Metro, Politics, Newton

Ward 5 Candidates

Lev Agranovich 

The owner of AGS Tax Group, a Newton-based accounting firm, Lev Agranovich is hoping to take his years of financial expertise into Newton’s public schools. The 16-year resident of Newton hopes to secure his place on the School Committee in Ward 5. 

Having watched two of his own children go through the Newton Public School system, attending Countryside Elementary School, Charles E. Brown Middle School, and Newton South High School, Agranovich knows the system inside and out, including the many areas that need improvement.

“Right now I see in retrospect what was wrong with the school system,” said Agranovich. “And I’ll try to give back to the community [with] my knowledge and to help all other children.”

Newton Public Schools’ overstretched budget, especially when it comes to adequate salary compensation for teachers, is Agranovich’s biggest concern with the state of the system right now. 

“We don’t have enough funds to cover all [of the] expenses which we have for the upkeep of the schools. Some of the schools [are] not in good condition, some of the teachers [are] not happy with their salaries, some of the activities [are] not able to thrive because we don’t have funds,” said Agranovich. “Our biggest problem is funding.” 

While there has been some talk about later start times for Newton high schools, Agranovich argues that now is not the time to be looking at that initiative, as there are not enough funds for its implementation. 

Agranovich said he believes he’ll offer a unique perspective and knowledge set that can benefit the Newton school system and the families within it. Having worked as an accountant in Newton for 16 years, providing financial services and advising to various businesses, nonprofits, and some schools, he plans to put that knowledge to good use in Newton schools. 

“We need to have a fresh look inside [the] school community in Newton,” he said. “And we need to see [a] little bit [of a] different opinion from what we have year after year here. Just [having] a diversity of opinion may produce huge benefits for residents in Newton.” 

Agranovich has made it clear his intent in running is for the betterment of the families within Newton—many of whom are his clients—and he wants voters to know he’s in it to give back to the Newton community. 

“We work in Newton. Our clients are Newton-based,” said Agranovich.

William Bishop Humphrey 

As an Angier Elementary, Charles E. Brown Middle School, and Newton South High School alum, 28-year-old William Bishop Humphrey has hopes to take on an even more involved role in the community he grew up in as he runs for Ward 5 councilor. 

Humphrey previously worked as a senior editor at The Globalist magazine. His extensive political involvement in high school and college prepared him for his service as the Political Committee Chair for the Massachusetts Sierra Club and as a member of the executive boards of the Newton Democratic City Committee and the Ward 5 Newton Democratic Committee. 

Humphrey has highlighted four cornerstone issues of his campaign: the environment, public transportation, affordable housing, and public services. 

“My platform is about making sure that Newton is a community for everyone. And specifically the issues that I’m really focused on are environmental action, getting more affordable housing in Newton, and strengthening our city services, especially road repair,” said Humphrey. 

Beyond policy differences, the biggest factor distinguishing Humphrey for his opponent is his age. 

“I’m the millennial candidate so that makes [me] unique, at least in this race,” he said. 

That said, Humphrey’s not planning on letting his age stand in the way of his agenda. If elected, he plants to kick off his tenure by confronting Newton’s overreliance on fossil fuels. 

“The first thing that I would really like to work on is accelerating our shift off of fossil fuels in Newton,” he said. “I think that we have some plans, but we need to have much firmer and more aggressive plans for shorter time tables rather than a 30-year time table.”

If elected, Humphrey said he would not be afraid to take on such a courageous first task, as he sees these changes as part of the nature of Newton’s community. 

“I’m fifth generation in Newton, and my family has certainly seen a lot of changes come and go in Newton,” Humphrey said. “And I think one of the advantages to that is that while we have a recognition and appreciation for the city’s history we also understand that a lot of that history is the history of things changing.”

He said he isn’t afraid to embrace change in Newton because he’s seen it happen before and knows that it will happen again—as long as people are there to advocate for the best interest of the city.

Emily Prenner 

Local schools advocate Emily Prenner is taking her fight for better schools straight to Newton voters. The former IT consultant and project manager hopes to become a member of the Ward 5 School Committee. 

Prenner has held leadership positions as PTO co-president at the elementary, high school, and city-wide level. She believes this experience has given her the in-depth knowledge and skill-set required to contribute to important decisions being made by the School Committee. 

“I’m running because I’ve been a passionate advocate for public schools, particularly the Newton Public Schools,” said Prenner. “Because of all of my experience, I have a very deep understanding of Newton Public Schools, not only how individual school buildings work but district-wide.” 

Prenner has identified eight issues among the many pressing ones facing Newton Public Schools today that she plans to tackle if elected. These issues include reducing class sizes, ensuring teachers are paid competitively, preserving an array of extracurricular opportunities in Newton schools, updating all school buildings, closing the achievement gap, reducing stress in the middle and high schools, and ensuring that students who need additional help have the resources they need. 

If elected, Prenner is confident she’d be able to get right to work on all of her plans and believes her years of experience have prepared her to handle tough budget decisions. 

“As a school committee member, I am a steward of taxpayer dollars, and I need to make sure that those dollars are being spent wisely,” Prenner said. 

“Part of my in-depth experience is that I have more of a holistic higher-level view of how the district itself works. So when there are tough budgetary times, I understand that there may be some creative solutions that need to come into play. But more importantly I also understand that if one area of the budget has pressure on it then something else is going to have to give.”

