Previously councilor-at-large from 2014 to 2020, James Cote is running for Ward Councilor in Ward 3.
“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to campaign around Ward 3 to see firsthand all aspects of your daily life,” Cote said in a campaign video.
Cote, a former marine, said he plans to use his experience as a former councilor-at-large and member of the Finance, Public Safety & Transportation, and Land Use committees to assist him in the position of city councilor.
He wants to focus his work on how to get Newton back on its feet after the devastations of COVID-19. He emphasized the lack of experience of the other councilors in their first terms.
“There have been gaps or issues to resolve,” Cote said in the video. ‘West Newton in particular was challenged by events, and the worst possible time of governance. Given that our ward, with two new city councilors, had the least experienced councilors of the eight wards. We can fix this.”
Cote said he also wants to focus on projects that promote the happiness and well-being of residents, such as upgrading parks. He said he fought to obtain private funding for West Newton Common and Wellington Park as a councilor.
According to his website, his leadership in combatting the Opioid Crisis led to the establishment of the Mayor’s commission on opioids and influenced the use of Narcan, a medicine used for opioid overdoses, by first responders. He also worked on the first assisted living facility that Newton has seen in many years.
Cote did not respond to The Heights’ requests for an interview.
Julia Malakie, a long-time resident of Newton, is seeking re-election as Ward 3 councilor.
“I’m an almost lifelong-resident of West Newton, now serving my first term on the City Council,” Malakie said in a statement on her website. “I’m very grateful to the residents of Ward 3 for electing me in 2019 and giving me the opportunity to serve you.”
Malakie said she faced unexpected struggles in her first term as councilor, citing the pandemic, the racial justice movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd, and the recent attempted opening of a gun store in Newton. She will continue to work on these issues, and the issues that stem from them in her next term, Malakie said.
Malakie prides herself on her community outreach and bipartisanship as a city councilor, according to her website.
“Ward 3 is no exception in having diverse views, and I won’t pretend that I can please all people all the time on every issue,” Malakie said. “But as a ward councilor, I am also the person many people look to when they need help with a problem, whether it’s a leaking sewer, parking problems, neglected properties, construction noise, property damage, or just finding information.”
She said she plans to focus on zoning redesign, strengthening tree protection ordinances, improving recreational options for all ages, helping older residents, middle-class families, and small businesses stay in Newton, advocating for safe in-person learning in Newton Public Schools, and protecting historical sites in Newton, according to her website.
Malakie did not respond to The Heights’ requests for an interview.
Pamela Wright is running for re-election as councilor-at-large. As the only engineer on the current council, Wright said this background and training gives her a unique perspective on the council.
“I am trained as an engineer,” Wright said. “I use facts and data to figure out problems, I look at the fine details and their implications, I listen to the residents, and that makes me, I think, somewhat unique.”
Wright speaks about the unique analytical thinking engineers are taught to employ. She said that this thinking brings a diversity of thought to the council.
“You want diversity in a group, with people who are younger, older, different religions, different backgrounds, different colors of people, different financial levels, all sorts, and that makes the group better,” Wright said.
Wright also has experience volunteering in Newton schools. She worked as the tournament director for the FIRST LEGO League Eastern MA championship, coach for a high school robotics team, and as an educator for the Child Assault Prevention program.
Housing and rezoning issues were a big push in Wright’s decision to run for reelection, Wright said. The long-term implications of the lack of affordable housing in the city need to be spoken about and addressed, Wright said.
“I originally ran because I felt that we were going down because of the zoning redesign, which could really affect Newton for the next 50 plus years,” Wright said. “I wanted to be at the table to give a voice to some of the residents that felt like they … were not being heard.”
Wright believes the biggest issue with the council is the contentious division among the members.
“The city council is kind of divided,” Wright said. “Usually we can [work as a team], but sometimes things can become really contentious, and there’s name calling.”
Even when Wright was working with members of rezoning boards to help direct her policy making, she spoke about the lack of clarity from members of the board.
“I would have conversations with the planning department, and sometimes out in public even going through the details, and I have a lot of suggestions on how we can make it better,” Wright said.
Andrea Kelley is running for her third term as councilor-at-large and has been highly involved in the community, raising her family in the city.
She said her role as a council member provides her with a unique and crucial way to vote on issues she would previously only advocate for, and be a part of making change in a more impactful way.
“I felt it was really important at this point in time, to be able to vote on these issues rather than just speak up about them,” Kelley said.
Kelley has experience in advocacy and volunteering work, including serving as Newton’s first Open Space coordinator, past president and current member of the League of Women voters, and Local Action co-chair of PTO council.
