsibility. But most important, it will always be carried out through an equity lens - our policy setting will be driven by our humanity.
I’ve made it a point during my eight years on the City Council to seek out all voices. I especially like to check in with our youth. They are an impressive bunch. We have teens leading on issues like gun control, climate change, and dismantling systemic racism.
I’ve joined them at Climate Change stand-outs, visited them in our schools, and recently I met with several dozen youth at Teen Empowerment and at our Next Wave/Full Circle School. I always learn from them. I asked these teens what they would do to make a better Somerville for everyone.
They brought up addressing racism in our schools, acting on climate change, de-stigmatizing ADHD and dyslexia, safe spaces for LGBTQ youth, and mental health.
And this is what really got me: They asked that they be allowed to be bold.
That was just the start of a conversation I hope to have with every group and every constituency. We need to treat everyone like they’re part of the mayor’s cabinet. We must assure that we can all be bold.
My administration is already gearing up to launch a “Voices of Somerville” 2022 Survey to ask you, Somerville residents, business owners, young people of all backgrounds, to tell your local government about the issues that are impacting you.
This will help us think about investments to improve the lives of those most impacted by COVID. It will also help us determine how Somerville can bounce back better from the pandemic while also taking on longer-standing issues.
In my administration, you will not just be a part of the conversation, you will help drive it.
And I will need your help. I step into this office during a pandemic that has claimed 100 lives in our city.
I’d like to stop for a moment of silence to recognize these residents who have passed as well as all others lost to the pandemic. Please join me in a moment of silence.
The pandemic has impacted everyone. It has disrupted lives. It has cost our residents' health, jobs, income, education, and opportunity. Parents, students, and teachers have struggled with ever-changing and new challenges. Frontline, medical, and essential workers have taken daily risks to keep everyone safe and served. Seniors and those with greater health risks have faced anxiety and isolation. Individuals facing substance use disorder have struggled with new stresses as they’ve been cut off from supports. Those with long-haul COVID are fighting every day to regain their health. Mental health challenges have never been so pervasive, especially among our youth.
But we must recognize that the pandemic has hit some of us harder.
Black, Latino, and immigrant communities have suffered more severe health and economic impacts. Long-term health inequities and systemic racism set the table for this. Ongoing barriers to healthcare, vaccines, tests, and information have hardened the disparities.
We must break this pattern.
The stakes of what we do in local government have never been higher. Our solutions must be grounded in equity. Our efforts must leave no one out.
I know people are anxious and they’re worn down. We’re all trying to protect our loved ones and our healthcare system. We all feel the strain of this ordeal.
What I want people to know is we will continue to act decisively to keep COVID at bay. We will supply tests and higher-quality masks. We are planning right now for additional vaccine and booster clinics, including family and school clinics. We will hold virtual calls with those hardest hit. We will continue to fight to ensure that no one loses their home due to income loss from the pandemic. We will help our small businesses through the ongoing challenges they face.
And we will not be afraid to take needed measures.
I am working right now with neighboring cities and our Board of Health to put in place a vaccine requirement at local restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues, a move some of our local businesses have already made on their own.
And we will direct tens of millions of American Rescue Plan dollars to help people get back on their feet and get the support they need. We’re already devoting millions to childcare and rental assistance. My administration is also looking to use $3 million in ARPA funds to support free public transit for residents and families struggling the most to make ends meet.
We all recognize these have been challenging times, and it’s perfectly natural if you feel unsettled or uneasy. Mental health matters. We are also reviewing how best to help make sure people can truly heal from the stress.
We need to lead with and fund, compassion.
In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing more of our first 100 days agenda. COVID response and recovery is the top item on the list. Everything else we do as a city government revolves around a thorough and equitable response to this virus.
In my administration, progress for all will be centered on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
And I want to be clear: equity should not just be a buzzword. Equity has to be our guiding star. Equity and justice have to be part of every conversation we have and every service we deliver.
We know poverty in Somerville has a face: It's children in our schools, where more than two-thirds of our students qualify for free and reduced cost lunch and where the majority of our youth are people of color. It’s residents in our neighborhoods, where single parents and guardians – usually women – struggle to meet rent. It’s workers at our businesses where too many still do not earn a living wage, and where gender and racial gaps in earnings remain wide.
These are the data points we need to change. These are the people whose lives we must impact. These are the people to whom we must extend progress, and this is why childcare is such a critical issue.
Access to quality childcare can help put every child in Somerville on track for more success in school and healthier outcomes. It can help parents and guardians overcome the barriers to education and good jobs.
