Special election to be held on March 16

By Sawyer Cohen & Alex Merkowitz
photo by Hedi Skali

Ward 1 At-Large

John Oliver has lived in Newton for 19 years and is the co-president of the Newton North Parent Teacher Student Organization, a volunteer youth soccer coach and a board member of Newton Community Education. He said that he chose to run for City Council because he wants to build upon Newton’s existing strengths to foster positive change.

“I believe we can achieve the Newton that we want while maintaining the Newton that we already have,” he wrote in an email. “I am running for City Council because Newton can benefit from my professional experience in solving complex challenges, collaborative approach and local focus.”

Oliver wrote that as a city councilor, he would focus on city services and infrastructure.

“The first role of our City Council is to make sure that Newton is ‘up and running’ – that we are maintaining our quality of life,” he said. “This includes things like the safety of our roadways for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, first responders services, trash collection and recycling.” 

Oliver said he wants to make sure that Newton’s rezoning process advances affordability and sustainability.

“I want to ensure that our ongoing rezoning process actually achieves more affordable housing and environmental sustainability, rather than creating more costly market-rate housing,” he wrote.

On his website, Oliver lists the need to preserve Newton’s recreational spaces and historic architecture as goals. If elected, he would also prioritize giving residents and city government a voice in determining the characteristics of future changes to housing development.

Oliver said that Newton Public Schools need increased safety standards and COVID-19 testing availability to ensure a safe return to in-person learning.

Oliver wrote that his knowledge of local issues sets him apart from Ranalli.

“What makes the choice simple for voters — in my opinion — is the combination of local focus and professional discipline that I represent.”

Madeline Ranalli is a 20-year-old student at Harvard University, a lifelong Newton resident and 2019 Newton North graduate. She said she is running to provide a voice to young Newton residents on a City Council that is predominantly composed of older people. 

“I’m hoping to bring a fresh, youthful perspective to add nuance and complexity to issues we’re already talking about and also to bring new issues to the table that don’t really get discussed because there’s no one there to discuss them,” she said.

Specifically, Ranalli said she would focus on expanding mental health access for youth and lowering the municipal voting age to 16.

Ranalli said she developed a passion for public service growing up because both of her parents work as journalists. She said she became more deeply involved in political advocacy after the 2018 Parkland school shooting.

“A really big catalyst for me was the Parkland shooting and the organization March for Our Lives, where I eventually became the state political director,” Ranalli said. “I really dove deep into legislative advocacy [by] lobbying for bills and became really engaged in the nitty-gritty of the political process.” 

Ranalli also worked for the Boston office of Senator Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign and the Department of Energy. Ranalli said that the three most important issues to her are climate change, affordable housing and public transportation. She said that as a city councilor, she would implement ambitious, progressive policies on these issues, which she said city politicians have a tendency to shy away from. 

“[We’re] known as a city that loves to talk about inclusivity and generosity and diversity,” she said. “But oftentimes when it really comes time to set an example of brave leadership and to implement bold policies that live out those ideals, we tend to shy away. I think a lot of young people have realized that we don’t really have the time to do that anymore.”

Ward 2 At-Large

Bryan Barash is the General Counsel for State Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler and works as a commissioner for the Newton Human Rights Commission and a board member of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. Barash moved to Newton while attending Boston College Law School and has lived here ever since.

Barash’s first experience in public service was working on former President Barack Obama’s election campaign in 2008. He then worked as the Internet Communications Director for former New Mexico Senator Tom Udall. 

He said that his experience in public service thus far has prepared him to lead Newton through the pandemic and subsequent economic recession.

“I really believe we need leaders to step up, who have experience [and] who can help us navigate these crises,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to public service. I’ve been doing it for over a decade now. I know that I have the experience and values to help lead you through this difficult time.”

Barash said that the top priority at the moment should be making sure that Newton residents remain safe throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Barash supports the implementation of surveillance testing in schools for teachers and students to ensure a safe plan for a return to in-person learning.

Barash also said that he would like to see Newton become a leader on issues regarding environmental sustainability, racial justice and affordable housing. Barash said his proven track record will lead to results as a city councilor.

“My positions are not just words on a website,” he said. “These are issues I’ve been deeply involved in for the past decade, on every single issue that I’m prioritizing from education to the environment to racial justice to affordable housing.”

Barash said that he wants his campaign to represent young people in Newton.

“I take young people seriously,” he said. “They’re part of my campaign, and their issues are my issues.”

Tarik Lucas is a royalty specialist at Harvard University Press and the vice president of the Newtonville Area Council. Lucas has lived in Newton since 2009 and said he hopes to keep Newton an inclusive and welcoming city.

“I’m running to make sure Newton remains affordable, welcoming and accessible to people and families of all backgrounds, just like it was for me when I moved here 12 years ago,” he said.

Lucas said that he first decided to become involved with Newton politics when a change to the city charter was proposed in 2017 that would make all City Council elections citywide and reduce the number of seats from 24 to 12. Lucas campaigned for the anti-charter change side, which prevailed in the end.

“It’s a big city, and I believe every ward within the city deserves to have its own unique voice,” he said. “I fought very hard to preserve local representation.”

Lucas said that his intersectional identity as a BIPOC resident, renter and union member would benefit the City Council.

“I’m a descendant of Russian Jews, West Indians from the island of Nevis, African American slaves and indigenous Canadians and Americans,” he said. “I am a person of color, and I plan on bringing my shared life experiences of my family, friends and myself to the Newton City Council.”

He said that diverse representation is incredibly important, especially on Newton’s primarily white City Council.

“The Newton City Council does not have a person of color on it, and it has been decades since a Black person served on the Council,” he said.

Lucas said that the most important issues to him are promoting racial and social justice, protecting the environment and increasing the affordability of housing. 

Lucas said that his campaign has gained the support of many Newton residents and elected officials.

“We’re running a grassroots campaign,” he said. “I’ve been endorsed by seven current city councilors, several former elected officials and many Newton residents.”

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