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.
Peter Bruce’s journey in life has brought him from southern California to Newton, and he’s hoping the next part of that journey includes time on the Newton City Council.
“I’m glad I live in Newton—it’s an intelligent community overall. Not just because so many people have advanced degrees, but because everybody’s got a lot of common sense here,” Bruce said. I’m glad to be here and I want to make it better.”
Bruce is one of three candidates running for a seat representing Ward 2 in this year’s municipal election.
From one coast to another
Peter Bruce’s story starts a couple thousand miles away, just outside Los Angeles.
“We moved around all the time—mostly around L.A., and somewhat around the Bay Area too,” Bruce recalled. He attended high school in Los Gatos near San Jose and Redlands in San Bernardino County before earning his undergraduate degree at University of California in Santa Barbara.
Bruce went on to serve in the Army, stationed in New York where he later worked as a paralegal and met his wife, Susan. Next, Bruce went to MIT, and he and Susan settled in the Boston area.
Bruce has had a diverse collection of jobs and roles. After earning his PhD at MIT, he taught at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester for eight years. He also worked for a brief time at the Roper Center for Public Opinion.
Bruce served on the Newtonville Area Council for six years, three of which he served as its president. He’s also been a cab driver, a driver for people with disabilities and more.
“I’ve had a varied career,” he laughed. “I write a lot, too, but I usually don’t get paid for that.”
Taking a shot
When Bruce found out City Councilor Emily Norton wasn’t running for reelection, he decided to try for that seat.
“I thought she had a good legacy, which is quite consistent with my legacy as a leader of the area council.” Bruce said. “I wanted to see that legacy preserved, and I felt I was the best person to do it.”
Bruce almost didn’t run due to a bad COVID-19 infection that left him feeling tired for a few months, but he was able to rebound from that illness this spring.
“I decided to get in and I wasn’t sure if I was up to it health-wise, so I pulled out but then went back in,” Bruce said. “Things are OK, and my wife and I have talked about how to handle any extra stress, that sort of thing. So I’m back in.”
Bruce said he’s also running to have a voice in the big issues of the day, most notably the proposed rezoning of the city’s village centers to fit more housing in compliance with the state’s new MBTA Communities Act.
“We need to comply with the MBTA Communities Act—I don’t see how we can fight it legally—but the thing to do is basically preserve what’s best about our village centers while enhancing what needs improvement,” Bruce said. “And I think we can do it not just by complying with what’s being required of us but also by urging changes in the rules to some extent.”
Zoning for green
Bruce pointed to protests, especially by Brookline, which successfully prodded the state to change a rule that had prevented housing in mixed-use developments from counting toward meeting the obligations to the MBTA Communities Act, if commercial use had been required on the first floor. Since Newton generally requires commercial use on the first floor, the new eligibility of these units could go a long way toward meeting that obligation.
And, he said, the north side of Newton (which has Commuter Rail stops but no rapid transit) should be subject to the same rules as other Commuter Rail communities, which are being required by the state to rezone for only a 15% housing unit increase, rather than the 25% required of Rapid Transit communities.
“And yet, all of Newton is being required to up-zone for 25%,” Bruce said. “If I get elected, I’ll be protesting that aspect of it, too.”
He’s also like to see the city come up with specific metrics for improvement, not just an ideal of adding more housing, as well as plan more transit use and development before that housing is built.
“I’m a pragmatist. I know sometimes I get labeled differently from that, but while I’m critical I’m also hopeful,” Bruce said.
Bruce complimented Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s handling of infrastructure and road repairs and said he would like the City Council to focus on climate change.
“Climate change is an existential threat, and we’re getting once-in-a-century extreme climate events almost yearly it seems like, and the latest temperatures are the highest in recorded history,” Bruce said.
Bruce said he’s pleased at work the city has done in electrifying its vehicle fleets and upgrading power infrastructure, but he’d like to see requirements for solar-quipped buildings, more charging stations and more done with greenspace and trees.
“I’d like to see the village center zoning plan holistically and realistically and allow a lot of space for large mature trees. It’s the mature trees that pull the carbon out of the atmosphere,” Bruce said. “We need bigger trees and more green to prevent heat islands where there’s new construction.”
Newton’s preliminary elections for Wards 2 and 6 will be held on Sept. 12. In each race, the two candidates with the most votes will proceed to the general election set for Nov. 7.