Mayoral candidates go head-to-head in Thursday debate
Mayoral race seen as a test of McCarthy’s nearly 20 years in office; election set for Nov. 7
A packed audience of Waltham residents came out to the Clark Government Center in downtown Waltham on Thursday, Oct. 26 to hear Waltham’s mayoral candidates share their visions for the future of Waltham and see their leadership styles clash. Jeannette A. McCarthy, the incumbent who is running for her sixth consecutive term, is facing off against Jonathan Paz, a second-term city councilor from Ward 9; the election is non-partisan. At issue was the future of the city's transportation system, the management of the 190 acres of land that previously housed the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center, and the rise in housing prices.
Several key factors shaped the terms of the debate and the race overall. A bedside style alarm clock served to halt the candidates remarks and rebuttals. Candidates each had a chance to offer opening and closing statements and a moderator presented the questions. No direct argumentative back-and-forth took place, contrary to the style of national politics, but the candidates delivered indirect jabs against each other’s leadership and policy positions. On issues of government transparency, Paz called for an upgrade to the city’s website and council meetings. McCarthy pointed out that the city clerk, which handles the announcement and information regarding city meetings, reports to the city council, not the mayor.
Transportation was another point of debate. Paz said his idea of installing bus shelters at stops in downtown Waltham was approved by the relevant commissions and money was allocated. However the project was pushed off in a way that caused its price to increase from approximately $20,000 to $100,000, in addition to not being completed yet. Both agreed that a goal should be keeping as many cars off the road and trying to get residents to use public transportation. McCarthy is pushing for a multimodal transportation center that would combine rail, bus, car, and other forms of public transport.
On housing, McCarthy cited dozens of units of housing she supported, locating each by their address. Each of these locations are also in her campaign mailers. Paz highlighted what he saw as the McCarthy administration’s lack of forward thinking vision on the housing issue, with no new master plan released. It should be noted that consultations were held last summer on the new plan and it is in preparatory stages. Paz took a shot at McCarthy’s record on education, questioning McCarthy’s leadership when the Waltham school system is unable to find a permanent superintendent. Under McCarthy’s leadership, the city is building a new high school which is expected to be ready by August 2024.
With every round of applause, Paz received strong support, but McCarthy received a roaring, often standing ovation from the crowd.
In an Oct. 26 interview with the Justice following the debate, McCarthy discussed her life-long connection to Brandeis. Her mother worked as a cook in the Faculty Lodge and quietly brought teenage McCarthy to work when Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir visited Brandeis in 1973. The various University presidents have been “good partners” according to McCarthy, who added that she called President Liebowitz after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Sponsoring the debate was the League of Women Voters of Waltham and the Waltham Alliance for Teaching, Community Organizing and Housing, the Community Development Corporation of Waltham, otherwise known as WATCH CDC.
McCarthy began her long career of public service for the city of Waltham before Paz was born. In the debate and elsewhere, Paz often mentions his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, which he graduated from in 2016. McCarthy, on the other hand, rarely mentions her bachelor's of science in biology from Boston College, despite being in the second co-ed undergraduate class ever in the College’s history or her Juris Doctorate from Suffolk University. Soon after graduating from these Boston-area schools, McCarthy began working for the city of Waltham, and since then she has served in all three portions of the city government: school committee, city council, and executive branch/mayor’s office. Other than his single term on the city council, Paz worked for a labor union and currently is employed by the Masachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. He comes from a first generation Bolivian-American family while McCarthy is a native of Waltham, graduating from Waltham High School’s Class of 1971.
Paz’s supporters have argued that he represents a new chance for the city and that he is not caught in the city’s old political orthodoxy. McCarthy’s supporters see a track record of consistent success and an opponent with little experience. In an interview with the Justice, Sean Durkee a chief warrant officer in the Massachusetts Army National Guard and Ward 6 city councilor who supports McCarthy, echoed that view. Durkee referenced a common phrase that President Joseph R. Biden’s father used to tell Biden: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.” Whether or not Waltham wants the alternative will be decided Nov. 7 at the ballot box.