Denise Simmons, photo by Stephen Maclone

Denise Simmons
2015 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
188 Harvard Street #4B
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
I am currently serving my 7th 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 on November 3 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. 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.

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, and how much money developers will need to pay the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to preserve and create affordable units. Through my work as Chair of the Housing Committee this term, the City Council is moving towards changing the ordinance to mandate that developers pay millions more to develop projects that go beyond certain specifications, and this will translate into a much greater amount of money for the City to increase our stock of affordable housing. This is all part of my work to 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. 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, 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 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 have been laying the groundwork to sponsor a Small Business Owners Town Hall. 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 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.

Civic Unity
Another of my top priorities remains continuing 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 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.

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
I was proud to vote in favor of establishing the Net Zero Task Force. I support the goals of this task force, I believe it is imperative that Cambridge works to limit our ecological footprint as best we can, and I want Cambridge to be a shining example to other communities on how a thriving city can incorporate these environmentally-necessary ideas into its guiding framework. 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
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. Among the proposals I have put forward is “Don’t Block The Box” legislation, which calls for stiffer fines on those who block off traffic in four-way intersections. 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.

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
As Novartis, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, and MIT all sought to expand their footprints in the City, I held numerous meetings with the planners and developers over the past few years. There were many concerns I had with the plans that they shared with 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 truly 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 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.

Municipal Finance
We should all feel fortunate that the City has such an able financial team in place, and I am confident in the current budget. 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 successfully preserved jobs for 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, it provides our community with a high degree of financial flexibility in terms of keeping tax rates down while still delivering excellent community services, 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. This past term, I have urged the City to mandate that community meetings must be convened within 72 hours of any events that threaten public safety, and this legislation is being considered as the City Manager’s administration looks to implement the best long term plan. I will most certainly continue advocating for this policy going forward.

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
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 have pushed back and said: 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 Cambridge residents are going to be put to work constructing these buildings, and working in the business they ultimately house; 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 businesses – local and independent if possible – and not high-end boutiques that are 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 have 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 meetings 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.

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.

Thank you!
Please follow my campaign activity on Facebook (Denise Simmons) and Twitter (@E_DeniseSimmons). I hope you will consider giving me your #1 Vote on Tuesday, November 3rd.

Simmons-McGovern event - Sept 2015

Cambridge City Councillors Denise Simmons and Marc McGovern received enthusiastic support this week for their Cambridge City Council re-election campaigns by two notable civic leaders: Congresswoman Katherine Clark and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Councilors McGovern and Simmons held a joint fundraiser on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 in which elected official host committee members spoke about the issues facing the City of Cambridge and the bright vision the two councilors bring to the table. “Cambridge leads and the nation follows…and it is because of leaders like Marc McGovern and Denise Simmons,” Attorney General Healey said about the incumbent candidates.

“We need these two on the City Council,” said State Representative and former Cambridge City Councilor, Marjorie Decker.

The packed room was riveted as Councillors Simmons and McGovern shared their personal stories as livelong Cambridge residents, and about issues of affordable housing and economic equality. “I’ve lived here all my life and when I’m gone I want to leave Cambridge knowing that my four kids have a city they can be proud to say they are from.” says McGovern.

In reference to a record of accomplishments on the Council, Simmons said: “My mother came to Cambridge, the city of opportunity, in the 1940s and opened the door for me.  All she ever asked was ‘Pay it forward. Give something to someone else so they will not have to struggle like I’ve had to struggle.’  And so I did.”

The Cambridge municipal election will be held on Tuesday, November 3rd.

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CCTV candidate video (2015)

Page last updated Wednesday, October 7, 2015 8:02 PM Cambridge Candidates