Metro, Politics, Newton

Harvard Student By Day, Councilor By Night: Ranalli Announces Her Campaign for Newton City Council

Twenty-year-old Madeline Ranalli announced her campaign in the special election for the vacant Newton City Council at-large seat in Ward 1 on Tuesday. Ranalli, who graduated from Newton North High School in 2019 and is currently a sophomore at Harvard University studying government and environmental science, is running on a platform of advocacy, she said.  

“I am a very passionate activist and advocate, and I think our city has a lot of major changes that we should make to the way that we do so many things,” Ranalli said. “I’m running because I love this city. And I am committed to this city, and I am dedicated.”

Raised in Newton, Ranalli currently lives with her parents, Jill and Ralph; her two younger sisters, Lilian and Eleanor; and her dog, Mavis. Ranalli attended Newton schools, played soccer in Forte Park, and came to know the local business owners.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have a deep love and commitment for the city and all that it afforded me and my family,” Ranalli said. “I think that this is a very important opportunity to pay that forward, and to really make sure that our city and the opportunities that it affords are there for the next generation of kids who are like me and my sisters.”

Two at-large seats are currently open on the council. The Ward 1 seat was made vacant on Nov. 7 upon the death of Jay Ciccone, and the at-large seat in Ward 2 was previously held by Jake Auchincloss, prior to his recent election for a Massachusetts congressional seat. The Ward 2 seat is currently being contested by Bryan Barash and Tarik Lucas in a special election.

Ranalli has previous experience in the realm of legislative advocacy, having worked for the past two years as political director of the Massachusetts chapter of March For Our Lives, which formed in 2018 to advocate for an end to gun violence following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She also serves as a board member of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

“I have a lot of experience engaging with the legislature in the legislative process,” Ranalli said. “In addition to that, I just grew up organizing around, not just gun violence, but also around climate and most recently around racial justice here in Newton.” 

Ranalli said that by collecting data and funding appropriation for community violence programs, she is involved in helping pass life-saving firearm legislation at both the state and federal levels.

“I think I bring both a very energized, activist perspective, but also the political knowledge of how to actually accomplish things and to build the coalitions needed in order to win,” Ranalli said. 

In addition to previously working in Senator Ed Markey’s Boston office, Ranalli has also been involved in campaigns, including Senator Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign and Jay Gonzalez’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts.  

A turning point for Ranalli’s political activism came while campaigning for Warren in Iowa, Ranalli said. She approached an intimidating house at the top of a hill—the car in the driveway had stickers for the NRA and some with confederate flags. Although she did not expect a positive response from the inhabitants of the house, she knocked on the door. After 30 minutes of conversation, the resident said that they were the first canvassers to knock on his door.

“I think that was a moment where I realized the importance of genuine political discussion, and actually engaging with people who don’t necessarily agree with you, which I think is going to be very relevant to this race, because there are so many perspectives on so many local issues,” Ranalli said. “I think we do a big disservice to each other when we don’t actually have good faith conversations with our neighbors.” 

Although she is a full time student, Ranalli said that she is ready to take on the role of being a councilor. Ranalli said that most councilors have a full time job and, in her view, being a student is equivalent. While she would attend school during the day, Ranalli said that she is committed to also devoting her time to being a councilor.

“I see going to school and taking classes as what I would do during the day, and then at night, you know, really be here and wholly here,” Ranalli said. “I’m also not going to shy away from the fact that it’s a difficult combination and it’ll require some sacrifice and some trade offs, but I think I’m wholeheartedly ready to take it on.”

Ranalli said that she hopes to push the conversation forward on issues like affordable housing, zoning redesign, racial justice, and access to bike lanes and public transit. She said that she also hopes to bring new issues to the table.  

“I think, as a young person, there are so many issues, whether it concerns mental health access or voting access and lowering our municipal voting age, that get left out of the conversation because there’s no one there to bring them up,” Ranalli said. “And so I hope to really push the envelope forward and really force people to, sort of, think bigger.”

According to Ranalli, the council serves as an important liaison between concerned residents, the school committee, and Newton Public Schools. 

Regarding Newton schools, Ranalli said that she sympathizes with the parents who want their kids to learn in person during the pandemic, but she also recognizes the challenges teachers face with the uncomfortable decision of choosing between in-person instruction and keeping themselves and their families safe. Ranalli supports the reopening of schools as quickly as possible with adequate safety protections, she said. 

Climate action is another of Ranalli’s priorities. She said that the Climate Action Plan’s goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and being carbon neutral by 2050 is good, but that Newton needs to get there sooner. 

“There’s so many young people who are enthusiastic about this and who are taking this on, and I just think as a city we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t listen to them,” Ranalli said. “And so, that’s one thing that I’m really hoping to do.” 

While the council has not yet set a date for the special election, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a Nov. 13 statement that the council will likely vote in December on an election date, and the special election will likely be held in late February or March. The City Clerk will provide an update on the status of legislation to allow mail-in voting in Newton for the special election at the Programs and Services Committee meeting on Wednesday. 

At-large candidates must collect 150 signatures from registered Newton voters in order for their names to appear on the ballot. Once she earns eligibility, Ranalli said, she looks forward to contributing to the city’s organization around certain causes, which has been an ongoing effort for decades.

“I’m really excited to gain as much knowledge and perspective as I can and be a voice for all of those groups and changemakers, young and old, in the legislative arena,” Ranalli said.

Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / For The Heights

December 7, 2020