An Interview with Mayor Setti Warren

| Brian Burke

HUBweek is this week and you can feel the excitement and energy all around the Boston area. One of the events that I am looking forward to most is Economic Growth for All, hosted by the US Conference of Mayors and Mayor Setti Warren of Newton, MA. We have a few moments to catch up with Mayor Warren about the event and about what he is doing to help development in the Boston area.

What is your role in the US Conference of Mayors? 

I serve as the Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Community Development and Housing Committee and sit on their advisory committee. As the Committee Chair, I see it as my responsibility to lead policy discussions around needs now and in the future, expose the other mayors to best practices, and bring mayors together to advocate for support for the increased CDBG and HOME funding from the federal government that our communities need for essential programming that makes a difference in the lives of individuals and their families. The convening of the committee that I am organizing on October 7 and 8 will serve as the launch of the Economic Growth for All initiative, which provides a policy framework I developed based on research from The Brookings Institution and Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research for increasing economic mobility that all mayors can use—whether they are from the North or South, East or West. It is nonpartisan. It allows us to have a common place from which to start our discussions.

This town hall focuses on Innovation Equity: Ensuring that the benefits of a strong economy are available to everyone. Can you speak more about your goals for this town hall? 

My goal in bringing together leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors from across the country is to initiate discussion about what we should be doing to strengthen pathways to the middle class and beyond. I chose to do it at Roxbury Community College in order to open up these conversations to the community—in solving these problems, we can’t just have policymakers opining behind closed doors. Everyone is part of the solution.  All civic leaders should be thinking about ways to connect people with the economic opportunities needed so they and their families can be financially independent. The discussion at our conference during HUBweek will be centered on a policy framework that is part of an initiative to promote economic mobility and important new data is going to be shared by The Brookings Institution and by Opportunity Nation for the first time. 

What takeaways/actions would you like the audience members to walk away with? 

I hope the audience members will leave the town hall motivated to do what they can to support programs and policies that will strengthen our middle class. I hope they will leave energized and inspired by what is being done, but driven by all we have left to do. I will be asking convening attendees to support the following principles as a guiding framework for the individual strategies we want employed in our cities and serve as targets for all of our cities’ residents:

  • Family formation: Born at normal birth weight to a non-poor, non-single mother aged at least 20
  • Early childhood: Acceptable pre-reading and math skills and behavior generally school appropriate
  • Middle childhood: Basic reading and math skills and social-emotional skills
  • Adolescence: Graduates from high school with a GPA of 2.5 or higher and has not been convicted of a crime nor become a parent
  • Transition to adulthood: Lives independently and receives a college degree or has a family income of at least 250% of the poverty level
  • Adulthood: Reaches middle class (family income at least 300% of the poverty level)
  • Retirement Age: Retirement assets to ensure retirement income equivalent to at least 70% of pre-retirement income 
  • Innovation economy: Identify and invest in physical, economic, and networking assets                                                                   

With this initiative, I want people to be compelled to act and then share what they’ve done with the rest of this coalition, which will serve as a community where we can all learn from each other by sharing our work, supporting each other in that work, and asking questions. 

HUBweek’s mission is to celebrate the unique culture of problem solving in greater Boston. How would you say this town hall ties into HUBweek’s goals? 

HUBweek’s goals are to bring together the leading thinkers of our time and to engage the public to solve common problems and to drive innovation.  Our town hall supports those goals.  Only by working collaboratively can we solve challenges facing every community in this country and which must be addressed if we are to grow the economy and provide equal opportunity for all.

What lessons have you learned as the Mayor of Newton that could be applied more broadly to help drive innovation equity? 

Leaders must listen and create partnerships to solve problems. For example, leaders can encourage companies to start internship and apprenticeship programs, which have been shown to improve individuals’ ability to build a solid career with a solid income. Here in Newton, I started a mayor’s high school internship program where we help students get the summer internships they need to learn professional skills and get workplace experience. Also, we partnered with MassChallenge and CIC to create a space for startups. The center will include programming open to Newton students and the wider community. Not only that, but it will also bring more business to the shops, restaurants and other businesses in Newton Corner, one of Newton’s villages. Only with public engagement and conversations with the non-profit and private sector can communities succeed in encouraging innovation, implementing sustainable practices, and helping people of all diverse backgrounds reach their potential.

Newton, MA Mayor Setti Warren worked as Special Assistant in the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs for President Clinton, New England Director of FEMA, and Deputy State Director for Senator Kerry. He also worked with his family-owned business, Development and Training Associates, developing and implementing an award-winning internship program and adult training program in the private and public sectors. He completed a year-long tour of duty in Iraq as a Naval Intelligence Specialist before elected Mayor in 2009 and reelected in 2013.

Through sustainable approaches and data-driven decision-making, over Mayor Warren’s first term, Newton’s capital reserves increased from zero to $13 million. The city also reduced its energy consumption by 26% since 2008, saving $2.5 million in energy costs.

Mayor Warren serves on the United States Conference of Mayors’ advisory board, chairing the Community Development and Housing Committee. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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