in the news

Select Board Candidates Get Candid:
Joshua Levy

by Daniel Barbarisi
Needham Observer
March 20, 2024

Josh Levy looks out at the recently renovated Town Common, and sees an opportunity. 

“I think Needham could do better in building community,” Levy said. “We could have concerts on the common — just invite the public to your city. Meet your neighbors. Not everything is dollars and cents.”

It’s suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that he could play in one of those concerts. Levy laughs at this — but the idea isn’t all that far-fetched. He majored in bassoon performance (and linguistics) in college at McGill University and plays at a professional level; in the past he would be regularly hired for one-off performances when large professional orchestras needed a bassoon player. He still plays regularly with a number of community groups. 

“That’s what I do now – I play with community orchestras. Recently I played with the Metrowest Symphony Orchestra,“ Levy said. “I wish I had more time to do it.” 

With a 2-and-a-half-year-old child, time is now typically in short supply for Levy, 37, who works in healthcare analytics for Evaluate Pharma in Boston and is also on the town’s Finance Committee. Time figures to be even scarcer if the longtime Needham resident (he moved to town when he was 4) succeeds in his goal: winning a seat on the Needham Select Board in the April 9 election, where he will face incumbent Kevin Keane and Human Rights Committee chair Tina Burgos, with two seats available. 

“I’ve always been interested in government, how it works,” Levy said. “And it’s really this: the motivation is just serving people, when people come and ask me questions, I want to be able to answer and help them.”

Levy first ran for Town Meeting in 2010 at age 23 and won, making him one of the youngest Town Meeting members, as he tried to soak in how town government worked. At the time, the big debate was over the senior center. 

“I was just kind of observing, but I really got to see the types of discussions and how solutions are arrived at,” Levy said. “There were a lot of disagreements, but we finally came to a really good solution. The senior center now is so well used that people are there all the time, and it’s in a central location.”

Levy soon aimed for higher office, running unsuccessfully for state representative in 2010. Levy was appointed to the Finance Committee in 2017, and later served as chair. He is currently a member of the Housing Needham (HONE) Advisory Group working to recommend zoning changes along the town’s rail corridor.

Levy’s professional background in statistics and analytics brought a new element to the Finance Committee’s deliberations, said longtime member Dick Reilly, who worked with Levy on the board from 2017 to 2023, when Reilly retired. 

“He’s a very data set savvy person, he likes to bring data to bear on decisions,” Reilly said. “So the first couple of times I worked with him, he actually went and did some independent research to do some comparative analysis from other towns. And it was very helpful.”

That data was often employed to back up strong convictions; Reilly said that Levy was never afraid to express contrarian opinions, supporting them with reasoned analysis. 

“He was very comfortable expressing a point of view that might not be necessarily the obvious point of view that everybody was following,” Reilly said. “He would take the time to bring up nuances and issues that weren’t necessarily obvious – but he brought them up in a constructive way, very collegial. There was never any acrimony if he just didn’t agree with you.” 

Levy ran unsuccessfully for Select Board in 2023, coming in third in a race for two available seats won by current chair Marianne Cooley and newcomer Cathy Dowd. Reilly said he was disappointed that Levy had lost, but thrilled he got to keep him on the Finance Committee a little longer.

The town’s Finance Committee and Select Board serve two different functions, and disagreements between the two are nothing new. While acknowledging their communication has “had its ups and downs,” Levy said he is making a concerted effort to talk to members of town boards beyond the Finance Committee, to gain their perspective and see where they’re coming from.

“I want to be clear, I’m not looking to be a member of the Finance Committee on the Select Board,” Levy said. “I understand that they’re very different roles. But you’re right, that I think it’s really important for each board to understand each other’s perspective, where they’re coming from. And I think with that understanding can bridge a lot of the gaps. I mean, you can have understanding and respect for each other while still disagreeing.”

Reilly said that Levy was able to walk that line successfully, advocating for the Finance Committee’s positions without creating animosity.

“When he dealt with other boards, he raised the issues that we felt should be raised,” Reilly said. “He was not afraid to raise uncomfortable issues, but he did it in a way that was constructive and wasn’t hostile. So that’s great. He got the point across.”

Levy said that among the accomplishments that stand out from his time on the Finance Committee are the bevy of building projects that have moved forward — but also smaller, less-heralded undertakings, such as permanently funding the arts and culture budget from town coffers, rather than solely relying on grants from the state. 

“That’s really rewarding to be able to increase that when I was chair, we made that a permanent part of the budget,” Levy said. 

Going forward, he hopes to improve street safety in town by focusing on walking and biking accessibility and prioritizing building new sidewalks when possible; to improve the town’s drainage infrastructure to combat the stormwater issues via upgrades to the drainage system and by replacing excess paved surfaces with green space to allow for better ground filtration; to rebuild the Pollard and Mitchell schools; and to address the town’s housing woes in part by relaxing lot area minimums under certain circumstances and in some locations.

© 2024 Joshua Levy, Candidate for Select Board