Big win; big challenges

On November 16, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

One week later, it still feels good.

Governor Deval Patrick likes to say, “Hope for the best, and work for it.” There were three outcomes I hoped for – and worked for – in the November 6 election. The first was President Obama’s reelection. The second was Elizabeth Warren’s election to what Scott Brown had aptly named “the People’s Seat” in the U.S. Senate. The third was the passage here in Somerville of Question 4, the binding ballot question that would determine whether or not we joined the growing number of Massachusetts communities (post-November 6, it’s now 153) that benefit from the state’s Community Preservation Act.

All three came to pass, and in resounding fashion. It was an amazing day, and one that will have positive implications for our city and its people for years to come.

But these big wins come with big responsibilities, and now it’s time for all of us – elected and appointed officials at every level of government, activists, community leaders and citizens in every walk of life – to make good on the promise of these results.

At the federal level, we need to come together in recognition that we have under-invested in our shared infrastructure (especially transportation infrastructure); underinvested in cost-efficient, performance-tested educational initiatives; and under-invested in the basic research and scientific inquiry that leads to whole new industries and economic opportunities. We need to break out of gridlock and accept a balanced, fair plan for fiscal responsibility that includes cuts where we can make them and a return to a tax structure that looks more the ones we had under Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, a tax structure in which the wealthiest among us pay their fair share.

At the state level, we need to sort out a permanent, structural fix to the funding problems of our transportation sector so that Massachusetts can build and maintain the 21st Century transportation system it must have in order to enjoy a 21st Century economy.  We also need to realize the promise of data-driven, performance-based governmental administration.  Cities and towns across the state – including ours – are proving that you can deliver first-class services and still be accountable for every dollar spent: Under Governor Patrick, the Commonwealth has started down that road, but now it must move farther and faster.

Here in Somerville, we need to roll out a transparent and accountable mechanism to allocate the additional revenues the voters approved when they passed Question 4 by a three-to-one (!) margin. We should move quickly to pass a local ordinance that sets up a Community Preservation Committee to provide recommendations on the best ways to invest the extra funding Somerville will receive from its taxpayers – and the matching funds from the state – to underwrite historic preservation, enhancements to open space and recreation, and the preservation of our affordable housing stock. There will be plenty of worthy options, and I look forward to an open discussion of which ones make the best sense for our city.  (State law requires a minimum of five members on a local Community Preservation Committee and allows for up to nine. I already know I’ll be recommending that we go for the maximum number so that we can be sure of a broadly representative body.)

In giving elected officials their marching orders, the people of Somerville showed extraordinary consensus and consistency. With a whopping 73 percent turnout, Somerville gave President Obama 82 percent of its votes, Senator-elect Warren 79 percent of its votes and, as already mentioned, 75 percent of its votes to Question 4.  Those are impressive totals.

Somerville voters also showed extraordinary determination. Like many other communities across the state and nation, we had long lines at some of our polling stations.  Voters were remarkably patient and good-natured about waiting and we made some basic changes in staffing and layout that helped considerably with the evening rush but, as President Obama said on election night, “We have to fix that.” One of the important items on our post-election to-do list here in Somerville will be to review our voting technology and procedures to make voting faster, easier and more convenient without sacrificing ballot security and a clear paper trail. I hope the Commonwealth will make changes as well.

In setting our course and establishing our principles, the voters of Somerville embodied many of the attributes of the decisive coalition that shaped results nationwide. The emerging American majority is younger (in fact and in spirit), more diverse, more urban, more diverse and more educated than average. Does that sound like any community you know?  It should.

As I told the members of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce at their annual awards dinner held the night after the election, “If you look at the demographics and the values of the emerging majority that made the difference in yesterday’s election, you will come to the inescapable conclusion that, slowly but surely, Somerville’s shared vision is becoming the national vision. That’s a remarkable convergence, and confirms that, here in Somerville, we’re doing something right.”

From President to Congress, from Governor to Legislature, from Mayor to Aldermen, the voters of Somerville have given us all very clear instructions and shown the world that they are willing to pitch in and do their part.  Now all we have to do is – deliver.


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