Prenner hopes voters can see how her years of school advocacy and experience will be useful to the School Committee in its efforts to make decisions affecting all Newton students. 

“I have in-depth knowledge and experience in Newton Public Schools, and I want to make sure that the decisions the School Committee is making are always done through the lens of what’s best for the student experience.” 

Andreae Downs 

Incumbent Andreae Downs is hoping to finish what she started as Ward 5’s councilor-at-large after being elected to the position in 2017. In her two years in office, she’s addressed the issues of the climate crisis, local housing needs, and street safety.

“That work is not finished, so I am back for a second term in order to continue to make progress on those areas,” said Downs. 

If re-elected, Downs has three issues she’s putting at the forefront of her agenda: housing, climate change, and the budget. 

“The most contentious issue before us is housing and development, but we absolutely need housing that is convenient to transit and other destinations,” Downs said. “And that has significant opposition, but I think in the long run [it] will benefit everybody in Newton. I think we absolutely have to do our part of it as a city, as a populus, to prepare for and mitigate emissions so that we can be at zero emissions by 2050—and we do have a plan for that.” 

Downs wants to stop deferring the maintenance of roads, pipes, and flood prevention measures, as she said that is more costly.

Downs has been a Newton resident for 27 years and has seen her fair share of changes in the city, but she said the most notable is the decrease in affordable housing available. 

“We’ve become a lot less economically diverse,” said Downs. “We’ve lost many firefighters, many police officers, many teachers who used to be able to live in town. It’s now gotten so expensive that if I were my younger self, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live here.”

Downs is ready to continue her work to increase affordable housing options in Newton. In her two years as Ward 5’s councilor-at-large she has tackled a number of pressing issues facing Newton residents, but she is most proud of the dynamic parking pricing, the residential side-walk snow clearing ordinance, and the conclusionary housing bylaw she worked to implement. 

So why should Newton voters re-elect Downs? She has one simple answer. 

“I bicycle everywhere.” 

Kathy Winters 

The president of the Waban Area Council, Kathy Winters, is hoping to continue serving Newton residents as ward councilor in Ward 5. 

A Boston College and Georgetown Law alum, Winters has been extremely involved with the Newton community. She has served as a member on the boards of Newton’s Hills and Falls Community Nursery School and the Sacred Heart Parish council, as well as on the Waban Area Council. Winters is also a former tax attorney and said she believes this experience has prepared her to serve as Ward 5’s councilor. 

“In my experience as a lawyer and as a volunteer in my community, I have excelled at working with people with different viewpoints,” said Winters on her campaign website. “I am a pragmatic person who believes in respectful dialogue, finding points of consensus, and moving forward.”

All four of Winters’s children have gone through the Newton Public School system, with two of her sons currently attending Brown Middle School and one of her daughters attending Newton South High School, according to her campaign website. Winters has also been deeply involved with Newton Public Schools, where she coached girls soccer, youth soccer, and girls basketball. 

Winters has outlined on her website 11 pressing issues facing Newton residents that she plans to address if elected: building community, improving schools, improving streets and sidewalks, increasing environmental sustainability, maintaining and improving parks and open spaces, improving village centers, bettering transportation, increasing affordable housing options, creating a better zoning code, having sound fiscal management, and being a strong ward representative willing to listen to residents’ concerns. 

“I will work hard to be a strong representative for Ward 5. I will be a voice for Newton Highlands, Waban, and Upper Falls, and place a priority on providing constituent services and helping residents navigate City Hall,” Winters said on her campaign website. 

Deborah Crossley 

Incumbent Deborah Crossley is hoping to continue the work she’s been doing in Newton for the past decade as Ward 5’s councilor-at-large.

Crossley is an architect working out of her Newton residence and received her bachelor of science in environmental design from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1975, a bachelor of architecture from the Boston Architectural Center in 1983, and a license from the Architectural Registration Board in 1985, according to her campaign website. 

Crossley and her family have lived in Newton for 34 years, and her two children both went through the Newton Public School system. 

Crossley is running for re-election for the same reasons she ran10 years ago. 

“I wanted to act,” said Crossley. “I wanted to see strategic planning become part of how the city did business and start to correct some of these problems, and I believe that I have done that, and I want to continue to do that. There’s more work to do than we’ve been able to do in 10 years.”

Among the many issues Crossley has worked on in office thus far, Newton’s infrastructure, affordable housing options, and climate change preventative initiative are among those she plans to continue working on. In her three decades in Newton, Crossley said the amount of affordable housing options available are what she has seen change the most.

“We know we have a housing crisis,” Crossley said. “I couldn’t afford to come here today. My kids will never afford to come here. And that’s not a way to build or sustain a diverse community.” 

Crossley argues the issues facing Newton residents now are not just matters of today but of the future, as they will have lasting effects. 

“We’re the ones who should be keeping an eye out for future generations,” Crossley said. “We should be planning for what people need today, addressing our most egregious issues like our housing crisis and climate change, but that’s also about the future. Hopefully this is going to be a place that’s welcoming to all people for generations to come.” 

If re-elected, Crossley plans to continue looking at how to best serve future generations. She wants Ward 5 voters to know she’s committed to making the tough decisions needed to ensure Newton is a place where all are welcome. 

“I get things done because I know how to work collaboratively and constructively with my colleagues,” she said. “I listen to people. I incorporate new ideas. I’m open minded. But at the end of the day, I’m not afraid to make a decision and move forward.” 

Graphic by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

November 4, 2019