FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — At noon on New Year’s Day, Framingham will cease being the largest town in Massachusetts and begin a new era as a medium-sized city of about 70,000 residents.
The change results from a new charter narrowly approved by voters in the MetroWest community.
Framingham’s first mayor, Democrat Yvonne Spicer, also has the distinction of being the first black woman to be a popularly elected mayor in Massachusetts.
A former teacher, longtime advocate for science and technology education and, most recently, a vice president at Boston’s venerable Museum of Science, Spicer, a Democrat, spoke with The Associated Press about the challenges she faces ahead of her swearing-in ceremony on Monday.
Q: Does being Framingham’s first mayor add even more pressure to your job? You don’t really have anything to guide you from previous administrations.
A: In some cases, even though we don’t have a history of being a city, we do have a history of managing municipal government. There are some things we will have to shift and do differently because of the charter, and there are some things we are going to have to map out because the charter doesn’t give complete instructions about how to move forward. On Jan. 1, we get to hit the reset button and look at things with fresh eyes and not stay stuck in “Oh, that’s always happened this way,” but “How can we make it happen differently?” and do it in a way that makes good sense for our community.
Q: You are only the second African-American mayor in Massachusetts, and the first African-American woman to be an elected mayor. What does that mean to you?
A: It tells me a lot about Framingham, which is 70 percent (white), elected a black woman to be their first mayor. That tells me a lot about their valuing of me, their valuing of the hope I bring to this position and also that they are open … it didn’t limit them when they went to the polls. It didn’t play into their decisions in any way, shape or form.
Q: Are you hopeful your election might lead more people of color, and particularly women of color, to seek positions of leadership in municipal government?
A: I’m hoping it does. I want to inspire other women, especially young women. During the election, I had a whole youth team that was actively involved. Young women from groups like the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus who came out and campaigned for me, many of them college students. I was in awe of their excitement and enthusiasm.
Q: Do you see yourself possibly pursuing statewide office in the future? Is that something you have considered?
A: (Laughing) Absolutely not. Right now I want to practice being mayor of Framingham and we will see what the future holds. This is the only job I aspire to and I am honored.
Q: You have followed an unusual path, from being a teacher to the Museum of Science and now politics.
A: If I had to characterize my path, it was always about stepping out of my comfort zone and learning something new, and that goes back to teaching the classroom. I was training to be a technology education teacher and my very first job was teaching not the subject I was most comfortable with but a subject I was least comfortable with (woodworking) at a grade level (middle school) I was least comfortable with. The reality is you become stronger when you have mastered your weaknesses and that’s something I live by today.
Q: With housing costs rising so rapidly, how to you keep middle and lower income residents from being squeezed out of Framingham?
A: I come back to how do we revitalize the downtown area in a way that people can have high wage jobs, live in the downtown and use public transportation — so really trying to create an epicenter in downtown and make it affordable. There is a delicate balance to that because you can make something very attractive to millennials but not affordable to those who have traditionally been in those neighborhoods. I’ve watched that happen to my native Brooklyn (New York), and it’s very painful to see places I grew up where there are chic coffee shops but it doesn’t look anything like the place where I grew up. I see that as wonderful in some aspects but very sad in others, where people can’t afford to stay in the neighborhoods.