Denise Simmons, photo by Stephen Maclone

Denise Simmons
2011 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 have lived in Cambridge my entire life, and it has been a privilege to work in City Hall, to build bridges throughout the community, and to continually seek ways to improve an already amazing city.

In all, I have been working for the City of Cambridge in various capacities for three decades. In the 1980s, I served as Executive Director of the Civic Unity Committee; in the 1990s, I entered public office and served on the School Committee, and since 2002, I have served on the City Council. I was honored to serve as the Mayor of Cambridge during the 2008-2009 term. I am currently serving my fifth term on the Cambridge City Council. I am a member of the Massachusetts Mayors Association; Massachusetts Democratic State Committee; the Massachusetts Municipal Association; and the Kids Council.

In addition to my work on the City Council, I am also a small business owner, a Justice of the Peace, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. My ties to Cambridge run deep, as does my commitment to public service.

Top Priorities
In the coming City Council term, I want to continue working upon the quality of life issues that have been a cornerstone of my work for decades, such as ensuring that all children have access to a high-quality education, that seniors have access to fully-funded senior centers and reliable public transportation, and that those with limited financial resources have access to affordable housing, and assistance in finding gainful employment.

I will continue to promote the city's economic growth, to find ways to help small business owners thrive and prosper, and to encourage larger businesses to reinvest in and give back to the community. I am also advocating for a standardized community mitigation process for all future large-scale development in the city, to ensure that those areas most disrupted by big, long-term construction projects be fairly compensated for the inconvenience.

I will continue advocating for the creation and retention of affordable housing, and I will remain vigilant in assisting those constituents who are having difficulties finding or retaining their housing.

I will continue making certain that the local government is responsive, respectful, and accountable to the citizens that it serves. This means that excellent constituent service will continue to be a top priority for me.

I shall also be working, as before, to get more people involved in their local government and their community, and to advocate that each voice be counted. Lastly, I shall be seeking ways to preserve and promote our city's rich history.

Traffic, Parking, and Transportation:
Cambridge is a world-class city that continues to grow and attract greater numbers of people – and with that growth comes greater traffic congestion, and a greater challenge for those seeking parking. It would be wise for us to study how other, comparable cities negotiate these challenges, and to see if their solutions might be viable in Cambridge.

I continue to meet one-on-one with individuals who have specific traffic and parking issues, and I will work to resolve these matters as they come to my attention.

I have been hearing from many seniors that they wish to have shelters at the bus stops they frequently use, to shield them from the elements, and I have been looking for ways to make these shelters a reality. I have also been calling out for the MBTA to back off of plans to eliminate several stops along Mass Ave, which is frequented by many seniors. This move may save money for the MBTA, but it will result in many seniors having to walk greater distances, and it is unacceptable. During the next term, I shall continue working to ensure that seniors are able to take full advantage of the public transportation system.

In recent years, I have also worked with the MBTA and local taxi companies to provide better transportation options for seniors and others with mobility issues. This has resulted in 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
During my time in office, I have regularly worked to bring together residents, public officials, and the Cambridge Police Department, in order to foster an atmosphere of trust and cooperation. These meetings allow us all to share information, to determine what issues are of concern in specific neighborhoods, and to devise strategies on how to address these challenges head on.

I don't simply wait for crimes to occur, and then show up to address the aftermath. I am a regular presence in neighborhoods and apartment complexes around the city, where I meet with the residents and the building managers, the tenants associations and the community activists, and we look for ways to work together to take steps to prevent crimes before they have a chance to take place. By working proactively, by hearing peoples' concerns and addressing potential problems before they are allowed to fester, we are able to make our city much safer.

And when crime has occurred, I have taken swift action. Immediately following a series of shootings in North Cambridge in 2009, for example, I held several emergency neighborhood meetings that allowed information to quickly pass into the community, and allowed residents to share their concerns directly to the Police Commissioner. I also strategized with the police and the apartment building management companies over how to prevent further criminal activity.

Public safety touches upon more than just the absence of criminal activity, of course. I have also worked to improve the safety of our streets for senior citizens and those with limited mobility by initiating the posting of "Slow, Seniors" signs at intersections with heavy traffic. And I have supported the effort to lower the rodent population by requiring citizens to use covered, rodent-proof trash cans, along with high-tech solar trash receptacles in several parks and squares that have had high rodent populations.

Quality of Life
I continue to seek ways to make City Hall more accessible to and accountable to every single one of our residents. I am not content to sit back and assume that the system we have in place is sufficient; instead, I continually seek feedback from the community to learn what areas need improvement.

