For the Record
On The Issues 2011
Over nearly three decades, Denise Simmons has not just been talking about making government more accountable and more effective – she’s been making it happen. Below is just a summary of the work she has done in key areas. In government, past is prologue, and Denise’s vast experience proves that she has the insight, wisdom, and know-how to continue delivering for her constituents.
- JOBS & THE ECONOMY
- THE ENVIRONMENT
- SENIORS & ACCESSIBILITY
- YOUTH & FAMILIES
- QUALITY OF LIFE
- GLBT RIGHTS AND CELEBRATIONS
- PUBLIC SAFETY
- RACE AND CLASS INITIATIVES
- CITIZEN INVOLVEMENT
Both as Mayor and as a member of the Cambridge City Council, Denise Simmons has recognized that small businesses are the life-blood of the community, and she understands that they are vital to providing both jobs to area residents, and revenue for the community. As a small business owner herself, Denise is personally aware of the many challenges small business owners face. That is why Denise has consistently worked to strengthen the local business community, promoted networking opportunities for business owners, worked with the City’s Economic Development Department, and promoted projects that sought to revitalize local businesses.
Denise was an important voice in favor of allowing zoning changes that will pave the way for the construction of a 1.5 million-square-foot biotech campus in Cambridge. Her reasoning was simple: she understands that this project will bring quality construction jobs to the area, thousands of quality permanent jobs once the project is complete, and the attractive new campus will ensure that Cambridge remains a prime destination in the international biotech sector.
As Mayor, Denise lent her support to Green Jobs development legislation that was pending in the State legislature, which was designed to promote the development and implementation of the “green-collar” jobs (such as producing technology-intensive products, and the retrofitting of homes and offices to be more environmentally-friendly and more energy-efficient). In 2009, she garnered $100,000 for job training and job placement in the burgeoning green economy. She also supported legislation like the “Pathways out of Poverty Program” that is tied in with Green Jobs training.
As Mayor, Denise also helped hundreds of individuals get connected to the job-finding services and organizations that could help connect them with stable, viable employment. She worked closely with the Cambridge Office of Workforce Development, placed calls to her extensive network of friends and associates on behalf of her constituents, wrote letters of reference and recommendation for job seekers, and worked to help many families avert financial disaster. As a City Councillor, she continues to aide constituents in this manner.
Denise’s record on the environment has won notice across Cambridge. In addition to her uncompromising support of the City’s numerous environmental initiatives, Denise has:
• Established the Green Collar Commission. The commission is charged with developing a Green Jobs Workforce that will train workers for the green economy—performing energy audits, retrofits, as well as developing a green collar policy that will support and reinforce Cambridge’s green initiatives.
• Been a key player in developing and chairing the Green Jobs Task Force. The Task Force – a consortium of environmental experts, City personnel, economic advisors, and concerned citizens – has been charged with developing a green jobs policy that will link training and employment to emerging jobs in the green economy. As this new sector of quality, career-path jobs gets off the ground, Denise has sought to make sure that everybody has a chance to be a part of it.
• Served as a co-chair of the Urban Mass Green Alliance (UMGA). The mission of UMGA is to educate minority communities to the benefits of the green economy, and to provide these communities with tools to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in the green economy.
• Introduced the concept of “zero-waste” to official mayoral events. In 2009, she hosted the annual Senior Picnic at MIT, which was 100% green; all refuse from the event was biodegradable.
• Formed the Blue Ribbon Committee on Green Schools, which explores projects that will “green” the Cambridge public schools. Denise also launched a seven-week Summer Ecology Camp in partnership with Friends of Alewife Reservation. Underserved youth learned basic conservation skills like global positioning techniques, water quality testing, and tree and meadow maintenance.
• Helped organize and participated in the Cambridge Emergency Climate Congress, which has sought to bring more Cambridge residents into the process of deciding and promoting the City’s official response to the climate emergency. This task force has come together to empower its participants, to spread the message that we all have a role to play in saving our environment, and to advise the City Council on how to take action in the ongoing emergency.
Denise has long been a friend to the senior community, and she makes sure to visit the local senior centers on a regular basis. During these friendly chats, she speaks with many seniors informally, hears their concerns, and works to address them in a timely fashion. Many seniors have particularly pointed to concerns around public transportation, treatment from local taxi companies, and the quality of services provided by city departments. Denise has, time and again, addressed these concerns head on, and has improved the lives of Cambridge seniors in the process.
Upon becoming Mayor, Denise established the Mayor’s Senior Advisory Committee, comprised of local seniors from across the city. These monthly gatherings gave Denise the chance to hear directly from the seniors on any and all concerns of the moment. The members of the Advisory Committee acted as her eyes and ears within the senior community, and this proved to be a great asset in learning what issues were affecting the local seniors in real time.
Denise has also been a driving force in holding multiple Cambridge Senior Town Meetings, with partners including the Cambridge Council on Aging and the Citywide Senior Center. The meetings included workshops (which focused upon health, wellness, fitness, and technology), and lunch, and an on-the-spot report back to City officials. Denise has learned quite a bit from the local seniors, and she continues to fight to ensure that all senior centers have the appropriate levels of funding, the resources to protect against uncomfortable weather conditions, and dedicated staffers to tend to each center.
