Somerville appointed official involved in Capitol riots

The Capitol building is pictured. Courtesy Unsplash

Somerville leaders recently learned that one of the city’s appointed officials participated in the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The official is Jessica Turner, a member of the Somerville Affordable Housing Trust Fund. She was appointed by Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone in March 2019.

Somerville residents and officials caught wind of Turner’s involvement on Twitter, where she posted multiple times about her participation. Her Twitter account is protected, but a user by the name of Chris Allen started a Twitter thread on Jan. 9 with screenshots of Turner’s tweets, calling for Curtatone and others to address why she is on the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the goal of which is to establish and protect affordable housing in Somerville. 

“An appointed official in Somerville was part of the Jan. 6th attempted coup Why is this person on the Affordable Housing Trust Fund?” Allen wrote in the tweet.

Allen’s initial tweet spawned a thread in which Somerville residents, officials and others have been actively discussing Turner’s actions and her tweets from the day of the riots. 

“We have breached the steps,” Turner wrote in a tweet on Jan. 6. In a separate tweet, Turner wrote, “Antifa was not there. It was not Antifa. It was MAGA Trump Patriots, America lovers.”

Curtatone expressed his contempt for those who participated in the breach at the Capitol.

“Like so many, I am horrified by the actions of those who incited, participated in, and celebrated the deadly insurrection at the Capitol that took aim at our democracy, took five lives, and injured and endangered so many,” Curtatone wrote in an email to the Daily.

He said that the duty of the city of Somerville is to follow the law and city process as city officials look into this claim. He also said that those involved in the Capitol demonstration must be fairly and justly held accountable.

“That process will get underway immediately,” Curtatone said. 

According to electronic communication with Denise Taylor, director of communications & community engagement for the city of Somerville, it is expected that the investigation process will be complete before the next Affordable House Trust Fund meeting, which will be in late January. Turner holds no other active duties in her role.

City councilors including Ben Ewen-Campen, J.T. Scott, Kristen Strezo and Will Mbah were all active in the thread. All four were tagged in the initial tweet by Allen alongside Curtatone. 

Ewen-Campen, city councilor for Somerville’s Ward 3, wrote in an email to the Daily that he is glad Curtatone is taking the issue seriously, and will continue to urge him to replace Turner. 

“Being appointed to serve on a City Board like the Affordable Housing Trust Fund is a privilege, not a right. The AHTF oversees millions of dollars, and it requires public trust,” Ewen-Campen said.

Similarly, Mbah, who is a city councilor at-large in Somerville, said he felt troubled when he learned about Turner’s involvement in the Capitol riots. 

“It was really disturbing to me, and immediately I called the mayor’s office I’m really concerned about Jessica’s participation,” Mbah said.

He said he felt encouraged by his conversation with the mayor’s office, and that he’s confident that Curtatone and his administration will address this issue as quickly and as fairly as possible. 

“[The city] also reassured me that we are on the same page and we stand united in condemning what happened in this deadly insurrection at the Capitol, and so we will have to play our part to ensure that those who participated are held to account,” Mbah said.

Mbah immigrated to Massachusetts from Cameroon in 2010 after winning a diversity visa lottery, and places great emphasis on making sure all residents of Somerville feel welcome and included. He said this was the reason he originally ran for city council in 2017. 

“[I] landed in Somerville, got involved in the community at some point I started realizing that we don’t really have a government that looks after people [I thought about] what I wanted to see this community look like, and so I ran for office,” he said.

Mbah said he will leave the investigation of Turner’s actions to Curtatone and his staff and remain focused on his community. 

“We still have our local commitment to our residents, our fabric remains unshaken … [we are committed to working to] restore that confidence and trust in the ability to work together in times like these,” Mbah said. 

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