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Setti Warren's Senate announcement draws a mixed response in Newton

Posted by Your Town  May 9, 2011 02:30 PM

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Newton Mayor Setti Warren's announcement that he would run for U.S. Senate just 16 months after taking office drew a mixed response from many politicians in his home town.

Warren's name is the latest in an already-crowded field of Democratic hopefuls, including Bob Massie, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, and City Year cofounder Alan Khazei. The winner will challenge Republican incumbent Scott Brown next year.

"I'm not surprised he's moving forward. I think he's a good, solid, and credible candidate," said Newton alderman Charlie Shapiro, who was neutral in Warren's mayoral campaign against Ruth Balser. "Yes, it's a relatively quick turnaround from when he was elected as mayor, but he has to take the opportunity he sees as presenting itself, and I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt."

Others were more critical.

"What a joke," said Janet Sterman, Ward 1 chair for the Newton Democratic City Committee. "He (Warren) is not ready for primetime. Scott Brown has name recognition and millions of dollars already raised, and an expensive primary battle will deplete all the money Democrats could be raising for one candidate. This will hurt Democrats by adding more blood to the pool."

Sterman said she was generally happy with job Warren was doing as mayor, but she remained concerned that the pressures of mounting a Senate campaign would take his focus off Newton.

Several members of the city's Board of Aldermen said they would prefer Warren to focus all his attention on pressing issues facing Newton, including the city's infrastructure problems and school funding challenges.

"We would never have succeeded in making Newton a member of the state's Green Communities program without Mayor Warren, but there's a tremendous amount more work to be done in the city," said alderman Deb Crossley. "A lot of things have been started but not finished, and we're going to need all hands on deck."

Both Crossley and alderman Amy Sangiolo said constituents had approached them, saying they were displeased with the idea of the mayor running for Senate.

"We had a dinner in Ward 4 over the weekend where a lot of people told me how disappointed they were, " Sangiolo said. "For my part, I wonder if there are issues the mayor hasn't gotten into, such as addressing Newton's capital needs with a debt exclusion or Proposition 2 1/2 override, because he knew he wanted to run for Senate. It's hard to sell yourself to the state if you have an image as a tax and spend liberal."

Warren was elected in November 2009 and took office in January of 2010. One alderman said he should step down, rather than fill out the rest of his term.

"I stand by my opinion that if Setti is going to run for Senate, he should step down as mayor," said Greer Tan Swiston of the Newton Board of Aldermen. "Yes, it would be disruptive to have to elect a new mayor, but it's better than not having a full-time leader for the two and a half years left in his term."

Emily Norton, founder of education advocacy group Great Newton Schools, said her fear was that a potential conflict of interest between Warren the mayor and Warren the Senate hopeful would affect collective bargaining with teachers' unions.

"In a potentially crowded primary, you can't succeed without being solicitous of labor unions," Norton said. "Collective bargaining and health care reform are two of the best ways to realize savings from the school budget, and as the Mayor is one of the key players involved in the bargaining process, the tension might negatively impact the savings we were able to achieve."

Not all who spoke were critical of Warren's decision.

"My initial reaction when I heard the rumors was disappointment, but you can't really fault a person for wanting to take a shot at being a Senator if they think it can work," said Dan Fahey, cochair of political action group Newton 20/20. "My biggest concern is whether he'll be able to meet the demands of both roles, but I believe he's a solid guy, and I'll support him."

"I know there's a lot of concern, but to have a good campaign for the Senate he's going to have to do an outstanding job as mayor," added School Committee member Geoff Epstein. "It's a very interesting situation, but I think he's up to the challenge."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at href="mailto:sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com">sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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