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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Tufts student runs for Somerville city councilor position

Jack Perenick challenges Naima Sait for the open Ward 5 city councilor seat.

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A Somerville ballot drop box is pictured in 2020.

A Tufts student might soon represent local residents as city councilor in Somerville’s upcoming election cycle. Jack Perenick, a member of the Class of 2025, is running for the Ward Five city councilor position against Naima Sait, an Algerian immigrant and long-time educator.

At bimonthly meetings, the Somerville City Council is responsible for passing ordinances on issues ranging from zoning laws, creating special boards and commissions and approving mayoral budget modifications. Ward Five encompasses the center of Somerville and includes the business districts of Magoun Square, Ball Square and Porter Square. Council positions are part-time and span two years.

Perenick is the current Somerville Democratic Party’s vice chairman and one of Mayor Katjana Ballantyne’s appointees to the Pollinator Action Plan Advisory Committee. He claims he hasn’t missed a City Council meeting “in years.”

“I think that I bring a unique combination of youth and experience in municipal government that just isn’t super common,” Perenick said in an interview with the Daily. “I think I have lived experience that no one else has. … I am literally living through the experience of being in my 20s and living in the city. … Somerville’s one of the youngest places in Massachusetts, and the idea that we’re missing that descriptive piece of representation, I think does a disservice to young people.”

Perenick is endorsed by the former Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and the Young Democrats of Massachusetts, an organization of which he is president.

Though his campaign website biography makes no mention of his enrollment at Tufts, Perenick said that “many people will know I am a Tufts student”  — but he “likely wouldn’t be an enrolled undergrad” if elected.

“I don’t think it’s the most important part of my campaign,” Perenick said. “I think what’s been important to emphasize to voters for me, is that I’m a city resident and not a university resident. I think that there is a difference between someone who’s attending Tufts University, say, from out of state, and has a shorter-term connection to the city versus someone being a city resident.”

Perenick advised Beatriz Gómez Mouakad, previous Ward Five city councilor, during her successful 2021 campaign and her reelection campaign before she dropped out earlier this year. Perenick decided to run in her place, rather than let his efforts go to waste.

As listed on his website, Perenick — if elected — will focus on investing in more affordable housing, repairing and improving upon transportation including sidewalks and creating vibrant neighborhoods via community events and projects.

Perenick’s platform is similar to that of his opponent. Sait’s goals are to address the city’s need for affordable housing, create safer and more sustainable infrastructure, combat language barriers and address residents’ mental health concerns.

Sait completed an M.A. in linguistics and pedagogy at Middlebury College, later moving to Somerville to pursue a career in education.

“I have lived in Somerville for almost 10 years, first as a renter and now as a homeowner,” Sait wrote on her campaign website. “Somerville is the community that welcomed me as a first-generation immigrant. It’s the place where I had the opportunity to serve the community as an educator for 7 years at Somerville High School, and today it’s the place where I am raising my child.”

Sait is endorsed by several union organizations and many local and state representatives, including Mark Niedergang, former Ward Five city councilor.

While teaching French at Somerville High School, Sait gained a deeper understanding of Somerville’s residents which now informs her work.

“Being in the schoolroom for years,” Sait said, “I see that a lot of the issues we’re dealing with in the schools are problems we deal with in the community, such as affordable housing, sustainable infrastructure, mental health and language justice.

Sait believes that her status as an immigrant and her background working with immigrant families “is going to be a big asset” if elected to City Council.

“As an immigrant who learned English as a fourth language after moving to America, I have navigated through these difficulties and can use lessons of that experience to make our local government more effective,” Sait’s website states. “As we welcome more immigrants from diverse backgrounds, it’s critical to include services in those emerging languages and build on current city efforts to serve everyone.”

Sait successfully led efforts to make climate change education mandatory in all Somerville schools and organized with Somerville educators to achieve a 10% school budget increase. Sait has also worked closely with youth members to further climate advocacy.

“No matter who they end up working with, no matter who ends up representing them,” Sait said, “it’s important to empower youth so they can be advocates for themselves and for others.”

Incumbent City Councilor Gómez Mouakad explained that she is wary of giving political endorsements.

“What you want to have is a culture of new faces coming in,” Gómez Mouakad said. “I’m very suspect of political endorsements. … As we have seen in Somerville, there are some small political groups who want to control the agenda. And what happens then is you’re excluding other voices, inadvertently.”

Gómez Mouakad believes a good city councilor needs good research and outreach skills to understand their constituents.

“You need to be able to understand that you don’t represent one point of view,” she said. “You represent a group, and then you have to [ask], ‘who is not being listened to?’ … and ‘what is the greatest common good for the city?’”