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Jan 08, 2014

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone' Inaugural Address, Jan. 6, 2014

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Inaugural Address

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone

January 6, 2014

Good evening and Happy New Year!

Members of the state delegation; President White, Vice President Connolly, Chairperson Rafal and Vice Chairperson Sweeting; Honorable Members of the Board of Aldermen and School Committee; Superintendent Pierantozzi; Honored Guests, Friends, Family, my fellow public servants and my fellow residents of Somerville:

I stand before you this evening in my sixth inaugural as Mayor, humbled by the trust you have placed in me and grateful for the opportunity to continue our work of making this city a place of opportunity for everyone.

As I look back tonight at what we have accomplished together and what the future holds, I must thank my fellow elected officials who have contributed so much to the work of making Somerville a great place to live, work, play and raise a family.

To those newly elected to office in November, thank you for already displaying your commitment to the values of this community, and for standing up to represent those values. I look forward to working with each and every one of you.

To those elected officials leaving office, I and this city owe you a debt of gratitude for your service. Thank you for your dedication to our city.

Thank you also to Pauline for serving as emcee tonight. Your artistry and creativity represent so much of what we, and I, love about Somerville.

Someone once told me, “the days are long but the years are short.” It certainly seems that way over the past decade; both as a father watching my family grow, but also, as Mayor, in watching the city grow.

When I stood before you ten years ago, my son Cosmo was only an infant. Now Cosmo has three brothers: Joey, Patrick and James. My sons, my wife Nancy, my mother and my extended family have given me so much support and understanding over this past decade.

In fact, we just got back from a family trip to Lake Placid yesterday. My wife, four kids and I packed into a car with suitcases and sporting equipment for a five hour drive to a kids’ hockey tournament. We faced lots of options—what to do, where to eat, what movies to watch, which led to some intense debate and serious negotiations … you know, now that I think of it, my vacation was a lot like my day job. We had fun, but I’m glad to be home because I’m always glad to be back in our city.

As I reflect upon the past decade, I think back to why I wanted to run for Mayor in the first place.

I love this city. My parents came from Italy and settled here seeking a better life for their family. They came to Somerville because they sought opportunity. They wanted to make their hopes and dreams a reality.

My neighborhood was filled with similar stories. Families from Ireland, Greece and Portugal, we all came together here to pursue our dreams.

I remember neighbors leaning over their fences to share their prized tomatoes or freshly grown basil. I remember walking down the street in my neighborhood and hearing different languages from all over the world.

I remember carrying my hockey gear in a bag down the street with my friends and kids playing ball in the street, while parents chatted on their porches. Somewhere, you could hear someone playing music.

I saw a city filled with hard working, optimistic, proud and creative people. I saw the potential in my family, my neighbors and my friends. I took in our diversity, all the tastes, smells, and sounds from neighborhood shops and squares, and I knew that here—here—we had something uniquely ours.

I took pride in being from Somerville. I knew that by working together, the potential within all of us—my family, my friends and my neighbors—could combine to create something bigger, better and brighter.

My story is your story—it’s Somerville’s story. We’ve all written our own chapters of that story, but they’re all part of the larger narrative that is Somerville.

It’s Alex Whitmore’s story. Inspired by his first bite of stone ground chocolate in Mexico, he came to Somerville and started his own chocolate factory—Taza Chocolate, lauded in the gourmet world.

It’s Silvia de la Soto’s story. She immigrated here from Peru, built up her credit while living in Somerville’s affordable housing, and used that credit to get a small business loan. And in the face of a tough economy, she decided to pursue her dream. Now she’s part of Somerville’s thriving restaurant scene as the owner of Aguacate Verde.

It’s Tom Bent’s story. Born and raised here, Tom graduated from Somerville High School, earned a vocational degree and then set up shop in his hometown. Now he’s not only the successful owner of Bent Electrical, which offers great jobs in a union shop, he gives his time and passion here in the city and elsewhere.

It’s Gui Cavalcanti and Jenn Martinez’s story. Looking to pursue their passions of building robots and creating costumes, but lacking the space to pursue their dreams, Gui and Jenn saw the vibrant, creative and diverse community of Somerville as the perfect home for Artisan’s Asylum, a place where they and anybody could pursue their craft in an inspiring and supportive environment.

These are just a few of the many individual success stories that together form the narrative that is Somerville. These are stories of creativity, resourcefulness and dogged persistence.

I love being Mayor because I see these stories play out every day. I get to tap into this wonderful marketplace of ideas and rely on the collective depth and wisdom of this great community.

They say that leadership can be a lonely experience, but my experience as Mayor of this great city has taught me that I’m never alone.

When I fought for the Green Line, Orange Line, or the Community Path extension, I wasn’t alone—I had STEP, Mystic View, the Friends of the Community Path and scores of others beside me.

When I advocated for the Trust Act, Centro Presente was on the State House steps with me.

When I worked to help pass the Community Preservation Act my partners were many—the Somerville Community Corporation, Historic Somerville, Groundwork Somerville, Invest in Somerville and countless community leaders.

