Councilor At-Large Q&A: John Airasian

John Airasian is running for Town Councilor At-Large.

Tell people about your background — family, professional background, volunteering, government, activism — and how that will help you as a Town Councilor. 

My wife Jackie and I are both lifelong Watertown residents. We met here and are raising our 3 boys, Vincent (12), Michael (10) and Jack (9) here. Jackie and I have not only have lifelong friends that still reside in Watertown, but we have made many friends that recently moved here. Listening to their perspectives, experiences and concerns has been very beneficial in this process.

For the past 7 years, we have resided in District D. Previously, I lived in Districts B and C for a combined 37 years. My father and I own Eastern Clothing which has been located in District A since 1937.

I am a 1995 graduate of Watertown High School and went on to Saint Anselm College where I received my degree in Business in 1999. I immediately jumped into the family business and focused on running Eastern Clothing for a third Generation. For the last 22 years, I have worked alongside my father. Together, we have continued to grow our business even through some difficult economic times. Hard work, foresight and teamwork have made much of that possible. I will bring all of these attributes to the Council if elected.

I have volunteered many hours to organizations that do wonderful things in our Community. Most notably, Watertown Rotary Club where I am Past President, serve on the Scholarship Committee and am the Student Speaker Chair. For the last decade I have served on the Board of Watertown Cable Access and for 7 of those years I have been the Chair. Much of my time has been spent volunteering on the football field, basketball court and baseball diamond to work with our youth and the programs they participate in.

If elected, I believe these experiences will help me be a valuable Town Councilor for several reasons. I am open to the ideas and concerns of ALL resident of Watertown, new and old. Both have contributed so much to the feel of our community and all ideas and beliefs should be heard. Running a business, I understand the value of hard work, fiscal responsibility as well as being honest and compassionate. Serving on various Boards, I understand the power of working together and using all ideas to create the best possible outcome. I have said since the beginning I am willing to work with anyone. I am a firm believer of finding common ground and acting on it.

The pandemic has created some trying and difficult times for residents and along with that for local government, and in other towns elected and hired officials have stepped down. Why during these challenging times did you decide to run for office? And with a robust group of candidates running in 2021, why do you think Watertown has so many people stepping forward to serve?

I feel the pandemic has opened the doors to more community engagement. Having been the Chair of the Cable Access Board for 7 years and throughout the pandemic, we broadcasted more programming to the public than we ever have. The use of Zoom meetings allowed for greater community participation from the residents of Watertown. The majority of people were home, and in turn, they got involved. I am very proud of the work our Executive Director, Helen Chatel and her staff did over the course of the last 18+ months. They should be commended for providing a vital service to Watertown during that extremely difficult time while maintaining the level of communication and transparency that the folks here demand and deserve.

I can’t speak to why others may have stepped forward to serve, I imagine the ease and availability to getting involved over the course of the Pandemic has sparked something in them, which I think is great. For myself, having lived here my whole life I understand where Watertown has been and is headed. It is clearly very important to myself, my family and both new and old friends that we want what is best for Watertown now and moving into the future. Years of serving the community in various ways has led me to putting my name on the ballot. I would be honored to serve Watertown in a more formal way.

Being a new town manager is difficult enough, but following such a long-term and successful Town Manager will be a tough task. What do you look for in the new manager and how will you, as a councilor, help the new Town Manager get established and be successful?

Fiscal responsibility, great communication, transparency, accountability, budget expertise and excellent managerial skills. If elected, I look forward to working with the new Town Manager. Watertown is being left in such great financial shape and I would want the new Manager to understand we want to keep it that way. I think just being someone who he/she feels they can come to and ask questions. I would be open with them about what I hear are the concerns from the community. I would encourage them to be their own Manager. As I mentioned, we want to keep our financial strength, but I would like to hear their vision of Watertown and help them accomplish that.

Do you think the voters should pass the changes to the Town Charter? Explain why you feel that way. 

First, I would like to note what did not change in the Charter and that is the Town Manager form of government. I think it is clear that it works well.

I feel taking the residency requirement out for a new Town Manger will open us up to a great pool of candidates. Other changes will give more defined roles for the Council, Council President and Town Manager.

Having said that, I believe the residents have the resources to make their own informed decision on the proposed Charter changes and would encourage them to do so. The information has been mailed to all residents and is also available on the Town website among others. There was also an informational Zoom meeting on it this past Sunday. I would be more than happy to answer any questions one might have on it to help them better understand. I do appreciate the hard work that was done by the Committee and all the time and energy spent to try to make things here in Watertown more accessible and transparent.

Police funding and the services provided by the Watertown Police have become a big topic of discussion. Should the funding be increased, decreased or is it just about right? And, would you like to see how the Police in Watertown operate (please explain your answer)? 

I support the current funding of the WPD. With the recent passing of the Police Reform Bill, there will most likely be added costs that need to be looked at in the next several years as the changes to this Bill continue to be rolled out.

I would like to see the WPD operate in a way that reflects the times we are in now. I believe they are adjusting and doing so in several different ways. They continue to provide excellent community outreach. They demonstrate Community Policing and host a Citizens Police Academy. They were the second Police Department in the state to hire social workers. They have met weekly with the DEI Director (Dr. Kimberly Henry) recently hired by the School Department. They looked to host a listening session for the BIPOC community here in Watertown and they have been re-accredited by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission.

There will always be room for improvement, but I feel the WPD is ahead of the curve, complying with many new policies and practices as well as continuing to evolve to meet the needs of our residents. They are doing their job and doing it well.

What issue in Watertown that might not be getting enough attention would you want to work on as a councilor, and how would you like the Town government to address the issue?

Changing the name Watertown to “City of Watertown”. I do not think we fully understand or appreciate the budgetary impact this could have. As far as I know, there has been no study as to how expensive this will be and I feel a total re-branding will be extremely costly. I think any monies spent on this would be much better served on more pressing needs.

Watertown has taken a lot of steps to become more green and to address climate change. Do you think the Town has done enough, or would you like more to be done — if so what would you like to see?

I feel Watertown has really done a great deal when it comes to addressing climate change. I am looking forward to seeing the final Climate Action Plan and seeing what recommendations they make. I am hopeful that, if feasible, we can exceed some of the goals that were established in the 2019 Renewable Energy Resolution.

We need to continue and expand on our strict policies with new development and ensure that they are sustainable, have open space and push for as much mitigation as possible.

I would like to see if there is a way to work with Town Hall so we can communicate with people who may apply for building permits. This would be a good opportunity to inform homeowners/landlords/builders the incentives that might be available for certain energy efficient equipment, electrical vehicle infrastructure or solar options as they are looking to improve their property.

What is something that people may not know about you that residents would find interesting?

I was the “singer” of a band in high school. We were average at best, but had a great time making music in the basement of our drummer parent’s house! I have run the Boston Marathon twice (2019, 2020) in support of Boston Children’s Hospital. I enjoy playing any sport with my children, spending time with my wife, family and friends whether it is poolside in Watertown or on the beach in Gloucester.