Denise got her start in public service initially due to her commitment to her own children, and to her desire to see the Cambridge public schools be top notch. This is what led her to later serve nearly a decade on the Cambridge School Committee, it remains a top priority for her now.
Denise understands that a community that is truly family friendly must have housing that is affordable, parks that are clean and safe, neighborhoods that are crime free, high quality childcare, and enrichment programs with a seamless transition from the school day to the after school day.
During her term as mayor, Denise launched several important initiatives to support youth. The Mayor’s Girls Leadership Program was one such program. This group was designed to nurture leadership skills in 8th Grade girls from across Cambridge Public Schools, to give them tips on the kind of work they’ll need to do now to set themselves up for success later on in life. The program brought the girls inside City Hall, and face-to-face with successful role models who offered the girls insight into the road ahead, and the choices they’ll be making in coming years. This program was so successful that it spawned a companion, The Boys to Men Program. Boys to Men provided parallel support for the leadership skills of 8th grade boys with the collaboration of the Phillips Brooks House at Harvard University.
In keeping with her desire to help foster and promote educational programs, Denise launched a seven-week Summer Ecology Camp in partnership with Friends of Alewife Reservation. She also launched One For the Arts, an initiative aimed at providing an easy way for people to donate $1 (or more) for arts programs for youth in Cambridge. The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on 0-18 was launched to examine City services for all young people, and to recommend improvements in these programs and their delivery. Furthermore, Denise organized Parenting for a Second Time, a group for grandparents who are the primary caretakers of their grandchildren.
Denise has long supported the Cambridge Community Schools programs – high-quality programs that offer enrichment workshops to residents of all ages, and particularly to families. Neighborhood Councils have also been established, which allow for a level of citizen participation that is critical to the school programs’ success, and which empower those who participate. Denise has continually sought ways to strengthen the Community Schools program, to expand the scope and range of the Neighborhood Councils across Cambridge, and to get more parents involved and engaged in their children’s education.
Addressing Poverty and Other Needs: Denise has continually looked for ways to make sure that the city does right by the less fortunate among us. Among her many innovations as mayor was the establishment of a monthly Mayoral Clergy Breakfast. These monthly gatherings enabled those on the front lines of providing social services to get to know one another, to become familiar with the large web of services offered in and around Cambridge, and to form strategic alliances. The meetings have been quite informative, and the clergy members have expressed amazement that no one had thought to establish something like this earlier.
Denise also established a Mayoral Sock Drive and a Canned Goods Drive, and promoted the free Thanksgiving Meals for the less fortunate that local restaurants established. After a couple of devastating fires hit local apartment buildings, Denise helped coordinate relief efforts for the families that were left homeless and missing key possessions, and helped spread information and awareness of how to help these families.
Affordable Housing: Denise’s commitment to affordable housing has been unwavering. During her term as mayor, approximately 50% of constituents who came to her office were experiencing a housing crisis, and she was able to provide assistance to more than half of them. At her urging, the City Council recommended a change in the affordable housing program to require more 3-bedroom units in order to accommodate larger families. Denise pressed the City Council and City administration to look at eligibility formulas, as the current formula has left too many people below the income range for some of the affordable housing programs and projects. Under Denise’s guidance, the Mayor’s Office also served as an intermediary for many individuals dealing with the Cambridge Housing Authority, and served as an advocate for those who were having difficulties navigating the CHA’s application process. Often times, this proved to be the critical extra push towards securing housing.
Wellness: Denise has launched and/or participated in many projects that are designed to promote healthy living, including:
• The Mayor‘s Wellness Initiative, a partnership between the Cambridge Public Health Department, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, and the local Boston Sports Club that provided twelve mini-grants for wellness programs created by organized entities in the city.
• Cambridge Walk-Ride Day: Denise participated in (and her office provided incentives for) this initiative, which was sponsored by the Harvard Square Business Association and Cambridge Green Streets, and which encouraged Cambridge residents to use alternative means of transportation to and from work or school at least one day per month. This program served the dual purpose of promoting health and wellness while reducing carbon emissions, a win-win situation for our city, state, country and planet.
In October 2008, the GLBT Commission and Denise brought the GLBT community together for a Town Meeting in City Hall. A mix of community members and city officials attended to address the community’s concerns, and to get a status report on how the City is doing in regards to GLBT issues.
Denise hosted a panel discussion on Homophobia in the Haitian community. Moving testimonials by some members of the audience, as well as comments by the panelists, helped to shed light not only on homophobia in the Haitian community, but on the nature of homophobia in general.
Denise hosted a celebration inside City Hall in honor of the 5th anniversary of Massachusetts recognizing sex-sex marriages. She also hosted the Pride Day Brunch at City Hall in both 2008 and 2009.
