Saturday, July 20, 2024

Somerville Ward 5 city councilor Beatriz Gomez Mouakad on May 9, as she pulled papers to run for reelection. (Photo: Beatriz Gomez Mouakad via Facebook)

Ahead of the Wednesday deadline to file nomination papers for November elections in Somerville, Ward 5 councilor Beatriz Gomez Mouakad has dropped out to handle a family health emergency.

“It’s devastating for me to pull out, but in order to have a healthy community we need healthy families,” Gomez Mouakad said Monday.

She had been preparing to run for her second term before the family crisis, Gomez Mouakad said in a Friday email announcing the decision, but “I know what it takes to be a city councilor, and it would be irresponsible of me to think I could do this job without my full attention and commitment for another two years.”

Development and a crisis around the safety of aging public schools have loomed large for Gomez Mouakad, an architect and construction project manager. “It’s hard being the only Spanish-speaking Latina on the council and the only one with construction building background – especially now when schools are in a complete crisis,” she said.

Perenick

The president of the Massachusetts Young Democrats and a former campaign adviser for Gomez Mouakad, Jack Perenick, filed papers to enter the Ward 5 on Friday after her emailed announcement.

“I was not intending to get into the Ward 5 race or any race until Beatriz decided to withdraw,” Perrenick said. “It was a snap-of-the-moment decision. I’ve been involved in city politics for a while. I’ve worked with councilors, the mayor and on Beatriz’s campaign. I’ve seen the good work she has done, specifically on bikes and wage theft. I didn’t want all of that work to end.”

Barring another candidate filing before the Wednesday deadline, Perenick is running unopposed in Ward 5 and is all but certain to take Gomez Mouakad’s seat.

Former city councilor at-large and mayoral candidate Will Mbah has also entered the race, seeking to return as a councilor at-large. With four at-large seats on the council and all those incumbents filing to return, he will have to unseat either Willie Burnley, Jr., Charlotte Kelly, Kristen Strezo or Jake Wilson to get on.

Another returning candidate, this one for mayor:  William “Billy” Tauro.

Tauro, a business owner and publisher of the Somerville/Medford News Weekly, said he is focused on improving street safety, taking care of public buildings and veterans monuments and reducing tax rates to prevent displacement. But he believes public safety is the city’s greatest issue.

A William “Billy” Tauro campaign event. (Photo: William Tauro for Mayor via Facebook)

“Somerville is covered in shootings, assaults, crimes – a lot of it unreported,” Tauro said. Police could be the solution. “I want to put the police back in our schools. I want the chief of police back in the civil service and out of the hands of politicians.” Tauro said training would be paramount in preventing police brutality and racial bias. Asked Monday which of the city’s departments he feels most deserve additional funding, he replied: “Absolutely, the police.”

Tauro has lost faith in the city’s officials and believes they have to be “tougher” on developers. “Our elected officials are failing us completely,” he said. “They’re a bunch of empty suits … I welcome development and developers, but they have to do something for the people of Somerville. They have to contribute to our communities rather than try to make a quick buck.”

Tauro faces Union Square Neighborhood Council board member Ann Camara and incumbent Mayor Kajtana Ballantyne in the race for the head office. Camara did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Monday.

Perenick: Replacement candidate

In seeking to fill Gomez Mouakad’s seat on the council, Perenick said he is focused on improving hybrid transportation and building houses. “I’m a lifelong cyclist. My grandmother who is 82, cannot walk more than 10 steps. There’s a lot of work left to do in transportation to meet everyone’s needs: How we’re going to optimize and promote streets for biking, how to designate more curbs for pickup,” he said.

He emphasized work on “solving the housing crisis and building homes for thousands through rezoning, inclusionary development and maintaining the current housing stock,” he said. “The simple reality is, if we build enough housing, people will want to move here.”

Perenick believes transparency is key to ensuring development stays equitable and community-driven. “I think the most important thing is folks are made aware of covenants signed by the mayor, and made aware of how to make changes in covenants after the fact. The city is legally required to make covenants publicly available, but then there’s making those public knowledge,” Perenick said. “We do a good job of holding community meetings and informing people of the terms. But we don’t do a good job of following up with folks and making sure they know the mechanisms to change these documents.”

Mbah: Return candidate

Will Mbah pulls papers May 1 to run again for Somerville city council. (Photo: Will Mbah via Facebook)

Mbah said he’s running again to continue work he started on transportation and diversity and will focus on expanding alternative emergency response, part of a growing dialogue in the city over police and public safety. “Mental health is a big issue with policing,” Mbah said.

But he too cited housing and related issues as the greatest needs facing the city. During four years on the council, Mbah helped create an Office of Housing and Stability and the Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets, and sparked much of the city’s efforts to diversify its roster of public officials and catalog of small businesses for procurement.

“We need to be very intentional in terms of how we develop these policies that control development – with people in mind,” Mbah said. “The epicenter of development is right in Union Square. It doesn’t seem like some of the developers are willing to be good community partners. When you look at the fine print [of community benefits agreements], it sounds like it’s based on good faith, rather than hard contractual agreements.”