Through her past volunteer experiences, Kelley said she spoke on behalf of large groups of people. In order to do this successfully and tactfully, she said she had to take time to absorb the full range of facts she was being presented with before speaking out for them.
“I was even then just very aware of things—I couldn’t just speak for myself, I had to be sure that I was reflecting the goals and mission of the organization,” Kelley said. “That has been very helpful for me now as a city councilor, to understand that need to be more patient and circumspect.”
The procedures Kelley said she went through as councilor have been very different from her past work and experiences as an activist. Specifically, she spoke about how taking a step back and reassessing all of the facts she is presented with causes changes to take a lot longer than when she was an activist.
“To hold back and wait is very different when you’re representing constituents rather than just speaking out as an activist, really,” Kelley said.
Kelley described herself as a “multi-issue” candidate with her main goals including preserving historical locations and green spaces, while also creating more affordable housing in the city.
“I believe it [the multi-issue approach] is the approach we should all be taking … from the micro to the macro, from a pothole to a master plan,” Kelley said. “I’m just a firm believer in the importance of being able to be a multi-issue person.”
The Northland Project is something Kelley has been working on, which Kelley said has given Newton around 11 new outside, public open spaces within Newton. Working on this project to decide on planning and rezoning of space, Kelley said she had to compile reports from various organizations and departments, bridging her focus on open spaces and housing with environmental policy in the city.
“I think it has given me a very humanistic real user perspective on our environment,” Kelley said.
In these last few weeks before the election, Kelley urges voters to watch out for Ward 3, as the election will shape various housing and development policies in the city.
“I think Ward 3 is going to be a very interesting race for everybody to watch, in order to see how that is going to change the makeup of or tilt the makeup of the votes on certain issues, particularly development and zoning and housing issues,” Kelley said.
Meryl Kessler’s primary goal on the council is to make Newton a place for people to live with their families, as she moved her family to Newton 26 years ago.
Kessler has experience volunteering and serving within the community, specifically with the League of Women voters, as well as in her experience working with advocates on Beacon Hill, giving her a range of legislative experience. These experiences have given her skills within policy making, but also in working with a diverse range of communities, she said.
“For one thing, I know our community very well,” Kessler said. “I’ve volunteered in a number of different capacities. I know people throughout the city. We have lots of different interests. And I think, first and foremost, knowing the community and knowing the people at the community, is a great advantage to moving into the political realm.”
Meryl has four main priorities in this election, including recovery and rebuilding from the pandemic, fiscal health and transparency, community building, and looking toward a sustainable future.
To work toward recovery and rebuilding, Kessler wants to repair infrastructure and create more affordable housing options for a large portion of the city’s residents.
“I think we should take a good look at our city’s social services and infrastructures, to figure out how to better support our vulnerable residents going forward,” Kessler said.
Kessler also said her major goal, if elected, is to continue maintaining a close relationship with the residents of Newton.
“As a city councilor, I would make sure that my communications with my constituents is frequent or clear, and that people understood how I was thinking about issues. Also that people would know how to reach me,” Kessler said.
Kessler also mentioned the learning curve she would experience in her first term serving as city councilor for her first term ever, in comparison to her opponents running for re-election.
“I think right off the bat, I will probably have a steep learning curve,” Kessler said. “I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of years watching city council meetings and committee meetings, but I obviously have not served before.”
With extensive experience on the committees and councils of the Newton Public Schools (NPS), Anping Shen is running for School Committee after being elected to Ward 3 in 2017.
After receiving his B.A. in English from Suzhou University in China, Shen moved to the United States to continue his education at Boston University, earning a degree to teach English as a second language.
While attending BU, Shen found support for room and board from a group home in Newton Centre. Through this experience, he came to know Newton and its excellent school system, which inspired him to become more involved in NPS, according to his website.
Shen formed and taught the “WE CARE: Whole Education for Whole Child” parenting program, and was a parent representative of the Newton North School council. He was also a founding board chair and community adviser of the Newton Chinese Language School and a co-chair of the Horace Mann Elementary School and Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School Councils.
Shen also previously worked on the Newton Public School Superintendent Search Committee and Newton Public School Strategic Planning team.
On the School Committee, Shen plans to include parents, students, and community members, as well as workers in NPS to improve education for all.
“To advocate for and support all stakeholders of the Newton Public Schools Community to work together for educational excellence,” is Shen’s mission according to his website.
To accomplish this, Shen wants to implement full-day kindergarten and ensure equal expectations for students in classrooms regardless of their background or their level in school, according to his website.
He also wants to hire and retain teachers with qualified and diverse backgrounds, enhance the communication between schools and families, seek more community input, and invest more in a safe and healthy learning environment, according to his website.
Shen did not respond to The Heights’ requests for an interview.
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor