Councilor Denise Simmons

DSC_0694How do you think the City of Cambridge can best support the local business community?

Just as it is important for a municipal government to address the needs and concerns of its residents, and just as it is important for a municipal government to educate its young, it is also important that a city promote and support its local businesses. This is just good common sense, and good economic sense: with local businesses thriving, more people are employed, the city’s economic health is greater, and our sense of community is strengthened.

One of the most important things the City government can do to support the local business community is to foster relationships and make certain that City Hall has an open door policy. I never underestimate the power of having the ability to *listen*! Certainly, by establishing solid relationships with the local business associations and the Chamber of Commerce, the City can get a good sense of how different policies are impacting local business. On a smaller scale, though, it is important for the individual councilors to have solid relationships with the various business associations, so that people can feel encouraged to pick up the phone and check in – not just when there are problems, not just when it’s election season, but at any time. Ultimately, relationships foster understanding, understanding fosters collaboration, and a collaborative environment is essential for a healthy local economy.

What have you done to support the local economy in Cambridge?

I have done many things over my two decades in elected office to support the local economy. For example:

As a local business owner since 1982, as a member of the School Committee in the 1990s, and as a member of the City Council since 2002, I have continually supported local businesses. When I was on the School Committee, I worked to get the School Department to purchase from local vendors, whether making smaller purchases like pencils, or larger purchases like printers.

As a member of the School Committee, I initiated a series of networking events called “Buy Cambridge,” which connected local small business owners with each other and with the City, giving everyone an opportunity to get familiar with each other and to establish business relationships. There was an emphasis on small businesses run by women and minorities, and these events received positive feedback from the participants.

As a city councilor, I have worked to streamline the City’s purchasing process, making it easier and more efficient. This has made it easier for smaller local businesses to do business with the City.

When I was on the City Council in 2004, as Boston geared up to host the Democratic National Convention, I secured $100,000 from the City to promote Cambridge and Cambridge businesses as an attraction to those flooding into the Greater Boston area for that event.

As Mayor, I made great efforts to order our office supplies from local businesses as much as possible, and I continue to do that on my campaigns.

As Mayor, I took every available opportunity to purchase office supplies and food for meetings and events from local vendors. I estimate that around 90 percent of our purchasing was from local vendors – and so far as I know, no other Cambridge mayor has been that deliberate or purposeful in their spending of the City’s money.

On a personal and professional basis, I make about 80 percent of my purchases locally, and I encourage others to do likewise.

Do you do your personal banking at a local bank? (Cambridge Trust, Cambridge Savings, East Cambridge Savings, Eastern Bank, Naveo, Leader Bank)

Yes, I am a happy customer of East Cambridge Savings

What percentage of your shopping do you do at local independently owned businesses?

See my answer above…

Please rank the following as priorities for you. Please only select one priority per rank (i.e. shouldn’t all be first priority.)

  1. Encouraging Affordable Housing
  2. Encouraging Local Business Development
  3. Controlling Traffic & Encouraging Alternative Means of Transportation
  4. Environmental Sustainability
  5. Bringing Large Employers to Cambridge (tech, bio, etc..)

Do you have any comments on the above question?

I think my record and my priorities have been clear and consistent. I believe that small businesses need to be cultivated and nurtured, and I believe that a healthy community is one in which workers can live in the same community they do business in, if at all possible. All five of the points above are important, finding the appropriate balance between them is important, and anyone that has been viewing my record and the issues I’ve been engaged in can see that I understand the importance of trying to address all of these issues in relation to one another, as all of them are inter-related.

What would be your strategy to increase affordable housing in Cambridge?

It’s the strategy that I’ve been pursuing over the course of this recent term, as Chair of the Housing Committee: I was one of the leading voices pushing the City to conduct a Nexus Study, I was pushing behind the scenes to get this study conducted as quickly as possible, and I’ve been working to thread the needle of having the City Council adopt the resulting recommendations. I am proud of the fact that we just voted to triple the linkage money coming in to the City, which will bring millions of additional dollars to the City to create and preserve affordable units. I am proud of the fact that we held discussions with the business community about this, to see how this ordinance change might impact the local business climate, and so we could be certain that the rate was not raised so high as to be punitive to local businesses.

In the coming term, I’d like the City to explore strengthening our condo conversion laws, and to see if there are other ways we can tighten our laws to disincentivize people from purchasing buildings, evicting the tenants, and then renovating the buildings and renting the units out at much higher rates to new tenants. This is going to incredibly important in the fight to protect our existing stock of affordable housing.

Currently there are a variety of proposed zoning changes through the city (Kendall, Central, Net Zero, Master Plan, Upper Mass Ave), how would see contributing to these discussions and where would you like to see these areas in 10 years?

I will continue to contribute to these discussions as I have been doing throughout my time on the City Council – and part of that contribution has been focused on asking: “Who isn’t being represented in this conversation?” As we continue to explore these important conversations, looking at the changes the City needs or will be undergoing, it is important that we remember that they will impact EVERYONE, and therefore it is important to get a variety of voices involved in the conversation and make sure we don’t have blind spots in the discussion.

I want to see these conversations move forward, with set benchmarks that we continually work toward. I am not interested in having these turn into “debate societies” that bring up interesting ideas but that ultimately lead us nowhere. I want us to work toward a safer, more livable, more vibrant community in the decade ahead.

Do you think City policies appropriately regulate, under regulate or over regulate business? What action would you take regarding policies and regulations that affect the business community?

As Co-Chair of the Economic Development Committee, I have not received feedback suggesting that the City is doing a poor job regulating business, on the whole, but the absence of such feedback does not mean that we should be content to assume we are doing a good enough job. In the next council term, I would like the City to more aggressively solicit feedback from local business owners and the business community at large to get a better sense of what areas the City is doing an adequate job in, and what areas leave room for improvement.

If elected, on which committees could you foresee yourself taking the lead?

I would like to once again serve on Civic Unity, Housing, and Economic Development.

What are one or two initiatives that you would propose to support and encourage the growth of local business?

I would like to revisit some of the earlier initiatives I championed when I first entered the City Council which were successful, and which I believe could make a positive impact going forward. I remain interested in updating the Buy Cambridge program, since enough time has passed that there are many new businesses and business owners that did not get to take part initially.

Earlier this term, I envisioned the idea of launching a Local Business Owners Town Hall Meeting, similar to the Town Hall meetings I’ve convened in the past for Seniors and the LGBT Community. These meetings invite specific communities to City Hall to brainstorm, to report directly to the City administrators on their City experiences, and to discuss any areas that might need modifications. I have laid some of the groundwork for this meeting during this term, and would very much like to launch this idea in the next term.

If you were to win office, what would be your top three priorities? Why?

When people come to see me about an issue, it is usually focused upon needing either housing or jobs (or both), so I will remain committed to fighting for more affordable housing and to foster a more vibrant local economy, one which offers more robust opportunities for jobs that pay living wages. The intersection of race, class, gender, and orientation in our community and in our workforce continue to be a prime concern of mine, and I will continue focusing on issues that promote fairness, acceptance, tolerance, and inclusion, and I’ll continue to promote policies that enforce the concept of equal pay for equal work, and equal opportunities for all. Of course, I will also remain committed to providing excellent constituent service to residents and business owners will always be a top priority.

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