Question: What are the two most important issues facing Somerville right now, and what would you do on the Board of Aldermen to address those issues?
My first priority would be to work with all interested parties to tackle the rat problem in Ward 5 and throughout the city, as this infestation is degrading the quality of life for my constituents.
Our city’s most important current and long-term issue is wisely managing real estate development. How we manage development influences, constrains, enables or defines every other key issue in Somerville—taxation, housing affordability, socio-economic diversity of our population, living-wage employment, entrepreneurial opportunities, neighborhood integrity, carbon emissions, and whether we will be able to pay in the future for the city services that we want.
- Rewrite the zoning ordinance to be consistent with the Mayor’s excellent SomerVision Comprehensive Plan, emphasizing mixed-use commercial development and limiting residential development, especially in transit-oriented areas such as Assembly Square, Inner Belt, Union Square and Brickbottom.
- Change the zoning ordinance to limit the size of infill residential developments in neighborhoods.
- Stop enabling favored developers whose actions are harmful to residents’ best interests.
- Adopt an ordinance that requires identification of the true owners of any development.
- Convene a public/private task force to aggressively market Somerville, its development sites, amenities and skilled labor force to commercial developers.
- Increase funding for affordable housing, allocating a significant part of the funding from the Community Preservation Act and issuing municipal bonds, the proceeds of which would be prudently lent to affordable housing developers and repaid with interest.
Our three greatest development challenges are protecting our neighborhoods; expanding our commercial property tax base and local jobs; and preserving and building more affordable housing. High-priced condos now dominate Somerville development. Commercial projects that bring significant tax revenue and living-wage jobs are rare. The results: a high tax burden on homeowners and displacement of long-term residents. I oppose outsized developments that negatively impact neighborhoods. I welcome commercial developments in appropriate locations.
Question: Tell us about your background.
I have represented Ward 5 for eight years on the Somerville School Committee. In that time I’ve worked with the Mayor, the Superintendent and my colleagues to improve our public schools. They are far better now than they were when I joined the School Committee. Evidence of this includes this spring’s terrific MCAS scores, especially the high student growth scores. Parents are voting with their feet: student enrollment in the Somerville Public Schools has increased each of the last three years, after more than a decade of steady decline.
Some of the things that I successfully initiated or advocated for are:
- A new salary structure to hire better teachers.
- Parent/guardian liaisons in each school to support more parent involvement and to communicate better with our many parents who do not speak English well.
- Foreign language instruction before high school, now beginning in 5th grade for some students.
- A district-wide Volunteer Coordinator and a staff person in each school to support volunteers.
- An open and transparent school budget process.
- Expanded music, art, sports, and after-school programs — without fees.
Working under Mayor Michael Capuano in the 1990s in the Police Department and Mayor’s Office of Human Services, I raised over $1 million to implement community policing and developed the Somerville Conversations project, which brought hundreds of diverse residents together to discuss how to improve life in our city.
I make a living as a project manager, planner and fundraiser for non-profit organizations. For the past three years, I’ve worked half-time as Project Manager for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Center of Excellence, a Brandeis University research center.
I have a B.A. from Tufts University and a Masters in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC.
I have lived in Somerville now for 30 years. My wife, Marya Axner, is the Director of the New England Jewish Labor Committee. Marya was a working artist and art teacher at a community college in Portland, Oregon for many years before she came to the Boston area. Our daughter Rae graduated Somerville High in 2010 and is in her senior year at Tufts University. We live in and own a two-family house on Conwell Street.
For more information, you can visit www.MarkNiedergang.com.
Question: Why should Somerville residents vote for you?
Ward 5 residents should vote for me because I have and will get things done that improve peoples’ lives in Ward 5 and Somerville. I know how our city government functions and how we can work together to solve problems and meet challenges. I listen to people and strive to understand their concerns. I have learned how to help them get what they need from city government.
I have lived in Somerville for 30 years and I have a deep love for our city. My vision for Somerville is of a welcoming and diverse city with a strong sense of community and broad civic participation. Where families with roots here can afford to remain. Where anyone who is willing to work hard can find a good job. Where wise development brings those jobs, eases homeowners’ tax burden, and respects neighborhoods’ integrity. Where government is open, honest and fair. And where developers get permits and residents get city jobs based on their merit rather than their connections.
I have demonstrated my commitment and capacity to pursue this vision over 30 years as a community volunteer and activist and public official. My School Committee colleagues can tell you that I work hard, do my homework, and ask tough questions. And I do so in a way that respects others and encourages the best in them.
I have been endorsed by State Representative Carl Sciortino; Aldermen Rebekah Gewirtz (Ward 6) and Tony Lafuente (Ward 4); and Somerville School Committee members Adam Sweeting (Ward 3), Christine Rafal (Ward 4) and Paul Bockelman (Ward 6). I’ve also been endorsed by the Progressive Democrats of Somerville; the Massachusetts Sierra Club; the Magoun Square Neighborhood Association; and five union locals, including SEIU Local 3, Firemen and Oilers; the Carpenters Local Union 218; and the Painters and Allied Trades District Council 35.