It was 6 on a Tuesday night, but the second floor of Newton’s City Hall was alive and buzzing. More than a dozen residents gathered in the hallway and quietly chatted as they sipped on coffee and nibbled cookies, eagerly waiting to meet their city’s new mayor.
On Jan. 1, Ruthanne Fuller made history as she was sworn in as Newton’s first female mayor. She won by a mere 344 votes in an extremely tight race against Scott Lennon, and succeeds Setti Warren, BC ’92, who served as the city’s first African American mayor for eight years and is currently seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
In her inauguration speech, Fuller stressed the importance of maintaining a constant dialogue with the community.
“As I serve, I promise that I will never stop listening,” she said. “Regardless of where you live or who you are, your voice will count at City Hall.”
As part of her first 100 days in office, Fuller announced a schedule of 12 events where residents can “Meet the Mayor.” The meetings are split up into two categories: public office hours held in City Hall and “Mayoral Meet-Ups” held throughout the city, ranging in location from the Boys and Girls Club to a senior living center. The purpose of these events is to increase outreach while also providing an opportunity for residents to voice their opinions, offer suggestions, and get to know Fuller.
“One of my main goals is to make myself really accessible to people,” Fuller said. “It has been great so far. Lots of people are showing up and sharing ideas, and we are listening hard.”
Last Tuesday marked the second time Newton City Hall opened its doors for office hours. People came to discuss a variety of issues. Topics ranged from what’s changing in neighborhoods to snow-clean up, which has been a hot topic.
“Especially after the 16-inch blizzard that hit Boston four days into office,” added Fuller. “It was quite a first week.”
In addition to residents, Fuller has also began to reach out to Newton’s major partners, including Boston College. Fuller said that she is excited to work even more closely and collaboratively with BC during her term and that she will meet officially with University President Rev. William P. Leahy sometime this week.
“I have such great respect for Father Leahy and the leadership he provides,” Fuller said. “Boston College in the last two or three decades has just continued to blossom. It’s truly a world leader and we are lucky to have you in our backyard.”
She continued to stress that BC is an invaluable partner to the city and essential to Newton’s continued growth and dynamism.
“Not many people know this, but BC is one of the three largest employers in Newton,” Fuller said.
She added that partnerships with faculty members and students have contributed important research that has influenced reform ranging from early education to income inequality.
“You sometimes thankfully use us as a laboratory and we are so grateful that you do,” Fuller said.
In addition to outreach, Fuller has laid groundwork on putting some of her campaign promises into action.
Fuller said that her ultimate goal is “to make this city an even better place for everyone—for our young people, for our students, for our empty nesters, and for our seniors. We live in a fabulous city,” she added, “and I want to keep us moving forward and to continue to improve the quality of life.”
Fuller’s major plans for office include increased investment in education, updated zoning ordinances and access to affordable housing, expanded services to seniors, improvement of public transportation and city streets and sidewalks, and the adoption of a Climate Action Plan, among others in an extensive agenda.
“We have to do all of that and keep the city financially sustainable,” Fuller continued. “It’s very important that we proactively decide what the future of Newton is going to be, so we are trying to get out in front of the developers and create our own master plans.”
On being the first woman mayor, Fuller identified the significance of her victory and the example it sets for Newton’s youth.
“The agenda changes and the status quo changes when you have a woman in a leadership position for the first time,” Fuller said. “You immediately think about the impact on girls, but I think the impact on boys is just as important, for all the sudden they are seeing that a woman can be a leader too. It changes how people perceive the world, which is really nice.”
The door to Mayor Fuller’s office opened, and her assistant motioned to his watch. Our time was up. It was nearly 8 p.m., but the hallway was still full of residents.
Featured Image by Newton Patch