Steven Collicelli

General Questions

What is your vision for Medford?

I see Medford as a destination, not just a couple exits off I-93. Medford should be viewed as an attractive locale for both businesses and new residents, but also for tourists coming from Boston and beyond.

Before moving to Medford to help run a new restaurant in the Square, I had the pleasure of experiencing a fair cross section of the U.S. I chose to set down roots here because I love this city. I love being both a short walk away from the natural beauty of the Fells and the Mystic River and a short walk to a train or bus that will drop me off in Downtown Boston. This combination of natural beauty and access to urban amenities, of the shared legacy of a long, storied history and the possibilities of a vibrant, cutting-edge future is truly unique to Medford. If I am so honored to be elected to the City Council by the voters of this great city, I’ll devote myself to preserving what makes Medford so special, while making sure more of our citizens have a voice, a stake, and a share in our collective prosperity.

What experiences have prepared you to serve on the city council?

Before moving to Massachusetts, I served as the Communication Director of the Young Democrats of Utah. Politics is very ‘up close and personal’ in Utah. Virtually everything of importance from police budget to president is voted on in a caucus of your neighbors with a simple raised hand. If you didn’t like how your representatives voted in the statehouse, you could drop by their day job and let them know directly. And, I did. I advocated for increased support for people with disabilities. I pestered and I prodded when funding cuts for a vital job training and support program came up for discussion. I helped pilot a new, customized approach to finding jobs for people with disabilities, leading an action group that pulled together members of the business, nonprofit, and government communities. I also knocked doors on five separate legislative campaigns. This one on one interaction with the people of Utah was a real crash course for me in the challenges inherent in local government. I learned very quickly not to let the perfect get in the way of progress. Politics is the messy art of coalition building, of getting groups that don’t agree on everything, maybe most things, to find common purpose and work together. And, in Utah, the Young Dems were just a school of blue, progressive minnows in a deep, red sea. Listening to folks who disagreed with our progressive positions was critical if we wanted to get anything done. But, once you cut through the black and white caricatures painted by the media and national politicians and start talking directly one on one, it was amazing how much we could and did all agree upon.

Since moving to Medford, I’ve applied many of those lessons learned in Utah to my work here. The Chicken & Rice Guys (‘CNR’) is a minority owned business; over 70% of our staff family are persons of color. As a company, we’re devoted to supporting and growing our staff. This can only happen in a diverse place like CNR if all our workers have a voice. I was hired by CNR as a part-time dishwasher, so I know what it’s like to work full-time and still struggle to make rent and put food on the table. I know what it’s like to take 3 buses to work. But, I also know how progressive businesses that work for their workers can become positive forces not only for their staff, but for the communities in which they thrive. As I’ve grown within the company to the role I now hold of Marketing Director, I’ve worked hard to build and maintain an inclusive culture of positivity, humility, and respect.

I’ve also made it my mission to help build up the neighborhoods in which I’ve lived and worked. Here in Medford, I’ve worked alongside several Medford nonprofits including PAWS4Medford, Arts Collaborative Medford, Medford Community Gardens, and the Medford Youth Center to help raise funds and awareness. Due to these experiences, I have already forged relationships with a large cross-section of community leaders. I’ll bring these relationships with me to my work on city council, allowing me to reach out directly and have established lines of communications with our local organizations.

Over the past four years, what actions of the city council did you most support or oppose, and why?

It’s an unfortunate reality that the cost of living here in Medford keeps ticking up while traffic and congestion keeps slowing us down (this is especially true for South Medford residents who are dealing with the twin frustrations of gas line replacements, GLX construction). It could be easy to criticize our City Council for all that’s seemingly wrong with Medford, but truth be told, they have a difficult job. Too often folks in Medford see their own interests in opposition to those of their neighbors.

Affordable housing advocates push against homeowners for increased density and new zoning. Some (myself included) say reducing parking requirements and more mass transit are the cure for our traffic woes. Others, frustrated by the lack of parking on their own streets push for more. Firefighters responsible for protecting our people and property have found themselves opposing librarians dedicated to educating our children. We want Tufts to build more student housing, just not in “my neighborhood.” And, for their part, the university seems to be plowing ahead with capital construction plans with little input, concern, or regard for their neighbors. Although certain issues taken up by the Council of late (I’m thinking specifically of the Mystic Avenue Corridor, or MAC, proposal) have laid bare the divisions, I’m not sure if I can point to any specific action taken up by the Council that has caused these rifts. But, this much I know: when neighbors feud with neighbors, when people who share so much in common find it hard just to get along, then there is, if not a failure of leadership, then certainly a lack of it. Medford may have a weak Council / strong Mayor form of government, but the City Council has both the power and the responsibility as the City’s legislative body to create clear channels for communication among various stakeholders and to organize community action based on those discussions. In my humble opinion, that hasn’t been happening of late.

