EDITOR’S NOTE: The Newton Beacon is a nonpartisan news organization interviewing all candidates running in the upcoming Newton municipal elections for this candidate profile series. Profile pieces are not endorsements.
By Barry Wanger
Newton Beacon Correspondent
When Lisa Gordon traveled to England after graduating college, she unexpectedly launched what has become a life-long passion for community activism. Now she’s channeling that passion into a run for the Newton City Council representing Ward 6.
Finding a new path
What began as a short trip to London before applying to medical school turned into an eight-year adventure that resulted in her heading the United Kingdom branch of Youth Against Racism in Europe as its national secretary.
The organization was started to combat racism and racial violence, advocate for civil rights, work with immigrant communities and combat the rise of Nazi politics in London.
“It changed the trajectory of my life,” said Gordon.
But after years of organizing major rallies with as many as 50,000 participants, working nights and weekends, she admits that she was exhausted and felt it was time to return to Newton Centre 24 years ago, settle down and raise a family. Medical school was no longer an option.
Today, Gordon shares a home—only a short walk from the house where she was raised and her mother still lives—with her husband Ken, and their two children, Shoshi, 21, a senior at Bowdoin, and Ari, a freshman at Columbia university. Both are Newton South graduates like their mother.
Advocacy remains a central part of Gordon’s life. She co-founded Friends of Newton Centre, co-organized a Ukraine Peace Rally at City Hall, ran Signs of Gratitude (a pandemic fundraiser for COVID-19 relief efforts in Newton), and was involved in saving Newton South’s jazz program among other initiatives.
“Community activism and being involved in nonprofits is just something that I’m incredibly drawn towards,” Gordon said.
It shows in her professional career, as well, as she’s served as executive director of an educationally based alcohol awareness program and is now supporting individuals and families dealing with food insecurity as executive director of the Acton Food Pantry.
“It is an incredibly fulfilling job working with this most vulnerable population.” She calls her work at the Pantry the culmination of much of the work she’s done. “Our work makes a difference in people’s lives on a weekly basis.”
Running for office
When she’s not at the Pantry, Gordon’s focus is on the Ward 6 City Council race to fill the seat held by Brenda Noel, who decided against running for re-election.
Gordon will face Martha Bixby and Mark Holt in the Sept. 12 primary. The two top vote getters will square off in the general election on Nov. 7 to represent the ward—home to Newton Centre, Newton Highlands, Newton Four Corners, Thompsonville and a small piece of Chestnut Hill.
Gordon talked about the condition of the city’s storm water system, supporting local small businesses, housing insecurity, the condition of the roads and sidewalks and her views on the Village Center Overlay Project and enhancements to Crystal Lake.
Holding back the flood
The condition of the city’s storm water system, streets and sidewalks in the Ward 6 are issues that Gordon speaks about from a very personal perspective, as her driveway filled up with several feet of water during a recent storm, and sewer water backed into her basement.
“Storm water run-off is going is going into the sewer system and is impacting our residents and our businesses,” Gordon said. “We have to get this figured out now as we prepare to grow.”
Dealing with Newton’s infrastructure, she said, is one of her highest priorities, along with providing what she calls “direct services” to residents and businesses in the community.
“I’m going to fight like hell to make sure that we have safe roads and sidewalks and a good storm water system,” Gordon promises.
Unfortunately, she knows from first-hand experience about the condition of the sidewalks and roads in her neighborhood.
She bruised her face and twisted her ankle when she accidentally stepped in a pothole one evening because a streetlight was out during an evening walk, and her mother tripped over an uneven curb.
“I definitely think that for the size and the type of suburb that we are we shouldn’t be having this conversation (around streets and roads) every election time,” she said.
Proceed with caution
Gordon expressed support for the Village Center Overlay District re-zoning plan but urged that the City Council move cautiously, make data-based decisions with goals that can be measured, and examine the overall impact of the proposed project.
“Will we need to provide additional schools? What other infrastructure and city services need to be addressed as we prepare to increase our population?” she asked. “The needs of our residents, and not just developers, need to be considered as we try to make sure that we have the best possible development in the city.
“Just rezoning and potentially adding some 20,000 new housing units without looking very thoughtfully at data is not planning.”
Gordon pointed to housing insecurity as a growing problem.
“We need to preserve the housing stock we have now that is more affordable such as the multi- family homes that currently exist,” she said. “We need to create housing stock that is truly affordable, not more oversized housing developments with rents that most individuals and families cannot afford.”
Fostering local business
Gordon said city leaders need to pay particular attention to the needs of small business owners. “I think we can make it easier for small business owners to open in Newton. Right now, there are too many hoops to go through.”
She called for the city economic development department to appoint a liaison to work with new business owners to help them “walk through the permitting process, making it less stressful, less frightening, and letting them know exactly what needs to be done.
“We also need to work with our small businesses and ask them what they need. Is the pavement safe in front of their store? Do they need another crosswalk put in?”
And local enjoyment
When discussing what she would advocate for as a council member, Gordon recalled swimming in Crystal Lake since she was a child and believes it is “not getting the care and attention that it deserves.”
She said she would like to see the bathhouse rebuilt, expand the hours of operation, keep access to the lake open all year, and improve the Cronin Cove public area and boat launch.
Gordon said she believes her decades of experience advocating for nonprofits provides her with the skills to represent her ward.
“I have learned how to build consensus among those with very different viewpoints,” she said. “I don’t just talk about my values. I go out and take action.”
Newton’s preliminary elections for Wards 2 and 6 will be held on Sept. 12, with early voting to start on Sept. 5. In each race, the two candidates with the most votes will proceed to the general election set for Nov. 7.