First elected in 2017, Brenda Noel is running for re-election with the intent to make constituents’ everyday lives better.
“It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, being a city councilor, because I think it’s the ability to listen to my constituents and to be able to serve in this capacity, and the role of government is to make people’s lives better,” Noel said. “And I don’t think people realize the opportunities one has in local government to make people’s lives better. And it’s an amazing opportunity, and I just feel lucky to be in this position.”
In previous terms, Noel said she has advocated for funding so Newton’s public schools can operate safely, advocated for policy changes to expand outdoor dining, and pushed for the installation of crosswalks and safety lights to improve pedestrian and bike safety.
In addition to championing larger projects with the Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and her administration, Noel also responds to constituents in a “boots on the ground” way. She makes herself available to residents through phone, email, and social media, as well as hosting monthly office hours and sending out a weekly newsletter.
“Part of my job is to be responsive to people’s concerns and infrastructure needs,” Noel said.
Last week for her neighbor who requested a sidewalk upgrade on Walnut St., Noel said she called Commissioner McGonagle at 7:30 a.m., who then called engineering to get the issue fixed.
In addition to infrastructure, Noel is also concerned with climate change, and said she will continue to advocate for policies that preserve the city’s open spaces and green the city’s construction practices. This includes the current proposal in city council to electrify construction to limit the use of fossil fuels, which Noel said she supports. Newton’s Climate Action Plan lays out what the city needs to do to be carbon neutral, Noel said.
“It’s a combination of the leadership of the mayor coupled with the work of the city council to make sure we hit that … through our housing policy, through our transportation initiatives,” Noel said. “They play a key component in pushing us to be carbon neutral.”
Noel said Newton should move toward being a “car-light” city, focusing housing density in village centers so that people can walk to meet their needs instead of driving. This can be achieved by encouraging housing policies that require less parking at stores and building protected bike lanes.
As a member of the Finance Committee for the past four years, Noel said the city budget is in a good place with the American Rescue Plan funding. Since the city is still recovering from the pandemic, Noel said she will continue to support policies that help residents and businesses recover.
“I think it’s important that we invest in our recovery,” Noel said. “This is a time to be supportive of our small businesses. We need to be aggressive and nimble and support, you know, our small businesses, support our schools, and our infrastructure to make sure we are able to recover from the pandemic,”
A 12-year Newton resident, Noel and her husband are raising their twin daughters in Newton and have a deep love for the city.
“We care about each other, and I think that that’s important and that we have to remember that, and I think … what makes us an amazing community is that we definitely care about each other,” Noel said.
Noel said she has more than 25 years of experience in the public and nonprofit sector, working for causes that are important to her, including domestic and sexual violence and education. She has worked at Pathway to Possible in Newton, an organization that provides housing for people with disabilities and their families for the past ten years. Noel has served as the executive director of this organization since 2018.
“We’re just on the precipice of doing some pretty amazing and important things and the work isn’t done, and I think that there’s more to do,” Noel said. “I think I have more to offer, so I’m seeking a third term.”
Barry Bergman is running for his first term on the council to protect and enhance the city of Newton.
“The primary or the what got me going is the, I guess this trend over the past 10, 20 years of modest homes being bought up by developers and being replaced by out of scale mansions,” Bergman said. “So we’re losing our inventory of modestly priced homes and we’re gaining an inventory of very expensive homes.”
While talking with residents, Bergman said residents are against tearing down homes that are then replaced by out-of-scale mansions. Bergman said his opponents are promoting eliminating single-family housing to allow two homes to be built on a single lot, which Bergman feels is not a pathway to affordable housing.
Another one of his motivations for running is the environment, Bergman said. He wants to see Newton improve the tree canopy and fix the city’s natural gas leaks. In front of his own house, Bergman said he does not have any grass since he decided to replace it with trees.
“We decided years ago, you know, to pull out the lawn and put in trees, so it’s not the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood, but it’s something that in the morning I feel good walking out there,” Bergman said.
Bergman’s priorities also include the disability community and seniors as well as investing in infrastructure. The council proposed a renovation plan at Levingston Cove to preserve the environment and make the lake ADA accessible. Bergman said he added his signature to an appeal to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for environmental review.
