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Newton Mayor David B. Cohen won't seek new term

Posted by Ralph Ranalli May 9, 2008 11:11 AM


Newton Mayor David B. Cohen announced this morning that he will not run for reelection, saying that he doesn't not want his current status as the city's political lightning rod to undermine the $12 million override vote scheduled for May 20.

In an unprecedented break with the liberal power base that had given him unwavering support during his 11 years in office, Cohen's former campaign manager and the city's main pro-override group this week called on him to step down at the end of his current term.

cohen5.jpg(Globe staff photo)
"Mayor David Cohen cannot win reelection. He's already decided not to run. He should announce it now," Gerry Chervinsky, Cohen's former campaign manager, said Wednesday.

The pro-override group, Move Newton Forward, said Cohen's decision to insert a $27,000 pay raise for himself in the city budget even as Newton is facing a fiscal crisis threatened to undercut the override campaign. This morning, Cohen said he would heed the group's call for him to step down.

"The hard working proponents for the override publicly expressed their concern that if I stood for re-election it may have an adverse effect on the override," Cohen said in a statement released by his press spokesman, Jeremy Solomon.

"The outcome of this override is far more important to me than my political career," the statement reads. "It is for this reason that I have decided that my third term as mayor will be my last."

A former state legislator who developed a reputation as a savvy political operator, even some of Cohen's supporters said this week that he seemed to have developed a tin ear when it came to listening to the mood of the city's electorate.

For most of the planning phase of the Newton North project, for example, Cohen flatly refused to compromise on the design and blasted critics who called the plan too expensive. He relented earlier this year, but only under pressure from state officials and after it was too late to make significant changes in the design. At $197.5 million, the project is the most expensive high school ever built in Massachusetts and has become a statewide symbol of municipal excess.

Earlier this year, Cohen floated a $24 million override proposal, but was forced to withdraw it when it became clear that he had no support from the city's Board of Aldermen. Even his scaled-back $12 million proposal, anti-override critics point out, includes money for items of debatable necessity, such as tree restoration.

But the pay raise issue was the last straw, even to some of Cohen's strongest longtime supporters. Calling the move "perplexing," Move Newton Forward called on the mayor to step down Wednesday in a statement signed by co-chairs Sarah Ecker, Rob Gifford, and Chris Hill.

"There is a growing consensus that the Mayor will not be able to attract support for another run in 2009," the group said in its statement. "In the interest of clarifying the critical decision that Newton voters will be asked to make on May 20th, we urge the Mayor to announce that he will not run for re-election in 2009."

-- Ralph Ranalli

17 comments so far...
  1. Mayor Cohen's decision to withdraw so as to make the override more attractive is overdue, but is actually a hollow gesture. The override should not be passed because of the mismanagement of the system...which he has led...that has been wholly endorsed by the "enablers" of Aldermen/women, and which has been escalated and perpetuated by the city's planners and department heads. Much more needs to be done in terms of fiscal, policy and union contract reforms in Newton to bring the situation back to a level of reality (and of appropriate scale/context) for the city to truly be justified in requesting an override. Please remove charade of scare tactics of teacher firings, school/library closings, public safety jeopardy, etc., and get down to finding creative ways to make do with existing funds...it can be done (hint: start at the top and with administrators and with entitlements). M. John

    Posted by M. John May 9, 08 12:38 PM
  1. This is great news he was a terrible mayor.

    Posted by cr May 9, 08 12:50 PM
  1. I heard Setti Warren is running for Mayor. He is a very strong candidate with an amazing resume and career full of experience. He served in a number of senior positions in the Clinton Administration and is now currently serving our nation in Iraq as a member of the reserves. I believe he has a website up as well. Give him a look, Newton would be very lucky to have him at the helm.

    Posted by Jeff Gulk May 9, 08 01:18 PM
  1. How is this thundering incompetent going to make a living in the real world? He sounds virtually unemployable. Bet he winds up somewhere on the state payroll as an associate deputy assistant to the assistant deputy associate in the Office of Redundancy Department.

    Posted by rpc May 9, 08 01:20 PM
  1. I believe Mayor Cohen's bowing out of the next mayoral campaign is a positive for the City of Newton. But this move does not change the override issue for me.
    The mismanagement of tax dollars and the delays in correcting structural deficiencies, coupled with an economic slowdown, should make clear that additional tax revenues will also be mismanaged. We should abide by Prop 2 1/2 for now, and when our newly elected mayor and alderman straighten out our fiscal issues, then, if necessary, come back to the public and make a case for an override.
    I am not 100% anti taxes. I just want to feel my elected representatives are aware that we all have to conserve our money in these economic times.

    Posted by bhb May 9, 08 01:23 PM
  1. I agree with M. John. The mismanagement of Newton is not concentrated in a single person; it's a systemic problem that requires reforming: (1) how the city and its citizens defines its priorities; (2) how these priorities are planned, funded, and executed based on existing tax revenues and realistic fact-based projections about future revenues and demographics; (3) how progress and setbacks are measured and reported to the public, namely in a timely and non-politicized manner. Our elected officials must be held accountable for the poor decisions they make, and we as citizens must take responsibility for staying informed of how our elected officials are performing in executing our priorities in a fiscally-responsible manner, rewarding those who meet our expectations with re-election and voting poor leaders out of office as quickly as possible.

    Posted by A May 9, 08 01:36 PM
  1. The situation in Newton is an extreme but still typical example of
    the problem with almost every city and town in MA. Of course Cohen
    and his cohorts are and should be blamed, but in reality the stupidity
    of the electorate is as important, if not more.
    Why do overrides more often than not get passed?
    Why do large year over year increases in budgets accepted in good-times
    rather than setting aside reserves for bad years?
    Everyone knows that in any city, including Newton, there is significant waste.
    I won't bother listing the obvious examples. What I do want to point out
    is the largest waste that is politcally incorrect to mention.
    Even for jobs that are needed, teachers, fire, police, public works, etc, the amount
    of salary and benefits towns/cities pay is hugely higher than true-market rates.
    It is almost impossible to get a Newton job as teacher, fireman, policeman, etc.
    Why, because there limited supply of these jobs and huge demand. Newton could
    reduce salaries and benefits accross the board by 50% and still have more qualified people
    who would fill these jobs than their are jobs available.
    Paying people more than the market demands creates the perfect environment
    for corruption, nepotism, and racism, that also plagues many cities and towns.

    P.S. despite the media, there is no teacher shortage in affluent communities
    like Newton. There are hundreds if not thousands of teachers in less
    desirable town/cities who swarm any open position in a district like Newton
    even at much lower salaries.

    Posted by Tom Stevens May 9, 08 01:38 PM
  1. How do I get the feeling that Mayor Mann's old administrative crew would have done a much better job than this current collection of toadies and yes-men

    Posted by DocFaust May 9, 08 02:14 PM
  1. At last - the long local nightmare is now over. The only thing better would have been his immediate resignation. Hopefully, this will lead to true political dialogue in a city that has become long been a left wing ghetto with no room for dissenting opinion. It is my hope that the override passes. I am the last person to advocate higher taxes, but the negative impact on the school system and the subsequent impact on property values make this an easy decision. I would ask that all Newton residents consider the second order impact on a defeat of the override and please vote yes. This override will avoid an erosion of property value that would be well in excess of the cost of the actual override. At the same time we can say good bye to one of the most ineffective, arrogant and (most likely) corrupt mayors in the U.S.

    Posted by SDS May 9, 08 02:31 PM
  1. Newton Alderman Ken Parker has an impressive 17-year track record of innovative, open, and collaborative leadership. He will be a strong candidate for Mayor in 2009. I'd invite residents to check out his web page at www.parker2009.org and consider signing on to his effort.

    Posted by Shawn May 9, 08 02:57 PM
  1. I Agree that Setti Warren will make a great Mayor. What is needed is a breath of fresh air, someone with a proven track record of real leadership. As Deval Patrick said on the campaign trail, "It's not about whose turn it is, it's about whose time it is."

    Posted by Aaron Goldman May 9, 08 03:57 PM
  1. This shouldn't change many minds about the override. It was assumed that Cohen couldn't win in '09 anyway. It's a whole group of people who need to leave office, not just one person, in order to change things in Newton.

    Posted by ron May 9, 08 05:44 PM
  1. Whoever did the funding preparation for the Ted Mann Library was a genious...maybe you should beg to have them come back...If the school project was managed with the intelligence and efficiency as that of the library project , the entire city would be better off now! It's time for a complete change at City Hall.....too many of the old crew still hanging around, even on the administrative side of the B oard Of Aldermen...New blood and new ideas are needed, and get rid of the patronage appointments!!!

    Posted by Samuel Fistel May 9, 08 08:24 PM
  1. The Age of Financial Gluttony and Excess is OVER, even for the Sudbury's, the Newton's, the Wellesley's will follow, the Weston's. You can't keep throwing money into the fire and holding fear in the hearts of the constituents, threatening schools, libraries, elder care. Stop giving raises, start making town/city employees pay more for their health care, Stop throwing money at the schools. Parochial schools do a fine job with much less. It's about discipline and reading, writing and arithmetic. Get back to the basics and if you want the kids to get exercise, give them gym, not golf and lacrosse.

    Posted by hms May 9, 08 10:51 PM

    Posted by hms May 9, 08 10:55 PM
  1. Patronage appointments? Like Bldg. Commissioner Nick Parnell who is not qualified to do the job. Just look at the mess this man has made for the city with both high school building projects.

    David Cohen was a terroble mayor with the most contentious personality. Maybe Newton will start to heal, but not un til he is far away from City Hall.

    Posted by anne May 10, 08 06:09 AM
  1. And for Parnell's complete bungling of the project, wasting millions of dollars of taxpayers money, he gets an 11% raise.

    Posted by ron May 10, 08 12:23 PM
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