Metro, Newton

Meet Newton’s New City Councilors

Six new Newton city councilors were elected Tuesday night, shifting the political pulse of the city’s top governing body. They include a fourth-generation Newton resident, a community organization founder, and a retired nonprofit manager. Here is a look at the new members of Newton City Council. 

David Micley, Ward 2 Councilor

The fourth-generation Newton resident beat Dan Gaynor, a former presidential national security appointee, 1,784 votes to 1,110.  

David Micley, a fourth-generation Newton resident with a background in philanthropy, business, and education, said he hopes to use his experience to help his constituents navigate a wide range of issues as Ward 2 councilor.

“We have a $500 million annual budget and all sorts of competing priorities and interests,” Micley said. “I think it’s really important for us to remember what the role of city government is and be committed to that mandate.”

Micley has experience in advocating for affordable housing, which he said he believes gives him a unique perspective on the issues facing the city.

“I think I’m the only candidate that has on-the-ground experience fighting for affordable housing,” Micley said. “I was a community organizer, organizing for an affordable housing organization in Dorchester.”

Micley supports slightly relaxing zoning restrictions. He said the city council should meet the minimum zoning requirements under the MBTA Communities Law instead of using the city’s village council zoning plan, which goes beyond the state’s plan.

“[VCOD] will zone for around 15,000 by-right units—much taller buildings by-right than we need to to reach the mandate,” Micley said. “My issue with that is, I really think it just gives up too much power to developers that we don’t need to hand over to them.”

As a former teacher, Micley said he is the best advocate for Newton Public Schools (NPS) in its contract negotiations conflict. He said the city council should allocate a portion of its $53.9 million unrestricted funds to raise teacher salaries.

“I definitely think with this extra funding, we have an opportunity to help our teachers get paid what they deserve, and we should use that funding, in part, for that purpose,” Micley said.

Micley said the city council should allocate less funding to special projects and more to basic city services. Micley took issue with Newton’s recent effort to renovate the parking lot at the Newton Free Library and said that the funding for that renovation should have gone elsewhere.

“We spent $2.5 million to renovate the new library parking lot, pulled out a bunch of trees, pulled out a bunch of soil that helped for absorbing water drain flooding,” Micley said. “It was already a flood zone before and it’s still a flood zone now. I don’t know if that was a good use of funds.”

Following the city council’s Oct. 16 vote against repealing the winter overnight parking ban, Micley said he hopes to rework the ban in a way that accommodates conditions like two-family housing, which make winter parking difficult.

“Thinking about practical exceptions, that we can make easier to grant, while still having our restrictions on a broad sense … to me is an appropriate way to get around the problem,” Micley said.

Randall Block, Ward 4 Councilor

The former NPS Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) member beat affordable housing advocate Doris Ann Sweet, 1231 votes to 848 votes.

Former PTO member and Sunday School teacher Randall “Randy” Block plans to advocate for strong schools and the preservation of historical architecture as Ward 4 city councilor.

Block supports collective bargaining to ensure that Newton teachers have a say in their salaries and benefits, he said. Growing up as the son of two college professors, Block said he saw firsthand the impact of quality education and competitive wages for teachers. 

“Parents are very concerned about the learning loss that their children have experienced due to [the COVID-19 pandemic]” Block said. 

Block also said he wants to create accessible housing without overcrowding the City of Newton in places like Auburndale Square, where Newton residents often find themselves stuck in heavy traffic at peak rush hour. He said he believes that projects like the West Newton Armory Affordable Housing Development project promote affordability while keeping traffic at a minimum.

“We have to weigh [traffic] when we think about what kind of additional housing we’re going to allow in this city,” Block said. 

Block said he was previously involved in community efforts to mitigate large-scale development that negatively impacts communities. In 2018, Block helped successfully advocate for the downsizing of a project at the Riverside MBTA stop due to environmental and traffic concerns, he said.

“I chaired the neighborhood committee and was part of the negotiating team that advocated for a smaller development to reduce the impact on the adjacent neighborhoods,” Block said. “With support from our Ward 4 councilors … we reached an agreement with the developer for a development of 1 million square feet, one-third commercial and two-thirds housing.”

