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.
|(Globe staff photo)|
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