Neighborhood Safety: Safety is a critical issue in every community, and during her term as mayor, Denise worked closely with the Cambridge Police Department to ensure that Cambridge residents were safe and informed. Denise worked to get the Cambridge Police, the local residential management companies, and community representatives together to establish closer ties and collaborations, and to promote the sharing of information. Denise also:
· Worked with the Cambridge Housing Authority regarding quality of life issues and safety concerns, and she has regularly worked to have a presence at community meetings around these issues.
· Established the Beauty Parlor Project, an educational initiative that seeks to inform and engage women around the issue of domestic violence. She also participated in a number of domestic violence awareness and preventative campaigns.
Clean-up Effort in Central Square: During her tenure as mayor, it became clear to Denise that more attention would need to be paid to Central Square to create an atmosphere that would aid in the area’s rejuvenation. She drafted policy orders calling for greater police presence in Central Square, and she called for businesses with outdoor seating to make ashtrays available for their patrons to reduce cigarette butt litter.
Citizens’ Privacy Rights: After careful consideration and intense debate, which included input from many Cambridge residents, Denise joined other members of the City Council in voting against the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to install surveillance cameras in various locations in the city.
Denise has long worked to ensure that Cambridge provides an excellent education for all children. As a parent of children in Cambridge public schools, and as a former member of the Cambridge School Committee, she is personally quite invested. To that end, she has organized meetings for parents entitled “Real Kids, Real Schools, Real Success.” The purpose of these workshops was to look at schools that are succeeding at educating all children at the highest levels.
During her first term on the City Council, Denise pressed for the establishment of the City Council-School Committee Roundtable so that the City Council and the School Committee could engage in greater communication with each other. The two bodies now meet together at least three times per year to talk about challenges facing the schools, and the possible solutions. As mayor, she also served as the Chair of the School Committee.
In an effort to engage city leaders, to develop better community-school relationships, and to support students to succeed, Denise arranged for a meeting between local clergy and administrators at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School during her mayoral administration. The goal was to address some of the outside challenges (such as crowded housing, financial difficulties, and familial issues) facing the City’s students and potentially impacting their ability to focus on their schooling.
The religious leaders who attended had an opportunity to ask questions about the high school, and to offer any support as needed.
As a City Councilor and as Mayor, Denise has continually worked to address how race and class impact our society. She first sponsored a Race and Class Forum in the city over a decade ago, and in its most recent installment, in May 2009, the community was invited to participate in an open forum that addressed race and class in Cambridge. The forum was moderated by Professor Charles Ogletree, director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. The forum was successful in bringing the community together and inspiring open discussion on the topic. Many participants remarked that they were pleased with the dialogue that the forum inspired and requested that a follow-up meeting take place.
During the summer months of 2009, Cambridge found itself thrust into the international spotlight following the unfortunate arrest of a distinguished Harvard professor. The incident sparked many heated discussions on the intersection of race and class in contemporary society, and Denise worked hard both in public, and behind the scenes, to ensure that this incident did not spin out of control. Through levelheaded media appearances and thoughtful pleas to the community to try to wring something positive out of this experience, Denise proved herself to be an intelligent and forward-thinking leader.
Denise has also devoted considerable time and effort into winning recognition for civil rights pioneer Prince Hall. Prince Hall – a Revolutionary War era figure who established Black freemasonry, who fought to abolish slavery, petitioned George Washington to allow Black soldier’s to fight in the Revolution, and who blazed a path later picked up by Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. – was in danger of fading into the shadows of history until Denise joined the efforts to win him the recognition he deserves. Thanks to her tireless advocacy, the nation’s very first Prince Hall Memorial now resides on the Cambridge Common.
Denise also used her position as mayor to promote Black History Month by sponsoring and promoting a number of performances, lectures, and exhibits in City Hall throughout the month.
Participatory democracy has been a cornerstone of all Denise’s work. Through town meetings, direct contact with citizens, workshops, and various other community meetings, she has worked to open City Hall to all the citizens, and to continually remind them that this is their house. Among some of examples:
· Denise worked with the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce to organize Service Days in spring and fall 2008. This led to cleanup efforts on the King School playground and the Dana and Lafayette Parks.
· In 2009, in collaboration with local churches, Denise organized the Mayor’s Volunteer Corps to engage in a citywide cleanup effort. The Mayor’s Volunteer Corp’s efforts were focused in East Cambridge, where volunteers cleaned several of the local parks and fields. The Mayor’s office also sponsored a community clean up in Central Square, an area that had previously become the focus of much negative attention. In addition to the clean-up process, Denise drafted a policy order to request more police presence in Central Square.
· Denise has continually met with members of the community about any issues or concerns they might have – and has often encouraged people to join one of the many city boards or commissions in order to exert a greater influence on the governing of their city.
· Through initiatives like the Race & Class forum, the Town Hall meetings, the Climate Congress, and similar workshops, Denise has constantly looked for ways to bring people who don’t normally get involved at City Hall events into the process. Denise has regularly reminded people of her own initial forays into public service, and she understands that everyone has the responsibility to be a part of the solutions to the challenges we all face.