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Meet the Candidates: Aldermen, Ward 8

This year's Ward 8 aldermen-at-large race is contested between Mitchell Fischman, David Kalis and Tom Sheff. Ward Alderman Cheryl Lappin is running uncontested.

A note for voters: Each Ward has two aldermen-at-large, which are voted on by everyone in the city. The Ward's one ward alderman, however, is elected only by the people in his/her ward. 

This year, the Ward 8 aldermen-at-large race is contested between incumbent Alderman-at-Large Mitch Fischman and two newcomers, David Kalis and Tom Sheff, who are vying for the seat vacated by John Freedman. Ward Alderman Cheryl Lappin is running uncontested. 

Newton Patch posed six questions to all 38 candidates running in this year's election, regardless of whether the race was contested. We will be running the profiles by Ward, starting with Ward 1 on Oct. 26. 

The election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8. 


David Kalis

Running for: Ward 8 alderman-at-large

Q: Why are you running for this seat? 

A: As a lifelong resident of Newton and father of two kids in elementary school, I care deeply for this community. I am product of the Newton Schools and am running for alderman-at-large so I can help our community address some of its most pressing needs, including our structural deficit, deferred investment in infrastructure, and maintenance of school facilities. Over the past few years I’ve been involved in our city by applying many of the skills I honed from over 20 years of running businesses - managing budgets, analyzing complex issues, and building consensus. It gives me great satisfaction to currently apply these skills to work that benefits my community, and I want to broaden my impact by working on the Board. 

Q: What is your background in local government or community involvement and how will it help you in this seat? Do you have other experiences that will help you in the position? 

A: Involvement in my community is important to me. Most recently, I’ve served on the Countryside Space Task Force, led fundraising initiatives to benefit the Countryside School, was president of my Temple Brotherhood, and serve on the Temple Board. These experiences building community have illustrated the importance of analyzing community situations from all sides, collaborating in a team, listening to community concerns, and working within a process to yield actionable results. Because I have been involved in many areas of the community, I’ll be able to draw upon these experiences to help make informed, well reasoned, and thoughtful decisions as a Board member. 

Q: With Newton facing several tough budget seasons in the recent past -- and likely several in the future -- what do you feel needs to be cut, added or changed in the budget to keep the city's finances balanced? 

A: In an era of diminishing revenues and increasing demands on local government, the board will need to make tough choices to balance the city’s needs with competing resources. Overall, I look at our budget process and would change a few things. First, we need to ensure municipal operations are running as efficiently and effectively as possible by strengthening our Performance Management system and optimizing activities based on results. Second, I’d want to ensure we are developing long- and short-term goals that will help build a blueprint for generating new revenue, investment in schools and infrastructure, and taking a long view to our City’s growth. One example of how we might be able to generate revenue would be to simplify our zoning ordinances, thereby making Newton more of a welcoming place for businesses and broadening our tax base. Finally, with every budget season there will be varying hot button issues that we’ll need to address thoughtfully to help inform specific adds and cuts. In the past cycle, I would have looked to add money back to the schools to mitigate the lost teaching positions and class fees. To fund budget needs, whether this year or in future years, we need to focus on finding redundancies in municipal operations, looking for savings via regionalization (working with other communities who offer similar services where bundling could save money), and pushing long term revenue ideas such as smart economic growth to close the gap.   

Q: What is the most important issue Newton faces today? 

A: The structural deficit, or the fact that our expenses are growing faster than our revenues, is our #1 issue. Because of this, Newton has had to limit its investment in infrastructure, schools, and municipal operations. To address this, we’ll need to look at both the expense and revenue side of our balance sheet, applying scrutiny to every fiscal decision. On the expense side, we need to address those expenses, such as healthcare, that are growing faster than our revenue. We need to also apply scrutiny to all Municipal operations to ensure we are working as efficiently as possible and are identifying opportunities and ideas to improve operations. On the revenue side, we’ll need to aggressively pursue non-residential sources of revenue, such as smart economic growth and PILOT’s. Even with a solid plan of cutting expenses and generating long term revenue, at some point in the near future a debt exclusion may be required to address many of the city’s top needs.

Q: If elected, what is something you are going to focus on in your position for the next two years? 

