Denise Simmons, photo by Stephen Maclone

Denise Simmons
2013 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
188 Harvard Street
Cambridge MA 02139

Contact information:
Tel: 617-491-7435

Send contributions to:
Committee to Elect Denise Simmons
P.O. Box 390602
Cambridge, MA 02139

Background and Experience in Public Service
My name is Denise Simmons, I am currently serving my 6th term on the City Council, and I have worked hard over the years to be a thoughtful, collaborative civic leader who fights to ensure that every voice is heard in the discussions and debates that shape our community. I am humbly asking for your #1 vote to continue my service on the City Council.

As someone who has always been drawn to public service, it has been a tremendous honor and a privilege to serve on the City Council over the past dozen years. I was born and raised in Cambridge, I raised my own family here, and I have spent my entire adult life working to give something back to my community.

My service began when I served as Executive Director of the Civic Unity Committee in the 1980s; in the 1990s, I served on the School Committee, and, since 2002, I have held a seat on the City Council. For the 2008-2009 term, I was also honored to serve as Mayor of Cambridge. The past decade has been a time of great challenges and tremendous opportunities, and I have worked hard with my colleagues and with the community at large to improve upon an already amazing city. Together, we have accomplished many great things – and the work is far from over.

In addition to my work on the City Council, I am also a small business owner, a Justice of the Peace, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. My ties to Cambridge run deep, as does my commitment to public service.

Top Priorities
I am focused not only upon creating policy, but also at looking at how that policy impacts real people across the community. Much of my policy-making is a natural outgrowth of my regular one-on-one advocacy for my constituents. When people come to see me about an issue, it is usually focused upon either housing or jobs, so two of my top priorities will remain fighting for more affordable housing, and working to improve the local economy.

I firmly believe that the City Council must continue looking at policies that promote creating more affordable units, and I have introduced policy orders asking the City to review and possibly modify our current zoning policies governing how many new units must be included with each new project. The current formula that mandates all new apartment buildings must include 15 percent affordable units no longer appears to be adequate. I believe we can do better, and we must do more to prevent our lower and middle-income people from being priced out of our city.

The City Council must also continue working to maintain reasonable development. The K2C2 discussions have provided us with a good framework for reviewing the various needs of those most directly impacted by development in Central Square and Kendall Square, but I would like to see greater, more comprehensive discussions about responsible development across the City. I have pushed for the creation of a map that would provide all of us – City Councilors and members of the public alike – with an at-a-glance overview of all current development and projected development over the next five years, to hopefully prevent us from over-saturating any one area with construction. I would also like to see a comprehensive traffic impact study conducted for the entire city, and this is something I am actively working on bringing forth right now.

In terms of the economy, I remain committed to fostering a more vibrant, more robust local economy. I want to offer greater support for small local business owners, which is why I would like to sponsor a Small Business Owners Town Hall in the next term. This will enable small local business owners to speak directly to the City Council and the administration about their needs, their concerns, their ideas – and it will give us all a chance to establish stronger relationships with one another.

I would also like to strengthen our local job training and job placement programs. In the past term, I have worked to bring officials from Cambridge and Boston together, to help establish links between our Office of Workforce Development and Boston's "Building Pathways" program. I will continue to push the City to adopt a formal Community Benefits and Mitigation Plan, which would include funding commitments for these types of job training and placement programs. I recognize that by fostering a better climate for local businesses, and by giving more people access to quality jobs, our City can only be strengthened.

My third top priority would be to continue my work around Civic Unity. As chair of the Civic Unity Committee, I have been leading my colleagues on the Council, the City's administrators, and the public through some difficult, but very important, discussions about best employment practices and policies. We have discussed areas where the City has not done a good enough job in the past, and areas where we must work to improve in the future. Cambridge prides itself in being a beacon of tolerance and a community that draws strength from its great diversity. The City, as an employer, must also adhere to those ideals, and I certainly hope to be leading these most important discussions and meetings in the coming year.

Of course, I also remain firmly committed to many other areas, such as increasing public safety, ensuring that the working women and men of Cambridge are being treated fairly by employers in the community, providing top-notch service to my constituents, ensuring that all children have access to a high-quality education, and ensuring that seniors have access to fully-funded senior centers and reliable public transportation.

In addition to my answer above, I have also helped numerous constituents navigate through the housing search process over the years. I have learned many important things about this process just by virtue of doing the work so often, and that is why, starting last year, I compiled a list of important items to know and released an Affordable Housing Search Guide for people throughout the City, which is available in English and Haitian-Creole on my website, This housing search guide has links to the various housing agencies in Cambridge and Greater Boston, contact information for housing and legal advocates, and lists of important questions to ask during the process of signing up for housing. I strongly encourage anyone who is at any stage of the housing search to download this guide, or to contact my office for a copy.

Energy, the Environment, and Public Health
The most pertinent question before the Council, as it pertains to this matter, is the Net Zero Petition. As I said during the public meetings about this, and as I stated in my private meetings with those who brought this petition forward, I certainly support the ideals as laid out in the Net Zero Petition. I was happy to vote in favor of establishing a task force to explore this proposal in greater depth, and with a wider range of voices, so that we can learn more about how it might best be implemented. I look forward to the continuing discussion, to learning more, and to ensuring that Cambridge is a leader in preserving our environment.

Traffic, Parking, and Transportation:
As I stated in an earlier answer, I would like the City to conduct a City-wide traffic study, to learn more about our traffic patterns, to determine how they are being impacted by the construction projects not yet started, and to see if we can improve upon our current plans. We can all relate to the intense frustration generated by sitting in traffic that seems to barely advance, and the City owes it to its residents to look into any proposals that might ease this problem. We may not find any solutions that completely rid us of our traffic congestion, and we may follow some false leads – but we lose nothing by exploring our options and having conversations about this issue.

During this past term, I have also reached out to the MBTA on multiple occasions on behalf of our residents when concerns have been brought to my attention, such as when the MBTA announced the elimination and consolidation of several bus stops in Cambridge. I have worked to bring important information about this and other developments to our senior citizens, and I have likewise relayed their concerns directly to MBTA officials. I will continue to work to mitigate these kinds of issues, and to help our seniors find workable resolutions, as these situations arise.

In recent years, I have also worked with the MBTA and local taxi companies to provide better transportation options for seniors and others with mobility issues. This has resulted in addressing bus drivers' failure to pull up to the curb, and arranging for Cambridge taxis to be available at the Porter square shopping center so that seniors can use Cambridge taxi vouchers there.

I will, of course, also continue meeting with individuals who have specific traffic and parking issues, and I will work to resolve these matters as they come to my attention.

Open Space, Parks, and Recreation
As Novartis, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, and MIT all sought to expand their footprints in the City, I took numerous meetings with the planners and developers over the past few years. There were a number of concerns I had with the plans that they brought to me – among them, I felt that the visions they each had of "open space" were uninviting, unrealistic, and unworkable in terms of allowing access and ease-of-use to neighborhood residents. It is not enough to bring me a sketch of a new building with some patches of green grass included – I have been insisting that these developers look at the neighborhoods they're building in, look at the needs of the people already there, and come back with a concept that is warm, inviting, and respectful of the longtime residents. Due to my continued insistence in these discussions, we ultimately received something that will truly benefit the neighborhoods, and that will give people a little patch of nature in the middle of our fine city.

I have also been open to holding discussions about plans to renovate all or part of Magazine Beach, and I have voted in favor of funding for stabilizing the Powder Magazine in that area. I recognize the importance of open space, of families having a place to get away from the pressures and stress of the City – even when they cannot actually, physically, leave the City. I will continue to work with all interested parties in seeing how we can preserve the open space that we currently have, and how to best utilize that for all.

Municipal Finance
We should all feel fortunate that the City has such an able financial team in place, and I am confident that the budget for FY2014 is a sound one. Cambridge has been fortunate in that we have been largely spared from the worst of the financial crisis that the country continues slowly recovering from. We have not had to lay off any essential personnel, such as teachers or police officers, and our tax rates remain at reasonable levels. The fact that Cambridge is one of a handful of communities to boast a Triple A Bond rating is something we can all be proud of, and it points to sound economic stewardship inside City Hall.

I will, of course, continue to ask pertinent questions during our public hearings whenever a situation arises in which it is unclear how our money is being spent, or if it is being spent wisely. To do otherwise would be an abdication of one of my most important duties as a city councilor.

Quality of Life and Public Safety
During my twelve years on the City Council, I have frequently called for and organized community meetings to discuss a number of issues. Sometimes it has been just to meet and mingle with people, to hear about whatever might be on their minds. Other times, it has been in response to eruptions of neighborhood violence. In those instances, I have worked to bring City administrators, police representatives, and my colleagues into the neighborhood meeting spaces to meet with residents, disclose as much information about the incidents as possible, and then discuss how the City is working to keep people safe. I will continue doing this work going forward.

In recent weeks, I have successfully introduced a policy order asking the City to establish an Emergency Information Telephone Hotline, which residents will be able to call in the wake of any future emergencies. The City has made great strides in recent years of broadcasting important information to people, setting up Facebook and Twitter alerts, posting information on the City's homepage and on individual department pages – but not everyone is computer savvy, and not everyone is online or has a smart phone. Creating a dedicated phone number that people can call at any time for timely information during an emergency is going to help get important information to more people going forward, and it will bring greater peace of mind to a greater number of people.

I am always out in the community, attending neighborhood meetings when I haven't organized my own. I am a regular presence in neighborhoods and apartment complexes around the city, and by maintaining solid relationships with people throughout the community, I have a better sense of what peoples' concerns are, and a better idea of how I can be of service on the City Council. Ultimately, this work is most effective when we all collaborate, share information with one another, and continue speaking even in the absence of immediate problems. Being proactive is always preferable to being reactive.

Public safety touches upon more than just the absence of criminal activity, of course. I have also worked to improve the safety of our streets for senior citizens and those with limited mobility by initiating the posting of "Slow, Seniors" signs at intersections with heavy traffic. And I have supported the effort to lower the rodent population by requiring citizens to use covered, rodent-proof trash cans, along with high-tech solar trash receptacles in several parks and squares that have had high rodent populations.

I also continue looking for ways to bring more voices into the community discussions inside City Hall. Whether it is holding Senior Town Hall meetings, LGBT Town Hall meetings, holding walk-in office hours that allow constituents to just come in and seek advice or assistance on whatever is most pressing, I want people to view City Hall as a welcoming and inviting building. I continually seek feedback from the community, I continually want to hear from people from all corners of the community. I am not content to sit back and assume that the system we have in place is sufficient; I feel it is important to continually reach out to people – in person and online – to learn what areas the City Council and the administration could be doing a better job in.

As I stated previously, I will absolutely be looking to preserve and expand the stock of affordable housing in Cambridge, and I am mindful of the fact that the various social service programs across the City, which provide essential services, are perpetually underfunded. We must continue offering services to the most fragile members of our community, and that means supporting these important programs as much as possible. We have some extraordinary social services providers in Cambridge, and we must also recognize the extraordinary work that our Cambridge Police patrol officers in Central Square and Harvard Square do on a continual basis, reaching out to the chronically homeless individuals in an effort to connect them with the appropriate social services.

My Vision of Central Square Over The Coming Decade
When the various developers initially came in with their proposals for newer, grander buildings, talking about all the jobs they'd bring to the area and the new vibrancy they'd bring to the area, I pushed back and said: the heights cannot be quite so high; I want a commitment to create more affordable housing, and I want money to help preserve the affordable housing already in place; I want commitments that as many of these jobs as possible are going to go to Cambridge residents; I want financial commitments for job training programs for our residents; I want a commitment that you will work to bring in affordable street-level outlets – local and independent if possible – and not high-end boutiques that are simply too expensive for most of us; I want open-space created that is going to truly serve the community; and I want these businesses to respect and factor in the views and concerns of the neighbors who are already living there. I had many, many discussions with the various developers, and I helped get us a much better deal.

I do believe that, ultimately, Central Square is undergoing an exciting period of change and evolution. There is a vibrancy and excitement to this neighborhood that is unlike any other part of Cambridge, and I think that vibrancy is only going to flourish in the years to come. I am excited to see how Central Square will continue to evolve, and I am committed to making sure that the developers, the longtime residents, the existing business owners, and the newer people who come in to the area are all regularly meeting, sharing information, fostering relationships, and working together to make Central Square a place we can all take ownership of.

Children and Public Education
It was education, and fighting for better schools, that first drew me into public service as a member of the School Committee. As a parent and education activist, I have delivered concrete results for the children of Cambridge. In the past, I worked hard to enact better communication between the Cambridge School Committee and the Cambridge City Council, establishing the Roundtable discussions that allow both bodies to be more understanding of the work we're doing, and to hopefully work together more effectively. I would like to see a great number of and a greater focus to these Roundtables in the next term. I would also like to see a greater emphasis on closing the Achievement Gap, so that students of every background have an equal opportunity to succeed now, and later in life.

The Next City Manager
January 1, 2014 will mark the first new Council session since the early 1980s not to feature Robert Healy serving as City Manager. I am excited to be working with the new City Manager, Richard Rossi, as he works to make his mark on the City and he establishes a new way of doing business. We already have a very productive working relationship, and I expect that this will only continue to flourish into the new term.

Mr. Rossi has agreed to stay on at City Manager for a three-year period. I am mindful of the fact that, in addition to working productively with him during this time, the City Council must also take proactive steps to prepare for the future. We must start holding community discussions to determine what qualities will be most needed in the next city manager. I want the City Council to reach a firm and shared understanding of the qualities we will be looking for. I want the City Council to have a clear and shared understanding of what the process for finding Mr. Rossi's successor will look like, and most of all, I want the people of Cambridge to have full confidence in this process. That is why we must start taking these steps in 2014.

Again, there are many, many challenges awaiting the next City Council – and many, many opportunities. I bring experience, passion, and leadership to my role as a city councilor, and I hope that I will have the opportunity to continue to serve. Thank you, I hope you will sign up for my Facebook and Twitter feeds to keep track of my daily activities, and I hope you will consider giving me your #1 Vote on November 5.

Denise Simmons 2013 Candidate Profile - Cambridge Chronicle

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CCTV candidate video (2011)

Page last updated Saturday, September 28, 2013 7:36 PM Cambridge Candidates