I am never alone when it comes to providing a voice for the aspirations and ambitions of this community—I can always count on you. That is why I love this job.

Today our future is bright. Ten years ago, we faced a very different and uncertain future. We were in the midst of a perfect fiscal storm: a limping economy, shrinking state aid and soaring fixed costs.

In my first inaugural address, I asked for your help. I told you that we faced a fundamental choice—a choice that would shape our city’s destiny for decades to come. I said we could hunker down, lower our sights, and just scrape by until times change for the better.

Or we could build on the tradition of pride and progress that have shaped this city’s recent history, and we could act decisively to ensure a more vital and prosperous community for our children and ourselves.

Ten years later—you know what? We did it. You did it.

In fact we exceeded our expectations. We not only pulled together to face our challenges squarely. We didn’t just commit to bold action. We made Somerville a model City, a city that others look to because we lead the way.

Leaders from across the state, the nation and internationally, from nonprofit directors to mayors and even the First Lady, have turned to us for insight into addressing everything from childhood obesity to city management to how to measure resident happiness.

We exceeded our expectations because you chose hope and progress. You chose to invest in our collective future, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, and in each other.

We decided to control our own destiny and we did. We worked together to forge another path - building an exceptional place to live, work, play and raise a family. This is the orienting value for every decision taken, investment made and policy created. It charges us to act today with an eye on tomorrow and that is what we do every day.

This community not only accepted the challenge. This community stood up to create an incredible legacy of accomplishments and prosperity that has launched us into the future.

Just look at what we have accomplished together:

  • Our residents are valued customers who deserve the best service. So we introduced one call to City Hall with 311—the first 311 call center in New England, named best call center in the nation by Rutgers University.
  • The Boston Globe has declared Somerville “the best run city in Massachusetts.” We have received the highest bond rating in our city’s history based on our management practices and our approach to economic development.
  • Safe neighborhoods are the foundation of a thriving city, so we reformed the Somerville Police Department into an effective and efficient model of community-based policing with a diversified workforce, and real results: Crime is down and down significantly.
  • For years, Somerville’s infrastructure was ignored and when we asked for help, the state shut the door. Promises were broken on the Green Line Extension. The state told us they would never build the Orange Line stop in Assembly Square. But you knocked down that door with your passion, advocacy and commitment to our values.
  • You opened the door to the Green Line Extension. It’s a reality today. The Green Line extension is under construction.
  • You opened the door to the Assembly Square Orange Line station that will be fully operational this summer. You fought to bring down McGrath Highway, and it is coming down. You demanded a city without the blight of a waste transfer station on the skyline.
  • And you never let go of the vision for a mixed-use, environmentally sensitive new neighborhood that would bring jobs, housing and expanded access to the Mystic River. Because of you, that neighborhood is rising from the shores of the Mystic today at Assembly Square. The first doors will open this spring. And we have our first anchor office tenant – Partners HealthCare, bringing 4,500 jobs to our community; that's on top of the first 300 jobs arriving this spring as our first tenants open. And that's just the beginning.
  • You sent a message—we want our neighborhoods connected by more than cars. Our streets are not rush hour pipelines. You want a happy, healthy, productive community that is walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented and accessible. We’re now a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community and the 7th most walkable city in the United States. We’ve dedicated ourselves to making this city accessible to all. And we are well on our way to becoming the most walkable, bikable, transit-oriented community in the nation. And the Community Path extension is underway and I will promise you tonight: we will bring it to Boston.
  • You value our innovators and artists, the creativity that helps to form our city’s unique DNA. So we celebrate them and we invest in them, and, as a result, our innovation and creative economy is thriving. Seventy-two new businesses have been created in the past three years alone.
  • You expect excellence in our schools. Our steady pursuit of that excellence is advancing how our students learn and they are reaping the benefits, especially in the phenomenal improvement in Student Growth on the MCAS this past year, which puts Somerville on par with some of the highest performing districts in Massachusetts.
  • This community doesn’t just pay lip service to the need for affordable housing, open space, and historic preservation. You voted overwhelmingly to support the Community Preservation Act to create more funds for these goals we value.
  • And the awards and recognition have rolled in. From All America City, which is the Academy Award for cities, to Healthy Living Innovation, to the 100 Best Communities for Young People, we earned them, you earned them.
  • Finally, you wanted to be sure the community could shape its own future. So we worked together to create an unprecedented 20-year comprehensive plan - SomerVision - Somerville’s first ever that simply says, “This is who we are!” And boldly states, “This is what we will be in the next 20 years!”

And what is most apparent and important to all of us is this:

Our most valuable commodity lies not in what we own or what we construct, but in each other.

It lies in the creativity, diversity, and passion of our residents. That has always been here. But what has changed is that while individuals and families had their own dreams then, today we also have a shared set of hopes for our City.

We now know the power of what can be accomplished by joining together. We raised our expectations. We raised our sense of commitment and pride in Somerville.

Somerville is the place where dreams take root, grow and blossom. Today, people talk about why they want to come here and about why they want to stay here.