I think the Medford Square Master Plan passed by the Council in 2017 is a great blueprint for real, smart, and long-lasting development. The Open Spaces Resource Plan likewise demonstrates responsible, inclusive forward planning. However, despite efforts at outreach, only 1% of Medford’s citizens came to the public hearings or filled out the accompanying questionnaires. I live here and help run a business in the Square; yet, I wasn’t aware of either plan until started doing my own research. The City Council could use it’s megaphone to cut through the divisions that split us up as a community. Medford needs to do a better job talking–and listening–to one another. And, I think our City Council can do better facilitating this dialog.

Social Issues

Which social issues do you care about, and why? How would you advocate for those issues?

As someone who walks and/or relies on the MBTA for my daily commute, I care deeply about repairing both our aging, crumbling roads as well as that beleaguered agency. As a renter who’d like to one day purchase a home here in Medford, I understand how affordability can become the enemy of livability, but also how desperately important it is that we strike a fair balance between the two. A city not growing is a city dying. Medford should continue to add to our housing stock to keep up with demand, but we need to do so responsibly, in ways that preserve, even enhance our historic neighborhoods. As someone helping grow a small business here, I care deeply about growing good jobs, jobs that work for workers, while attracting businesses that understand that investing in your people and the communities in which they live offers the kind of long-lasting returns that can’t be calculated in simple dollars and cents.

The power of democracy lies in the combined creativity of concerned citizens working together for a common cause. If elected, I will work hard to engage more of Medford’s citizens in the everyday life of our city. This means more outreach to often neglected groups, such as our communities of color and our growing immigrant communities, but also to college students, renters, the working poor, the struggling middle-class and any other pocket of residents that don’t feel they have a stake or a say in city affairs. If I’m elected, I will do my utmost to make sure these folks do.

What concrete steps can Medford make to address our environmental challenges, whether global or local?

In business, we talk a lot about ROI, or “return on investment.” Some of the measures cities like Medford are already implementing to counter climate change require huge, sometimes painful investments. In the case of Boston Harbor, that city is already talking about moving or knocking down entire buildings before they are overtaken by the sea. Seven miles inland, we saw last year that flooding is an issue here in Medford. The dredging of the Mystic River under the Craddock Bridge added more delay to that much delayed project, but will help mitigate future flooding for years to come. It’s nearly impossible to calculate a negative with any certainty. How much would it cost us as a community if we didn’t invest in flood mitigation and a Hurricane Sandy type storm struck the city? I don’t know. But, I do know that our weather is becoming more unpredictable and the costs of being unprepared (as seen in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina) can be devastating. Bearing in mind the risks to life and property of being caught ill-prepared by our changing climate, I wholeheartedly believe that investments made in smart mitigation measures will bring an extremely high ROI.

In terms of concrete actions, we need to ensure that the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment compiled by the City last April as well as the Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Plan (when finished) are incorporated into our grand vision for growing Medford. We should continue to improve alternatives to automotive transportation (mass transit as well as bike paths). And, like they did with the recent single-use, bag ban, City Hall has to work closely with the businesses, residents, and other stakeholders involved.

Medford is a diverse city with many marginalized communities. What initiatives would you implement to support these communities?

We need to engage marginalized groups who may not currently feel that they have a buy-in or a voice in the civic life of our city. If there is a throughline connecting all of American history it is the story of outside groups joining the mainstream and changing the cultural landscape as they do. Less than a century ago, my great-grandparents immigrated here from Italy and the Ukraine. They didn’t speak the language. They didn’t understand many of the customs. And, they struggled to find acceptance. Three generations later, Italians are as much a part of the great American tapestry as pizza pie. Now, other outside groups have immigrated here in search of a better life. We need to give these folks our attention and listen.

First, we have to listen to our neighbors who are already speaking up. Back in June, I had the pleasure to work with several Medford High Students who created and organized Medford Diversity Day. These student leaders will be civic leaders someday; it only makes sense to pay them attention.

