Four newly-minted mayors joined Metropolitan Area Planning Council staff, council members, and allies on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 28 for MAPC’s winter council meeting. Over 100 guests turned out to hear about the challenges of being a recently-inaugurated mayor, munch on breakfast, and hear about MAPC’s latest work.
Boston City Council President (and former MAPC interim General Counsel) Andrea Campbell started off the meeting, commending MAPC for “looking at the most pressing issues facing municipalities.” She pointed to issues of race and racial equity as an example of this, mentioning MAPC’s State of Policy Equity Policy draft, which was released earlier this month.
“We’re here to challenge and teach each other, to think outside the box,” Councilor Campbell said, emphasizing the importance of collaboration, focusing on the needs of people who live in the region, and looking at issues through a regional lens.
The New Mayors Forum, moderated by Executive Director Marc Draisen, featured mayors Ruthanne Fuller of Newton, Gail Infurna of Melrose, Thomas M. McGee of Lynn, and Dr. Yvonne M. Spicer of Framingham. Marc Draisen asked each mayor about the challenges, opportunities, and surprises they’d faced.
Ruthanne Fuller, who was elected as Newton’s first female mayor in November, first served as Alderman-at-Large for Newton’s Ward 7 in 2009 and has two decades of experience as a strategic planner for nonprofit organizations, including WGBH.
She named economic development, housing, communication, and transportation as main challenges, noting that the cost of housing in Newton had appreciated so much that many people who could previously have afforded to live there can’t and people who have lived in town for years are getting priced out.
Transportation funding is also an issue she’d like to tackle, she said.
“I need the help of everyone in the room and MAPC to get [transportation] funding,” Mayor Fuller said. “We really need to invest in accessibility, frequency, and reliability.”
Gail Infurna started her new job on Feb. 5 after Melrose’s former mayor resigned, becoming the city’s first female mayor. Previously, she served as president of Melrose’s Board of Alderman and has worked in healthcare for 40 years.
The biggest surprise she’s had as mayor? “Being the mayor!”
Challenges in Melrose, she said, include the usual – affordable housing, traffic, and budgetary constraints – but also adapting to her new role.
“I’m still a work in progress,” she said. “I’m transitioning and learning.”
Thomas M. McGee previously served as a Massachusetts State Senator and State Representative. Prior to holding office, he practiced law and served as an Assistant District Attorney for Essex County.
Eight weeks into his term, he’s already facing problems that need to be solved, including a deficit, flooding caused by a storm, and a six alarm fire.
Opportunities, though, are unlimited, he said, mentioning transportation as a key area.
McGee also mentioned immigration as a pressing issue: “Everyone who lives in our community is part of our community no matter where they’re from,” he said.
Dr. Yvonne M. Spicer, who was inaugurated as Framingham’s first-ever mayor on Jan. 1, was previously the Vice President for Advocacy and Educational Partnerships at the Museum of Science, Boston and a member of the Town Meeting. She has a background in education, launching her career as a teacher in Framingham.
“This is new to all of us. We have the very unique experience of being the first city council ever,” she said.
The town’s charter is very specific in some places and more vague in others, she said, so the new government has to communicate well.
Immigration is another issue on her mind: Framingham has a large immigrant population. Touching on her own family history, Dr. Spicer said she views everyone in America as an immigrant.
“It’s very uncomfortable for me to hear the rhetoric at the federal level,” she said.
After the mayors fielded questions from the audience, Marc Draisen and Government Affairs Manager Lizzi Weyant updated the council on developments at MAPC.
Marc Draisen chose to concentrate on the transportation department, which recently released a report on ride-hailing in Boston that has received local, national, and international press attention.
“There is one thing about [transportation network companies] that is very different from every other aspect of the transportation system,” he said. “They’re largely unregulated and uncounted.”
By “uncounted,” he meant that transportation network companies generally share very little data with the public, making it difficult to assess the impact of ride-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber.
He also mentioned the North Shore Mobility Study, which will focus on opportunities for transit and transportation improvements in the North Shore Subregion.
Lizzi Weyant closed out the event, discussing several of MAPC’s legislative priorities, including funding for the Senator Charles E. Shannon, Jr. Community Safety Initiative, which finances programs fighting youth gang membership; Community Preservation Act funding, zoning and housing reform, local option transportation bills, value capture, and economic development. To learn more about these priorities, visit MAPC’s website.
Stay tuned on Facebook, Twitter, and mapc.org for more photos from the Winter Council Meeting!
All photos via Marilyn Humphries