Denise Simmons, photo by Stephen Maclone

Denise Simmons
2009 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
188 Harvard Street
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 a lifelong resident of Cambridge with a deep commitment to improving the quality of life for Cambridge residents. I am raising my grandchildren who are currently in Cambridge public schools. My 10 years on the Cambridge School Committee attest to my commitment to the quality of our public schools. Prior to serving on the School Committee, I served as Executive Director of the Civic Unity Committee of the City of Cambridge, working on equity and fairness. I own a small business and am closely attuned to the needs of small business owners. I am also a Justice of the Peace.

I am currently serving my fourth term on the Cambridge City Council and am honored to have been elected to serve as Mayor by my colleagues on the Council. My obligations as Mayor include chairing the City Council and the School Committee and representing the City in numerous official events. I am a member of the Massachusetts Mayors Association; Massachusetts Democratic State Committee; the Massachusetts Municipal Association; and the Kids Council.

Top Priorities:
Quality of Life, including full access to high-quality services for children, families, seniors, and all those with limited financial resources; an environment that facilitates wellness rather than illness; schools that help all our young people to thrive; and respect for all people, regardless of demographics or lifestyle. In my next term I will continue to advocate for improvement in all these areas, especially affordable housing and economic development.

Traffic, Parking, and Transportation:
Because Cambridge is becoming more and more densely populated, and more cars are coming into our city, I believe that we should revisit the concept of car-free spaces. I am continuing to look at how other, comparable cities manage this issue, and if inspiration comes from outside of Cambridge, then I think we should entertain reasonable ideas.

I also continue to listen to the concerns of individual residents during one-on-one meetings, and I try to locate solutions to this difficult problem with our Department of Traffic and Transportation. The answers are not always readily apparent, but we shall continue to work together to find solutions that best suit Cambridge.

I worked with the MBTA and local taxi companies to provide better transportation options for seniors and others with mobility issues. Examples include 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.

Public Safety:
Neighborhood safety is a paramount issue in every city, and Cambridge is no exception. As mayor, I have regularly convened meetings that bring together members of the community to share information about neighborhood concerns with the Cambridge Police and local officials. These meetings are important because we don’t wait for events to happen; I understand that preventative measures are the wisest measures. We become a stronger city when we connect to each other, when we share our concerns with one another, and when we can work together to create a safer community.

However, when crimes have been committed, I have acted swiftly to help contain and control the situation. In the summer of 2009, there were numerous shootings in North Cambridge, and I responded to this uptick in violence by holding regular meetings with the Police Commissioner, representatives of the property management companies, representatives of the Cambridge Housing Authority, and with those who live in the affected areas.

I have continued to support the Neighborhood Safety Committee, which I helped implement some years ago. This committee issued a report with many recommendations related to job training and placement, neighborhood safety awareness, etc. The Cambridge Works Program emerged from the recommendations. I will work toward implementation of other recommendations in the report.

I am continuing to work with the Police and community members on taking preventative measures for the future.

I have worked on street safety for seniors and others with limited mobility by initiating the posting of “Slow, Seniors” signs at high traffic intersections.

I have been fully behind the effort to lower the rodent population in the city via requiring citizens to use covered, rodent-proof trash cans along with high-tech solar trash receptacles in several parks and squares that have high rodent populations due to accessible food-based trash.

Central Square Atmosphere and Safety: I supported and participated in a clean-up of Central Square and have worked with business owners to do more to contain littering, especially cigarette butts. I arranged for higher police presence in Central Square, especially after the Police Department relocated to East Cambridge last fall.

Quality of Life:
I support full access to high-quality services for children, families, seniors, and all those with limited financial resources; an environment that facilitates wellness rather than illness; schools that help all our young people to thrive; and respect for all people, regardless of demographics or lifestyle. In my next term I will continue to advocate for improvement in all these areas, especially affordable housing and economic development. I have worked with local clergy to support increased services to homeless families. I co-sponsored a workshop on homophobia and the Haitian community. In May I hosted a Race and Class Forum and a celebration of the 5th anniversary of same-sex marriage.

Municipal Finance:
I am proud to have been a member of the City Council that voted a budget with minimal increase to the taxpayer. In these turbulent times, I am very mindful of the fact that every little bit of savings helps our residents, and I shall continue to keep the fiscal impacts on our citizens in mind before moving on any piece of legislation. Cambridge has fared better than other cities during the past year, avoiding massive layoffs and dramatic cuts to essential City services -- but we are still feeling the effects in many areas, and therefore I shall continue doing all that I can to help our residents weather the storm.

Government, Elections, and Civic participation:
There has occasionally been discussion over whether the Plan E Charter is an effective and appropriate form of government for Cambridge. Certainly, it can be confusing to some people, but I feel that this has generally served our city well over the past several decades. The mayor serves as the legislative leader, the city council as the legislative branch, and the city manager as the chief executive of operations. So long as we all do our jobs in good faith and engage in active and regular communication, then I believe that the city is well served. It is only natural that certain tensions will sometimes arise out of this arrangement, and that periodic adjustments will be needed. I don't believe that one should throw the baby out with the bathwater, though, and I do believe that the individuals in City Hall are doing their best to keep Cambridge running as a healthy and responsive city.

