Medford and Somerville elections: The importance of local politics for Tufts students

By Annabel Nied
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Last Tuesday, Sept. 14, marked the deadline for Medford and Somerville preliminary election ballots to be received. The preliminary elections asked voters to choose their top candidates for a number of offices, including mayors of both cities, six school committee members in Medford, one councilor in Ward 5 and another in Ward 7 in Somerville. 

For the first time since 2004, the mayoral ticket in Somerville doesn’t include incumbent Joe Curtatone. His four terms in office have overseen monumental change in Somerville — from its previous nickname of “Slummerville” to its current national reputation for progressive policies. As he prepared to leave office, Curtatone endorsed three of the four candidates on the ticket (excluding independent conservative candidate William “Billy” Tauro), emphasizing Somerville’s need for continuity with progressive leadership. 

Unofficial preliminary election results for Somerville place Will Mbah and Katjana Ballantyne as the leading candidates in the race, with Mbah leading Ballantyne by around 330 votes. Ballantyne, the first woman to be elected Somerville city council president twice during her seven-year service, expressed her commitment to sustainability and climate resilience. Mbah, who is endorsed by the local Sunrise Movement chapter and Our Revolution, a progressive political organization founded by Bernie Sanders, would be the first person of color to serve as mayor if elected in November. Self-proclaimed as the “most progressive candidate” in the race, Mbah says he will be the first mayor in Massachusetts to reimplement rent control if the statewide ban were to be repealed.

Medford’s preliminary mayoral election results show a strong preference for incumbent Breanna Lungo-Koehn, who leads by over 1000 votes. With an academic background in criminal justice, psychology and law, Lungo-Koehn began her political career as a city council member. Since her first win in 2001, Lungo-Koehn was re-elected eight times, including as president of the Medford City Council. After 18 years of experience in City Council, she won her campaign for mayor of Medford in 2019 and has served as mayor since. 

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With the second-highest number of votes, mayoral candidate John Falco entered this year’s election after five years on the Medford City Council and five years on Medford’s School Committee between 2010 and 2015. Despite his opponent’s clear lead, Falco remains hopeful as he moves into the runoff elections set for Nov. 2, claiming that the City of Medford’s need for “an inclusive, professional, and decisive leader” is his motivation for entering the race. 

The front-running candidates for Somerville’s preliminary election for councilor of Ward 5 are Tessa Bridge and Beatriz C. Gomez Mouakad, while in Ward 7 Judith Pineda Neufeld and Becca Miller are contesting the seat. Medford’s six leading candidates for school committee are Mea Quinn Mustone, Jenny R Graham, Paul Russell Ruseau, Melanie P. McLaughlin, Sharon D. Hays and Andrew C. Milne. 

As voter registration deadlines approach and the final election grows closer, many students on the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus remain unaware of political events in our surrounding community. With over 11,800 students enrolled at Tufts and 5,825 undergraduate students as of 2019, our undergraduate population alone makes up around 4% of the combined Medford/Somerville populations. Because of the size of Tufts’ student population, our presence here has a profound impact on the communities around us. Additionally, the policies and decisions made by local leaders may affect the way in which we conduct our lives on campus. 

Because of the reciprocal influence between Tufts students and the residents of the Medford/Somerville area, Tufts students have a responsibility to remain engaged with local political discourse — regardless of our local voter registration status. Whether it relates to policing in surrounding neighborhoods, inclusionary housing efforts like extending eviction moratoriums or programs designed to address and take action against climate change, we have the ability to lend our voice to important initiatives. 

In order to be considerate, engaged and conscious members of this community we need to maintain awareness for candidates in upcoming elections, legislation and policy decisions that affect us and our host communities.

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