Paul Toner campaigns in November 2017. (Photo: Toner For Cambridge City Council via Facebook)

Paul Toner, who ran for a City Council seat in 2017, announced Monday that he is seeking the elected office again.

Toner is most known within the city for his work in education – first as a teacher, then as president of the Cambridge Teachers Association and of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. But he also served as vice president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and as a labor delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Party, as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission and on the board of directors of Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. In 2019, he was in contention for Everett Public Schools superintendent; the city went with another of the four candidates.

Toner is now a director of policy and partnerships for Teach Plus, a policy advocacy and professional development education nonprofit, though he said Monday that he would step down to focus on his campaign in the summer and fall.

“I approach this work as a collaborative, solutions-oriented leader who will apply my skills, experience and knowledge to work with members of the council, city staff and constituents to reopen our city and help it thrive again,” Toner said in a press release. “There are many challenges ahead. Through open and respectful public discourse – which is sorely needed in our political conversations right now – we can make real progress toward addressing the many inequities that existed before the pandemic but are only more glaring today.”

Renewed themes

He described himself as a consensus builder who makes decisions based on dialogue and data, and said his policy priorities included public safety and police reform; restoring Cambridge’s economy post-pandemic and “strong municipal finances”; affordable housing, planning and zoning, with a focus on regional collaboration for housing and transportation issues; and digital and educational equity and early childhood education. He wanted to reduce income inequality through “coordination among our city departments, nonprofits, higher education institutions, unions and businesses to give our residents access to the opportunities in our robust 21st century Cambridge economy.”

Bringing civil discourse back to local government and addressing income inequality were prominent themes for Toner before, when he entered the race in March 2017 saying he could “help to bring old and new Cambridge together.” His work in education and labor encouraged at least 20 endorsements from current and former city officials, unions and influential thinkers such as Barry Bluestone, director of Northeastern’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

His support of the unpopular PARCC standardized test, which former colleagues at the Cambridge Education Association opposed, may have cost him at the polls. On Election Day, when No. 1 votes were counted on Cambridge’s ranked form of balloting, he had 980, coming in 10th in a field of 26 and just 112 short of the eventual winner of the council’s ninth seat, Craig Kelley. Toner hung on to the 18th count, and Kelley was elected on the 19th. (It was initially newcomer Sean Tierney who lost to Kelley; a nail-biting hand count showed a three-vote margin between them.)

Growing field

Nomination papers for the Nov. 2 municipal elections don’t become available until July, and are usually due back at the end of that month; 50 confirmed signatures qualifies a resident to run. The 2019 election saw 23 people run for council (including eight of nine incumbents), dropping to 22 by the time of balloting, and 11 for School Committee (including three of six incumbents).

Toner is now the fourth challenger in the race. At least four incumbents have declared as well.

Other candidates identified by the state as recent filers for a council seat:

  • Santos Carrasquillo, Harvard Street, The Port
  • Robert Eckstut, Western Avenue, Riverside
  • Tonia Hicks, Pearl Street, Cambridgeport
  • Joe McGuirk, Columbia Street, Wellington-Harrington
  • Frantz Pierre, Water Street, North Point
  • Roy Ribitzky, Webster Avenue, Wellington-Harrington

Information on the Toner campaign is at TonerforCambridge.com, and the candidate has a campaign headquarters at 2322 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge.

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