This is why I worked with the Curtatone administration over the last two months to dedicate
$7 million in ARPA funds to childcare in Somerville.
The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionately hurt women– especially women of color, so I am committed to using $2 million in ARPA funding for resources to close the gender equity gap in Somerville.
As we continue to battle the pandemic and try to recover from it, we have to focus on efforts that will both immediately help those most affected and that will address the systemic causes of these disparities.
We’re all proud of the fantastic industries that are now calling Somerville their home. We are at the cutting edge of bio and climate technology.
Yet, we also need to create a way for the children in our community to plug into the innovation hub that we’ve built. They need to experience it and see that if they want it, there’s a place for them there in the future.
This is particularly true for young girls. The data tells us that when girls hit middle school, they have fewer opportunities to play sports, join clubs, and get involved. I got to see this firsthand with many of my daughter Iliana’s friends when she was growing up – girls who had to be caregivers and providers before they had become grown women.
As a Councilor, I had the privilege to tour Greentown Labs when they opened. We were shown a portable wind-power generator. It was the coolest thing. But what stayed with me was wondering, “Why aren’t our kids here to see this?”.
Our youth could literally be a building away from some truly groundbreaking businesses or innovative startups, but they’re miles apart in terms of being able to access that world.
We will invest in our schools, in before-school and after-school programs, and in birth to kindergarten resources. We will build a digital bridge to break down Internet access barriers.
I’ll say it again, equity has to be more than just a word.
We have to build connections between everyone in our community to make living in Somerville a shared experience rather than a siloed one.
It’s a village, step in.
Working through the leadership of the Racial and Social Justice Office, we will continue on a journey to dismantle systemic racism. We will intensify work to reimagine policing. Public safety in Somerville must be delivered free of bias or racism – as should everything our City and Schools do. Our first responders must be given the tools, resources, and training to help keep all residents safe and healthy. That includes strengthening non-police responses to mental health challenges in the City. We will ensure that police involvement with federal agencies shares our values. And with those most impacted at the table, we will ensure the city’s budget invests in the right places to deliver public safety for everyone.
Progress for all, of course, is grounded in housing and affordability.
Housing prices in Somerville and all through the Greater Boston region are unacceptably high. The first thing we need to say about that is that housing is a human right. Housing is fundamental to having food security, safety, education and job opportunities. We are going to strengthen tenants' rights and seek to create rent stabilization.
People should have the security of knowing they can continue to live where they live. Ending displacement must be our goal.
We’re going to look to use every tool available to us to increase our affordable housing supply. We need to build more affordable housing. We need to acquire more housing and keep it affordable. We need more market rate housing to take pressure off prices.
But we must also take on the issue of affordability itself, searching for opportunities to address the long-standing challenge of who has access, who has means.
We will also connect local people and labor to the jobs created by local development.
I think of affordability as a coin with two sides. On one side of the coin is the housing stock we need in every shape and size. On the other side are jobs and opportunities for advancement that increase household income and the ability to afford rent or a mortgage.
It’s not enough to help a sliver of residents get into official affordable homes. We need to give people the whole coin.
My administration will promote workforce development, fund education, take on income disparities, and grow community wealth.
We must also improve upon current programs. It may be surprising to some, but we have people who don’t earn enough to qualify for affordable housing. And we have working families and middle-income households who earn too much to qualify for affordable housing but too little to afford Somerville housing costs. Some of this comes from federal requirements we don’t control. But we must start thinking outside the box on this.
For one, my administration will be exploring rent-to-own programs for people unable to compete in our runaway home buying market.
To move affordability work forward as well as engage on school-based issues, I will establish a Somerville Families Task Force. Its goal will be to create more solutions to keep families in Somerville and to keep them connected as our community grows and prospers.
I’ll say it again, we need equity in our housing and in our schools that drives us toward progress for all.
We face unprecedented pressures to act boldly and swiftly on climate change. And my administration will get straight to work on environmental sustainability and climate change initiatives.
I have two daughters and, like many of you, the world they will inherit from us is a huge concern for me.
These aren’t just words for me. I live my life by these principles. Even as as a family of four, we haven’t owned a car, by choice, for the last 14 years. In Somerville, I ride public transit, walk and ride my bike.
I also proposed Somerville’s Green New Deal in 2019 and have been working to achieve its goals before and since. This Green New Deal calls for access to affordable and energy-efficient housing, public transit, safe biking, and easy walking for all.