He also wrote a letter to the city council advocating for a delayed vote to allow for a more in-depth review of the environmental and accessibility issues.
“I have multiple sclerosis and use two canes to walk distances, [and] my wife is a physiatrist with 40 years of experience treating patients with complex spinal cord injuries,” Bergman wrote in an email to The Heights. “ We looked at the plans and saw some potential accessibility issues.”
Bergman’s professional career is in business and accounting. With this experience, Bergman wants to see increased transparency in the city’s budget. He said he wants to see Major General Fund Initiatives tracked in the MUNIS accounting system.
“I believe that there needs to be greater transparency,” Bergman said. “You need to know which initiatives have been successful [and] which have not to really see, you know, where are you going to spend your money. I want to see smart spending—that we’re spending on the right things.”
Bergman and his wife bought their first home in Newton in 1987 because of the community, good schools, and city services. In addition to his experience in both public and corporate accounting, Bergman also serves as the treasurer of the Temple Emanuel Brotherhood and is on the board of directors there.
To connect with constituents, Bergman said that he would host “Bagel Talks,” if elected. He also said that he would send out a newsletter, while continuing to walk around and talk to residents, as he is doing now. Bergman said that this is the best way to talk to residents, especially young families, who may not have time to attend an organized event like a bagel talk.
“I really enjoy talking with everyone when I go from house to house to house, and … get to speak to people who may not normally show up at some sort of organized coffee talk, so I would still do that,” Bergman said.
Alicia Bowman is running for her second term as councilor-at-large in Ward 6. While she said she managed to get a lot done in her first term, she said that there is still more to do.
“I am running because two years ago I ran on on a platform that I’m still working on which is addressing climate change, developing more housing options, and making our city more walkable and bikeable and [increasing] access to public transportation and reducing dependency on vehicles, because that makes for a stronger city,” Bowman said.
Transportation is where Bowman said she first got her start, ensuring that her children were able to safely walk to school. In her first term, Bowman helped to implement stop signs at dangerous intersections and advocated for the redesign of Auburndale St. and Commonwealth Ave. to include a multi-use path, upgraded pedestrian crossings, and an overall safer road design. Bowman said she looks forward to weighing in on the council’s Pedestrian and Bike Master Plan.
“In this year’s budget resolution I was successful in getting all 24 city councilors, even people who don’t always line up behind bikes, to say ‘a bike master plan makes a lot of sense, we should do it,’” Bowman said.
In her next term, Bowman said she plans to work on the inaccessibility in Newton Highlands and Newton Centre, as intersections lack an ADA accessible ramp. Bowman said she will also continue to work to improve sidewalks in the city.
“I’d like to see these two village centers have their accessibility there,” Bowman said. “That’s, right now, pretty low on the priority list, and I’d like to see that raised up.”
Improving infrastructure in the city is also connected to Bowman’s concerns for the environment. By making the city more accessible for bikes and pedestrians, Bowman said this will make the city more livable and equitable, while also helping the city to achieve its climate action goals.
She advocated for making Newton a “15-minute community,” meaning that people have access to amenities like public transportation and coffee shops close to where they live.
“We need to do it because we’re not going to meet our climate goals if we don’t reduce,” Bowman said. “I mean, this will be a shocking number to people, we have to reduce the amount of driving we’re doing today by over 50 percent if we are going to meet our climate goals by 2050, right now. So there are a lot of ways that has to happen, but certainly making it easier for people to get places when they are going short distances is very important.”
Bowman said that there is no place in Newton to build multi-family housing, but there are some places in Newton where this is a good solution. She said the city should develop zoning in village centers that allows developers to have retail spaces on the bottom of the building and housing above.
This will provide more housing where seniors and young people want to live, while also reducing the need for these groups to drive or own a car, Bowman said.
“Housing is really important and I’m for affordable housing, but it’s not our only housing issue,” Bowman said. “So, you know, we are creating many more jobs in the greater Boston area … So, you know, I’ve heard it said a couple of different ways, but I think the easiest way to say it is we’re creating four new jobs for every new unit of housing, so that is unsustainable.”
Bowman said that zoning should make it possible to build housing that is closer to 100 percent affordable. She said this will make it possible for Newton to have “deeply affordable housing.”