Second, we need to make sure that any Medford resident who has something to say has a forum to do so. I’d set up a new Council Subcommittee empowered to address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues here in Medford. This subcommittee should help organize working groups within these communities, give them a megaphone, listen to them, and help them identify and grow their own leaders so they can continue to participate in community discussions for years to come.

Finally, we need to recognize that while the town meeting / public hearing is the nearly sacred foundation of New England, town government, it’s far from perfect. Busy working families, folks not comfortable with their English-language skills, or folks just not comfortable speaking in public aren’t being heard at our public hearings. Fortunately, we can rebuild the system; we have the technology! Broadcasting public meetings on community television is a great start, but we should not only upgrade our City’s website, but also use social media in a much more robust, reciprocal manner: not only sharing announcements and meetings dates, but also using these new tools to register the thoughts and opinions from a whole new subset of Medford residents.

Economic Issues

How will you address Medford’s affordable housing crisis?

One day, I hope to buy a small home in Medford. But, like many other folks working hard cooking food, fixing cars, teaching our kids, and caring for our elderly, homeownership seems a pretty far off dream. It’s very expensive to live in Medford. And while no one wants to see property values decline, the City should do what it can, where it can, to help ensure those whose hard work built Medford aren’t all priced out of it. No offense to investment bankers, but I doubt even they would want to live in a community in which they were the only ones who could afford to own a home. So, we need to add more housing, but only where it makes sense and where it won’t destroy the character of our historic neighborhoods.

I’d like to see more mixed use developments in Medford Square as well as along Mystic Ave, but only if they are part of a more comprehensive vision for Medford, one that includes traffic mitigation and infrastructure improvement plans. We also need to recognize that not all development or developers are the same. Homeowners looking to add an apartment onto an existing structure or an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU, think mother-in-law apartments) are not the same as massive construction conglomerates from out of town. They are already part of the neighborhood. Who better to ensure any additions are genuine improvements that fit the community than people living in it? As part of a much needed overhaul of Medford’s zoning regulations, we should help make it easier for this incremental, owner-occupied development of new housing. At the same time we are helping owner-occupants, we should borrow an idea from our neighbors in Somerville and enact a transfer tax on housing sales that don’t involve an owner who lives on the property. This will help tamp down some of the speculative “house flipping” driving up prices, while ensuring larger developers in areas such as Medford Square and Mystic Ave contribute their fair share to the community from which they are profiting.

What are your long term plans for expanding tax revenue?

We need more commercial ventures and more business to help expand our tax revenues. More restaurants and ground level retail will help ease the residents’ tax burden, but, more importantly, they will help make Medford more livable for residents while helping it become a destination for others. Once that happens, Medford will become more attractive to bigger companies looking to expand out of the already overcrowded Seaport and Kendall Square districts to new office space that is convenient, accessible, and exciting for their employees.

We also need to demand more from the large development companies looking to build in Medford. A transfer tax on any housing sales not involving an owner occupant could be one way of bringing in some extra funds that wouldn’t be an undue burden for any credible developer. A blight tax on vacant commercial space could likewise bring in some extra revenue. But, more importantly, such a blight tax would encourage landlords to work harder to recruit viable businesses rather than simply sitting on empty space.

Would you implement any changes around our city’s parking systems?

Any revisions to Medford’s parking system should start with the realization that not every part of the city has the same needs. Street parking is already tough in South Medford, especially near Tufts. When the Greenline opens on College Ave and Ball Square, it could get worse. The parking issues of West Medford, Fulton Heights, the Brooks Estates are just not the same. That’s why I’d like to see Medford implement a zone parking system rather than a city-wide, residential permit.

Some infrastructure challenges that face our city are degraded roads, lead pipes, and gas leaks. What initiatives would you implement to address these issues?

We need more than just a plan to repair and maintain our crumbling infrastructure. We need a City Hall that can effectively communicate that plan with folks in the city. Everyone wants their food hot, fresh, and fast in the restaurant industry. But, sometimes life gets in the way, like when a pothole bumps your food trucks generator out of whack, causing delays. People appreciate honest and upfront communication even when it’s negative. And, in my experience, most people are understanding when you tell them the grill isn’t working right now, but it’s being fixed and food will be ready in XX minutes.