In my next term I will continue fighting to expand the stock of affordable housing in Cambridge, and to fund the city's social service programs and agencies that aid the homeless and the more fragile members of our community. And I shall also continue working with my colleagues to find ways to breathe new life into areas like Central Square, which is evolving into a hot nightlife destination for young people, families, and all those looking to enjoy our quality restaurants and entertainment venues.

In this next term, I shall continue to be available to meet with any and all of my constituents, to learn what their priorities, their needs, and their concerns are. These exchanges are incredibly important to any city councilor seeking to assess and address quality of life concerns, it is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job, and I vow to continue working hard in this regard.

Municipal Finance
Cambridge has been fortunate in that we have been largely spared from the worst of the financial crisis that has gripped so much of the country. We have not had to lay off any essential personnel, such as teachers or police officers, and our tax rates remain at reasonable levels.

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.

Government, Elections, and Civic participation
There are some who feel the time has come to revisit our charter, and that is certainly a legitimate topic for discussion. However, I feel that the Plan E Charter – which features a strong city manager – has generally served our city well over the past several decades. By holding elections every two years, and by populating the various city boards and agencies with committed, engaged citizens, we continue to bring new ideas and fresh voices into the citywide conversation of how to best govern ourselves. That is as it should be.

I also take pains to remind people that our municipal government isn't just a charter or a concept – it is people. It is people who serve as administrators, people who serve on the council, and people who populate the various civic boards and agencies. A government is only as good as the people who serve in it, and the people who participate in it. I have spent my entire career encouraging people to get more involved in their community, and in their local government. The more people that get involved, the more our government will reflect our priorities and address our needs.

In the coming term, I would like to continue encouraging more people to get involved in their community. I look back to my work as Mayor, for example – such as my "Citizen Advocate Academy" program, which trained 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 how they might get more involved in their community, and how they might set themselves up for leadership positions as they looked beyond public school. These are the sorts of projects I envision continuing to promote in the coming term.

Housing, Land Use, Planning, Zoning, Density
& Open Space, Parks, and Recreation
The need for affordable housing continues to be a top concern, and it remains a challenge to ensure that lower and middle class families aren't priced out of Cambridge. We need to strike a measured balance between continuing to build bigger developments, making sure we preserve and cultivate our open space, and ensuring that there is still plenty of available affordable housing. This is not an easy balance to find, and different people have very different notions about what is and is not appropriate for the City. I am continuing to work with my colleagues, and with the community at large to make sure that everyone's voices are heard – and that we all work in good faith to ensure that the character of Cambridge is not lost in the mix.

In terms of zoning and land use, I believe it is appropriate that we continue to evaluate 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.

Over my decade on the City Council, I have helped countless numbers of families and individuals navigate their way through various housing crises, and I have helped people work to keep their homes, fight unjust evictions, strike agreements with their landlords, and work with the Cambridge Housing Authority to find emergency housing. The prospect of losing one's home, of needing emergency housing, or of dealing with the intricacies of the Cambridge Housing Authority can be a daunting, intimidating situation, and empathy, patience, and solid direction are needed for those who find themselves in these unfortunate situations. One of my most important roles as a public servant is to help guide my constituents through those crises when they arise, and I am proud of the work I continue to do in this area.

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.

Economic Development and Commerce
As a small business owner, I recognize that small businesses are the life-blood of our community, and I appreciate the challenges in making this area of our economy thrive. 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.

During my term as Mayor, I served as co-chair of the Green Jobs Task Force, comprised of a cross-section of department heads, economic experts, and active citizens. We worked 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, that require a degree of skill and training, and that can pay a decent, sustainable wage. I garnered $100,000 for job training and job placement for the first phase of the program, which only promises to expand as the economy begins to recover.

In my next term on the City Council, I will continue to seek and promote programs that seek to provide Cantabrigians with a path toward quality, family-supporting jobs.

Human Services Programs
The City offers a multitude of human services, from advocacy for the homeless, to assistance with job placement for those with barriers to employment, to investigations into discrimination claims. Cambridge offers the gamut of services with a truly dedicated staff, and this work is a remarkable extension of the constituent service work that I conduct with individual residents on a daily basis.

To ensure that as many voices are heard from as possible, and that we tailor our programs to fit the needs of our residents, I have convened a number of 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 across the city into City Hall, conducting a true give-and-take dialogue with city administrators and representatives. We have had some very productive conversations, established new goals, and learned from one another, and I plan to continue to push for these types of mass conversations in the coming term.