During her first term, Bowman advocated for expanded outdoor dining during the pandemic. In her next term, Bowman said she will continue to do more to support businesses, as local businesses are one of the reasons residents love living in Newton.
To communicate with constituents, Bowman has a weekly newsletter with 1,400 subscribers and an open rate of 65 percent, which she said she is proud of. Bowman said she responds to her emails and has her personal phone number in her email signature for residents to reach her at.
A Newton resident of 25 years, Bowman said she moved here with her husband who grew up in the city and has always loved Newton. It has been a great place to raise her family, and she hopes to live in Newton for the rest of her life, Bowman said. When helping her in-laws find a place to live in Newton, she recognized that there was no housing that would work for them, since they could not drive. This was one of her initial reasons for running for council, Bowman said.
“I hope that we’re able to continue this conversation about, you know, helping Newton meet the challenges ahead, making more places for seniors to live and addressing climate change and our businesses,” Bowman said.
Victoria Danberg is seeking reelection for councilor-at-large in Ward 6. She was first elected in 2004 and has lived in Newton with her husband since 1997 to raise her family.
“I am running for re-election as your Councilor at Large to be able to continue to contribute to the City’s progress and to serve my neighbors as we work to make Newton the best City it can be,” Danberg said on her website.
Since her election, Danberg has advocated for multiple housing options, particularly in locations near public transportation, according to her website. She has also worked to secure long-term financial planning for public buildings, schools, roads, and infrastructure; ban polystyrene products and plastic stirs; and bring green and renewable energy solutions to public buildings such as the library.
Her priorities for her next term include environment and energy conservation, public education and safety, improvement of village centers, and “adaptive reuse” of current buildings to maintain character and meet the city’s needs.
“Let’s work together to make our already caring, vibrant, and beautiful City even better,” Danberg said on her website. “I am running to serve – to continue to commit to improving the quality of life here for all of our residents, in all of our Villages.”
Danberg did not respond to The Heights’ request for comment.
Lisa Gordon is running for councilor-at-large in Ward 6. Her number one priority is ensuring that all voices are heard in order to improve the city and meet the future’s challenges, according to her website.
Gordon’s top priorities include infrastructure, education, and zoning and development. Gordon said that the city’s Capital Improvement Plans need to be updated in order to maintain the roads and sidewalks.
“Moving through Newton should be a reasonable and not a frustrating experience with well-maintained buildings, bridges, sidewalks, roadways, open spaces, and fields,” Gordon wrote on her website.
In terms of education, Gordon said the city needs to continue to invest in Newton Public Schools to support a strong curriculum including art, music, and elective programs. Following the pandemic, Gordon said the city needs to make sure schools are equipped to address any needs that arise so parents and students do not lose confidence in the schools.
Gordon also said that the city needs more policies that promote affordable housing. She said proposals to “all-but-eliminate single family zoning will do nothing to address affordable housing while at the same time significantly increasing density.”
Gordon did not respond to The Heights’ request for an interview.
Shawn Fitzgibbons said he is running for Newton School Committee to ensure that every child has access to an excellent education.
“For me, there is no higher priority for our community than to ensure that every student in the community is able to get a great education,” Fitzgibbon said in an interview with The Heights.
In his professional career, Fitzgibbons has worked at Mass General Hospital in senior leadership roles and also at Cornell University as an individual giving officer, according to his website. His focus on academic and youth organizations extends to his volunteer work, including volunteering at Mason Rice Elementary School and serving as a board member of All Newton Music School, which is a nonprofit music school for people of all ages.
“Through this experience … I have learned a great deal and have a great deal of experience overseeing organizations that are providing education, overseeing budgets, staffing, work with the executive director, [and more],” Fitzgibbons said.
Fitzgibbons said that he brings strong communication and collaboration skills, which would help to work with constituents. He said he has worked with groups that interact with the school committee, such as parents, students, teachers unions, and city officials.
“I’ve worked with all of these groups and have great relationships and believe that I can accomplish goals for the school system in a way that will be effective because I’m able to work well with people to have success for, ultimately, the students in the city,” Fitzgibbons said.