And it’s still Somerville. It’s still filled with the same creativity and diversity we had when I was growing up.

Then neighbors shared their prized tomatoes or freshly grown basil. Today we call that urban agriculture.

Then you heard different languages from all over the world in my neighborhood. Today we use the terms diversity and multiculturalism.

Then kids played ball in the street, parents chatted on their porches and people played music in their homes. Today, we’re weaving that same social fabric through SomerStreets and Porchfest, and in our squares, and playgrounds.

Even with all our accomplishments and hard won progress, we are special today for the same reason we were special generations ago—our people. Somerville doesn’t belong to any one culture, age group, class or ethnicity. That’s why we hold community discussions. That’s why we engage everyone from long-time residents to our newest residents who immigrated here from countries around the world. We not only want to hear from you, but need to hear from all of you.

We are all united here. We are united in aspiring for a better life for our children and ourselves. We are united in fighting for what we hold dear.

We exchange our thoughts, ideas and cultures, and we share our aspirations. That is what makes Somerville special. That is our uniqueness and that is our magic. That’s what we hope to never lose, because that’s how we achieved so much over the past decade.

That is the story of Somerville. That’s my story. That’s your story. That’s our story.

But it is only the prologue. We face new challenges, our aspirations have grown bolder, our dreams are broader, and as the saying goes, the years are short, so let’s never lose our sense of urgency. We know that when we work together on a common vision, that is the fuel that propels ordinary people toward extraordinary achievements. In the coming year, this is how we will continue to seize that momentum and what we will achieve together.

We will protect those who have chosen Somerville and helped shape Somerville. That starts with affordability—and affordability starts with housing. Every family that wants a home in Somerville should be able to afford a home in Somerville. But to make this happen, we must be bold. We must be innovative.

We will create a new, affordable housing program for working-middle class families. We will not leave our middle class behind.

We will continue to foster the collaborative environment that sparks innovation and the creative arts with more than words. We will create new fabrication and arts districts that will preserve artist and maker spacers and live-work buildings.

As our commercial tax base grows and new industries come to Somerville, we want Somerville jobs for Somerville residents. Once passed by the legislature, our job linkage proposal will enable a fee for development that will support job skills training and career development services. As we do this, a local agency will be at our side, hired as a partner to make sure we promote first access to local jobs for Somerville residents.

And we will continue to invest in the people of this community.

Write this down: We will increase our investment in education. We will increase our investment in arts, culture and recreation. We will increase our investment in public health. These are our values. We will also increase our engagement through a community budgeting process, so that when I submit a proposal to the Board of Aldermen, it will be our budget—reflective of what we want to accomplish.

But not everything we value is measured in dollars. Our environment, in fact, is priceless. Around the world, cities are taking the lead and setting the standard on sustainability. As we have done in so many other areas, Somerville will lead the way here too.

Let’s advocate together for the City’s retirement system to divest from fossil fuels. Let’s work together and make curbside composting a reality. Let’s revive and pass Alderman Gerwitz’s proposal to rid our community of plastic bags.

We have already made strides for our environment and we will continue to make these strides. But we cannot tackle the challenge of climate change if we are not bold and if we do not join together as a community to work toward a citywide goal.

I’m calling on you tonight to make our citywide goal no less than to reduce our net carbon emissions to zero—zero—by 2050. Let’s make this our longest-range investment in our people. It’s an investment in our children and their children. They deserve no less.

In the coming year, we will also expand our openness and transparency. We will share more City data with the public. We will launch a new online dashboard where key data about Somerville can be easily accessed by every member of the community.

To become more accountable, we will expand our city’s ethics ordinance so that Somerville has the toughest ethics laws in Massachusetts. Those laws will apply to every elected official: myself, the Board, the School Committee. We will ensure accountability and equal access to city government. Everyone should have the same opportunities—not based on who they know, but on the merits.

This is the momentum.

Out at Lake Placid, I saw a transcription on a plaque of Coach Herb Brooks’ speech to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He told them, “Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight.” Somerville, these great opportunities are before us. You earned it. This is our moment.

Ten years ago, we were a City with hopes and plans. Today, we are a community looking back proudly on our accomplishments. Tomorrow we begin to seize the opportunities of the next ten years.

I still see a city filled with hard working, optimistic and creative people. I still see the potential in every person I meet—the people who talk to me on the playgrounds and parks, who tell me about their own aspirations. We still have something uniquely ours.

You know, I consider myself a really lucky guy. I have a wonderful family and a great job. A job that I look forward to every day because I know the strength, the creativity and the resiliency of this community and what we all are capable of accomplishing together.

That’s the Somerville story. That’s what makes Somerville unique. It’s that magic, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.

And the work continues. As I did ten years ago, I call upon each of you here tonight and everyone in our community to join together to ensure a vital prosperous future for ourselves and our children.

Thank you for the last incredibly meaningful, rewarding—and fun—ten years of my life and thank you for the promise of an even brighter future for our city.

I wish for all of us peace and progress in the upcoming year.

Thank you very much.