We need to do the same with our city’s road repairs. Our SeeClickFix reporting system is a great tool for collecting information about needed repairs directly from the folks affected. Like any tool, however, it’s only as effective as the people using it and I’ve heard a great deal from residents who’ve waited months for their issue to be addressed.

What do you think should be done with the Malden hospital site?

The site of the former Malden hospital is just a couple blocks from where I live. Walking around the hulking, boarded up buildings sitting atop Murray Hill, it’s hard not to imagine something great moving in here. But, of course, any new project should only move forward with the input and approval of local neighbors and abutters. From what I’ve heard and read from folks in the immediate area, traffic is the main concern.

Medford needs more housing generally and more affordable housing specifically. So let’s be bold. Let’s seek out creative developers Medford and Malden’s position as leverage to create a campus of housing units on the hill, one that complements rather than conflicts with the residents of the Glen Ridge Nursing Center, and one that adds to the creative vibrancy of our two cities without adding to our traffic woes. What I’m suggesting is a housing project with a high percentage of affordable housing units, but no reserved parking. We could borrow from Bridgeport, CT and other cities that have helped revitalize their downtowns by creating affordable apartments for artists and local creators. The site is already well connected to the transit system with its own stop on the 99 bus. It is also a quick bike ride and short walk to the Malden T station.

Now that Massachusetts has legalized recreational marijuana, would you encourage dispensaries in Medford? What would you do with the revenue?

Yes, I would encourage dispensaries in Medford. The Malden Chamber of Commerce just added a not yet open dispensary to their member rolls. There’s no reason for Medford to miss out on yet another new, popular industry (think what breweries have done for Everett). The recreational dispensaries already open in MA as well as other states have proven that they bring in a real economic benefit to cities. New tax revenue brought in by this new industry should go to road / traffic improvements in order to ameliorate the extra congestion such stores would bring in. At the same time, some of the revenue should be directed towards hiring new police officers. Finally, in a perfect world, any new dispensaries would be locally owned and operated by folks who are recognized as being disproportionately affected by the drug war (as defined in the statute). As a city, we should support new, local entrepreneurs such as these. A small slice of the total revenue, therefore, should be reserved to help provide low interest loans to other local entrepreneurs. Hopefully, in doing so, one successful new business would in turn help create another and then another until we have a cascade of Medford-based ventures.

Civic Issues

What is your vision for promoting civic engagement and increasing voter turnout in our city?

It’s an often heard complaint here in Medford that City government doesn’t listen to City residents. True or not, Medford’s elected leaders must do a better job communicating with the folks that elected them. Even good decisions made by good, well-intentioned people are viewed with skepticism and suspicion if made behind closed doors or voted on at midnight. Many folks who don’t think they have a voice or a say in City affairs tune out, becoming apathetic or even cynical. They don’t vote and they only get involved when a decision affects them directly, usually when it’s too late.

First off, we need more public hearings, especially at the start of the planning cycle of capital projects, not just when all the major decisions have been set in stone. In addition, we need to continue to make these public hearings as available and as convenient as possible for Medford residents. But, folks need to meet City government halfway. We the people of Medford need to step up. Public hearings only work if a broad swath of residents and stakeholders participate. The same is true for our elections. And, while we will never get to 100% participation, each and every one of us can help build a culture of positive engagement simply by voicing our concerns if we have them, helping our elderly neighbors get to the polling station if we can, and–to rephrase the words of a Brookline politician from not too long ago– asking not what our city can do for us, but what we can do for our great city.

How can we increase citizen engagement in city council meetings?

City matters matter. The business of City Hall is the people’s business and it affects us all as citizens of Medford. But, it doesn’t always feel that way. Especially, if you rent, if English isn’t your first language, if you don’t know that meetings are being held or matters are being voted on. As The West Wing’s Jed Bartlett said (and apologies for quoting a fictional, television politician): “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

In order to get people to show up, which is the first step towards engagement, we need to make sure that people are aware that meetings are happening, and tie that awareness back to personal involvement. We can make use of social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to put out the word, but we can also better utilize communication channels like local flyers, church bulletins, etc. Another way to prompt citizen engagement is by ensuring that we are discussing issues that are relevant to them, and giving them a forum to learn and discuss. And finally, it’s difficult to start engagement in various resident populations if you don’t see anyone else in that population or community already participating. I’d start a program of ‘citizen ambassadors’ who would represent various populations of interest (recent new residents, millennials, small business owners, immigrant populations, renters, etc.). These ambassadors will help reach out to others in their purview and personally invite them to meetings, and encourage them to attend.

