Housing, Equity Anchor Keane Campaign

February 26, 2024
• The vice chair of the board aims to secure his seat against two challengers.

Over the past three years, the Select Board has seen significant turnover, with four of its five members currently serving their first term.

Continuity is important, Vice Chair Kevin Keane said, which is partly why he’s running for a second term in April.

That, and he “really love[s] the job.”

“It’s really invigorating. It’s amazing,” Keane said. “You get to be a generalist and meet so many people around town. You get to make a difference in small ways and in big ways.”

As nominations are now closed for this election cycle, he will face Human Rights Committee Chair Tina Burgos and Finance Committee member Joshua Levy for two three-year seats.

With recent environmental initiatives, Needham has “catapulted to the front” compared to other towns, Keane said. During his time on the Select Board, he and his colleagues oversaw the formation of the Climate Action Plan Committee — which the Select Board charged with conducting a greenhouse gas emissions report — and the passage of the opt-in municipal energy code. Needham also hired its first sustainability manager, Gabby Queenan, who started in December.

The MBTA Communities Law, which would require zoning for multi-family housing be implemented in certain Massachusetts towns and cities, also dominates much of Keane’s focus. He sits on the Housing Needham Advisory Group.

Needham seems perfectly poised for such zoning, Keane said, due to its proximity to the Commuter Rail, as well as a recent community push to “liven the street scene” and implement mixed use. The lack of construction on Chestnut Street, however, indicates developers aren’t sold on current conditions, Keane said, but the MBTA Community Law could hopefully change that.

And Keane and the town take the situation seriously, he said — just look at the length of the last HONE meeting.

“We have to comply. We can’t pull a Milton,” he said, referring to the town’s recent vote against a zoning change required by the MBTA Communities Law.

While the effort should be a success, Keane said it won’t completely address Needham’s lack of affordable housing, as it’s designed primarily for rentals. That means families may be able to live in town, but “you’ll never be able to build equity,” Keane said.

For that reason, the town must next tackle single-family residences, he said.

During his first campaign in 2021, Keane ran on transparency and civil discourse, and now having completed nearly a full term, he said it’s clear those concepts matter in local government.

Keane started his career in Washington, D.C. as a staffer for former Rep. Joe Moakley, but it was work he described as “government up in the stratosphere.” Moving back down to town government — starting with Town Meeting in 2012 — Keane said he feels he can make a tangible difference and enjoys incorporating residents’ input.

“The local level is where it all happens,” he said.

A Needham native and the ninth of 11 children, Keane is married to Eileen Madaus, who also grew up in town — Keane compared it to “getting a royal flush in poker.” They have three children, the youngest of whom is currently a senior at Needham High School.

If reelected, Keane would likely become chair of the board, a responsibility he said is a “big lift” but one for which he feels prepared. He also praised Chair Marianne Cooley for her leadership.

“It’s a part-time job trying to keep it from becoming a full-time job,” he said. “And I really think as chair, it will grow. You have so many more points of contact with the community you have to engage in.”

As he looks to the next three years, Keane said stormwater management will be a key priority.

High-intensity weather events are increasingly common and difficult to predict, which makes stormwater management all the more important, Keane said. He referenced the Aug. 8 flooding event and the need to prepare for the next time serious rain hits Needham.

“We have to tighten up the building code so that at least new construction will do more than just capture, but also have an imprint that doesn’t affect the neighbors, that catches this water and also doesn’t flood out neighbors as well and flood out themselves,” Keane said.

Getting involved in local government is essential, he said, and it has been an “incredible honor” for him to serve and gain voters’ trust. When it comes to Needham’s civic engagement, Keane said he is proud to see several contested races at Town Meeting this spring.

“Even Select Board, I would say everyone is really tentative and I think nervous to make the jump in, but please make the jump in,” Keane said. “Sometimes, I think people feel there’s a brick wall, and it’s not a wall. It’s just a veil. And if you show interest, you go right through it.”

The town election is Tuesday, April 9.

As the election cycle continues, Needham Local and The Needham Channel will provide additional coverage on the candidates and races.

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