I am fully aware of the low citizen participation in municipal elections and have taken two steps towards increasing participation over time. With the Kennedy School of Government I initiated the Citizen Advocate Academy that will sponsor a meeting/training for Cambridge residents on how to effectively participate in local government. I also initiated a Girls’ Leadership program to encourage girls 12-15 to start thinking about citizen involvement and leadership.

While the issue of staffing for city councilors is a relatively recent development in the history of the city, the fact is that each city councilor is answerable to over 100,000 constituents. Some of those constituents need more assistance, more time, and more guidance then others. Some problems are more intractable than others. There are only so many hours in the day, only so many days in the week, for the nine city councilors to devote to any one individual, and so having research assistants help with the caseload does make sense to me. My feeling is that if we can hire research assistants without unduly inflating the operating budget, and if it helps us provide better service to our constituents, then this is a beneficial development.

Housing, Land Use, Planning, Zoning, Density:
We are still in need of affordable housing in Cambridge and I thus support residential development as long as a commitment to green space is built into the development formulas. Cambridge has a state-approved Open Space and Recreation Plan that I support. A zoning amendment allows for some zoning flexibility in exchange for open space or other community benefits.

I support the Planning Board’s decision to reject the Connor petition. But I also know that we should look at our zoning guidelines and review exceptions made to them every few years. We need to make sure development in our city is in keeping with the City Council’s goal of having a sustainable Cambridge.

My office has spent the past two years helping numerous people navigate through the process of applying for and securing public housing by making sure that people are aware of their best options, by pairing them with knowledgeable advocates, and by holding regular meetings with representatives of the Cambridge Housing Authority. Homelessness and searching for housing can be daunting in the best of times, and I have a firm belief that empathy, patience, and solid direction are needed for those who find themselves in this unfortunate situation.

Economic Development and Commerce:
Small businesses are the life-blood of our community and they provide the largest source of employment and revenue for Cambridge. Over the last ten years, I have worked to strengthen our economic development policy to encourage micro enterprises. As women- and minority-owned businesses are the fastest growing businesses in our city, I have also worked with our Office of Economic Development to help promote these types of ventures. I want to encourage more business growth in order to stimulate job creation.

In 2008 and 2009 I have been co-chairing the Green Jobs Task Force, comprised of a cross-section of department heads, economic experts, and active citizens. We are all working together to determine how to promote and incorporate "green collar” jobs into the local economy. These are jobs that cannot be outsourced to other countries and that our Cambridge residents need and deserve. I recently garnered $100,000 for job training and job placement in the green economy.

Human Services Programs:
The City offers a multitude of human services, from advocacy for the homeless, to assistance with job placement, to investigations into discrimination claims. We run the gamut of services with a truly dedicated staff, and I will continue to work to ensure that every citizen of Cambridge feels welcome and embraced by their government. To that end, during the past two years I convened Town Meetings that focus upon different constituencies within the City, including a Senior Citizen Town Meeting, a GLBT Town Meeting, and a Forum focusing upon Race & Class. These meetings have been designed to pull people from all walks of life into the process of dialoguing with their civil leaders, and making sure that all voices are heard. We have had some very productive conversations, established new goals, and learned from one another, and I plan to continue to push for this type of civic involvement in the years to come.

I formed the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on 0-18 to look into services and programs for children of all ages. The Commission recently submitted its first report on out-of-school time activities and resources for middle-school children. I look forward to working on the implementation of the report’s recommendations. I also organized a group of parents parenting their grandchildren.

Open Space, Parks, and Recreation:
I will continue to support the upgrading of parks particularly in underserved neighborhoods. All residents, no matter where they live, should have quality open areas where they can take their families, walk their dogs, or meet with their neighbors. Keeping our parks safe is important for the full utilization of our open spaces. I support the use of zoning leverage in order to acquire open space in exchange for zoning compromises. I am pleased that Cambridge is part of the Community Preservation Act.

Energy, the Environment, and Public Health:
In addition to my full support of the City’s numerous environmental initiatives, I have myself initiated the establishment of a Green Jobs Task Force, as mentioned above. I hosted the annual Senior Picnic at MIT, which this year was 100% green; all refuse from the event was compostable. I participated in a Volunteer Corps to help clean up Central Square.

Given that an analysis of emissions in Cambridge revealed that 80% of citywide emissions comes from existing buildings, all new construction or renovations to city buildings should meet LEED standards. (LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a widely recognized green building certification system.) The city is considering, and I will support if feasible, adoption of the Stretch Energy Code, whose standards are even more rigorous.

