Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone not seeking reelection

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone speaks at the Green Line Extension groundbreaking on Dec. 11, 2012. Via Wikimedia Commons

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, the city’s longest-serving mayor, announced on March 1 that he will not seek reelection this November. This decision has fueled speculation that Curtatone will run for governor of Massachusetts in 2022.

Curtatone was first elected mayor in 2003 and assumed office in 2004, subsequently winning reelection eight times, every two years. Now, at the age of 54, many see Curtatone’s announcement as a sign that he will challenge Gov. Charlie Baker next year.

Curtatone announced his decision in his midterm address, a speech given by the city’s mayor every other year. The speech was delivered virtually on March 1.

This will be my final year as Mayor of Somerville,” Curtatone said in his speech. “It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the city where I was raised. I love this job — and this community — with every ounce of my being.”

In an email to the Daily, Curtatone explained why he is choosing not to run for reelection.

“I’ve been privileged to serve as Somerville’s Mayor for nearly 20 years,” Curtatone said. “It’s a job I still love and could happily do for another 20 years, but now feels like the right time to step aside and welcome new leadership.”

In his speech, Curtatone outlined his agenda for his final year in office.

“Somerville needs to rebound from the health, economic and social hits brought on by the coronavirus outbreak,” he said. “This crisis has magnified inequities in our larger society that must be addressed.”

Curtatone proceeded to name several aspects of his plan to help Somerville recover from the pandemic before he heads out of office.

“In Somerville, we’re always ready to take our inequities head on. It is fundamental to our local character and values. And that is exactly what we will — and must — continue to do in 2021,” he said. “Vaccines are how we band together to beat this disease, but we find ourselves having to battle the state to make sure vaccines are truly accessible to everyone.”

Curtatone also described his plans for racial justice during his final year in office, including re-imagining the way the Somerville police force operates. 

“To ensure this work continues and grows, we are hiring a racial and social justice director who will be part of the Mayor’s core policy team, putting an equity and racial justice lens on everything we do,” Curtatone said. “They will lead the community effort to achieve true equity, making sure the people who’ve borne the pain of systemic racism lead the process.”

Other issues discussed during Curtatone’s speech included climate change, education, transportation and housing. He concluded by reflecting on his 17 years as mayor, particularly this past one.

“[The] burning desire to do better is why being the mayor of Somerville has been such an incredible experience. It’s a value embodied by our residents and something I see every day from city staff,” Curtatone said. “In normal times, I’m amazed at the work city employees put in day in, day out, and the volunteerism and advocacy that residents contribute in service of Somerville, but I’ve been blown away by how our staff and how our community have stepped up even more during this pandemic.”

Rocco DiRico, director of the Office of Government and Community Relations at Tufts, reflected on the university’s relationship with Curtatone over the course of his years as mayor.

“Tufts University has been fortunate to have a visionary leader like Mayor Curtatone at the helm of one of its host communities since 2004,” DiRico wrote in an email to the Daily. “The relationship between the City and the University has become a model for cooperative town and gown partnerships.”

A “town and gown partnership” refers to the relationship between a university and the residents of its host communities. DiRico also explained how the school’s relationship with Curtatone has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing Tufts’ testing program for Somerville students and teachers.

“Recently, the pandemic brought the City and the University even closer together,” DiRico said. “In the Fall of 2020, we also worked with the Mayor’s office to provide free COVID-19 tests to Somerville neighbors that live on streets that abut the campus. And most importantly, Tufts University has partnered with the City of Somerville to provide COVID-19 tests for students, teachers, and staff at Somerville Public Schools.”

After individual tests proved to be too expensive for the Somerville Public Schools, Tufts developed a pooled testing method that brought costs down while still allowing enough testing for students to begin returning to school.

“Under Mayor Curtatone’s leadership, Somerville will begin bringing students back into the classroom in a safe and sustainable manner,” DiRico said.

According to DiRico, while Tufts has had a positive relationship with Curtatone, very little would change under new leadership in Somerville.

“While the leadership of [Tufts’ host communities] have changed over the years, one thing that won’t change is Tufts’ commitment to supporting the communities that we call home,” he said.

Curtatone’s leaving office means that the mayor’s office will be in someone else’s hands for the first time in 18 years. One Somerville resident, William Tauro, announced his candidacy in October, and more are expected to announce in the coming weeks.

Tauro runs a news blog called The Somerville News Weekly and is the author of a book titled “Stealing Somerville: The Death of an Urban City” (2018). He has been an outspoken critic of Curtatone for years.

“My focus is to address and correct the many issues that have plagued Somerville currently and need immediate attention,” Tauro wrote in an email to the Daily. “[Curtatone’s decision] only allows me more time to properly plan for our city to be fixed.”

Tauro has made several baseless accusations against Curtatone, including corruption, substance abuse and infidelity, which were repeated in his email to the Daily.

Curtatone, a Democrat, has been at odds with Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysts have been predicting for months that Curtatone would run for governor, based on his increasingly adversarial relationship with the current officeholder. His announcement was widely interpreted as a sign that a gubernatorial run is all but certain.

However, Curtatone is seeking to downplay rumors that he will challenge Baker next year. He emphasized in his speech that he still has almost an entire year left in his term.

“As I carry forward during my final term, I’m all in, Somerville,” Curtatone said. “I will be hard at work for you until my last day on the job.”

He further elaborated on this in his email to the Daily.

“Right now, I am 100% focused on being the Mayor of Somerville, shepherding our city through the pandemic, and making sure the next Mayor is set up for success,” Curtatone said. “I have no current plans for what happens after my term ends this year. There will be time to decide on that later.”