Patch News

MALDEN, MA — Nate Bae Kupel is one of three candidates running for Ward 8 city councillor in the Sept. 14 preliminary election, which will whittle down the field of candidates ahead of the municipal election in November.

Malden Patch asked candidates to answer questions about their campaigns and will be publishing candidate profiles over the coming weeks.

Kupel serves as president and board member for a number of nonprofit organizations, including one based in Malden. He lives with his wife Qingjian Shi.

Are you running for office in Malden? Contact Alex Newman at alex.newman@patch.com for information on being featured in a candidate profile and submitting campaign announcements to Malden Patch.

Age (as of Election Day)

Democratic Party

Family

Qingjian Shi (wife)

Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?

None in my immediate family.

Education

BA Sociology, University of Massachusetts Amherst; MSW, Simmons University

Occupation

Nonprofit / Social Impact Leader

I’ve worked in nonprofits and in social impact work for around 15 years. I have worked for a lot of amazing nonprofit organizations over my career, fighting for issues such as higher education access and affordability, youth empowerment and job training, clinical social work, healthcare access for vulnerable communities, and leadership development. I’ve had the privilege of being able to attend college — even graduate school — and serve as President and Board member for a number of nonprofit organizations including one right here in Malden.

Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office

I am currently an Attorney General appointed Commissioner with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Asian American Commission

Campaign website

www.natebaekupel.com

Why are you seeking elective office?

My wife and I love Ward 8 and want to make our neighborhoods welcoming, equitable, clean, and green for our children, families, and all residents. I care about strengthening our communities through education, public transportation, and helping to improve and increase communication, trust, and accountability between our local government and residents.

The single most pressing issue facing our (board, district, etc.) is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the biggest obstacle that we currently face is how we respond to and plan for the ongoing impacts of COVID on our communities. This includes our city’s response to and ongoing outreach to increase vaccinations but it also includes understanding the socioeconomic impacts of COVID on residents and families and what we can do to begin planning for the long term impacts which will continue to be felt for years to come. How can we create a parallel process that responds in real-time, collects data on community needs and proactively builds plans for the future?

1. Conduct community health needs assessment – The city’s last community health needs assessment was for 2019-2020 well before the COVID pandemic. Since then, so much has changed and we need updated information on our communities so we can build long term strategies to help residents. Needs assessments are opportunities for leaders and stakeholders to have community conversations, collect health risk and protective factors that allow leaders to build health resilience strategies especially with COVID variants on the rise.

2. Increase investment in nonprofits who service vulnerable residents and families – As a nonprofit professional, our nonprofits from hospitals to food pantries to youth-serving organizations play crucial frontline roles in our communities to ensure that all people, especially our most vulnerable, have access to services, healthcare (social and behavioral healthcare), employment, food security, and more. I’d like to see our city build out grant programs to support nonprofits and encourage more cross-sector collaborations with businesses. In our city’s last needs assessment, access to healthy foods was identified as a community concern. Young people reported that while convenience stores tend to be the most accessible location to purchase food when a grocery store is not nearby, there are few healthy food options. I’d like to a build cross-sector pilot partnership to increase access to healthy foods in our communities by offering local healthy meals and produce at convenience stores.

3. Develop a community ambassador corp model – Knocking on doors and having a presence in community spaces to talk with residents face to face shouldn’t be reserved just for campaign seasons. Here in Ward 8, residents have questions and often don’t know where to look for answers nor have the time, language abilities, or understanding of how they can be involved or seek out information. In social work, access to resources and information is a staple of successful case management. And we know that not everyone accesses information in the same way due to how we were raised, our culture, technological ability. We need multi-modal forms of communications that go in both directions from residents to the city and vice versa online, in the mail, by phone, sms, and also in our communities. Hiring community ambassadors in our wards to share crucial information at events, at parks, barber shops, and at doors can help the spread of information and increase the city’s abilities to understand and respond to resident needs.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

While the job of City Councillor is about listening, my social work and nonprofit experience has taught me that we are healthiest and most able to grow when we feel connected to one another and to resources needed to live happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

In social work, we are trained to understand people in their environment. I remember at a young age learning about the layers of our ecosystem and how they are interconnected. In times of crisis we are aware of our own interconnectedness and also aware of our disconnectedness. I see our wards, our city, our diverse communities, businesses and nonprofits as interconnected ecosystems. We are healthiest and able to thrive when we can build systems that support each other.

