After 16 years, Angeline Kounelis — Angie to most — represented District A for the final time as a Councilor on Dec. 14. She not only represented East Watertown, to many she spoke for them and was a trusted advocate for their needs.
In the wake of her final Council meeting, Kounelis said she has been flooded with notes of thanks, congratulations and appreciation. The sentiment might best be expressed in a note written by a constituent, that Kounelis received last week. The message said:
“It is with much gratitude that I thank you for your service to the City Known as the Town of Watertown. You have devoted yourself for 16 years to the best interest of our beloved community, especially the concerns as they affect District A, East Watertown. As a long standing resident of Watertown, you understood and appreciated the quality of life that we enjoy. I extend my deepest wishes to you and hope you successor and City Council will pause for a moment to appreciate the quality of life, your legacy and your accomplishments and achievements when grasping the baton of leadership of the City formerly Known as the Town of Watertown.”
Her colleague on the Council, Anthony Donato, said that public servant best describes Kounelis, along with Ken Woodland, the former District D Councilor who stepped down in April.
“They would never be described as politicians. They often took stands and made votes that weren’t always popular and weren’t afraid to do so,” Donato said. “If they thought it was in the best interests of their constituents then that’s all that mattered to them.”
Kounelis’ involvement in the life of the East End stretches much farther back than her eight terms on the Council. She joined the East Watertown Betterment Association in 1996, and became president in 2002.
“I was concerned about our neighborhoods and I knew so many people who were involved and it was just a natural course for me to participate,” Kounelis said. “I was one of the younger members in training. I was so privileged to work with Al DeVito and Joe D’Vico and John Bartley and Rudy D’Alanno and Satrak DerBoghosian, Anne Lazaro and Diana Proctor. I just learned so much from them and I was really privileged to have that opportunity. I mean, these were the people that were the foundation of the East End.”
The group started in the 1960s to stop a fast food restaurant with a drive-thru window from opening in Coolidge Square. In 1970, the group fought a plan to link Rte. 2 to the Mass Pike through East Watertown, and they watched over the redevelopment of industrial and commercial properties in the area.
East Watertown has changed much in her lifetime, but Kounelis said that many of the issues remain the same.
“The East End has evolved. We were considered the dumping ground to receive all of the manufacturing and commercial properties that no one else wanted. But the East End actually generated the tax base with the commercial properties. It still does,” Kounelis said. “The character has change but the parcels of commercial property are still there. These properties abut residential properties. These are people’s homes, and they must be respected. There is no buffer between the commercial and industrial and we must be very sensitive to how the properties are utilized and the interactions that exist when these parcels are in use.”
Her decision to support the Buckingham Browne & Nichols School athletic fields, and the field sharing agreement, was due to this, she said. There had been talk of building hundreds of units of housing, or a commercial building to the site on Grove Street and Kounelis said she believes the area cannot take more development so she embraced the plan to create open space.
Kounelis said her background is similar to many residents of Watertown, particularly the East End. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Greece, and settled in Watertown. Kounelis has lived in the same house since she was 12 years old. Her father was a chef and her mother was a seamstress “in the sweatshops of Boston,” she said.
Her father, Angelo, passed away at a young age from coronary disease in 1972, and Kounelis lost her mother, Evangelia, two years ago, just days before Christmas.
“We were always a working class family. That was what the East End was,” she said. “Now it is getting gentrified.”
In 2005, her efforts on behalf of the East End were chronicled by the Boston Globe. As president of the Association, Kounelis helped lead the effort that saved Sacred Heart Church from being closed by the Archdiocese of Boston.
That same year, Kounelis decided to run for the District A Council seat in what she called “a moment of passion.” She defeated incumbent Salvatore Ciccarelli, who had been in office for a decade and was a former State Representative. The election was a close one, and Kounelis was declared the winner after a recount.
As a councilor, Kounelis always made herself available to the people of the East End, and said she always answered phone calls if she was available and didn’t screen calls.
“I was always an East Ender. I told folks I am here. I am only a phone call away,” Kounelis said. “I understand the plight of the East Ender. It is not only an issue of showing up to a Town Council meeting and casting a vote for a budget or whatever may be before us. It is a daily interaction with residents. Giving a voice to the silent majority who sometimes get exasperated and don’t know where to turn for assistance. I try to be that voice.”
