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With the preliminary behind us, what distinguishes the two candidates from each other?

After having had the same mayor for the past 18 years, Somerville is on the precipice of a new era. The race has been narrowed down to two candidates, Councilor Katjana Ballantyne and Councilor Will Mbah, both progressive Democrats who will be headed to the ballot in November. Both have been endorsed by current Mayor Joe Curtatone. But while you make your decision, what are your expectations of a new mayor, and what will he or she be tasked with taking on?

Ballantyne aims to lead with a vision of inclusion and has been elected to serve as City Council president twice. She is an immigrant to the United States and was born and orphaned in Greece, an experience that gave her an understanding of what it is like to adapt to different customs and the importance of reaching people who might not otherwise have the chance to speak up. She was the first person in her family to go to college. Mbah’s campaign has emphasized that as an immigrant from Cameroon, Mbah’s relationship to the issues of racial and social justice is very close to his heart. He also has a background in STEM and came to the City Council in 2017. Endorsed by Our Revolution, among other groups, Mbah would be the first person of color to serve as mayor.

Whoever is elected will be inheriting a set of challenges, for a city still in the midst of battling the coronavirus crisis and existing in the aftermath of the racial reckoning that has shaken the country. The environment is one front that the city’s leader will be grappling with. Ballantyne authored Somerville’s Green New Deal resolution in 2019 and has a plan that involves moving to electrical energy, encouraging “15-minute neighborhoods,” and creating more green and open space. Mbah would like to see the city go carbon neutral by 2035, add green stormwater infrastructure, and divest city funds from fossil fuels. On the issue of education, both candidates support universal pre-K, while Mbah would like to see police officers removed from schools. When it comes to the topic of the role of police in the city, Ballantyne would be using community processes and responsible data to make decisions to improve the situation on the ground, while reaching out to people most affected who might not necessarily have a seat at the table. For Mbah, like Ballantyne, he would like to have social workers and mental health specialists have a stronger presence. Meanwhile, the coronavirus has shed light on racial disparities and inequities that Mbah would seek to address.

For some, it may look like Somerville is at a crossroads. Not only is the city in the process of battling multiple crises and coming to terms with the deeper needs of its community, but when electing a mayor, the city will be ushering in a new wave of change. Both candidates are highly qualified. Their visions are both progressive and welcoming of diversity and difference. But as we determine who the next elected leader of Somerville will be, we need to consider who will be best equipped to steer us through the tides ahead and guide with a bold and empathetic plan. We aren’t telling you who to vote for, but when November comes our way, make sure you exercise your right to choose, and make an informed and deliberate decision.

Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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