News your connection to The Boston Globe

Aldermen's new leader will listen

Baker also aims to improve efficiency of governing board

As the next president of Newton's Board of Aldermen, R. Lisle Baker wants to set the tone for the city's 24-member legislative body.

The 61-year-old law professor aims to be a ''learning president,'' and just like his students at Suffolk University, he plans to listen closely and not waste any time.

''My style is to listen to my colleagues and the issues they're concerned about,'' said Baker, a ward alderman from Chestnut Hill who vows to make time management a top priority.

Baker spends his days teaching property, zoning, and environmental law, mediation, and law practice management at Suffolk University Law School. For 20 years, he has spent many nights in the Aldermanic Chamber on the second floor of City Hall, representing Ward 7.

Said Baker: ''We're a citizens' legislature. We come to City Hall in the evening. It's important that we use time as effectively as possible.''

The gavel will be passed to Baker Jan. 1, when the new board is inaugurated and outgoing president Brooke K. Lipsitt leaves the stage.

One of Baker's first significant presidential duties will be appointing a new chairman for the Land Use Committee, a key subgroup of the board that reviews special permit applications from developers.

Last week the Land Use Committee's longtime chairwoman, Ward 6 Alderwoman at Large Susan M. Basham, announced her plans to relocate to California and take a job at a law firm in Santa Barbara.

''When she [said she had] decided to leave the board, it caught us by surprise. It was a late-night announcement after we had a full meeting,'' said Baker.

As of Tuesday, Basham had not submitted a resignation letter to the city's election department.

Once Basham formally submits her resignation in writing to City Hall, a special election will be held, according to the city clerk's office.

The election will cost Newton $62,000, estimated Peter Karg, executive secretary of the city's Election Commission.

Basham did not return several phone calls from a Globe reporter seeking comment.

Baker said he will discuss the Land Use Committee appointment with his fellow aldermen, and declined to name any front-runners for the post.

Baker was elected president by the caucus of aldermen-elects, beating out Ward 3 Alderman at Large Leonard J. Gentile and Ward 6 Alderman George E. Mansfield for the position.

Lipsitt did not seek reelection to the Board of Aldermen last month.

''She set a very high standard for any successor to follow,'' Baker said. ''As they say in show biz, she's a hard act to follow.''

Lipsitt is retiring from the Board of Aldermen because it is ''time to step aside and let someone else assume leadership.'' She has served as president for the past six years.

''I think the tone [of the board] is absolutely determined by the president,'' said Lipsitt, 61. ''In my view, the president of the board has a constituency of 23, his or her colleagues.

The president's role is to help the organization to run smoothly, enhance the role of the board in city government, and to encourage that the conduct of our business be held in thoughtful and respectful manner.''

Lipsitt said her leadership style was different from that of her predecessor, the late Richard McGrath, who she described as a more ''forceful figure'' when he served on the Board of Aldermen. Lipsitt won the presidency over McGrath in 1997.

Baker is a veteran alderman who had vied for the board's presidency before.

A resident of Ward 7 since 1968, Baker was first elected to the Board in 1980, and has served on the board for 20 years. (He took some time off in the 1980s). He ran unsuccessfully for president of the board twice, with the most recent attempt in 1993.

The following year, Baker surprised observers when he topped the ticket in the four-way preliminary race for mayor. However, Baker lost the 1994 final election to incumbent Thomas Concannon, the board president who had been appointed acting mayor after Theodore D. Mann died in office.

Lipsitt said she expects that Baker will do a good job as president of the Board of Aldermen.

''This is his time,'' said Lipsitt. ''He's been an alderman for a long time, more than 20 years, so he's familiar with what's happened in the past. I hope he builds on that successfully.''

Emily Sweeney can be reached at

Past month
Last 12 months