By Claire Ferris
Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne was inaugurated on Jan. 3 during a virtual ceremony and subsequently released her agenda for her first 100 days in office on Jan. 12. The reception that typically follows a mayoral inauguration was postponed to the spring, when a civic celebration will be held.
In her inaugural address, Ballantyne highlighted the continued need for a thorough COVID-19 response as well as her other priorities for the City of Somerville, which include reimagining policing, improving housing affordability and developing climate change initiatives.
Ballantyne’s plan for her first 100 days, titled “Progress for All,” focuses on making fast, meaningful changes for the Somerville community.
“I want to be clear: equity should not just be a buzzword,” Ballantyne said in her address. “Equity has to be our guiding star.”
Rocco DiRico, Tufts’ executive director of government and community relations, commented on Ballantyne’s election on behalf of the university, noting that she also focused on equity during her time as a Somerville city councilor.
“During Mayor Ballantyne’s time on the Somerville City Council, she demonstrated that she was dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” DiRico wrote in an email. “I am happy to see that she is bringing these priorities to the Mayor’s Office.”
Though the “Progress for All” agenda expands on priorities Ballantyne outlined in her inaugural address, its primary focus is aiding the city in recovering from COVID-19 and preventing future community spread.
“Many people are understandably emotional and done with COVID,” Ballantyne told the Daily. “But unfortunately, the virus is not done with us. We need to keep our focus on those communities that are hardest hit.”
Ballantyne said that the City of Somerville recently received 3,000 N95 and KN95 masks, which will be distributed to Somerville’s most vulnerable communities.
Tufts has assisted Somerville in slowing community spread of the virus, according to DiRico.
“Tufts University has worked closely with the City of Somerville since the early days of the pandemic,” DiRico wrote. “We created a community testing program that provided more than 1,400 free tests to neighbors in Medford and Somerville. Tufts partnered with Somerville Public Schools to launch a pooled testing program that served over 4,000 students, teachers, and staff.”
In addition to leading the city’s COVID recovery, Ballantyne noted that she is also aiming to expand financial support for local businesses and help them get their workers vaccinated. Her administration is pursuing a local vaccine mandate to help businesses stay open, but a Jan. 14. Board of Health meeting on the matter was adjourned without a vote due to interruptions from protestors.
Ballantyne also discussed her staff’s expansion of their outreach and support to communities hit hardest by the most recent COVID-19 wave. Somerville’s Office of Immigrant Affairs is conducting outreach in five languages to help immigrant populations get vaccinated. Local clinics based in schools and transportation vouchers to vaccination sites will also contribute to the city’s effort to vaccinate low-income or vulnerable communities.
Community input is key to Ballantyne’s approach to governance, she says. The mayor described how she will approach the issue of policing by listening to community wants and needs.
“The community very clearly said to us in the past years that … we have to change the system,” Ballantyne said. “We have hired a racial and social justice director … We’re putting out a call soon for community outreach support for reimagining the policing process.”
Though Ballantyne does hope for action on police reform, she noted that her team is still collecting data at the moment to ensure they get community input on the best way forward.
The “Progress for All” agenda also sets a goal for Somerville to achieve net-negative carbon emissions by 2050.
DiRico explained that Tufts’ own goals are aligned with those Ballantyne set out in her agenda.
“Tufts University is committed to achieving carbon neutrality as soon as possible, but no later than 2050,” DiRico wrote. “As part of this commitment, many of the new buildings on campus including Sophia Gordon, CLIC, and the Science and Engineering Center are LEED certified.”
Ballantyne highlighted the importance of playing a regional advocacy role on climate issues and shared her intentions about electrifying public transportation fleets and implementing microgrids in neighborhoods.
Another item on her agenda is placing emphasis on tending to the needs of Somerville families and helping them stay in the city long-term. DiRico cheered Ballantyne’s focus on the children of Somerville.
“While Somerville has prospered in the last decade, more than two-thirds of the students in Somerville Public Schools qualify for free and reduced lunch,” DiRico wrote. “As the city continues to attract new developments, housing, and businesses, I’m glad to see that Mayor Ballantyne will make sure that no one gets left behind in that progress.”
While Ballantyne’s 100-day agenda sets several goals — such as closing the equity gap for women, exploring a rent-to-own program in Somerville, establishing a new Office of Accountability, Transparency, and Access and creating effective rodent control solutions — she is adamant that community input is the best way to formulate concrete plans for these goals.
To that end, Ballantyne will launch a “Voices of Somerville” survey to hear from residents on issues she wants to address in her time as mayor.
“My vision for Somerville is an inclusive, equitable city where we can all thrive together,” Ballantyne said.