Lisle Baker has served the Newton community as an elected official for 38 years and hopes to use his previous experience to continue helping Newton as he runs for re-election as Ward 7’s city councilor.
Throughout his years working on the council, Baker has focused on assuring Newton’s financial future, enhancing educational opportunities, promoting public safety, saving open spaces, preserving historical and recreational resources, and shaping land development, according to his website.
In his previous term, Baker helped craft an ordinance that allowed residents and landscapers to register their leaf blowers with the city to avoid police calls for any noise caused by the leaf blowers. In response to violations of the 65-decibel limit to noise from leaf blowers, police were responsible for responding to violations of the rule, a topic which the city council discussed at great length.
“If you register, you have to certify that you understand the rules and you will abide by them,” Baker said. “And the hope is that … over time, the landscapers will come in, they’ve registered, [and] we won’t have them saying, ‘Well, I didn’t know about this’ or … issuing the wrong equipment to their field … and we can have a quieter environment.”
Creating affordable housing is another issue that is important to Baker, and he said he was involved in helping the city allocate funding for the affordable housing project at 33 Commonwealth Ave.
In his previous term, Baker said he is proud of his creative problem solving, particularly with his involvement in the clean up of Waban Hill Reservoir. After receiving funding from the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act. The Waban Hill Reservoir is the only body of water that has a handicap-accessible path around it, according to Baker.
“Recently, some people had thrown … a chair in there, a traffic cone, a hockey stick … bottles, trash, [stuff] that just vandals had thrown in,” Baker said. “And the city didn’t have anybody on staff who could scale the walls and go down into the water to do that.”
To solve this problem, Baker looked to the community and decided to reach out to the instructor of a local rock climbing school in Newton to see if she would be willing to help clean up the reservoir. Even though she did not live in Newton, she helped remove the trash from the reservoir, after receiving a release from the law department, Baker said.
“That’s the kind of thing you end up doing as a city councilor, which is not formally legislating,” Baker said. “This was just, you know, trying to put pieces together so they worked. And so those are the kinds of things that are, I think, very gratifying about this job.”
Communicating with constituents is something very important to Baker, and he communicates with constituents via mail or email. He also said that he enjoys speaking with constituents on the phone and always tries to call them back.
Baker additionally produced the Councilors at Work TV show, which was created to increase transparency with constituents. The series won the Newton TV award for Best Government Series in 2011 and 2015, according to Baker’s website. While production was halted due to the pandemic, Baker said he hopes to continue filming as soon as filming studios reopen.
In his next term in office, Baker said he wants to continue working to improve Newton and foster the city’s sense of community.
“I hope that we can shape the future of the city through our development controls … in a way that tends to our children and grandchildren … [and create a] sense of community that is vibrant and welcoming but also preserves the kind of environmental aspects that people like [about] being here,” Baker said.
Marc Laredo has been a lifelong resident of Newton, first growing up in the community, attending Cabot Elementary School, Bigelow Middle School, and Newton North High School, and later returning to raise his family, according to his website. Laredo is running for his fifth term as ward 7’s councilor-at-large.
To Laredo, Newton is a “fabulous community” that provides the best of both worlds—suburban yet near a major city. Newton is generally a welcoming community and people care about that and maintaining that reputation, Laredo said in an interview with The Heights.
Laredo became a Newton elected official in 2002, first serving on the Newton School Committee for eight years and then on Newton City Council for 10 years. In his next term, Laredo said he plans to focus on infrastructure and address climate change. The public school system is also important to him, and Laredo said he believes the council needs to help restore confidence in the school system, especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While great teaching is at the heart of our students’ educational experience, our teachers and students need and deserve up to date buildings so that the best teaching and learning can take place,” Laredo said on his website.
During his last term, Laredo said he was a leader on the council, advocating for a vaccination mandate for city employees, an initiative which was unanimously approved by the council on Sept. 1.
His other priorities include updating the zoning code, transportation as a regional issue, and maintenance of sound fiscal policies in Newton, according to his website.
Laredo’s background is predominantly in law as the founder of the Boston law firm Laredo & Smith, LLP.