She attended many more meetings besides the Council meetings.
“If an issue pertains to the East End, whether it is the Licensing Board or Planning Board, it is important to participate,” Kounelis said. “It is not always possible, sometimes there are conflicting meetings, but when a voice is needed you don’t want to look back and say, ‘Gee, I didn’t know about it.'”
City Manager Michael Driscoll’s relationship with Kounelis goes back to 1984 when she worked in the Community Development Department through a grant from the state. He would also see her at the East Watertown Betterment Association meetings. He commended her on her dedication as an elected official.
“Councilor Kounelis’ commitment to Watertown is 24/7,” he said.
Council President Mark Sideris also pointed to her efforts as a Councilor when he gave her a proclamation at her final Council meeting.
“Councilor Kounelis worked tirelessly for the residents of her district. She contributed to the improvement of the quality of their daily life, and to keep them informed of local activities and was excellent in responding to the many issues that came before her every single day,” Sideris said.
Sideris noted that Kounelis served on virtually every Council Committee, including the Budget & Fiscal Oversight Committee since it was created in 2006. At her final Budget & Finance Committee meeting, Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli thanked Kounelis for “bringing a sharp eye for numbers and a willingness to ask hard questions,” and added that the people of Watertown have been well served by having her financial oversight and guidance for the past 16 years.
Councilor John Gannon said Kounelis has set a high mark to reach as a Councilor.
“Angie, you set the standard for constituent service that I someday hope to someday emulate,” Gannon said.
Her colleagues on the Council noted both Kounelis’ fierce determination, and also her kindness and friendship.
Councilor Tony Palomba noted not only her commitment but that she voted her conscience.
“One of the things I have learned from Councilor Kounelis is the importance of standing up for what you believe,” Palomba said. “I have seen her make votes that have not always been what the majority has chosen to do, but she has taken those votes based on her conviction that it was the right thing to do.”
Councilor Lisa Feltner said that she appreciated Kounelis’ friendliness and professionalism.
“I really appreciate your ability, at end of the day, regardless of votes, you are also very kind and have shown a lot of warmth and your personal talks with me personally and with other residents who steadfastly knew they could count on you,” said Feltner said, who added that Kounelis showed her that she should not get discouraged and to “stick up for your constituents and your beliefs.”
Kounelis was a friend and an inspiration for Councilor Caroline Bays.
“She has been a teacher to me and also been a friend,” Bays said. “I have also learned from her to, hopefully, be a little fearless — maybe not as outspoken but I am trying to capture some of your fearlessness and willingness to go out on a limb for what you believe in and for what you believe is the right thing to do. And I really do appreciate your friendship.”
Even in her eighth term, Kounelis did not know that it would be her final one.
“It was a bittersweet moment for me,” Kounelis said. “It came to the point where there were too many straws on the camel’s hump.”
The atmosphere had changed, she said, both inside and outside of the Watertown government.
“It is saddening, in our community it had so much camaraderie and now there is just so much negative energy and anger and hostility. It is sometimes overwhelming and people just thrust out their anger,” Kounelis said. “I have repeatedly stated, they have to pause a moment because there is always someone on the receiving end of those harassing statements.”
She said she has also felt a change in the the working relationship she has had with the City administration and officials. In Watertown’s form of government, the Council are the elective representatives while the executive branch and the department heads are hired.
While she did not go into specifics, Kounelis said, “The administration is shielded from the public, but not the Councilor.”
Leading up to her final meeting, a resident made Kounelis a badge with her picture which stated “Town of Watertown District A Councilor, 2005-2021, Retired.”
“I said, well, I will keep it in limbo until after the 3rd of January (Inauguration Day),” Kounelis said. “I will be wearing it to meetings I attend so everyone knows who I am.”
She added that, while she will not be a Councilor anymore, she will still help people when she can.
“I am sure I will still be getting calls. You still have my number,” Kouelis said. “I’ll be there if you need something and if it is within my realm to take care of it, or give direction, I will certainly do that.”