Energy and the Environment
In addition to my full support of the City's numerous environmental initiatives, I have initiated the establishment of a Green Jobs Task Force, as mentioned above. As Mayor, I hosted the annual Senior Picnic at MIT, which was 100% green for the first time ever; all refuse from the event was compostable. I have also 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 come 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.) I was proud to support the City's adoption of the Stretch Energy Code, which features even more rigorous standards, and which went into effect in 2010.

In the interest of both health and energy efficiency, I formed the Mayor's Committee on Green Schools during the '08-09 term, to explore the greening of our public schools, and to find ways to increase their energy efficiency. We also sought to ensure that all future renovations would 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 will continue to work proactively with the Cambridge Energy Alliance to work on this matter, with the current goal being to reduce water and electricity consumption by 10% citywide.

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.

Public Health and Wellness
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. I look forward to carrying on with the work I've done over the past decade, such as making the City more responsive to reports of rodent and insect infestations in residential buildings, and working 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. I have also strongly and publically urged these entities to make decisions regarding their services – especially potential cuts in services and programs – in an open and transparent way, to ensure that the community is consulted and involved in the decision making process, and that any cuts are mitigated to insure minimal disruption to patient care.

In this next term, I will continue to speak out against domestic violence, to educate women and men on what resources are available to them if they are in an abusive relationship or a dangerous living situation. Programs like Cut It Out, Cambridge and the Beauty Parlor Project have been important pieces of this work, and I wish to continue using my platform as a City Councilor to continue bringing attention to this issue.

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 successfully expanded the scope of public celebrations hosted inside City Hall, and we shined a spotlight on the many different constituencies throughout our community. We held celebrations for Haitian Flag Day, Latino Heritage Month, Italian Heritage Month, St. Patrick's Day, and Eid (and, in these difficult economic times, we planned all of these celebrations on a frugal budget, minimizing the cost to the taxpayers). We also celebrated the 5th anniversary of same-sex marriage, and toasted everyday heroes across Cambridge.

A project I have spent considerable time working on over the past several years 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, has come to be recognized as one of our country's founding fathers, and I have been proud to help him finally get the recognition he deserves.

University Relations
Cambridge would not be Cambridge without our world-class colleges and universities. 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 I remain committed to using my position on the City Council to ensure that all the universities engage in this type of community dialogue as they seek to expand.

These institutions have also been valuable partners in various programs that I have promoted. For example, I spearheaded the Kids Council Strategic Plan, which sought to carefully assess which services for children have actually had a positive impact in the community. The universities helped conduct this research, which saved the City thousands of dollars both in research costs, and in the ultimate provision of services.

In addition, when I have designed and promoted programs such as the Mayor's Girls Leadership Group or the Boys To Men program, or I have enacted different charitable initiatives, 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
As a parent of school age children, and as a former member (and former Chair) of the Cambridge School Committee, I appreciate that providing a quality education to our children is one of the most important services a city provides. This is what has led me to establish programs such as "Real Kids, Real Schools, Real Success;" this series of parental workshops examined schools outside of Cambridge that are succeeding at educating all children at the highest levels, and that are actively finding ways of closing the Achievement Gap. The simple theory was that we should look at what other schools are doing that is working, and then applying those concepts to Cambridge schools.

Another seemingly simple idea is that those who make the decisions for the schools, and those that focus upon all other City issues, should all have the chance to get on the same page and communicate regularly. Yet, before I pushed for the City Council and the School Committee to institute regular Roundtable meetings, this did not happen with any predictability. We now meet together at least twice a year to talk about challenges facing the schools, along with possible solutions.

Along these same lines, I have worked to improve our schools by bringing together the School Committee, the City Council, administrators, and members of the clergy in order to better share information on – and better understand – the challenges today's students face. By getting everyone who has a hand in shaping our young people's future onto the same page, we have a much better chance of recognizing the obstacles that may stand between our students and the education they deserve – and we have a much greater chance of removing those obstacles.

In more recent years, I led the conversation and direction of the coordinating council on children, youth and families called the Kids' Council. The work led 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. I formed the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on 0-18 to explore services and programs for those 18 and under. I also organized a group of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, which has received very positive feedback from participants.

I will continue to draw upon the work I've done over the past 20 years, upon the experiences I've had and the knowledge I've gained as a parent, grandparent, and public official, and I will continue to be a strong voice in City Hall, speaking out for an ever-stronger school system in Cambridge.

Candidate's 2009 responses     Candidate's 2007 responses

CCTV candidate video (2011)

Page last updated Thursday, October 6, 2011 11:51 PM Cambridge Candidates