Op-ed: The progressive leader Somerville needs: Will Mbah for mayor

Somerville mayoral candidate Will Mbah is pictured. Courtesy Gene Buonaccorsi

I moved back to Somerville to make it my home about a year after graduating from Tufts in the COVID-19 Class of 2020. I came back for the colorful three-story houses, the little libraries, the community gardens, the small businesses and the public art. More than all that, though, I came back for the progressive values and community care that I sensed in the Somerville air during my four years at Tufts. 

But progressive values in the hearts of a city’s residents do not ensure justice in a city. Here in Somerville, rising rents have made it so that many low-income residents can no longer afford to live here. We are losing our neighbors to housing speculation and profit-hungry developers. Worse still, many of the places where low-income residents can still afford to live in Somerville are the places with the most pollution, poorest air quality and fewest trees.

And despite the abundance of Black Lives Matter signs hung up in windows and stuck into lawns, Somerville is not a place where Black residents can always feel safe and welcome. Between a school system where too many Black children get left behind and an armed police force with an exorbitant budget — two realities that are, of course, connected — Somerville has been systematically turning a blind eye to the needs of Black residents for far, far too long. 

Every day, I am motivated by the knowledge that there are concrete, attainable solutions to these injustices. We can reimagine policing and create affordable housing and enact a Green New Deal here in Somerville. How? By electing progressive leaders to represent us in positions of power. That’s why I’m supporting Will Mbah for mayor of Somerville. 

A native of Cameroon, Will was studying environmental science in Sweden until he won a visa to work in the United States. He first settled with family in Taunton, Mass., but quickly fell in love with the vibrant community he experienced in Somerville and, despite knowing nobody in the city, moved here. 

Even though Will held an advanced environmental science degree, he struggled to find work in the U.S. at first. He paid rent by working nights as a custodian at MIT and spent his days interning for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Because of rising rent in Somerville, Will had to move five times in six years. And when he tried to sign up for health insurance through MassHealth, he was denied. 

Will experienced firsthand that the government is failing to take care of the people who need it most, and he wanted to create change. Inspired by Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president, Will decided to run for Somerville City Council in 2017 and won. 

As city councilor, Will has created positive change based on his lived experience. Understanding the struggles of a renter, he spearheaded the creation of the Office of Housing Stability, which works to prevent the displacement of Somerville residents. As a Black man who has experienced institutionalized racism and a father of two young children, Will appreciates the critical importance of police reform and accountability. On the council, he has worked to stop the discriminatory policing practice of racial profiling, pushed for the creation of a civilian oversight of the police board and voted to reduce the police budget. 

As mayor, Will is committed to disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline by reallocating funds from the police budget to the school budget in order to hire additional career and guidance counselors. He also plans to fully fund and empower the Civilian Oversight Board to hold the Somerville Police Department accountable. 

In regards to environmental justice, Will plans to use his time as mayor to create and enact a Green New Deal in Somerville. This would mean divesting city funds from fossil fuels, protecting and expanding Somerville’s green spaces, improving stormwater infrastructure to decrease flooding, greening existing municipal buildings to be net zero, requiring all new construction to be net zero and so much more. 

Will has been an environmental advocate since he was a student in Cameroon. He understands the urgency of the climate crisis, has experience addressing environmental issues and is exactly the person we need to lead Somerville’s climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. 

To summarize: Will’s lived experience as an immigrant, a Black man, someone who has struggled to pay rent and someone who has fought for environmental justice in his life and in his work distinguish him as the leader our city needs. He will fight hard on the most important issues facing Somerville and the United States, issues he understands intimately: racial equity, affordable housing and environmental justice. 

If you’re ready to join me in supporting Will Mbah for mayor of Somerville, here’s what you can do:

Vote. If you live in Somerville, whether it be in a dorm or an off-campus house, please vote in the Somerville local elections on Nov. 2. If you’re not registered in Somerville yet, you can find all the information you need to do so here. The deadline to register to vote or change your registration info in Massachusetts is today, Oct. 13. 

Volunteer. Join a phone bank or canvas and spend a couple hours talking to voters about Will’s progressive platform. Every additional volunteer brings Somerville closer to racial, environmental and housing justice!

Caro Fett graduated from Tufts in 2020 with a double major in environmental studies and environmental relations, a self-designed major focused on developing environmental stewardship throughout society. Caro has been volunteering on Will Mbah’s campaign for mayor of Somerville and is passionate about empowering young people to get involved with local politics. Caro can be reached at [email protected].