Block said he plans to listen to his constituents. 

“As your Ward 4 city councilor, I will listen to you and be your voice,” Block said.

Randy Block did not respond to a request to interview

Martha Bixby, Ward 6 Councilor

The Welcoming Newton founder beat Lisa Gordon, Acton Food Pantry executive director, 1,310 votes to 1,287.

After years of working in community service, Martha Bixby said she aims to take her service to the next level by becoming a Newton city councilor for Ward 6.

Bixby, who founded community organizations Welcoming Newton and Newton Neighbors, advanced to the municipal election after receiving 888 votes in the Sept. 12 preliminary election.

According to Bixby, elevating all resident voices is the best way to help the entire community.

I think we often don’t hear from or see as much some of our most vulnerable residents, and making sure that their voices and issues are heard and prioritized is really important to me,” Bixby said.

Dealing with climate change—particularly its community-level effects—is important to Bixby, she said. According to her website, she plans to work toward reducing carbon emissions and support clean energy sources, combat invasive species, increase native plants, and support open spaces in Ward 6 like Crystal Lake. 

Education is also a crucial issue in Newton, according to Bixby. 

“Education and prioritizing funding for the schools is a huge issue right now and something I’m hearing obviously from my fellow parents and kids in the schools all the time,” Bixby said.

Bixby said that even though the schools are a work in progress, she finds hope in her fellow community members. 

“I’m also so hopeful when I hear from residents who graduated 20 to 30 years ago,” she said. “They still really care so much about making sure that schools are a priority for our community.”

Bixby said safe infrastructure, specifically regarding roads, is a significant issue in the city. 

Infrastructure, in particular, is a priority for me,” Bixby said. “For me, that means making [the roads] safe for all users—so drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and especially those with mobility impairments.”

While Bixby said she plans to address these issues, it is also incredibly important to her what her fellow Newton residents think, she said. Through her conversations with many community members, she has heard many opinions on the issues facing Newton and Ward 6, according to Bixby.

I’m hearing a lot about the schools right now,” Bixby said. “A lot of people are wondering what’s going on with the budget, how we can really support our educators right now, [and] also [how] to support the schools and especially the kids who’ve been in school and felt the impacts of so many other things over these past few years.”

While Bixby hopes to make a positive impact on the community, she also believes that working together can cause impactful change, she said. 

“I think that there are ways that we can work together to really hear [Newton residents] ideas, and there’s so much innovative thinking and ways that people can personally take action,” she said.

Stephen Farrell, Ward 8 Councilor 

The retired nonprofit manager beat former Ward 8 councilor Holly Ryan, 1,103 votes to 650.

Stephen Farrell, a longtime Newton resident who formerly worked in nonprofit development, seeks to bring more communication, accountability, and constituent engagement to the Ward 8 councilor seat, he said in an interview with The Heights

“It’s just astounding,” Farrell said. “People don’t trust the government … it’s just, we need people who will, in fact, pay attention to residents.”

Poor councilor communication in Newton has resulted in poor civic engagement, according to Farrell. He said he plans to keep his residents better informed about his work in office via a regular newsletter as well as regular meetings with his constituents.

“[I will] give them opportunities to talk about what’s of concern to them,” Farrell said. “I will bring people to those meetings who can speak to the issues and concerns and just try to have a formal dialogue on a regular basis with the residents.”

Farrell wants to address infrastructure in the city, which residents have expressed concern about during the campaign, he said. 

“They’re very frustrated—they don’t understand why the city can’t do simple things like fix the roads,” Farrell said. “The roads in Ward 8 and other parts of the city are atrocious. They don’t know why there’s no plan for the flooding. Flooding is a huge issue in Ward 8.

Zoning and affordable housing are also important Newton issues, according to Farrell. He believes that the government’s conversation about these topics has not been properly informed by resident opinions. He specifically pointed to the Village Center Overlay District (VCOD) as an example of this.

