Martha Bixby, Newton activist and volunteer, on why she’s running for Ward 6

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

Whether it involves spotlighting human rights abuses and genocide in the Sudan, setting up an organization that helps women deal with postpartum mood disorders, supporting Newton schools, or aiding local families in need, you’ll find Martha Bixby at the center of the action.

Bixby, who can often be found riding her bike around the city’s streets, is now seeking to address and advocate for issues from environmental concerns and supporting small business to increasing affordable housing options, as one of three candidates running for City Council from the Ward 6.

She joins Mark Holt and Lisa Gordon, who will be on the municipal preliminary ballot on Sept. 12.  Brenda Noel, who has represented Ward 6 for two terms, decided against running for re-election.

Helping the vulnerable

Bixby’s concern about some of the challenges facing Newton residents, her experience in bringing people together, and her background in community organizing and electoral politics, are among the factors, Bixby said, that motivated her to run for the Ward 6 seat.

If elected, Bixby said in an interview with The Newton Beacon, her priorities would include “working to rebuild our small business, and protecting what matters to us – our environment, our diversity, and our most vulnerable residents.”

Bixby said she decided to run for City Council now “because it was time to step up into a new way of making a difference in Newton. 

“I am extremely focused on what we can be doing at the local level to improve the lives of our residents and make a difference. Our community is incredibly strong and has united in amazing ways through the challenges of the last few years,” she said.

Finding Newton

Bixby, her husband, Ben, and their two children, Max and Simon, students at Mason-Rice, moved to Newton Highlands from California nearly six years ago to be closer to family. They fell in love with the city at first sight.

“Friends kept saying check out Newton, check out Newton so we drove to Newton Center on a beautiful, 70-degree day in February,” she said in an interview with The Newton Beacon.

“We visited the playground, walked around, stopped at the Little Big Diner. People were so friendly. And, of course, we knew about the schools.”

The Binghamton native wasted no time in bringing her passion for helping others soon after the move. She launched Welcoming News, a newsletter and initiative to share information about what’s happening in town and ways to connect—but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Shifting gears

Bixby pivoted and with three other Newton women started a Facebook group called Newton Helping Neighbors that evolved into an organization which, she says, has provided her the opportunity to see both the challenges facing some area residents and the generosity of others.

Bixby along with others involved in the organization deliver food from the food pantries for those who don’t have transportation, help send kids to summer camp, run fundraisers for holiday meals, and organize porch drives for essential items among other activities.

Martha Bixby, shown here with her son, Simon, is running for a seat on the Newton City Council representing Ward 6. Courtesy Photo

“Through my work with ‘Neighbors’ I have seen the incredible creativity and generosity of Newtonians.  But I’ve also seen the challenges people face every day.

“Lack of transportation options, language barriers, housing costs, scarcity of childcare, a shortage of affordable housing, and even a lack of public bathrooms,” are among the most serious barriers many people face, Bixby said.

She expressed support for both the MBTA Communities Act and the Village Center Overlay District project, because of the scope and potential impact on the city, citing the “need to update” zoning codes and increase options for housing.

“While there are still a few months remaining for deliberation and community input,” Bixby said she “hopes to see a greater emphasis on affordable housing, a focus on protecting small businesses, and efforts to reduce car use.”

Championing human rights

Taking on difficult challenges and creating initiatives to support those in need has been a passion of Bixby’s since she was a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where she helped found an organization dealing with human rights abuses and genocide in Sudan, continuing her work in that area after graduation. 

She later partnered with Olympic Gold Medalist Joey Cheek and over 400 athletes to call attention to human rights issues In China as well as some African countries.

Bixby continued her advocacy work when she and her family moved to Palo Alto in California, where she was heavily involved in working with a nonprofit serving new and expecting family, including helping women deal with postpartum and mood disorders.

Living green

Bixby, the past president of the Mason-Rice PTO, is not one to sit on the sidelines when she sees issues that concern her.

For the past few years, she’s been involved with Safe Routes to School, an initiative to help students get to school without being driven by a family member.

“My children have walked or biked to and from school virtually every single day (they missed three days) over the last four years, so this is a deeply personal issue.”

She pointed out that the city is in the midst of doing a comprehensive bike and pedestrian plan that she supports.  She would also advocate for restoration of bus routes that were reduced during the pandemic.

“My family lives car-lite, so we know it is possible to significantly reduce car usage.  But we need more government support for alternatives and options.”

Martha Bixby, left, is running for a seat on Newton’s City Council. Courtesy Photo

The Ward 6 issues that Bixby is most focused on include “restoring the ecosystem” at Cold Spring Park , ensuring Crystal Lake is “swimmable and accessible for generations to come,” ensuring the reliability of the 59 bus and the Green Line, and the safety and maintenance of aqueduct paths.

There are a number of city-wide issues that, Bixby says, she’ll be advocating for, if she gets elected, including:

  • Increasing affordability and a variety of options for housing.
  • Incentives for low-and-zero waste alternatives and compositing.
  • Ensuring that schools are fully supported financially.
  • Combatting invasive species and increasing native plants.
  • Protecting and supporting parks and opens spaces.
  • Making the city bike and pedestrian friendly.
  • Increasing senior supports and services.

And when Bixby takes a break from campaigning on these issues and recovers from a broken arm from a bicycle accident, she’ll be doing what she says she and her family love doing—swimming in Crystal Lake, hiking through Cold Spring Park and Webster Woods, visiting the library, or biking to one of Newton Center’s bakeries.

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.