A: One of my focus areas will be smart economic growth. With its numerous village centers, Newton is a unique city, and it’s important that we look at ways of revitalizing these villages by simplifying our zoning ordinances to make it easier for business to operate in Newton and offering new ways to revitalize our villages. In doing so, we’ll have to work in cooperation with citizen and community groups to ensure we are growing sustainably, addressing neighbor concerns, infrastructure around projects, traffic patterns, parking, and open space. Specific projects of interest to me are Needham Street, Austin St Parking lot, Newton Center, and Riverside. 

Q: Name one thing the residents of Newton may not know about you. 

A: Most people don’t know that I was an ice cream man in Newton in the late 1980’s. In this role, I became deeply acquainted with all of Newton’s villages and learned to appreciate the diversity of our city. This experience and understanding of how unique or city is will help me as I look to represent all of Newton on the board.

 

Mitch Fischman

Running for: Ward 8 alderman-at-large (incumbent)

Q: Why are you running for re-election? 

A: I am running for re-election for Ward 8 Alderman at large for a sixth term. It has been an honor to have served the city over the past ten years, but there is more to do. If re-elected in November, I will continue to represent constituent interests in Ward 8 and those of Newton as best I can.

Q: What is your background in local government or community involvement and how will it help you in this seat? Do you have other experiences that will help you in the position? 

A: As a resident of Newton since 1972, I have been active in Newton government for almost 25 years, initially as a member of the Newton Economic Development Commission (1987 - 2000) and for the past five terms (2001 - Present) as an at-large member of the Board of Aldermen.

I also have over 45 years of experience in real estate and urban planning. For 15 years, I served as the deputy director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.  I have a MBA from Northeastern University and a master's degree in Urban Planning from the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, I am currently director of planning services for tetra tech, a planning, engineering and environmental consultant firm in the greater Boston area.

Q: With Newton facing several tough budget seasons in the recent past -- and likely several in the future -- what do you feel needs to be cut, added or changed in the budget to keep the city's finances balanced? 

A: We need to protect budgets for schools and infrastructure. Specifically, we need to fix up our schools—Zervas, Burr and Horace Mann are overcrowded and need upgrades and new modular additions; there is a need to build a replacement Angier School and on Newton’s south side given overcrowding of the Countryside School leading to possibly a new school. Reconstruction of Needham Street, the Parker Street/Route 9 Intersection, and several other roadways and intersections are needed. I have continued to push the Warren and the past Cohen administrations to move the design and reconstruction of Needham Street to become an important priority and infrastructure initiative.  

Q: What is the most important issue Newton faces today? 

A: The city needs more revenues to insure high quality services. More strategically located and neighborhood friendly new development would help—The Atrium brought over $1 million in new annual taxes; Chestnut Hill Square will be at least $1 million to $2 million; the Riverside development could be as much or more. We don’t want to be a community where property owners pay $15,000 in property taxes for their homes or condominiums which happen in other communities in Boston’s west suburban areas. 

Q: If elected, what is something you are going to focus on in your position for the next two years? 

A: A key focus will be on identifying infrastructure needs - new roadways, below level sewer/water system repairs, and new school building needs insuring that new commercial development benefits the entire community not just developers, and I will examine the possibility of new city revenues from non-profit property owners to help head off reductions in needed city services

Q: Name one thing the residents of Newton may not know about you. 

A: I am an urban planner and have been a planning consultant for many years which has prepared me for my service on the Board of Aldermen over the past 10 years as vice-chairman of the Board’s Land Use Committee.

 

Tom Sheff

Running for: Ward 8 alderman-at-large

Q: Why are you running for this seat? 

A: I was raised with a sense of civic responsibility, pride and activism which I credit my parents instilling in me. My mother, Maxine, was an original member of the Board of Directors for the JCC, vice president of Ledgewood Home for Jewish Children and vice president of the Boston Association of Retarded Children. My father, Irving, was former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys and advisor to John F. Kennedy's second campaign for Senator in 1958. My parents showed me how to unselfishly serve others with dedication and compassion.

Q: What is your background in local government or community involvement and how will it help you in this seat? Do you have other experiences that will help you in the position? 

A: Where do I start?  I've been active in Newton for many years, I know all of the city employees and will be easy to train for the job of alderman.  I am currently a member of the Democratic City Committee, League of Women Voters, Green Decade Coalition, I am co-founder/vice president of and I am host/producer of a tv show on NewTV called Veracity.  In 2005, I ran for mayor on the premise that the city was poorly managed, which was supported by the financial professionals of the CAG.  Lastly, I was one of the leaders in getting a resolution passed for the city's firefighters. The previous administration was treating them poorly and the board refused to help them out, so some citizens and myself worked extremely hard to pass a resolution in support of the firefighters. Months later a neutral mediator heard both sides of the issue and agreed  that the city was treating our firefighters poorly and vindicated everyone's hard work. 

