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Ken Brociner weighs in on two candidates running for City Council.

This fall, voters in Wards 5 and 7 have the opportunity to take a historic and long overdue step towards making Somerville’s city government more reflective of the racial and ethnic make-up of our community. Until now, no Latino or Latina has ever been elected to public office in Somerville. However, this year we may see not one, but two Latinas elected to the Somerville City Council.

Now I would be the last person to urge anyone to vote for either Beatriz Gómez-Mouakad (in Ward 5) or Judy Pineda Neufeld (in Ward 7) solely because their elections would represent a breakthrough for racial and ethnic diversity. A much more important reason is that Beatriz and Judy are extraordinarily qualified to represent the residents of Wards 5 and 7 on the City Council.

Gómez-Mouakad was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Her mother was a high school chemistry teacher and her father a university physicist.

Beatriz came to the U.S.  to attend college in 1988, got married in 1999 and she and her husband moved to Somerville in 2003. They quickly developed a strong connection to the Somerville community, which is the main reason she decided to run for city council. As Beatriz puts it, “I love this city, which was built by immigrants and the working class. This is a time of great opportunities for Somerville, and I believe that together, we can build a vibrant, sustainable and equitable future for everyone in this city. I want to put my skills and experience to work for Ward 5, which is being transformed by the Green Line expansion. The GLX has created enormous development opportunities, but also new challenges. We need to ensure that working-class and middle-class people in our community are not priced out, and that we have the right infrastructure to meet everyone’s needs.”

And Gómez-Mouakad’s skills and experience are as impressive as anyone who has run for office in Somerville in recent memory. She’s has worn so many hats throughout her impressive career that she would be a valuable asset to practically every committee and agency throughout city government. To cite just a few of her accomplishments and credentials: Beatriz has held upper-level professional positions in the fields of architecture, affordable housing, and project management.

Notably, Gómez-Mouakad has already applied her skills in a number of ways to help make Somerville a better and more equitable community for all. For example, she was on the city’s Design and Review Committee for the Maxwell Green development project, she helped to bring state and local officials to a meeting to address the lack of repairs to Foss Park, and more recently advocated for improving school building management, communications and transparency during the COVID pandemic. Furthermore, by collaborating with a diverse network of Somervillians, she has been instrumental in identifying social inequities and language barriers impacting immigrant and Latino/x families.

If elected, some of the issues that Gómez-Mouakad wants to focus on are: helping to make our streets safer for both pedestrians and bicyclists; addressing the ongoing inequities in educational programs for immigrants in both our public schools as well as in programs that serve adults; helping to break down the cultural barriers that all too often divide people in our community; and promoting equitable and sustainable development that creates affordable housing and ensures accessibility.

In addition to her many professional accomplishments, Beatriz and her husband are the proud parents of two children, both of whom are students in the Somerville Public Schools. On top of all of her other activities, she also makes the time to serve on the boards of a number of community organizations including the Somerville Community Corporation and Somerville Youth Soccer.

Judy Pineda Neufeld describes herself as the “proud daughter of immigrants.” Her mother was born and raised in Mexico City and immigrated to Los Angeles as a single mom with her family when she was 26 years old. Judy says that got her “feminist roots” from her mom.

Her father, a child of Holocaust survivors, was born in a displaced persons camp after WWII. As a teenager, he worked in the civil rights movement in New York City first raising funds among high school students for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s voter registration projects in Alabama and Mississippi. As an adult, he devoted his life to the fight for civil and labor rights. Judy calls her dad her “political mentor.”

Judy has lived in Somerville for 15 of the last 20 years and has packed more progressive activism in her 38 years than just about any of my contemporaries (and I just turned 72). To say that she would add a terrific blend of energy, commitment, and expertise to the city council would be quite an understatement.

As she has explained on her campaign website, “Through my work with the non -profit Emerge, and the National Democratic Training Committee, I have recruited, trained, and supported thousands of women and people of color to run for office and serve their communities through their political leadership.” In addition, since April of 2020, Judy has led Somerville’s Immigrant Services Unit as part of the city’s response to the crisis created by Covid-19.

If she is elected to the City Council, Judy will focus on creating more affordable housing, increasing financial support for low-income residents and small businesses, expanding services to meet the needs of Somerville’s immigrant population, and creating safer streets for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Because there are two other candidates running for City Council in Ward 5 and three others running in Ward 7, Beatriz and Judy will need to finish in the top two in the September 14 primary in order to qualify for the November election. While I fully expect that both of them will make it past the September primary, they will need all the support they can get on Nov. 2 to become the first two Latinas ever elected to public office in the history of Somerville.

I don’t live in either Ward, but if I did, I think you can guess who I’d be voting for.

Ken Brociner has lived in Somerville since 1975. His essays, columns, and reviews have appeared in Dissent, In These Times, the Boston Phoenix, and the Somerville Journal, among other publications.

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