Rebekah Gewirtz, 2009 Ward 6 Alderman Questionnaire Responses
What political or community activism accomplishments are you most proud of during your last term in office (or the last two years if you have not previously served)?
In my past two years in office I'm most proud of the environmental initiatives I have authored that we have been able to pass on the Board of Aldermen. I'm also proud of the progress we've made towards making the green line extension a reality and that we're engaging in a process to plan for affordable housing in advance of the green line. I'm also proud of working to bring transparency and openness to local government through my e-newsletter and through advocacy for a more visible agenda for aldermen meetings.
What are your top three agenda priorities and how will you take action on these priorities?
a. Ensure the extension of the green line to Somerville by 2014 and that affordable housing is a priority in advance of the green line to minimize displacement of low income people and those who have lived in Somerville their whole lives.
b. Advocating for local environmental initiatives. This past year I authored and passed a Tree Preservation ordinance in Somerville and the first in New England Plastic Bag Recycling Ordinance. I plan on working to advance a Green Roof technology pilot project in the city in the coming year.
c. Advocating for our youth and schools. Making sure the recreation department is funded and staffed and that our schools and youth are prioritized.
What do you think the City should do with the Powerhouse School?
Ideally, I would like to see the space be turned into a community center for the entire city to enjoy. However, it's my understanding that this is not financially feasible. So in the absence of this possibility, the city should create a public-private partnership and devise a long term lease that stipulates part of the space will be for the community indefinitely. Perhaps part of the site could be a skate park or a regular park for kids with a community room that could serve seniors, as well. There is a lot of square footage at the Powderhouse School site and there's every reason to insist part of that space goes expressly to the public good.
Do you believe the City's charter should be changed? If so, what changes would you support?
I'm interested in seeing the recommendations the charter commission proposes. Once I see the recommendations I will better be able to determine what changes I would support. At present, I'm reticent about supporting changes that would make members of the school committee appointed or changes that would increase the length of terms for municipally elected officials.
What are your ideas for addressing Somerville's current budget crisis? Of the budget recommendations Mayor Curtatone currently is considering, please prioritize your top three.
The state recently gave cities and towns the ability to tax meals and hotel stays to help offset budget problems most cities across the state are experiencing. I support implementing these changes in Somerville since combined with the closing of the Telecomm loophole, they would bring in $2.4 million the city badly needs. I'm glad we have performance based budgeting in Somerville but I am concerned that certain departments get significantly higher priority than others. For example, while the Department of Public Works is very important to the functioning of the city and to basic needs, I would like to see a higher priority placed on human services programs like youth and recreation, the libraries, and the commissions – Human Rights, LGBT and Women's. I certainly did not support the 22% cut to the Recreation Department this year. And this cut prompted me to vote against the FY10 budget. I also did not support the dramatic cut to retiree health benefits. While I agree that the retiree health system needed reform, I felt our retirees should have been stepped down like those employees still working. So in other words, instead of moving their premium contribution from 90/10 to 75/25 in one year, I proposed moving it first to 85/15 and then the following year to 80/20 and then if we absolutely needed to, several years down the road, to 75/25. Our kids and seniors should not be the first to pay for our budget crisis.
PDS has taken a position against expanding predatory gambling in Massachusetts as a way to increase state revenue and local aid. Do you agree with the position of PDS? Why or why not.
Absolutely. In fact, in my job at the National Association of Social Workers, MA Chapter we participate in (and I helped to name) the coalition working to fight predatory gambling in Massachusetts, Casino Free Mass. This coalition meets regularly and I attend many of those meetings. I am concerned about introducing casinos as a way to balance the budget since studies show that those who gamble are primarily lower income and seniors. In addition, casinos bring social ills to communities within a 50 mile radius where they have been introduced including documented increases in domestic violence, substance abuse, and addiction. This form of taxation is extremely regressive. I'm proud that NASW was part of passing a comprehensive revenue package this year that we worked on with the Stop the Cuts coalition. I'd like to ultimately see a graduated income tax in MA so our income tax and system of taxation more generally, is fairer and more equitable.
Why are you the progressive choice?
I offer an independent point of view on the Board of Aldermen and for over 7 years I have been involved in getting new and progressive people engaged in city and state government in Somerville. To me, being progressive means advocating for vulnerable populations and advancing equity and fairness for all. In so many instances I have spoken up for these interests, whether it be during the budget for retirees and youth or in my position as chair of the Housing and Community Development committee as I have advocated for affordable housing in advance of the green line extension. I've worked to give the progressive point of view a voice on the Board of Aldermen and I'm looking forward to continuing to fulfill this role on the Board in my next term.
Which progressive candidates have you supported in the last five years?
In Somerville on the state level in particular, I've supported Sen. Jehlen who I used to work for when I was an aide in the State House. I have worked very closely with and have been a big supporter of Carl Sciortino and I have supported Denise Provost. At this point, I support our entire Somerville delegation.
What else should we know about your candidacy?
As I have in my past two campaigns, I plan on running an active grassroots campaign involving door-knocking and mailings. Since Ward 6 is a transient neighborhood I'm looking forward to going out and talking to those who are newer to the area and with supporters and others who have lived here their whole lives. I would like to once again be endorsed by PDS because I believe I am the progressive choice for Ward 6 Alderman.