CUMBERLAND – Jeff Mutter, a 22-year veteran of Cumberland politics and long rumored as a potential challenger for mayor of Cumberland, announced this week that he’ll take on incumbent Mayor Bill Murray in a Sept. 12 Democratic primary.
Mutter, of 12 Scotia Drive, told The Valley Breeze that Cumberland is “at a crossroads” and needs a leader with the knowledge necessary to plan for a better future and buck the “status quo.”
“I think this is the right time,” he said, explaining that in past years, including 2000 and 2004, he didn’t think he was prepared for the challenge or he felt there was a better candidate.
Murray is an acquaintance, said Mutter, and the decision to challenge him isn’t personal. He said Cumberland needs changes to its direction, identity and vision for the future. He said he will work with community residents to “redirect where this town is heading.”
“It’s time to rethink what we want to be,” he said. “My experience tells me Cumberland residents are up to a challenge when facing one. Well, we are facing one. We are treading water, and protecting the status quo. My attempts at a dialogue to question where we are going as a town have been met with resistance and disdain.”
In Mutter, 58, the town’s group of Democrats, who have often taken issue with Murray’s brusque leadership style, have a known name and a candidate with extensive political experience. Mutter’s frequent testimony at Town Council meetings over the past few months had led to plenty of discussion that he would take the plunge and run for the town’s top government seat.
Mutter is running on four core issues under the tagline of making Cumberland a better place to live, work and play: controlling growth, strengthening financial controls, stepping up school performance, and protecting the town’s rural character.
Murray, 79, hasn’t officially announced that he’ll run again, but all indications are that he intends to. Among his accomplishments, he lists keeping tax rates down, investing more than $5 million in new money to schools, protecting open space, and finding cost savings and efficiencies in government.
“The last four years, I have controlled the town’s spending and controlled taxes, improved the quality of life, and strongly supported our schools,” said Murray in response to the news that Mutter is running. He said he is going to continue to work every day for the taxpayers as he’s done since taking office in 2015.
No other candidates have yet announced their intentions to run.
Mutter said Murray’s “narrative” of “fiercely protecting tax rates” and “being hawkish with the tax rate” is not entirely an accurate one. He previously criticized the mayor for dramatically decreasing the tax levy this year, a move he said came at the expense of investments that need to be made in town.
“I believe that was done because it’s an election year and you wanted to run on the fact that you didn’t raise taxes,” Mutter said.
The levy has gone up between 5 and 6 percent over the past two years, and Murray has used some $4 million in town savings to balance his budgets, said Mutter. He said the levy wasn’t calculated correctly, and the mayor simply changed the collection rate to fix the issue.
“My levy would have been right,” said Mutter. “The levy is like the engine that drives the policy. The reason you grind (it) is that it’s important to get it right.”
The way Murray has addressed the levy is to take residents and other elected officials out of the process, said Mutter.
“They decided what rate they wanted it to be,” he said, referring to members of Murray’s administration.
If anyone brought up the idea of raising the levy to address such goals as better field maintenance, paving the “minefield” parking lot at Diamond Hill Park, doing a better job of plowing sidewalks, or investing further in schools, “you were effectively removed from the conversation,” he said.
Mutter has been vice president of operations for his family’s Mutter Motors auto sales and service on Broad Street since 1982, and is an avid runner and running coach for youth and adults.
Since 2017, he has been a member and coach of the New England Distance Community Run Club of Cumberland.
He said he’s in the process of doing what he needs to do to remove himself from the mechanic business as he starts his campaign for mayor.
Mutter was a member of the Town Council from 1996 to 2004 and again from 2006 to 2008, serving as president from 2000 to 2004 and chairman of finance from 2006 to 2008. During those years, he said, he championed legislation that reined in the town’s tax levy process, protected the Monastery grounds from development, opened the budget process to residents, addressed school bond and infrastructure issues, and advocated ways to close student achievement gaps.
He returned to elected office in 2009, when he was appointed and later elected to the School Committee. He was chairman from 2010 to 2012 and then headed up the finance subcommittee from 2012 to 2014.
Mutter said he was a strong supporter of all-day kindergarten before the state mandated it, championed new leadership in the administration office, invested in technology, and focused on student outcomes, especially graduation rates. True to his policy of transparency, he said, he overhauled the process of adopting resolutions to make them more easily accessible to residents.
He’s been around long enough to know that Cumberland is still talking about many of the issues of 20 years ago, including lack of athletic field space, but making little progress, said Mutter.
“When are we going to do something about it?” he said.
He said one spot he would target for new field space is Gainsborough Commons off West Wrentham Road, a property purchased his first year on the council in 1997 that still sits idle.
On issues such as fields, growth and school funding, officials have been having the same discussions for two decades, he said.
The town needs to take proactive steps to plan for the future or, as the comprehensive plan states, it will lose its character due to the rapid pace of suburban growth and ever-increasing traffic. Little has been done to manage growth since he and other members of the council passed impact fees in 2004, he said.
Cumberland has the resources to invest in amenities that make residents proud, Mutter emphasized. One only needs to look at the Lincoln Senior Center to see how far short the town falls on its own facilities. And the public safety complex that was supposed to be in the middle of town ended up across the street from the existing police station.
Among other contributions to Cumberland, Mutter said he served on the committee that recommended a new site for the public safety complex, was chairman of the 2017 Educational Funding and Development Commission that addressed projected shortfalls, and was chairman of the Cumberland Democratic Town Committee from 2004 to 2006.
State campaign finance reports show that Murray had $39,684 in his campaign account as of March 31. Mutter said he was filing his notice of organization with the state on Tuesday morning. Former Town Councilor Jason Kirkpatrick has agreed to be his campaign treasurer.
A 1978 graduate of Cumberland High School, Mutter attended Garvin Memorial, B.F. Norton, and McCourt Middle School. The lifelong town resident secured a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in math at Providence College in 1982. He is married to the former Jenny Copans and has two married daughters and two grandchildren.