The Beat is nearly a year old and since I started it, I’ve interviewed dozens of people around Somerville from all walks of life. And though they may be very different, almost every one has something in common: they love Somerville and they love Mayor Joe Curtatone.
When people first started bringing his name up in interviews without any prompting, I didn’t think much of it. But then it happened again and again and again and, well, you get the idea. I’ve been a fan of the mayor as long as I’ve lived here, but hearing how important he is from so many different people made me really want to meet him.
I’d seen Mayor Curtatone at various events around the city and he is just as energetic, warm and genuine one-on-one as I expected. He’s a busy man, no doubt, yet he took a good chuck of time out of a recent Monday to chat with me about all things Somerville. I really wanted to know what he thinks about Somerville, how it’s grown and changed since he was a boy here and what his hopes are for the city’s future.
“Somerville had become a place you just pass through, now people are buying houses here,” Mayor Curtatone said. “The people living here make it a great place to live, work, play and raise a family.”
Mayor Curtatone grew up in the Prospect Hill neighborhood and has seen the city transform during the last few decades.
“We were proud of who we were, but people wanted to get out. It’s been quite an evolution,” Mayor Curtatone said. “We had a complex about ourselves. We thought Somerville couldn’t be more than what it was.”
His chief of staff, Janice Delory, also grew up in Somerville and echoed the mayor’s sentiment. “We’ve come a long way. We had a terrible inferiority complex. There was a time when it wasn’t a safe place, but it had its pluses for sure.”
Mayor Curtatone has held Somerville’s highest office for a decade and was an alderman for eight years before that. It was his experience as an alderman, as a youth athletics coach and working for his family’s nursing home that led him to run for mayor. He wanted to do more for the both the youth and elderly populations in Somerville.
“It’s the most meaingful work I’ve ever done or will ever do,” Mayor Curtatone said. “You know you can make an impact. You can participate in some way in making [the city] better.”
During his time as mayor, Curtatone has worked to reduce the rates of childhood obesity in Somerville through the Shape Up program. And he’s encouraged the urban agriculture boom through new ordinances and programs that allow people to keep backyard chickens and train others to grow food in small spaces.
Mayor Curtatone believes in putting new systems in place that affect change, like making it safer to walk and bike in Somerville and making sure that everyone in the city has access to healthy food.
“We took a community-based approach,” Mayor Curtatone said of tackling the issue of childhood obesity. “It’s an exercise in social change. We’ve changed the environment to drive the outcomes we want.”
Somerville has undergone many changes since Mayor Curtatone grew up here and the evolution continues today, with many new restaurants and businesses popping up in all corners of the city. And while it’s clear the mayor wants the city to grow, he wants the change to be beneficial to residents.
“As we grow, we grow in a sustainable way and thrive. We do not want to push out our soul and lose who we are,” Mayor Curtatone said. “When we grow, we grow together.”
To that end, the mayor has worked to bring back and maintain some Somerville traditions, like the Fourth of July fireworks, the Memorial Day parade and the Sunsetters performances, while encouraging new events throughout the city, like PorchFest, the Fluff Festival and ArtBeat.
“We want to continue to create opportunities to express ourselves,” Mayor Curtatone said. “There’s so much energy and such a positive vibe. There’s a small town feel to it.”
Images in post courtesy of the city of Somerville.