Tina Burgos moves her hands through the racks of high-end clothing at her Newton Highlands shop, Covet + Lou. Stopping on one item, she pulls it out from the rest and highlights its provenance.

“We really try to make sure that we support small businesses – I’m a small business so I want to be supporting other small businesses. I would say 15% of our brands are owned or operated by women of color. I am very mindful of that,” Burgos says, before sifting through and pulling out another piece. “But we also try to pick up brands you won’t see in other locations – you’re sort of paying a premium for not only the product, but also the curation, so that’s something we pay a lot of attention to.” 

If the name Covet + Lou is familiar to Needham residents, there’s a reason: her store was located on Great Plain Avenue from 2017 to 2021 before she moved to Newton. As much as she loved being in Needham, she said, it simply was not as attractive a location for a small business owner. Needham Center has great potential, she said, but there are things holding it back from being a truly vibrant, walkable neighborhood where shoppers flit from business to business.

“It’s a conundrum I’ve been trying to figure out for a few years,” she said. “We definitely need to bring in more business there. There are a lot of empty spaces. The problem is if you’re a new business, you’re not going to want to enter a neighborhood in which you’re surrounded by vacant space, because you are going to be relying on businesses that will complement yours.”

Her ideas to help bolster the area range from traffic calming measures to reduce speed through the center to pursuing federal and state grants to help brand and market the downtown to surrounding communities. But it’s her entrepreneurial experience as a small business owner that she believes makes her particularly well-suited to help Needham in a variety of ways. 

“I’ve been running a small business successfully for the past 10 years,” Burgos said. “I know how to balance a budget, I know how to deal with expenses. I know how to forecast out for the future.” 

Helping the town’s small businesses thrive is just one of the reasons why Burgos, 51, decided to run for Select Board. She wants to increase representation among women and minorities in town government – “As a woman of color, I think it’s important for other folks in minority groups, to see a minority in a position of leadership, hopefully that will compel others to become involved,” she said – and she has zeroed in on the need for more affordable housing across the spectrum in Needham, from low income options, to starter homes for young families, to choices for seniors and empty-nesters. 

Burgos, who is the chair of the town’s Human Rights Committee, will face incumbent Kevin Keane and Finance Committee member Josh Levy in a contest for two open seats on the five-member Select Board in the April 9 election.

It was her work with the Human Rights Committee in particular, she said, that made her want to run for Select Board. Her work with the committee would touch on other aspects of town governance, from interacting with the schools to working with the Police Department, or dealing with Health and Human Services if there were mental health issues that came up related to housing. She saw the Select Board as a place to make a difference on all those fronts. 

“Being exposed to all of those different areas during my time with the Human Rights Committee made me realize that I could expand upon the work that I’m doing, and the Select Board is a good fit for that,” Burgos said.

Burgos grew up in Wisconsin and moved to Massachusetts to attend Wellesley College. Her first job out of college was at the high-end department store Louis Boston, where she started in operations and moved on to become a buyer. 

“I’ve always been interested in fashion, from a very young age,” she said. 

She later earned a master’s in business administration from Boston University, looking to broaden her experience with an eye toward starting her own business. That led to the creation of Stel’s, a Newbury Street boutique specializing in classic urban wear for men and women, which she operated from 2003 to 2012 with her husband, Dave Nauyokas, and friend John Callahan. 

“That was a massive learning experience for me,” she said. “We were on Newbury Street for nine-and-a-half years. … I was able to see what worked, what didn’t, what I wanted to do, what I didn’t want to do.”

She soon branched into e-commerce, founding Covet + Lou in 2013 and running it as an online-only shop for four years. In 2017, needing office space as much as anything else, she returned to brick-and-mortar retail with her location on Great Plain Avenue, and served on Needham’s Council of Economic Advisors while she had the business in town. She and her husband have 15-year-old twins who are freshmen at Needham High school. 

Planning board chair Adam Block met Burgos when he stopped by her Great Plain Avenue store; his wife had been a customer of Stel’s when Burgos was on Newbury Street. Block said when she worked on the Council of Economic Advisors in particular, Burgos was a significant advocate for small business and brought an important perspective to their discussions. 