“There is no consideration in this plan about, what about schools?” Farrell said. “What about infrastructure? What about parks for kids to play in? None of that is being addressed. And again, most of it’s going to be market rate and what they call affordable, again, in my opinion, is not affordable for the people that we would want to live there.”

Farrell said as a city councilor, he hopes to emulate the leadership style of former Ward 8 City Councilor Cheryl Lappin.

“I always found Cheryl to be very responsive,” Farrell said. “She came to meetings, she listened to us. She didn’t always agree with us, but she told us that. I think she did well as ward councilor.” 

Rena Getz, Ward 5 Councilor At-Large

The scientist and local political activist beat incumbent Deborah Crossley 7,796 votes to 7,083.

Rena Getz, a former researcher of neurodegenerative diseases, and active member in the local political community, said she seeks to give back to the City of Newton that she has called home for nearly three decades—especially in the areas of zoning, political transparency, and diversity. 

“Like many, we moved to Newton to raise our family,” Getz said on her campaign website. “We chose Newton because of its walkable neighborhood schools, historic village centers and abundant green open space.”

She said that issues such as Newton’s “sense of place” are at stake in the zoning debates.

“I believe that Newton is best served by complying with the MBTA Communities Act required zoning for the 8,330 housing units, but no more,” Getz wrote on her website. “I do not support the zoning proposed in the other Village Centers and commercial corridors (Newton Corner, Nonantum, Auburndale, Lower Falls, Upper Falls, Four Corners, and Thompsonville).”

She also emphasized the importance of supporting NPS.

“Like many of you, my husband, Paul, and I moved to Newton to raise our family,” Getz wrote. “We chose Newton because of its walkable neighborhood schools, historic village centers and abundant green open space. Our three children are all graduates of the Newton Public Schools (Angier/Brown/Newton South High School).”

She said, however, that current negotiations between the Newton Teachers Association and NPS should end through dialogue and compromise to limit negative effects on students.

“I support a Fair Contract for the teachers, but understand that negotiations are never easy and it’s only through compromise, that resolutions are reached,” Getz wrote. “It is critical that we prioritize and support our schools, our teachers and our NPS families, especially those still impacted by the pandemic and years of interrupted learning.”

Rena Getz did not respond to a request to interview

Alan Lobovits, Ward 6 Councilor At-Large

A resident of Newton for over 40 years and primary care pediatrician beat incumbent Alicia Bowman 7,800 votes to 7,540.

Alan Lobovits, a retired doctor who transitioned to advocating for medical causes in the state legislature, decided to run for a spot in the city council after learning about the city’s zoning initiatives.

“I started my candidacy when I began to hear about proposed changes to the zoning and development patterns in Newton coming from both city hall and from the state house, but the information available didn’t tell me enough,” he wrote on his website. “I then learned that areas in some—but not all—villages were designated to be rezoned, and I was shocked that every resident hadn’t been mailed a map showing the proposed changes.”

Lobovits lists three policy areas—zoning, housing, and education—as priorities on his website.

He said VCOD would hurt residents in the city.

“The VCOD would encourage the demolition of historic village center buildings to be replaced by taller apartment buildings with street-level commercial spaces,” Lobovits wrote in a policy statement posted on his website. “Existing local independent businesses and residential renters will be forced out and unable to return due to the expensive rents in the commercial spaces and apartments in the new buildings.”

Instead of endorsing the VCOD plan, Lobovits advocates for a different approach to address rising housing prices in Newton. In a statement posted on his website, he listed 15 points to address the issue—among them asking the city to buy state housing, choose nonprofit developers, and revise property taxes.

“For-profit developers don’t ever try to lower housing prices,” Lobovits wrote in the statement regarding housing affordability. “Their redevelopment model is based on pushing rents and housing prices as high as possible because their only motive is maximizing profits.”

He hopes to incorporate resident voices that have been ignored in debate surrounding zoning, he said.

“Many of the City Council hearings I attended were very disappointing in the manner with which residents who attended were treated,” Lobovits wrote on the home page of his website. “I want to give you a better choice.”

November 10, 2023