In the interest of both health and energy efficiency, I formed the Mayor’s Committee on Green Schools that will look into the greening of our public schools. The committee will look at the energy efficiency of our school buildings so that future renovations will create both energy efficiency and healthier environments for our children. We should begin renovation in the least efficient buildings and consider solar and wind power where feasible. I plan to work proactively with the Cambridge Energy Alliance to work on buildings. The current goal is to reduce water and electricity consumption by 10%, city-wide.

In addition to the creation of new cleaner energy, I support the use of biodiesel in city vehicles; expansion of hybrid taxis, and diminished use of single-occupant vehicles.

The general health of our community is extremely important. Problems that compromise the quality of life of our residents, particularly those in disenfranchised neighborhoods, must be addressed. Over the past four terms, I have worked to ensure that the City is responsive to reports of rodent and insect infestations in residential buildings throughout the City. I have also worked with our Inspectional Services Department to crack down on buildings that are unsanitary or that have factors that may contribute to cases of asthma among our children.

I have worked with members of the Women's Commission and the Cambridge Health Alliance to design and promote fitness programs. I funded health and fitness projects. and I have also been in active talks with healthcare entities like the Cambridge Health Alliance and Youville Hospital, urging them to continue providing vital services to our residents and to make decisions regarding their services--especially cuts in services--in an open way that involves the community.

Arts and Public Celebrations:
One of the great strengths of Cambridge is our great diversity. I will continue to support programs and projects that celebrate our diversity and our history. As mayor, I have worked to hold celebrations that spotlight the many different constituencies in our community. We have held celebrations for Haitian Flag Day, Latino Heritage Month, Italian Heritage Month, St. Patrick's Day, and Eid. We have also celebrated the 5th anniversary of same-sex marriage, and have toasted everyday heroes across Cambridge.

A project I have spent considerable time working on has been the construction of a monument to civil rights pioneer Prince Hall, who blazed a trail for the country during the Revolutionary War era. Prince Hall would go on to found African American Free Masonry, is considered by some to be a founding father, and I have been proud to help him finally get the recognition he deserves.

I have worked to establish a non-profit privately-funded organization that would find arts programs for children called One for the Arts. Once established, it will provide a way for people to easily give one dollar (or more) to fund city arts programs.

University Relations:
Our universities are a great resource, and as a resource I look to the university community to garner support for programs. I recently spearheaded the Kids Council Strategic Plan, which calls for careful research in order to assess which services for children actually have a positive impact. Local universities will help with this research, which will save the City thousands of dollars both in research costs and in the ultimate provision of services so that the city can spend its money effectively and efficiently.

As mayor, I have had the pleasure of working with both Harvard and MIT in producing the annual senior picnics, and I have been generally pleased with the working relationships between all the local universities and the residents that live near them. Lesley University, for example, has taken pains to hold many meetings with neighborhood representatives as they have planned expansions and new construction, and this is exactly the way our universities should be behaving.

In addition, when I have been designing and promoting programs such as the Mayor's Girls Leadership Group or the Boys To Men program, or I have enacted different charitable programs, I have found ready and willing partners within the local universities, and their assistance has been invaluable. These programs have been a great success in their initial phases, and I hope to continue and grow these programs in the years ahead.

Cambridge Public Schools:
I strongly believe that Cambridge should offer the very best in public education in order to give our children the solid foundation they will need for a happy and productive life. As a parent of school age children, and as the Chair of the Cambridge School Committee, I know the importance of a good education. In the middle of the decade, I organized meetings for parents entitled "Real Kids, Real Schools, Real Success". The purpose to these workshops was to look at schools that are succeeding at educating all children at the highest levels. Addressing the achievement gap is very important. My approach is proactive: let's look at what is working and apply it to the Cambridge school system.

We serve best when we all work together, so during the last term, we have continued holding regular City Council-School Committee Roundtable meetings so that the City Council and the School Committee could be in better communication with each other. We now meet together at least 3 times per year to talk about challenges facing the schools along with possible solutions. This has fostered understanding and collegiality, and it has helped us focus during the search for a new superintendent of schools.

I have also initiated two programs, the Mayor's Girls Leadership Group and the Boys to Men Program. These programs are aimed at 12 - 14 year old girls and boys who are poised to enter high school. The purpose of these groups has been to teach these young adults about the importance of working hard now, presenting themselves well, and setting the stage for future success. I worked to have successful role models speak with the participants, and share tips on things that may help them along the way to adulthood. The programs have been received enthusiastically, and I cannot wait to see what these exceptional young people do with their lives.

Over the 2008-2009 term, I lead the conversation and direction of the coordinating council on children, youth and families called the Kids' Council. The work lead to an exciting partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government that helped us develop a three year strategic plan which includes the publication of a biennial report on the status of children and families in Cambridge. In addition, I convened the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Middle School Youth and the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Early Childhood Education. The report of the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Middle School Youth (BRC) is available online on the Mayor's Office webpage.

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Page last updated October 15, 2009 Cambridge Candidates