Somerville, Medford candidates prepare for upcoming mayoral primaries

Current Somerville and Medford mayors, Joe Curtatone (left) and Breanna Lungo-Koehn (right), respectively, are pictured. Both cities’ primary mayoral elections are today, Sept. 14, with a combined seven candidates running. Max Lalanne and Alexander Thompson / The Tufts Daily Archives

The cities of Somerville and Medford are holding their primary municipal elections today. Voters in both cities will choose between candidates for both mayor and city council.

The Medford mayoral race will feature three candidates including incumbent Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn, Medford City Councillor John Falco and John Petrella, a retired retail manager in the food industry.

Lungo-Koehn entered mayoral office in January 2020, only 10 weeks before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she is proud of the accomplishments she made while in office, including increased transparency in the city budget, a social justice roadmap for the city and preventative maintenance for infrastructure. However, Lungo-Koehn believes re-election will allow her to finish more of the projects that she has laid the groundwork for.

“If I’m elected, I want to continue this progress,” Lungo-Koehn said. “I want to continue to see the capital improvement plan worked out and implemented … I want to continue to fight for what’s best for our schools and our children … I want to be involved in continuing to be as transparent as possible, to continue with our social justice work. We’ve come a long way but there’s so much more to do.”

Falco hopes to use the experience he acquired during his past decade in local government to improve the condition of Medford. He believes the current administration has failed to resolve multiple issues that have stunted Medford’s development and put the city at a disadvantage when compared to its neighboring cities. 

“During the pandemic, these needs remained yet were largely unmet,” Falco wrote in an email to the Daily. “Surrounding communities didn’t stop improving city government and services but Medford did.”

Petrella emphasized the need for a stronger relationship between Medford and Tufts University. He believes this strengthened relationship will benefit both parties.

“I think both the City and Tufts need to put forward their best efforts for the mutual benefit of all,” Petrella wrote in an email to the Daily. “It seems now there is a lack [of] ongoing communication between [Medford and Tufts] … A strong relationship provides a sound foundation as specific topics arise.”

Somerville’s mayoral race will contain four candidates: Ward 7 City Councilor Katjana Ballantyne, Councilor At-Large Will Mbah, Mary Cassesso, the former chief community officer at Cambridge Health Alliance and businessperson William Tauro, who has decades of experience with local publications. This election will result in the induction of a new Somerville mayor for the first time in almost 20 years, following current Mayor Joe Curtatone’s decision not to seek re-election.

Ballantyne runs her campaign based around the three beliefs she believes are essential to the next mayor: values, leadership and experience.

During her time on Somerville’s city council, Ballantyne worked to tackle multiple issues including housing affordability, transportation and responsible development. However, it is her work on reducing Somerville’s environmental impact that she is most proud of. 

“I have made Somerville a leader on the environment,” Ballantyne said. “I wrote the Native Species Ordinance, the LEED Platinum certifiable code for our zoning, the Somerville Green New Deal, and I’m so excited to have the boldest plan on the environment, where we’re calling for Somerville to be carbon negative by 2050.”

Mbah believes his strengths as mayor would lie with his ability to personally relate to issues that are prevalent for many Somerville residents. Mbah immigrated from Cameroon in 2010 and faced many issues that commonly impact immigrants in the United States, including a lack of job opportunities, housing displacement and racial discrimination. 

“I don’t believe any other candidate has the ability to relate personally to almost every issue that our next mayor will have to address,” Mbah wrote in an email to the Daily. “On racial justice, I know what it is like to be racially profiled and discriminated against. On housing justice, I know what it’s like to move every year because of rising rents. On environmental justice, I have a background in environmental science and know how marginalized communities and people of color are impacted the most by the effect of climate change.” 

If elected into office, Cassesso hopes to continue to fight against social injustices, specifically those related to employment, education and affordable housing, issues to which she has been committed from a young age and throughout her professional career.

“My mother brought us up to be involved in all causes of racial and social justice,” Cassesso said. “We worked to block the construction of I-93 … so it didn’t take away so many affordable houses in the neighborhood … I have spent my life since I was in single digits doing this kind of work. And so that’s why … now I’m running, it’s been my lifelong commitment.”

Tauro offers Somerville a leader who would use his background in business, rather than politics, to propel the city forward. 

“I am not a politician,” Tauro said “I bring to the table a wealth of knowledge of past business experience, and I know I could do the job more effectively, efficiently and on budget.”

Some of Tauro’s goals include increasing affordable housing, stopping the rodent infestation and improving conditions for the elderly. Tauro distinguished his platform from his opponents, citing how he wants to increase the police budget to increase community outreach and help the homeless population in Somerville. He also spoke on the importance of young people’s impact on their community.

“We need young minds, young experiences [and] young opinions,” Tauro said. “They’re bright, they’re smart and they come from different generations with different ideas [and] different values.”

The sentiment of the importance of young people exercising their voices and right to vote was echoed by members of the Tufts Democrats, including President Izzy Essman and Secretary Mark Lannigan, who remarked on the importance of young candidates that are running for positions in the upcoming elections while urging Tufts students to educate themselves on the candidates’ platforms in order to make well-informed voting decisions. 

“There are many young candidates in both Medford and Somerville that are running with the urgency and commitment to community that Tufts students are particularly passionate about,” Lannigan, a junior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “I would encourage Tufts students to look up the platforms of many of these young candidates and see if they’d like to get involved! Young people truly know what is at stake in these elections, and so I truly hope we can see more representation for young people in both city governments come this November.”