Somerville City Councilor Will Mbah announced his candidacy for mayor of Somerville on April 2. Mbah made the announcement through a video on his campaign website.
“I am proud and excited to announce that I am running for the mayor of the great city of Somerville,” he said. “My campaign will be founded on accountability and action.”
Mbah was born and raised in Cameroon and moved to Somerville in 2011 after winning the green card lottery through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a federal program that awards visas to randomly selected immigrants from countries with low immigration rates to the United States. In addition to being an at-large city councilor, he is currently a technologist at MIT’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety. Mbah is the only person of color on the Somerville City Council.
A press release from the Mbah campaign further explained his story.
“An immigrant from Cameroon who moved to Somerville in 2011, Mbah understands first hand the challenges faced by the one-quarter of Somerville’s population who are also immigrants,” the press release said. “As a father raising two young children, he is deeply invested in seeing the city of Somerville become the most welcoming, inclusive place it can be.”
In a video, Mbah explained why he believes he is fit to be Somerville’s next mayor.
“We need a mayor who has seen up close the ways in which our actions have fallen short of our stated beliefs,” he said. “I understand these challenges because I have been through them personally. I have seen what racism looks like in our city government. I was temporarily displaced from Somerville when I first moved here because of rising housing costs. I know what it is like to be an immigrant fighting to stay in this city.”
He said that these experiences prepared him to succeed as a mayor for Somerville residents.
In his speech, Mbah also highlighted some of his priorities for Somerville.
“[My campaign will take] the great promise and progressive ideals that Somerville expresses — a belief in Black lives, a belief in being a sanctuary city, of affordability, our commitment to education, the artists, the arts, of a Green New Deal for Somerville, a commitment to our seniors, a support of our local businesses, a belief in having a safe and thriving community for all — and then asks the hard questions about how we are living up to these values for all in the community,” Mbah said.
In an email to the Daily, Tufts’ Director of Government and Community Relations Rocco DiRico discussed the university’s relationship with Mbah as a city councilor.
“During Councilor Mbah’s time as a City Councilor, the City of Somerville and Tufts University have collaborated on a number of projects, initiatives, and programs,” DiRico wrote. “Tufts has enjoyed a great working relationship with Councilor Mbah and the other members of the Somerville City Council.”
DiRico emphasized that, as a nonprofit, Tufts is not permitted to endorse candidates in any type of election, but that the university will remain committed to supporting its host communities no matter who is in charge.
Michael Bowler, Mbah’s campaign manager, shared some of his perspectives on Tufts and how he hopes to engage with the community.
“[Mbah] supports State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven’s bill in the state house, H.D. 3207 which would require nonprofits with total property valued at over $15 million to pay 25 percent of the property taxes they would owe as a commercial entity,” Bowler wrote in an email to the Daily. “For too long, Tufts has under contributed its PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) with the city of Somerville.”
Bowler said Mbah also criticized Tufts’ tiered housing system.
“Introducing ‘luxury’ options for student housing only further amplifies economic inequality on college campuses,” Bowler said. “[Mbah] would also like to see Tufts more aggressively tackle the housing crisis here in Somerville by building more student housing on campus. So many Tufts students are forced to compete in the Somerville real estate market, driving up their costs and the costs of those trying to rent in the city.”
Bowler noted that Mbah wants to work to develop a relationship with Tufts students as mayor.
“He hopes to engage with activist students from the Tufts community, like Sunrise Tufts, to collaborate on issues of climate justice,” Bowler said.
Beyond issues involving Tufts, Bowler said strengthening unions will be one of Mbah’s top priorities for the city.
“Let’s make it so working people can live here and raise their families,” Bowler said. “As a union member, he understands the importance of collective bargaining and he intends to prioritize ideas that help strengthen union action in our city and in future development projects.”
Bowler also said that Mbah will emphasize climate justice if elected.
“Thanks to the new legislation passed at the state level, we can act more aggressively to require net zero housing construction in the near future,” Bowler said. “We need to divest city funds from oil and gas companies, we need to green our municipal buildings, we need to make biking and public transportation something for all that live in our community.”
He noted that Mbah’s full platform, concerning issues including education, accessibility and policing, will be released in the coming weeks.