What is your stance on city charter review?

Full honesty here: I didn’t have a stance on city charter review before receiving this question and digging into the issue. Medford’s City Charter is our constitution. It’s the blueprint for how our city government functions, what it can do, and what it cannot. Both Thomas Jefferson and James “Father of the Constitution” Madison wrote specifically about the need to update our country’s foundational blueprint every generation. Our city’s charter is no different. It makes sense to evaluate our charter from time to time to make sure that it’s best serving the needs of Medford’s residents. A common theme in my responses above is the need here in Medford to make City government more accessible and inclusive. Having a strong mayor / weak council form of government as we do in Medford makes this goal harder to accomplish. Right now the position of mayor is equivalent to a corporate chief executive. This allows for a clearer chain of command and, hopefully, more efficient governance. At the same time, centralizing power at the top weakens the voices of those on the bottom. Rather than amplifying grassroots efforts, our current charter contributes to the sense that you, me, us…the individual residents and voters of Medford don’t have a say in how our city is run. So, I support a charter review, deferring to the much more enlightened opinion of our third president, who wrote: “Whatever be the Constitution, great care must be taken to provide a mode of amendment when experience or change of circumstances shall have manifested that any part of it is unadapted to the good of the nation.”

Bonus Question

Everyone grows up holding personal biases. Please share an anecdote about a time that your own biases were confronted, and how you responded.

Years ago, I worked for a nonprofit helping create customized employment, i.e. jobs, for people with disabilities. Up to this point I had had very little experience working with or even knowing many people with disabilities, and wasn’t sure what to fully expect. But, I figured I was an open-minded person. For decades, my schoolteacher father had served as faculty advisor for a club he helped found that trained high school students to go out into the community and address prejudice and discrimination. My brothers and I were raised to celebrate diversity. And, besides, I hadn’t thought enough about disability to form any biases against people living with one. Or, so I thought.

So, a bit nervous, I started work reviewing client cases and quickly found myself out “in the field”, meeting the individuals with whom I’d be working. Everyone I met that first week were long term clients, folks who had been working with job coaches for more than three months (in some cases much longer) in order to find a job at which they could be successful. They were all “tough cases.” They were also all fantastic individuals, each with their own set of goals and challenges. I struggled to communicate with the young man with a hearing impairment in addition to cerebral palsy, but it wasn’t long before we were texting buddies. And, I seemed to pass muster with the elderly parents of middle-aged woman with Down’s Syndrome who had never had a male job coach before. I was ready for all of that. What I wasn’t ready for was the sweet, very organized grandmother who met me at a local library. I couldn’t figure out why this woman with twenty years in the workforce all while raising a family needed help finding a job. Her file said– depression. She had been out of work for two years following a family tragedy. I convinced myself that all she really needed was some encouragement and an interview.

The encouragement was easy to give and warmly received. After only a couple of meetings, we lined up a job interview. She was ecstatic. So was I; I thought I had cracked a “tough case.” Then, I get a call from the employer; my client had no-showed. I was frustrated and grew even more so when she wouldn’t return my messages.

When most people think of a disability, they think– wheelchair. Or, maybe they think of the dark glasses and cane of someone with a seeing impairment. I know I did. One in five Americans have a diagnosed disability, it is a huge group of people each with their own unique set of challenges. Yet, people with mental illness often face the double-burden of living with a disability while not conforming to mainstream society’s expectations of disability. Like my client with depression, people struggling with mental illness often display no visible signs of their disability. Because they appear “normal” most of the time, employers often dismiss the challenges they face. I was guilty of doing the same. When we last met the day before the interview, my client was full of confidence and insisted she didn’t need a ride or help. The next day, she was a ball of anxiety and couldn’t leave her house. I couldn’t see through my own biases about what disability and mental illness were or looked like, and let my client down in the process.

I felt terrible but redoubled my efforts to support her. At the same time, I promised myself that I wouldn’t let my own preconceptions cloud my judgement again. We all make generalizations every day. But, I learned then and there not to trust generalizations based solely on appearance or visual cues. Instead, I had to do– and continue to do– the much harder work of not letting my biases take over, and getting to know each person as an individual.