By Ellen Ishkanian
Greg Reibman has spent countless hours in meetings on the phone with Setti Warren.
But one phone call with Newton’s outgoing mayor sticks out in his mind.
“He called me back in 2012 and, later he called folks in Needham, and said, ‘We should look at all that was happening with the innovation economy in Kendall Square and the Seaport District and create our own innovation district here,’” Reibman recalled.
“The N-Squared Innovation District -- which has been this chamber’s and our region’s largest economic development project ever since -- was his idea,” Reibman told local business leaders at the chamber’s sold-out annual breakfast meeting Nov. 9 at the Boston Marriott Newton.
Reibman made the remarks before presenting Warren with the annual R.L. Tennant Award, the chamber’s highest annual recognition to a business or civic leader.
“He really has been a friend to us,” Reibman said of Warren, while also reminding attendees about Warren’s success bringing fiscal stability to City Hall while also overseeing construction of two elementary schools, with renovation of a third underway, and four fire stations.
But, Reibman added, there’s much more to being a good mayor than managing budgets and building projects.
“Being mayor is about being there for the community in good times and bad. And this mayor was there for us when we needed him,” Reibman said.
“He took on anti-Semitism, he took on racism, he took on homophobia,” Reibman said. “We all stood there and wept together at vigils after the Sweet Tomatoes crash, after Orlando, after Charleston, after the Boston Marathon bombings, after Newtown, and on and on and on.”
Reibman remembered the City Hall community meeting Warren called to discuss recent incidents of discrimination, where a group of single-issue spectators tried to take-over the discussion.
“This one African American woman stood up discussing her own child’s experience with racism, and she was shouted down. He stood up and stopped that, and took the meeting in the right direction,” Reibman said of Warren.
Warren will be remembered for his gregarious laugh, and the handshake that almost knocks you over, Reibman said. But his “most significant and lasting legacy will be how he listened to our kids. It made a big impression.”
An emotional Warren accepted the award by saying that being mayor of Newton has been the honor of his life.
He took a minute to single out City Council President Scott Lennon who had lost a very close election just two days earlier to succeed Warren, and he congratulated his successor, Ruthanne Fuller, who will become the city’s first female mayor in January.
“I’m excited for her, I’m excited to work with her, I’m excited for our city, and I look forward to our transition together,” Warren said.
Warren said when he was first elected he decided to buck the traditional wisdom that each municipality fends for itself and ignored the informal rivalry between the two communities by reaching out to Needham.
“We decided together, Newton and Needham, that we were actually stronger when we sat down at the table and figured out how to do things like attain funding for the Needham Street corridor,” he said.
“We’ve decided together along with the chamber that actually building an innovation district would be better, rather than working apart. And look what we’ve done together,” he said.
He also credited cooperation between the Newton City Council, City Hall and the chamber for success in transforming the Route 9 corridor with construction of Chestnut Hill Square and The Street.
“Think about where we were eight years ago, and where we’ve come together,” Warren said.
He ticked off approval of mixed-use developments at Austin Street and Washington Place in Newtonville, which will provide affordable and market-rate apartments in a location walkable to public transportation, and credited the chamber with helping to secure a location for Mass Challenge and the Newton Innovation Center.
He also credited the business community for helping to pass a tax override in Newton during Warren’s first term in office, just the second in the city’s history, that provided the framework for his successes.
“The business community came together and said education is important for the quality of life in a city. Public safety is important for the quality of life in a city, it enhances the business community. Roads, and sidewalks and infrastructure is important for the quality of life, making that investment,” he said.
“You worked with us to make that happen in 2013 and I’m really proud of that,” Warren said.