With one of his priorities being academic excellence, Fitzgibbons said this means each student has the ability to achieve their academic goals at their highest potential. He wants to ensure that NPS students are prepared to get into top schools, are offered top courses, and are receiving awards such as National Merit Scholarships.
“And that all of our students can do that, so that includes students that are currently underrepresented, that are highly experiencing barriers to access that great education and that could include students that are not white,” Fitzgibbons said.
In terms of special education, Fitzgibbons said that students by law need a free and appropriate education, which means that each student has a customized plan. Students should participate fully as possible in the school’s regular class activities and programming and receive support whenever possible, Fitzgibbons said.
“I would like to make sure we’re doing our utmost to make the information and opportunities available to every, every family that might need special education services,” Fitzgibbons said.
Particularly after the pandemic, Fitzgibbons said that a lot of issues in the school system were exposed such as a need for greater transparency. He said this can be accomplished through the district’s newsletter as well as publishing data like the number of advanced placement courses available and the number of students that go to college and other careers.
“I would like to have more opportunities for there to be dialogue, not only with the school committee, but also the superintendent of the schools and other leaders as appropriate,” Fitzgibbons said. “I think … hard questions should be asked and answered of our school officials, and in doing that, that’ll create transparency.”
Another one of Fitzgibbons’ priorities is improving school infrastructure and he said he would look at debt exclusion as a way to accelerate repairs in school buildings.
“We cannot have inequality within our system where certain parts of the city have great buildings and other parts of the city have old and broken buildings, and that is actually what, to a degree, what we have now in some phrase,” Fitzgibbons said. “So from the standpoint, again, every kid gets a great education—that definitely has to be addressed.”
Paul Levy said he is running for Newton School Committee because public education is an important part of life in Massachusetts and that he wants to contribute to the community by being helpful to students and families.
“This school year faces unique roadblocks as the school system attempts to return to ‘normal’ while addressing educational and social-emotional challenges that arose during the pandemic,” Levy wrote on his website. “A significant number of families have left our school system, and many families and staff are concerned with the current situation.”
In his professional career, Levy has worked as the CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, executive director of the MWRA, and chairman of former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis’ Department of Public Utilities. He also served on the 2Life Communities board of directors and MIT Corporation board. Within the community, he has 30 years of experience in Newton Girls Soccer as a coach, president, and referee.
Levy said that these experiences are directly related to the work that the school committee does.
“The school committee has some very important responsibilities, including budgeting for the school system, negotiating contracts with the unions, supervising the superintendent, and making policy,” Levy said.
One of Levy’s priorities is fostering a more welcoming environment in NPS both within the schools themselves and with the interactions between the school administration, school committee, and parents.
“There’s a belief that the school department and the school committee can do a much better job at respectfully listening to parents, getting their input, their comments, their advice, and properly considering that input,” Levy said. “So many parents do not feel welcomed into the discussions about school matters.”
Levy also said that the “bad behavior” with regards to racist comments, anti-Semitic comments, and anti-Asian comments need to be recognized.
“Although the school department has been trying to deal with those in a very well-intentioned and thoughtful way, it does not appear that the situation has gotten better over the last several years,” Levy said. “In fact, there are anecdotal indications that it may have gotten worse, and I think that’s an area of focus that’s important.”
While Newton has a good special education program, Levy said that its effectiveness varies from school to school.
“Parents have reported to me that very often they think that decisions about their child’s special education program are being made based on money rather than what the child actually needs,” Levy said. “So the high degree of variation to me suggests there’s a management and accountability problem that needs to be faced, and the school committee should be holding the superintendent accountable to alleviate those problems.”
If elected, Levy said he plans to respectfully listen to constituents’ concerns, which he said has most recently not been the pattern within the school committee and the senior administration.
“I’ve run public institutions like state agencies and hospitals and a focus of mine has always been to listen to the comments and suggestions and complaints of the constituency we were serving and to let people know that we were respectful and concerned about the issues that we’re raising,” Levy said.
Following the pandemic, Levy said he is concerned with the long-lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students academically, socially, and emotionally.
“I think the biggest priority for the school system right now is to have a plan for dealing with that, to have measures of what they consider would indicate successful progress along those lines, and to make that information public,” Levy said.
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor