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Background and Experience in Public Service
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. As a lifelong Cambridge resident, I’ve 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. 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.
I am focused not only upon creating policy, but also at looking at how that policy impacts real people across our community. Much of my policy-making is a natural outgrowth of my regular one-on-one advocacy for my constituents. 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.
The City Council must also continue working to maintain reasonable development. I have joined my colleagues in trying to find ways to implement the K2C2 recommendations, which provided us with a good framework for how to best reinvigorate Central Square and Kendall Square, and I would point to the recent Normandy-Twining project as striving to meet some of the objectives laid out for Central Square in that plan. I continue to push 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 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 I have 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, www.DeniseSimmons.com. 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.
I have also been working to strengthen our local job training and job placement programs. I 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, which is a fantastic entryway into the local building trades. My work, over the past several years, has led the City to create the framework of a formal Community Benefits and Mitigation Plan, which would include funding for these types of job training and placement programs, and which should be implemented shortly. I recognize that by fostering a better climate for local businesses, and by giving more people access to quality jobs, our City is ultimately strengthened.
In December 2013, I successfully sponsored legislation that created a citizen's civic unity community to augment efforts around building a more tolerant and inclusive Cambridge. The first Race and Class Forum was held in City Hall over a decade ago, and in recent installments, the community was led in discussions by distinguished Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree, and conversations have focused on how to create a more tolerant, diverse, and accepting city. As Chair of the Civic Unity Committee, I continue to lead these sometimes difficult but necessary conversations, and I hope to continue doing so in the coming term.
Through town meetings, direct contact with citizens, workshops, and various other community meetings, I have worked to open City Hall to all the citizens, and to continually remind the people of Cambridge that this is their house. Through initiatives like our periodic Race & Class forums, the Town Hall meetings, the Climate Congress, and other similar community conversations, I have consistently looked for ways to help bring more people to the table to get involved, be more engaged, and to be heard in the conversations that shape our community.
Energy, the Environment, and Public Health
Traffic, Parking, and Transportation
I maintain consistent communication with the MBTA 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. 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 continue to work to mitigate these kinds of issues, and to help our seniors find workable resolutions, as these situations arise.
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
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 House there. 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.
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
In this term, I have worked to introduce a policy order asking the City to establish an Emergency Information Telephone Hotline, similar to 211, which residents would 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 various neighborhood meetings or organizing them myself. 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 people's' 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.
With affordable housing scarcer than ever in recent years, I have been trying to be more deliberate in pushing the City to preserve and expand the stock of affordable housing in our city. I am also mindful of the fact that the various social service programs across the City, which provide essential services, are perpetually underfunded (and I was proud to lead the charge in urging the City to help fund Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services, which is so critical to providing legal assistance to many of our most vulnerable residents). 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 regular basis, reaching out to chronically homeless individuals in an effort to connect them with the appropriate social services.
My Vision of Central Square Over The Coming Decade
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
In an effort to engage city leaders, to develop better community-school relationships, and to support students to succeed, I was the first to arrange for a meeting between local clergy and administrators at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School when I was mayor, and I would like to make such meetings a more regular exercise. The goal was to address some of the outside challenges (such as crowded housing, financial difficulties, and familial issues) facing the City’s students and potentially impacting their ability to focus on their schooling. We know our children have outside pressures that must be factored in as we attempt to teach them. We also know that in a resource-rich community like Cambridge, we owe it to our children to give them a world-class education.
In addition to the offerings at our public schools, there are also numerous extra-curricular activities in Cambridge designed to cultivate young minds. One of my proudest achievements as mayor was in launching my Mayor’s Girls Leadership Program, which was re-launched this past school year as the Girls Only Leadership Development Program (aka, The GOLD Program). The monthly program, which teaches life and leadership skills to help guide participants on a path toward future success, was a joint project between my office and the YWCA Cambridge, and it ran from October 2014 through June 2015. This program was free for 8th grade girls from across Cambridge, who met and learned from a diverse cast of strong, local female business, political and civic leaders, including former local elected officials and Congresswoman Katherine Clark. Meeting topics for the program included high school and college preparation; preparing for different career paths; learning proper social etiquette for formal settings; learning about appropriate online and smartphone etiquette; dressing for success; and learning about the benefits of civic engagement and the importance of networking. I am proud to say we are already planning to launch the next session of the GOLD program in September 2015, and I cannot wait to meet the next group of young ladies who will be joining us.
Cambridge is a truly strong, diverse, dynamic community, it has given me and my family so much over the generations we have lived here. I am a proud product of my city, and I go to work every day working hard to give something back. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve on the City Council these past twelve years, and I vow to work hard to earn the right to represent my constituents for the next two years.
CCTV candidate video (2015)
|Page last updated Wednesday, October 7, 2015 8:02 PM||Cambridge Candidates|