To communicate with constituents, Laredo said he sends out a monthly newsletter where he outlines his thoughts on specific issues and is always available by phone and email. He also said he takes emails from his constituents seriously, as attending events and being accessible to his constituents is very important to him.
Over his many years in office, Laredo said he has learned a great deal. He said he knows that it is important to really listen to what people are saying, try his best to address their concerns, and walk away from discussions with people feeling like he used his best possible judgement, even if they disagree with him.
“As we grapple with difficult issues, it is crucial that all of us – mainly our elected officials – carefully listen to and respect others’ opinions, especially those with whom we may disagree,” Laredo wrote on his website. “I will continue to work hard to lead by example – asking the tough questions, considering all points of view, and building consensus wherever possible.”
Four years ago, Becky Grossman was elected to the Newton City Council. The councilor is now running for her third term. Grossman served as the chair of the Finance Committee and a member of the Public Safety and Transportation Committee, according to her website.
Grossman moved to Newton in 2010 to start a family with her husband who grew up in Newton. Both of Grossman’s children are fourth-generation Newtonians, according to her website.
“My family and I love this city and I’m running to ensure Newton remains the best place to live, work, raise a family, educate children, and retire,” Grossman said on her website. “We’re deeply invested in the Newton community.”
For her upcoming term on the council, Grossman plans to focus on public schools, responsible growth of the city, infrastructure, prudent financial management, and public safety, according to her website.
As a parent of two Newton elementary school students, Grossman wants to ensure that public school education continues to meet the “highest standards.” Additionally, in terms of responsible growth, Grossman hopes to continue to ensure Newton’s development into a diverse, inclusive, and accessible place for people no matter their life circumstances or background, she said on her website.
Grossman said her background in investment banking gives her the necessary skills to ensure sound financial management in the city. Her experience as an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County allowed her to advocate for fairness within the criminal justice system while serving her first two terms, according to her website.
“From all these experiences, I learned how to solve complex problems and use data to streamline government and inform responsible decision-making,” Grossman wrote on her website.
In terms of her emphasis on public safety, Grossman hopes to ensure Newton is both a safe and fair place to live, and her perspective is shaped by her previous work experience in the criminal justice system, according to her website.
“Through my work, I have seen first-hand the tremendous damage the opioid epidemic can have on families and communities,” Grossman said on her website. “One of the best measures of the quality of a community is how it treats those who need help the most. I will work tirelessly to ensure that those impacted have strong treatment and recovery options, and their families have compassionate support resources.”
In her next term on the city council, Grossman hopes to continue making Newton a beautiful, welcoming, and safe place to live.
Grossman did not respond to The Heights’ requests for an interview.
Kathleen Burdette Shields
Kathleen Shields is seeking re-election for her third term on the Newton School Committee. First elected in 2018, Shields has worked on school building committees, to improve school committee and NPS communications, and to address equity issues in Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) spending, according to her website.
“My analytical and negotiating skills, along with my ability to listen and work collaboratively with large groups and people with very different perspectives makes me a valuable School Committee member,” Shields said on her website.
Shields’ first priority is to ensure educational excellence for all, according to her website. To accomplish this, she wants to increase the inclusiveness of representation within NPS curriculum to combat racism, expand the use of educational technology, and ensure that students have the social and emotional resources to continue learning after the pandemic.
“Our schools serve a diverse population, with students from a range of racial, religious, socio-economic, and home language backgrounds,” Shields wrote on her website. “We must equip all of our students with the academic tools they need to excel and provide the emotional supports they need to thrive as they grow.”
Shields also wrote that her second priority, strong fiscal management, is necessary for improvements to NPS. Around 85 percent of the NPS budget is spent on salaries and benefits, according to her website, with the remaining 15 percent spent on other issues like building maintenance, transportation, and instructional materials.
Shields said she will advocate for a budget that focuses more on the students’ needs while ensuring that budgetary agreements reflect the dedication and experience of educators and staff with competitive salaries and benefits, according to her website.
For her third priority, long-term capital planning, Shields wants to return to significant and necessary renovation projects at NPS. She will also continue to support expedited projects, in addition to the necessary long-term projects, that deliver major improvements on time and within budget.
