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Like many Harvard students, Madeline J. Ranalli ’23-’24 decided to take time off from the College this semester. While some of her peers on leave decided to volunteer for political campaigns, the 20-year-old Newton, Mass. native instead launched her own to serve on the local city council.
In her bid for the Ward One Councilor-at-large seat in the Newton City Council, which she launched in December 2020, Ranalli is advancing an agenda that promotes affordable housing, racial justice, climate action, and pandemic relief.
She is facing off against consultant John R. Oliver, 52, in the special municipal election, which will take place March 16.
Though Ranalli is less than half her opponent’s age, she brings experience in political organizing and legislative advocacy to her campaign. She served as the political director for the March for Our Lives organization, advocated for legislation against gun violence at the Massachusetts State House, and worked for U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), per her campaign website.
Ranalli said in an interview that she believes her age is an asset to her candidacy.
Ranalli said she would reinvigorate the council and draw more attention to issues that concern young people in Newton, such as access to mental health resources and voting age requirements.
“Newton has a 24-member city council, and of those 24 members, a supermajority of them — over two-thirds — are over the age of 50,” Ranalli said. “So by consequence, issues facing young residents in Newton do not get the time of day or the political deliberation they deserve because there’s no one there to bring them up.”
Students have previously served on Newton’s city council, Ranalli said. She added that she intends to remain a student at the College while serving on the council, if elected.
In addition to advocating for young people, Ranalli said she sees her candidacy as a way to realize the lofty progressive goals many Newton residents support.
“Newton, like a lot of affluent New England suburbs, is a city that talks a lot about our commitment to progressivism, to inclusivity, to diversity — fill in the blank,” she said. “We shy away from actually making that brave, bold change.”
Ranalli said she is passionate about creating more affordable housing in Newton. She said Newton ought to increase “public investment” in affordable housing, in particular for those residents who “cannot even afford 50 to 60 percent of [area median income]”
Ranalli said the town can find funds to subsidize housing by creating an affordable housing trust fund or implementing a real estate transfer tax.
Addressing housing affordability, according to Ranalli, also offers an avenue to combat racial injustice. She said she is in favor of redesigning Newton’s zoning codes to eradicate “decades and decades of very deliberate residential segregation.”
Another urgent issue facing Newton that Ranalli believes requires bold action by the city council is the coronavirus pandemic.
In Newton, 200 people — primarily seniors in congregate care facilities — have died from Covid-19, per a city website.
“I think we didn’t plan enough ahead for it, we didn’t communicate effectively,” Ranalli said. “What it’s about now is continuing to enforce the common-sense precautions, continuing to get accessible, digestible information about precautions and vaccines out to our residents as much as they can.”
Ranalli said she supports “reopening schools safely and as quickly as we can” and “helping our local businesses who have been struggling immensely through the winter.”
Ranalli’s foray into politics was disrupted at the start of 2021 when right-wing extremists allegedly harassed her campaign, even sending her a death threat, per reporting by the Boston Globe.
Ranalli said she believes the threats demonstrate hostility toward progressive women in politics.
“This is all too common, unfortunately, for a lot of women — specifically progressive women who run for political office — because you are controversial from the jump,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have an incredible team that I can depend on who supports me, and I think that’s all that you can really ask for in tough moments like that.”
Other female politicians in Newton have thrown their support behind Ranalli.
Newton City Councilor Andrea W. Kelley said she endorsed Ranalli for her “character, attitude,” and “positive collaborator approach.”
“After speaking with [her opposition] I realized that I share much more in common with Maddy on important issues like social justice, environmental sustainability, and particularly affordable housing, so I offered to endorse her enthusiastically,” Kelley said.
Newton City Councilor Maria S. Greenberg also endorsed Ranalli, describing her as a “mature” candidate who will bring a new perspective to the table.
“City council is a representation of our residents and we really do not have a representative of the youth,” Greenberg said. “She has the urgency and enthusiasm to face these real critical issues that our city, state, country, and world are facing, especially when it comes to climate change and housing.”
Greenberg added she believes Ranalli will become a very “effective and awesome city councilor.”
— Staff writer James R. Jolin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Staff writer Mayesha R. Soshi can be reached at email@example.com.
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