Born and raised in Newton, MA, Maddy Ranalli, a current sophomore at Harvard University, is running for Newton City Council’s Ward 1 at-large seat in the upcoming special election on March 16. As a progressive community leader and youth activist, Maddy shares her legislative priorities and discusses the process of building her campaign.
How have your background and experiences shaped your interest in politics?
I was born and raised here in Newton and it’s the only city I’ve ever known. I was really lucky to grow up here and I think Newton’s incredible schools and public resources opened a lot of doors for me and my family. Throughout my years in Newton Public Schools, my teachers encouraged me not only to question things and be curious, but to think about how I can achieve my political ambitions. I’m also lucky to have so many incredible mentors in life who have helped me to succeed.
I also grew up organizing locally around climate issues and racial justice, which morphed into political advocacy when I got older. I think Gen Z as a whole has grown up with the understanding that there are a lot of big problems that have been put on our shoulders to solve, and because of that, we’ve learned how to step up and be really vocal about a lot of issues. For me, the major catalyst was the Parkland shooting in 2018, which drove me to join March for Our Lives, a youth-led gun violence prevention program where I currently serve as the political director. I’ve also worked for Senator Ed Markey in his Boston office and Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign in Iowa. Most recently, I worked at the Department of Energy at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewables.
When did you decide to run for office and what has the process been like?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to dedicate my life to public service and I always envisioned myself running for political office someday. But what I’ve learned from my involvement in March for Our Lives and other youth-led movements is that we don’t need to wait our turn anymore. Young people are eager and prepared enough to step up now—not in 10 or 20 years when someone asks us. As a young resident of Newton, I think I bring a fresh perspective to city issues especially with the lack of youth representation on our city council.
My campaign began with me and my friends—a bunch of young, college-aged kids coming together. After posting about my campaign, people from around the state reached out offering to help. I think we are an example of the power of youth organizing and I'm really excited to see what the rest of the campaign holds.
What difficulties have you encountered along the way?
So far in my campaign, I’ve encountered a lot of sexism and ageism which has been really disheartening. A lot of people are angry that a young woman isn't waiting her turn, and I’ve received all sorts of negative comments undermining my knowledge and experience. I think people are frustrated by the fact that not only am I doing this, but I’m doing it well, so they search for whatever they can find to bring me down. But at the end of the day, my team and I have built a strong campaign and we’re on a path to victory. We try to remind ourselves that people wouldn’t be trying to discredit us if they were not legitimately threatened that we were going to win. That’s what really keeps me going.
Procedurally, it was also very difficult in the beginning. As a young candidate, there are structural barriers in place that make it hard for me to do this. It’s challenging for young political candidates, especially young women, to raise money to support their campaigns. In society, there is a culture of sexism that undermines the knowledge and skills of women in government. But the criticism I’ve received is much more outweighed by the emails and messages I get of people showing support. As a young woman, I take the responsibility of holding a seat in public office very seriously because I know the significance this holds for other young girls.
Is there anything about the experience of running for public office that has surprised you?
Running at large is a beast. I’ve learned to navigate the nuances of the different wards in Newton and through strategic campaigning which has broadened my understanding of the city. I’m grateful for older activists and advocates who have lent their expertise and wisdom on social issues. As a young resident, I understand that I have a responsibility to seek out perspectives on issues that I don’t experience firsthand, and it’s been amazing to build connections with local change-makers across the city who are shaping the political process.
What advice would you give to young people interested in getting involved in politics?
I would urge them to do it now. The idea of permission is going to hold you back. If I had waited until it was the most socially acceptable time to run for office I wouldn't be running for 20 or 30 years. If you have an understanding and a desire to shape various issues in your community, step up and do it because there will be people that welcome that. They may not be the loudest voices in the room, but they’re there and they will rally behind you. Having a good support system of people who are there to push and support you both within campaigns and political life and beyond is essential because it will get hard. In moments when you want to quit, you want a strong team around you that will pick you up and tell you to keep going.
How do you plan for balancing school and work in public office?
Many Newton city councilors also work a full time job and I see being a student as similar. I intend to fulfill all my responsibilities as a student and be a public official every other hour of the day. That’s not to say that it won’t take trade off and sacrifice and prioritizing. In my experience in March for Our Lives, I’ve had to say no to things that I really wanted to do because of other responsibilities. I’ve thought long and hard about what this position entails, and I decided that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to be all in.
What social issues do you hope to address?
I’m focused on expanding affordable housing as a result of the serious regional housing shortage in our city. I’m also planning on advocating for the investment in environmentally sustainable initiatives such as green transit and renewable energy. Racial justice is also really important to me, not only in our administration of public safety but in our local economy. This includes supporting Black-owned businesses and addressing incidents of racial violence which are pervasive here in Newton, especially in our schools. Finally, as a young candidate I know that the way to get young people to engage with and participate in the political process is by advocating for the issues that we care about. That looks like bolstering mental health services for people in Newton and lowering our voting age to 16, as well as expanding the work of our youth services department.
What are your future career plans?
10 to 20 years from now, I just want to be helping people—whether that’s serving as an elected official or serving with a local organization on the ground. I want more people to have access to the mobility and opportunity that Newton gave to my family. I think what my parents were able to do is becoming further and further out of reach for a lot of people—to be able to find that starter home to send your kids to Newton Public Schools and really move up in the world. It’s becoming nearly impossible to do that and I think there are a lot of really big trends that we need to reverse.
More information about Maddy’s campaign can be found at: https://ranallifornewton.com