Q&A: Mayoral Candidate Priscila Sousa

Why are you running for mayor?

I’m running for mayor because, starting January 2018 we have a chance to make some major changes in Framingham on the transparency front, the accountability front and the community engagement front and I am qualified to lead us in that transition. I have tremendous respect for what Framingham has been thus far. I love this town (soon to be a city). Framingham is where I became an American and set the foundation for the person I am today. To me, Framingham represents everything that is great about the United States and with every change we make, I want to make sure that we preserve that.

When I look around Framingham, I see its diversity, its culture, and its economy, and I see the same community that helped shape who I am today. I also see that there are people who are not as fortunate, not as successful, and not heard. I am running because there are voices in this community that have gone unheard for too long. There are groups that have been disenfranchised for decades and whose contributions have been ignored. I don’t believe that giving any one group a voice should be done at the expense of another. We need a mayor who will be accountable to the promise of the city charter and to all the people of Framingham and I am running because I will be that mayor.

What would you like to tell voters about your qualifications?

I am a Political Science alumni of Simmons College. I have served as a Human Relations Commissioner here in Framingham, an Assistant Director of a national campaign, and under State Senator Barbara L’Italien while she was a State Representative.

I am a also seasoned professional with a wealth of real world experience to bring to Framingham leadership during this transition. As a former Regional Training Program Coordinator for all of New England in a Fortune 500 firm I have large-scale experience training and guiding over 150 new Financial Representatives and almost 250 interns into successful careers in little over a year. As a former field manager in the services industry I am also very familiar with negotiating industrial contracts and managing major long-term projects.

On a smaller scale, as a marketing consultant I have guided multiple small businesses, some Framingham based, through doubling and tripling their client base through the establishment of a strong online presence and solid organizational structure.

On an even smaller scale, I’ve had the opportunity, through local law firms, to help members of our community on an individual level face tough and overwhelming legal hurdles, learning the present day concerns of the families in our community that are forced to live in the shadows in this current national political climate. This may be my most important qualification as it was an integral experience for my understanding of our community’s most vulnerable families.

(See more about Sousa’s professional history on her LinkedIn profile.)

What if any are your plans to keep in touch with residents – to seek their input and communicate your votes and other activities?

As a candidate with “Your voice will LEAD Framingham” as a slogan, ensuring effective and open communication with residents is very important to me.

One of the positions created by the charter is the role of Chief Participation Officer. In order to ensure that we maintain a good channel of communication with the residents of Framingham, I plan on meticulously vetting the professional that fills this role to ensure it is filled by someone who is proactive, culturally sensitive, and creative. It is important that this office also develop communication strategies that fit the culture of the different parts of Framingham. What works in Districts 1 and 2 may not always work for Districts 8 and 9, and having an office dedicated to communicating with residents will give me, as mayor, the resources to keep in touch with residents.

I also plan on taking a page from cities like Salem, Newton, Cambridge, etc. and hosting quarterly open houses in our new city hall. These open houses will give residents a chance to come in and have the undivided attention of their elected officials (as opposed to sitting in during a city council meeting to observe). Elected officials will have a list of the things they have been working on in the last quarter to present to voters and will be available to hear ideas and concerns. Depending on the success of this initiative, open houses could be moved to a monthly basis for an even greater opportunity for engagement with the public.

District 2 has two long-vacant or near-vacant commercial areas: Nobscot Plaza and the old Saxonville Lumber. What do you think should be done about these properties?

Blighted properties is a major problem in Framingham and District 2 has been the hardest hit with this issue. Most developers want to push mega residential complexes with hundreds of units and, based on my conversations with voters, that will not be ideal for them. We need developers to present projects that will not result in the reemergence of the same issue in a couple of decades.

The new mayor of Framingham will make over 100 appointments and, among them, the appointment of a City Solicitor. I plan on filling that position with someone with the experience to deal with situations such as this. A city solicitor who is familiar with every municipal tool at our disposal. If Framingham continues to be at risk of another predatory lease that tied up the Nobscot Plaza for so many years, I will have failed as mayor. It is of utmost importance that solutions for these properties be found quickly and that developers are made to understand that proposals have to bear the long-term needs of the community in mind.

Town officials have rightly complained about vacant properties in town. However, the town itself has left the old McAuliffe branch library building sitting vacant for almost a year and a half. What should be done with this building?

The old McAuliffe branch library building has indeed sat vacant for an alarming period of time. While it has been recently deemed not suitable for the new Saxonville fire station, perhaps it could be a facility for the Framingham Police Department. This summer, North Framingham experienced two high-profile public safety threats: one being the shooter in Nobscot and the other being the sexual assault in Callahan State Park. I have been informed by the Framingham Police Department that because of outdated equipment, the size of the city and other factors, communication and mobility was a major issue during those situations. Thankfully our officers are well trained and were able to perform in an exemplary fashion despite the difficulties, but should we place such a heavy burden on them? With an auxiliary office at the old McAuliffe branch library building perhaps we can ameliorate issues should unfortunate situations arise.

An auxiliary office for the FPD may not be the answer, but we need to keep having the conversations as a government and set an example. We cannot hold developers and property owners accountable for a standard we ourselves are not meeting.

What are your opinions regarding Friends of Saxonville’s proposals to redesign McGrath Square? Renovate the Athenaeum?

The beautification of our city is music to my ears. I am in full agreement with the FOS’ statements that McGrath Square is a “visual blight” and believe that the new design will foster increased local commerce and business. I am in favor of the positive benefits of this project, especially those that will impact property value in Framingham.

The renovations to the Athenaeum make way for it to become a civic center that will be available to host meetings, performances, forums, and galleries. It seems all the FOS wants is for the town to install benches so that the Athenaeum will also be a park. Cultivating spaces for the arts and parks is a sound investment for the increase of cultural capital and a step in the direction of re-inspiring municipal pride in the incoming generations.

Do you have any thoughts to share about how to balance desire for more development with strains on transit infrastructure? The competing needs of vehicular traffic, bicyclists, and pedestrians?

Framingham has done a commendable job so far in participating in the Commonwealth’s Complete Streets program, which was created to promote “the safety and comfort of all roadway users, including pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit” and I plan on continuing that work. In addition to adopting this program that will provide some much needed infrastructure relief as we continue development, there is also a real financial benefit to our involvement. Our continued involvement has resulted and will continue to result in state funds awarded to invest in our streets. This project will help us create streets that will accommodate vehicular traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Additionally, we need to revisit the expansion of public transportation in Framingham. While many say that the obstacles are many and that funding would be a challenge, widely available public transportation in Framingham is an absolute necessity and we need to begin looking at it as such. With a large college campus, younger professional population and families who are unable to drive in our midst, there is definitely a “market” for it. Such a large project may not be feasible right away, but we cannot simply throw our hands up and say it isn’t possible.

How can Framingham best balance the need to serve less fortunate members of our community with the need for a viable tax base?

Framingham is a roughly $300 million enterprise. We can serve the less fortunate members of our community with what we have now, if funds are used wisely. Our bigger issues, however, are that families that have lived in Framingham for generations are being priced out of our community because of the taxes, among other things and our current system is unsustainable. If we do not re-evaluate how current funds are being used, in a few years we will be left bankrupted and still manage to keep losing families in our community.

In order to keep Framingham affordable, while still fulfilling our duty to care for the most vulnerable members of our population, the new mayor will need to get creative. Certain changes to the tax base will have negative consequences to our state funding so solutions, such as a tax cap for our elderly population, will need to be considered. I plan on thinking outside the box and finding ways to supplement state funding that is lost if we absolutely cannot keep Framingham affordable any other way through any and all available grants.

This situation is a great concern to me and I have been aggregating tools to tackle the problems creatively and effectively. I have been working with institutions such as MIT and Harvard to find creative humanitarian solutions that work in a cost effective manner. Employing proven methods to encourage citizen participation for municipal projects to offset costs so that more funding can be made available for the less fortunate, creative urbanism, and streamlining departments are all methods we could employ to make our current system more sustainable in the long run. If we can learn to do more with less, adjustments that affect state revenue will be less traumatic to the community, should they ever become necessary.

If elected, how do you plan to help Framingham transition from a town to a city?

My mission is simple: to conduct this transition in a manner that produces positive impact on the people of Framingham. It is imperative that transitions be completely seamless. It is important for us to remember that this 2018 will be a year of setting precedent here in Framingham. It is crucial that we focus on stability and security and that both those things are transmitted to the people of Framingham not just now, but in the long run. As we set precedent, I want to make sure that going forward the City of Framingham is known for innovation, diverse collaboration, and a municipal government that cares, truly cares.

As mayor, my administration will ensure that education is well funded, prioritize sustainability, pursue green alternatives, support business owners, and forge strong relationships between municipal government and the community.

The transition calls for the appointment of about 160 positions. I will work tirelessly to ensure that every position to be filled is filled with a competent professional for the role. I plan on taking advantage of the decades of institutional experience we have in our department heads and preserve their expertise in municipal government as much as possible. While I am running on new vision and innovation, stability for our residents is of paramount importance.These new positions will determine the course of the city and it is imperative that we make the right choices.

What’s the best way for voters to find out more about your candidacy? (Web site, Facebook page, etc.)

Check out our Facebook: Priscila Sousa for Mayor of Framingham at www.fb.com/SousaForMayor or our website: www.sousaformayor.org.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the voters of District 2?

I am asking for your vote to be Framingham’s first mayor because I want to use my skills, knowledge, and experience to help you create the city you want. I will open the doors to city hall so that you have a chance to contribute and to make your voice heard. Throughout my life, I have believed in the power of one voice. Now, I want to hear all your voices as we work together to build a vibrant, welcoming city.

Please reach out if you want to connect or have any questions. We are always happy to have volunteers that are excited about civic engagement. Email us at contact@sousaformayor.org.

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