“NPS has significant school building and renovation projects to tackle,” Shields said on her website. “We need to return to work on much needed projects at the preschool, Lincoln-Eliot, Countryside, Franklin, Horace Mann, Ward and Underwood.”
If re-elected, Shields said she hopes to improve the accessibility of information to NPS families and increase communication between NPS and families, according to her website.
Shields’ background is predominantly in the legal field, and she moved to Boston in 1997 to work for Choate, Hall & Stewart, a large Boston-based law firm. In 2010, Shields left the firm to work for the Division of Enforcement of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as a trial attorney, according to her website.
When deciding to move to Newton in 2004, Shields said that a large factor was the high-quality public schools.
“We are so happy to have found a high-quality school system where educational excellence is combined with a caring environment where differences are respected and our kids’ social and emotional development is emphasized,” her website reads.
Shields did not respond to The Heights’ multiple requests for an interview.
As a 20-year Newton resident and parent of two NPS students, Valerie Pontiff is running for Newton School Committee for Ward 7 and wants to help increase parent involvement in decision making.
“We have lost about 8 percent of our Newton public school students by parents pulling them to private school and homeschool,” Pontiff said in an interview with The Heights. “And we need to turn the Newton Public Schools around to ensure we have continued community cohesion and support of our vital public schools.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was an accelerator of this decline in enrollment, but such a trend was already underway prior to the pandemic, Pontiff said.
Pontiff’s three central goals are creating an annual survey of parents and guardians, continuing NPS’s excellence in education, and elevating all students to their full potential, according to her website. Pontiff said that her top priority in the coming election is parent feedback in order to combat the decline in NPS enrollment.
“Serving parents and listening to parents, I think needs to be job one because the parents are the ones pulling their students,” Pontiff said. “So obviously, at the margin, their needs are not being met. … We need to understand their needs and meet them.”
Pontiff stressed the importance of statewide test proficiency within Newton schools. Each year, NPS selects 13 peer school districts to compare MCAS scores with, and currently, NPS is 12th out of 13 in 10th grade English, according to Pontiff.
“I believe we need to be delivering better academics that result in youth demonstrating subject matter mastery at a higher level across all categories,” Pontiff said.
Pontiff also recognized that the COVID-19 pandemic created a disparity in education quality, which is why elevating all students is her third priority.
“Some students came out of COVID just fine,” Pontiff said. “[That] doesn’t mean they weren’t upset by COVID, but they read the classics and they practiced piano–it was all fine. Some students were in the back of an Uber Eats car where their parent was delivering UberEats, and they were on a phone taking their classes. You know, there’s a great disparity, obviously, and we need to patch the bottom up very quickly.”
There is enough money in the budget to provide additional resources for the children who were in more difficult remote learning situations during the pandemic, Pontiff said. By providing these resources, Pontiff said the entire student community will be elevated.
In the past, Pontiff has served as the PTO president at both Bigelow Middle School and Newton North High School and has been involved on the Newton Zoning Task Force, according to her website. Pontiff was also the president of the Junior League of Boston in 2015 where she advocated for the preservation of West Newton’s historic Nathaniel Allen House. Pontiff said she was instrumental in enabling the Newton Cultural Alliance to get community preservation for the Nathaniel Allen House.
Pontiff also said she believes that her experience as a commercial real estate broker gives her a unique perspective compared to the other members of the School Committee.
“We have a school committee that is not full of people who have been heavily involved in the private sector, and therefore, there isn’t a deep understanding of metrics, analysis, budgets … [or] how to evaluate trade offs,” Pontiff said. “I bring that [experience] to the Newton Public Schools.”
Pontiff highlighted the importance of communicating with her constituents, sending out email updates regularly and making herself available at in-person events. If elected, Pontiff said she hopes to maintain these channels of connection.
As someone who has been heavily involved on the parent-side of NPS, Pontiff said she understands the needs of both the parent and the student community, explaining how that is what drove her to run for School Committee.
“I understand parents are saying, ‘hey, this is messed up,’ and, you know, it’s … messed up on academic deliverables and it’s messed up on governance,” Pontiff said. “The seeking of feedback is light and delivering what parents want is also light. … Being involved in a parent community, I hear that and see that and just feel that viscerally and want to do something about it.”
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor