One of the best parts of serving on the Newton City Council for incumbent and fifth-generation Newtonian William Humphrey is being able to see the difference he has made in the lives of residents.
“The part of city council that I really enjoy is that I can see very tangibly the ways in which I’m helping to improve people’s lives on a day-to-day basis and make their lives easier, and that’s a very rewarding feeling,” Humphrey said.
Another aspect central to his tenure as councilor is his role in city hall and committee meetings. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Humphrey said hosting city hall and committee meetings in a virtual format increased resident attendance. The pandemic also garnered more support from the city for his 2019 campaign pillar of economic justice reform, leading to new programs in Newton such as emergency rental assistance.
“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to work on economic justice issues that had been interesting to me previously, but not necessarily a major focus for the city,” Humphrey said. “So after the pandemic hit, I went around and distributed information on emergency rental assistance, which is an example of a program that we didn’t have before the pandemic, and we created it to try to help people.”
In addition to issues of economic justice, Humphrey said the main focal points of his re-election campaign are emphasizing his constituent services work, increasing affordable housing in Newton, and working to meet the goals of the Newton Climate Action Plan.
In his first term as a city council member, Humphrey said he is especially proud of his role in passing a tax reform aimed at helping low income older residents in the city. One of the city’s tax assistance programs allows older residents to volunteer for various tasks, such as helping at the Newton Public Library, in exchange for a property tax deduction. According to Humphrey, the program’s income cap had not been adjusted since the program’s creation, but after the tax reform, the income cap has been raised so more people qualify for the program.
Looking forward, Humphrey said he has also started several projects that he is looking forward to seeing through in another term if re-elected.
It’s no secret that Humphrey’s Newtonian roots run deep, as the young councilor is an Angier Elementary, Charles E. Brown Middle School, and Newton South High School alum, and his family has lived in the city since the beginning of the 20th century. Humphrey expressed how his family’s long history in the city has helped shape his perspective as a city councilor.
“Over those generations we’ve seen a lot of changes, which helps us to understand what it is that makes Newton special and important, but it also makes it easier to accept that change is not a bad thing,” Humphrey said. “And we just need to figure out what kind of change we want.”
Humphrey said he not only believes he has provided exceptional constituent services to the residents of Newton, but that he also brings a unique and important perspective to the city council.
“I think that I’m bringing a valuable, distinctive perspective and voice to the city council on a lot of issues,” Humphrey said.
Debra Waller has lived in the city’s fifth ward for 27 years. Waller said she is running for council because she cares about Newton and is concerned about the growing power of private interests in the city’s government, according to her website.
“I am running because I want to help Newton have a future that benefits everyone, not just an increasingly small and powerful financial elite,” Waller said on her website.
As a former engineer at the Digital Equipment Organization and vice president and director of risk analytics at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, Waller said her background in data analysis gave her the skills to make reasoned decisions, according to her website.
Waller said she has three primary goals to help Newton become a “more democratic and responsible city.” These goals include supporting rezoning objectives that residents not only want but also understand, depoliticizing the Newton Police Department (NPD), and restoring integrity in the public process.
According to Waller, she is a lifelong moderate Democrat dedicated to supporting the everyday needs of Newton residents.
“As your City Councilor, I will work hard to balance your current everyday needs with a responsible future plan based on a clear view of the facts, not an inflexible faith in my own personal ideology,” Waller’s website reads.
Waller did not respond to The Heights’ request for an interview.
Incumbent Deborah Crossley hopes to continue her work toward a better and stronger Newton that she aspired for 12 years ago when she entered her first term as Ward 5’s councilor-at-large. Running for her seventh term now, Crossley said there is still much work to be done.
“There’s still work to do,” Crossley said. “I suppose you could say there’s always work to do, but when I ran 12 years ago, it was because of two broad ambitions that I had.”
These ambitions were taking better care of the city’s public spaces, such as buildings, roads, and parks, as well as more effective city planning—or what Crossley refers to as strategic planning. According to Crossley, this strategic planning includes adding more affordable housing in Newton and supporting local businesses.
Crossley’s ambitions, however, were met with the unexpected challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was so much uncertainty,” Crossley said. “Not knowing was the worst part. Not knowing when we would get vaccines. Not knowing what the protocols should be. Not knowing how much money we would lose.”
Crossley also credited the city’s strong foundation in its ability to recover from the losses of the pandemic. But even as the city adjusted to this “new normal,” Crossley said she never stopped working.
“I never stopped working on anything, in as far as the city is concerned,” she said. “I kept up my contacts. … Those who I knew were living alone, I made sure to contact them and see how they were doing. … I did take the time to do that. That was really important to me because, you know, the isolation of COVID I think was really harmful for a lot of people, and scary.”
Looking toward her seventh term, Crossley said she wants to aggressively implement Newton’s Climate Action Plan, support small businesses, improve transportation in the city, and increase affordable housing options, if re-elected.
As Newtonians take to the polls on Nov. 2 for the general election and Oct. 25 for early voting, Crossley not only wants residents to take the time to vote, but to also vote with good information. While voting, Crossley hopes residents will consider her passionate but practical problem solving as well as for other candidates who will effectively get things done.
“People should vote for me because I’m a collaborative problem solver,” she said. “I am passionate but also practical, and I know that nobody gets it done all by themselves. You have to collaborate and work with others. There has to be a push and pull of ideas. And honestly, it’s not just me that people have to vote for. I want people to vote for the people who do get the work done, the people who roll up their sleeves and collaborate to address some of these really challenging problems.”
Crossley also emphasized her hard-working attitude.
“You have to be willing to do the work,” Crossley said. “Passionate, practical, collaborative, constructive—that’s how you solve the problems.”
When Andreae Downs entered her second term on the Newton City Council, she did not forsee Jake Auchincloss’ election to the United States Congress that would make her the new chair of the Newton Public Safety and Transportation Committee, the murder of George Floyd and the protests that would follow, nor the pandemic that would force the city council to adapt to a whole host of new challenges.
Although Downs’ second term was full of unexpected events, she said she was surprised by how little of the City Council’s work changed.
“It was really surprising how much didn’t change as far as City Council went,” Downs said. “We still met, we just met on Zoom.”
Now, as Downs runs for her third term for Ward 5 councilor-at-large, she said her platform is all about COVID-19 recovery for the city, businesses, and residents, as well as improving trust, transparency, and accountability in NPD.
But even as Downs adapts her platform to reflect the last couple of years, she said she is still committed to the daily concerns of residents such as making streets safer, increasing affordable housing, and tackling local climate issues.
Some of the biggest accomplishments of her second term, Downs said, have been opening up the southern part of the Sudbury Aqueduct, which is now a walking trail in Newton, as well as working to make the city’s streets safer for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers alike. But Downs also expressed her excitement about work to come if re-elected for a third term.
“I’m excited about … a vision of a Newton that is strong on community, strong on climate resilience, and feeling safe for all residents,” Downs said. “That’s the sort of thing I really enjoy. I also kind of enjoy the constituent services, being able to help get some sidewalk or pothole filled or tree planted or to connect neighbors with each other around projects.”
While running for her second term in 2019, Downs told The Heights the residents of Newton should vote for her because she bikes everywhere. But why should Newton voters once again re-elect her? According to Downs, she has worked hard and delivered for the city’s residents and will continue to deliver.
Downs also highlighted the importance of civic engagement among young voters in Newton and everywhere.
“It’s really important particularly for young people in our colleges to be informed and to vote,” Downs said. “We’re making decisions now that will matter 10 years from now, we’re trying to shape a Newton and a state and a country and a world that will survive and that will be better … and this is what [young people will] inherit in 10 years or five years.”
Hoping to give the residents of Newton a voice on the issues that directly impact them, long-time Newton resident and local advocate Rena Getz is running for Ward 5 councilor-at-large.
“My main goal is to advance the residents’ vision for Newton,” Getz said on her website. “Together we can create a sustainable future for our city while respecting our past. … My highest priority is to listen, to understand and to act on the concerns and viewpoints of Newton residents.”
Although she was born in Spain, Getz grew up in many different parts of the world and said those experiences gave her a strong sense of cultural sensitivity and open mindedness, according to her website.
Getz and her husband initially moved to Newton to raise their family.
“We chose Newton because of its walkable neighborhood schools, historic village centers and abundant green open space,” her website reads.
During her children’s primary education, Getz served on the Angier School Building Committee and was co-chair of the Respect for Human Differences Committee.
Over the last eight years, Getz has served on her local Neighborhood Area Council—she is a founding member and the current vice president of the Waban Area Council. Getz is also a board member for The Friends of Hemlock Gorge, a local conservation organization that works to preserve the nature reservation, and was elected as a delegate to represent Ward 5 at the 2021 MassDems Platform Convention.
“I believe I am a proven community leader and resident advocate,” she said on her website. “As your City Councilor, I pledge to be your representative and support your priorities.”
According to her website, Getz is also committed to learning more about housing and zoning in Newton through her participation in the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association and the Congress of the New Urbanism.
Getz cites former Ward 5 Councilor-at-Large Brian Yates as the initial inspiration for her civil engagement in Newton. Getz worked on Yates’ last three re-election campaigns for city council. Getz said Yates’ death motivated her to run for office to honor “his priorities and the vision he held for Newton.” Yates, BC ’71, died in 2019.
“I share Brian’s sensibilities and a passion for my community and a belief that city government needs to care for the most vulnerable among us, as well as to respect and to preserve the uniqueness of each of our villages,” Getz said on her website. “I am committed to valuing these priorities and to being a true voice for the residents of Newton.”
On her website, Getz said her values include prioritizing civility, acknowledging differing viewpoints, and supporting outcomes based on respectful compromises.
“I am ready and able to serve as your Newton City Councilor – I want to give back to the community that has given so much to me and my family and is the place we call home,” Getz said on her website.
Getz did not respond to The Heights’ multiple requests for an interview.
Ward 5 Newton School Committee member Emily Prenner is running for re-election after her first term on the committee. Prenner is running unopposed.
Prenner has lived in Newton for 15 years and has long been a local schools advocate in the city. Prior to serving on the Newton School Committee, Prenner held leadership positions as Parent Teacher Organization co-president at the elementary school, high school, and city-wide level.
“I’m running because I’ve been a passionate advocate for public schools, particularly the Newton Public Schools,” Prenner told The Heights in 2019. “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 won the Ward 5 school committee election with 8,482 votes, defeating opponent Lev Agranovich by 5,980 votes.
“Part of my in-depth experience is that I have more of a holistic higher-level view of how the district itself works,” Prenner said in 2019. “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 declined The Heights’ requests for an interview.
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor