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Librarian has big plans for the city

Candidate sees management gaps in mayor's office

Mayoral candidate Suzanne Bremer, greeting potential voters at a farmers market last weekend in Union Square, is urging a more comprehensive approach to issues such as public transit, affordable housing, and education in Somerville. Mayoral candidate Suzanne Bremer, greeting potential voters at a farmers market last weekend in Union Square, is urging a more comprehensive approach to issues such as public transit, affordable housing, and education in Somerville. (wiqan ang for the boston globe)

You often hear business people - Mitt Romney comes to mind - say their work experience gives them a leg up on public office. But when was the last time you heard it from a librarian?

"As a librarian, you're committed to public service," said Somerville mayoral candidate Suzanne Bremer, 49, who runs a social science library project at Tufts University. "You gather information, you present it to people." (Oh yes, she also ran her own consultancy business.)

Librarians are often stereotyped as dwelling on the details, but Bremer thinks big. That's clear in her choice to skip lower positions and run for the job of Somerville's chief executive.

"Why not start at the top and see what happens?" she said.

Bremer got 825 votes in the primary election, behind the two-term incumbent, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone (4,717 votes), and ahead of Richard Scirocco (467).

Bremer called campaigning "a lot of fun. You meet a lot of interesting people - people are very receptive."

The 17-year resident of Union Square became engaged in politics in the last year after she saw problems in her son's class at Kennedy School. Administrators said they couldn't afford an aide.

Bremer said she checked the Somerville budget and found the city spent $750,000 on rent while two buildings sat uninhabited. "If we managed our money better, we would have more resources for our schools," she said.

In response, Curtatone spokesman Dan Hoffer issued a statement citing the city's A1 bond rating, and saying that the two buildings "would require millions of dollars in renovations to make them functional."

To take the plunge into campaigning, Bremer had to forgo graduate courses and home cooking. But she says her two children are excited.

"My son keeps asking, 'Have you won yet?' " said Bremer, adding that relatives and her partner, Jane Peyrouse, "think it's a great outlet for my energy."

Although Bremer says she's running not against Curtatone but for Somerville, her focus contrasts with the brass-tacks services that the incumbent champions, such as SomerStat and the 311 call line.

Bremer catalogued the city's needs - citing affordable housing, education, and transit, in particular - and emphasized her intention to improve overall planning. Indeed, she wrote a book on the subject for libraries in 1994.

"We seem to be taking this square-by-square, project-by-project approach to development," she said. "One of the things that I would bring to the mayor's office is a long-term vision."

The city needs, for instance, "a transit plan that is more comprehensive than waiting for the Green Line." Of Union Square development, she said, "We need to understand the whole thing before we can say, 'Let's put up a high-rise there.' "

Hoffer said the incumbent is on top of the topics Bremer mentioned: "The issues of transit planning, development at Union Square, affordable housing, and the long-term disposition of city property and office space are all matters that the Curtatone administration has addressed in detail."

Hoffer added that projects underway in Union Square all take into account traffic and transit studies, and require 15 percent of the new units to be affordable.

Like the administration, some might call Bremer's perspective unrealistic or unworkable. Some might say the same of her campaign, which has a budget in the low four figures.

No ads. No endorsements.

"I'm not surprised," she said. "I'm running against a powerful incumbent. I'm the new kid on the block."

Although it's difficult for upstarts, "all incumbents should be challenged so they earn their spots," said Marty Martinez, 30, who has run unsuccessfully for office three times, most recently in the spring race for alderman at large. "You've got to keep working at it."

Bremer acknowledged that winning isn't the point.

"It's just the beginning. I'm doing this because I'm passionate about the issues, and, at the very least, I'm raising the issues," she said. "I'm speaking out about the issues that concern the people of Somerville."

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