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newton

Mayor, wife to visit sister city in Italy

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ralph Ranalli
Globe Staff / June 15, 2008

After being rebuffed at the polls by hometown voters last month, Mayor David B. Cohen is expecting a warmer embrace from the residents of Newton's Italian sister city, which he plans to visit later this summer.

In early August, Cohen and his wife will tour southern Italy as part of a personal vacation, including a stop at the annual festival at the village of San Donato, city spokesman Jeremy Solomon said. The mayor will be acting in his official capacity during the visit, but the couple will be staying in a hotel at their own expense, Solomon said.

No city funds will be expended for the trip, Solomon said.

As part of an attempt to rally public support for a $12 million tax increase, and defuse anger over the $197 million Newton North High School construction project, Cohen announced last month that he would not seek reelection next year. Voters soundly rejected the Proposition 2 1/2 override, with many saying they were worried about the economy and the city's ability to spend money wisely.

Since the vote, Cohen has been taking steps to pare the city's budget for next fiscal year, including closing four branch libraries last week.

"It's been a busy time," Solomon said. "The guy deserves a vacation."

Newton has had close ties to San Donato since large numbers of immigrants from the region settled in the city's Nonantum section generations ago. Nonantum is also known as "The Lake" after a small body of water called Silver Lake, which was filled in long ago. Evidence of the relationship can be seen throughout the city, including at the municipally owned Newton Angino Community Farm, where city farmer Greg Maslowe grows Italian pole beans with seeds from San Donato.

Cohen will not be the first Newton official to visit San Donato. A videotape of a 1992 trip by Mayor Theodore Mann is still housed in the Newton Collection at the Newton Free Library. San Donato, in turn, sends a delegation to Newton nearly every year, Solomon said. One is due to arrive sometime in the fall.

The closeness between the two cities became a source of a minor controversy about five years ago, when a Nontanum resident proposed that the intersection of Watertown and Adams streets be named "San Donato Square." Another resident from the neighborhood objected, saying the square should be named after a veteran, and citing the Italian government's alliance with Nazi Germany in World War II, and anti-Semitic sentiments espoused in Italy at the time.

Both residents involved in the dispute were from families with roots in San Donato. The city later installed a sign at the intersection denoting the sister city relationship without renaming the square.

The city also has a sister-city relationship with San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, where volunteers from Newton have built or helped renovate 17 schoolhouses in the local district, and provided small-scale water-purification systems for remote villages, according to the city's website.

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