My desire as City Councillor is to be a listener and someone who can support policies, programs, and people initiatives that strengthen our connections to each other and our ability to thrive.

If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)?

Last year, the City of Malden and the Malden Redevelopment Authority completed a land use and economic development plan for the Route 99/Broadway Corridor. Guided by several hundred community members and businesses, the report presented a vision and outlined policy tools to realize this vision.

At the center of this land use development plan, is a resident-informed vision for how to make the Corridor efficient, safer and more accessible for motor vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists; encourage small business growth, and increase green spaces like pocket parks. Route 99/Broadway is a major thoroughfare for residents wishing to move between Ward 8, the rest of Malden, Everett, Melrose, and Route 1.

Since the release of the study nearly a year ago (October 2020), we have not yet taken steps to begin developing a plan for implementation any of its recommendations. I’ve spoken with many residents who say that traffic along the corridor spills over into our smaller neighborhoods where speeding is commonplace and pedestrian safety is often overlooked. Many of our streets (including parts of Broadway) are without sidewalks, experience flooding due to clogged drains, and lack traffic signals or crosswalks to allow for safe patronage of neighborhood businesses. I’ve heard from others that we need more access to green space throughout the city, a desire for more community gardens along the bike path similar to the downtown area.

This land use plan is an opportunity blueprint to begin building and strengthening our roads, sidewalks, and solidifying small business success. If elected, I will continue the plan’s work by reviewing and enhancing our zoning along the corridor, complete traffic safety studies, inventory and increase green space, and work to build a blueprint for the entire ward that focuses on infrastructure and increased communication and dialogue between the city and community members.

How do you think local officials performed in responding to the coronavirus? What if anything would you have done differently?

Hindsight is always 2020, so I think it’s most instructive to look at what we’ve learned over the past year and a half and set the groundwork for our future. We need more inclusive and two-way communication between our city and residents. We’ve learned that in times of crisis, we need these systems already in place. Whether it’s a community ambassadorship program or increased focus on community outreach and engagement across our city, we need more ways to spread information to residents. We need continued focus on our children and educators’ safety as COVID variants continue with in-person learning resuming.

We’ve also learned a lot about remote and hybrid meeting participation from the pandemic and how to increase access and engagement. Our new City Hall is equipped with state of the art technology and is already beginning to adopt protocol for offering hybrid meeting participation which I think should continue even after the pandemic and potentially include increased virtual translation and interpretation services in future budget cycles to increase access. We also need to invest in building a digital equity plan to increase access to tablets, chromebooks, and reliable and affordable internet. This past year, we’ve seen the digital divide up close and we have a real opportunity to set the groundwork through incoming American Rescue Plan Act funds to focus on digital equity initiatives.

Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.

Keeping Malden Clean and Green

The quality of our environment has long-lasting impacts on the health of all of us. From air-quality, to street cleanliness and access to plenty of green spaces, I care deeply about making our neighborhoods healthy and enjoyable spaces to live in.

An Advocate at City Hall

I believe that our government works best when everyone has a seat at the table. As your representative in City Hall, I’ll work hard to communicate early and often about the issues that affect you. I’ll prioritize City-wide community outreach and equity initiatives to support our diverse communities.

Supporting Education and Opportunity

Our young people deserve equitable access to high-quality education. As City Councillor I’ll work with our School Committee, School System and Mayor to keep our class sizes small, and increase the emotional and academic resources they need to thrive.

Building our Community

Maintaining our community requires ongoing attention and communication. I will ensure that our roads, sidewalks, and public transportation are fully funded and that our small businesses are supported.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?

As a social work trained nonprofit professional and leader, I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities to work for organizations committed to improving the lives of young people, families, patients, and nonprofits. I’ve learned about the importance of listening, building impactful relationships, and how to work with people when you do not share the same opinions. Over the past several months, I’ve spoken to hundreds of neighbors here in Ward 8 on the street, at their doors, and by phone. I’m committed to learning, listening, and being an active advocate for residents’ needs here whether it’s repairing our streets and sidewalks or helping build plans for larger goals that will positively impact the lives of residents and families.

The best advice ever shared with me was:

“Move at the speed of trust.” A colleague and leader once told me that it’s important to build trust as a guide for creating lasting and positive change.

What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?

I’m ready to listen, learn, and be an advocate for Ward 8 and help bring Malden together. Thank you!

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