Q: With Newton facing several tough budget seasons in the recent past -- and likely several in the future -- what do you feel needs to be cut, added or changed in the budget to keep the city's finances balanced? 

A: In 2005, when I ran for mayor, one of my main platform issues was zero-based budgeting. Our current Mayor has implemented zero-based budgeting and has discovered millions in cost savings. Simple things like taking advantage of the city's buying power and putting deposits through a couple of weeks earlier have saved millions. The mayor has done a great job in contract negotiations, but next time around I would investigate the possibility of putting our employees in the GIC. I would ask other cities and towns how their employees like it, since they will have been in the GIC for 2-3 years by the time our current contracts are up. 

Q: What is the most important issue Newton faces today? 

A: I'd like to see the city become financially self sustainable, but we can't ignore all the other challenges just to become financially self sustainable. We need to also look into better management practices, more efficient ways to repair and pay for our infrastructure, funding our $600 million unfunded retiree liability, creating revenue, reforming our zoning and figuring out how we can get business's involved so we can create public/private partnerships to help maintain our parks and fields.

Q: If elected, what is something you are going to focus on in your position for the next two years? 

A: Newton faces many important issues. Each issue always comes down to whether we have the money or not, so my focus will be on making sure that our financial house is in order.

Q: Name one thing the residents of Newton may not know about you. 

A: My birth certificate said I was born in 1953, not 1963. This caused me problems in 1971, when I was drafted at the ripe old age of 8 to join  the United States Army. When I called to clear this misunderstanding up, the gentleman on the other end of the phone obviously didnt believe that our governement could make such a mistake. They made me and my parents come down to Andover and had the audacity to ask an 8 year old for a license. It eventually got cleared up, all I had to do was 100 sit ups.

 

Cheryl Lappin

Running for: Ward 8 alderman (incumbent)

Q: Why are you running for re-election? 

A: Now more than ever our city is facing major challenges with cuts in state aid and rising health care costs. I am running for re-election so I can continue to work to ensure that Newton is fiscally responsible and will be able to provide quality city services far into the future.

Q: What is your background in local government or community involvement and how will it help you in this seat? Do you have other experiences that will help you in the position? 

A: As a five-term Ward 8 Alderman and current vice president of the board I have participated in 11 budget cycles, served on the Public Facilities Committee, been vice chair of the Zoning & Planning Committee and chair of the Committee on Community Preservation.  I have been a member of the Ward 8 Democratic Committee since 2001, the first chair of the Newton Farm Commission and served on search committees for both the Inspectional Services Commissioner and Public Buildings Commissioner. But the most important background that I have is nine years of meeting with citizens, resolving problems and making sure that their voices are heard.

Q: With Newton facing several tough budget seasons in the recent past -- and likely several in the future -- what do you feel needs to be cut, added or changed in the budget to keep the city's finances balanced? 

A: The only way to keep expenses from exceeding revenues while still providing city services is to reduce costs, invest in our infrastructure, and increase revenues.

Costs can be reduced by eliminating redundancies in city departments, streamlining processes through all city departments and negotiating union contracts. We have significantly underfunded the maintenance of our infrastructure (buildings, streets and water & sewer pipes) which has resulted in additional expenses for the city. Investing in our infrastructure will save us money in the long run.  Revenues can be increased by encouraging responsible development which will broaden our tax base and by looking for alternative sources of revenue including but not limited to PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) and state/federal grants.

Q: What is the most important issue Newton faces today? 

A: The most important issue we face today is the challenge of continuing to deliver quality city services to the citizens of Newton while dealing with increasing fiscal restraints.

Q: If elected, what is something you are going to focus on in your position for the next two years? 

A: I will focus on making Newton city government more efficient, effective and accessible for the long term.

Q: Name one thing the residents of Newton may not know about you. 

A: I love to cook and bake

 

Interested in other aldermen candidates? Check out our other profiles:

Want to learn more about the School Committee candidates?

  • Note: Ward 6 School Committee member Claire Sokoloff (running for re-election uncontested) did not answer the Patch questionnaire.

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