It makes clear that everyone needs and deserves healthy green space. We need trees to cool and clean the air, we need habitats for wildlife, and we need parks where we can play and relax.
I am committing to further develop the Somerville Green New Deal with you – and to act on it- because we need a Green New Deal that delivers resiliency and progress on climate change for all.
I campaigned on a promise to put Somerville on a path not just to be carbon-neutral by 2050, but to be carbon-negative.
A good job will not be good enough when it comes to addressing climate. We must be outstanding.
We will look to create more green space all over the city. We will look to electrify everything, including heating and cooling in our buildings and our vehicle fleet. We will work to support green economy jobs and to ensure that green technologies are available to lower-income residents, so that all of us can reduce our energy use. We also will look to build neighborhood microgrids that supply affordable electricity and protect against power outages.
It is imperative that this administration takes dramatic steps forward that leave a permanent impact on our city.
The stakes for our children and society are too high to do anything less.
As we tackle broader challenges we will not lose sight of other needs. Additional areas of focus in my administration will be access, transparency, and accountability in City government; and strengthening and supporting the City’s workforce.
In the first 100 days, we will begin to create an Office of Accountability, Transparency, and Access. This office will increase the openness and transparency of Somerville local government. It will be the first of its kind in our city.
In partnership with the City Council, we will also seek to strengthen the City’s ethics ordinance and lobbyist registration. Together, we will strive to create greater accountability to residents about who is at the table pushing and working on policy at City Hall.
From day one, we will also be ensuring that services run smoothly.
We will ensure that quality staff and best practices are used to serve your needs whether it be in park maintenance, waste pick-up, water service, fire response, or rodent control.
Yes, I just mentioned rats in my inaugural address. It’s an issue I heard about from many of you on the campaign trail and as a Councilor. We are already doubling down on this effort with Inspectional Services readying to announce a new innovative program.
Again, I’ve spent many years bringing quality products to market, and I’ll apply that to bringing quality basic services to you as well. For that, we need to support our city workforce.
City staff have been on the front lines of this pandemic working hard to keep our community safe.
To those of you who have poured your blood, sweat, and tears into Somerville’s pandemic response, I want to thank you for everything you have done. I know that many of you worked long hours and took on responsibilities outside of your normal jobs.
As we continue to work through this pandemic and recovery efforts, I will launch a Work Better Task Force to hear directly from employees about the support they need to continue Somerville’s pandemic response.
My administration has also already begun to systematically assess not just pandemic but long-term staffing needs. I’ve worked with many City employees and our union members for years, and what I’ve overwhelmingly seen are dedicated public servants who are stretched too thin.
Whether working with labor and staff to identify gaps, reviewing service data, or assessing the capacity to deliver progress, I intend to strategically invest in the staffing needed to achieve our community’s goals.
We will announce more of our 100-day plan in the coming days and weeks.
And there is so much more we will work to advance over the next two years. That long list includes:
- building opportunities for our local small businesses to thrive,
- growing jobs and workforce training,
- supporting and celebrating our artists and makers,
- serving our veterans and seniors,
- advancing ADA compliance and our work to support people with disabilities,
- addressing the opioid crisis,
- upgrading our aging infrastructure,
- ensuring new immigrants are welcomed and supported,
- making our roadways safer for all users,
- championing our LGBTQ communities and everyone’s right to be their authentic self,
- addressing flood risk,
- re-envisioning policing,
- ensuring food access,
- and so much more.
For tonight what I want the people of Somerville to know is that I recognize the historically high stakes under which I am taking office.
Not only do we have a regional affordability crisis, deep racial and social injustices to address, and a planetary climate threat to contend with, we are still in the greatest public health challenge in a century.
That may sound daunting, but I have the good fortune to be Mayor of Somerville. We’re going to face our challenges together and beat them, because that is the nature of this community that long ago embraced me and became my home.
The debates we have in Somerville are over the best way to do the right thing, not whether we should.
So I’m hopeful. I’ve knocked at thousands of Somerville doors and the people I met there love this city. You care about Somerville and each other.
We have a record here of pulling together to not only get needed work done, but in Somerville, we dream big, we aim high, we break the mold.
I’m excited to be taking office because I know that together we can do this. We will do this.
We will seize this moment, and we will do great things.
My pledge to you as your Mayor is I will always have an open and honest conversation with you about the issues we face and our plans to address them.
We will move forward together.
We will move forward with purpose.
We will move forward with a true sense of community ownership. We will build progress for all.
Thank you, Somerville, and good night.