“Having worked with Tina on town issues, I’ve seen her decision-making process look past the trees for the forest, to see how something in the moment fits into the bigger picture,” Block said. “I think her steady hand in business has helped build her judgment so she’s not making knee-jerk, short-sighted reactions.” 

Block said he’s seen Burgos grow from “strength to strength” as she’s taken on new and different roles within the town. 

“She’s a strong leader because she dives deep on issues before making up her own mind, and listens to understand multiple perspectives,” he said.

He can’t be completely sure, but Kevin Keane likes to think he owes at least part of his start in politics to maple syrup. 

Keane first ran for elective office in 2012, hoping to land a Town Meeting seat. He didn’t campaign, really, but as it turned out, everyone in his precinct knew him – or, at least, they knew his maple syrup. 

“It kind of became this insane hobby,” Keane said. “I know some people make beer. Some people work on cars. I made maple syrup.”

It all started when Keane’s son Aidan was in elementary school, and the unusual fact that his father tapped trees in his backyard to make maple syrup came up in class one day. 

“It came out that we study maple sugaring,” Keane recalled. “So then the teacher and I designed a field trip for Aidan’s class to come and tap trees, collect sap, see it boil, taste it. And so then it became this thing – the next year every class wanted to do it.”

The field trips ran for years, and in his neighborhood, it gave Keane the slightest bit of name recognition. When he ran for Town Meeting, “that gave me a little bit of a leg up,” Keane said with a laugh. “I think people in Precinct J knew that Keane was the guy from the maple sugar field trip.”

Keane, 58, doesn’t make maple syrup anymore – the trees are long gone, and he’s moved on to beekeeping – and he now has more than enough name recognition to get by. Keane is vice chair of the Select Board, and would be expected to ascend to chair if he can win reelection on April 9, landing one of the two available seats on the town’s five-member board. The Needham native will face off against Human Rights Committee chair Tina Burgos and Finance Committee member Joshua Levy. 

Keane, who is married to fellow Needham native Eileen Madaus – they met at the Harvest Fair – and has three children, won his Select Board seat in a December 2021 special election, filling the seat vacated when Lakshmi Balachandra resigned. In addition to his Select Board seat, he has also been a Town Meeting member since 2012 and spent 10 years on the Youth & Family Services board; he is currently a member of the Housing Needham (HONE) Advisory Group working to recommend zoning changes along the town’s rail corridor. 

The freelance graphic designer’s experience in politics goes back much further, however. When he graduated from Holy Cross in 1987, Keane became a legislative correspondent for venerable Massachusetts congressman Joe Moakley (though as the ninth of 11 children, some might say his career in politics started even earlier than that job). Keane moved down to Washington, D.C., where he dealt with constituent issues and occasionally helped with legislation. He stayed for only a year, moving back to Needham and joining the production staff of the Needham Times, but that experience — coupled with his later work on U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas’ 1992 presidential campaign – continues to inform the way he approaches politics. 

“Paul Tsongas and Joe Moakley, they were not normal politicians,” Keane said. “And they enjoyed a certain freedom of just – they’re not going to curry favor. They just say the way it is. And in fact, that’s sort of refreshing. It frees you up. Sometimes, you just speak truth to power.”

The lesson, he said, was to just say what you think, don’t sugarcoat things, and be direct and honest. 

“Don’t be the politician, don’t be the caricature. Just say it,” Keane said. 

His peers say he has hewed to that approach. Heidi Frail ran unopposed for Select Board in 2022, and as they were for a time the two newest members of the board, she and Keane had regular meetings with town staff as they worked to get up to speed on town operations. 

“Kevin is just a very straightforward guy. He is kind and thoughtful and funny, and very much calls it as he sees it,” Frail said. 

Frail was particularly impressed with Keane’s work with homeowners after the microburst storm of 2023; she lauded his ability to relate to constituents and his efforts to get them the help they needed. 

“He has the ability to be relatable and a regular guy at the same time as he’s Mr. Chair and holding a gavel. It’s like he’s your neighbor – he’s everybody’s neighbor,” Frail said. “And so people feel really comfortable talking to him, and also really comfortable and trust in him when he says, ‘Okay, I’m gonna follow up on this, I’m going to find out, I’m going to try to make a difference.’”

Keane said he is proud of his work on creating a Select Board code of conduct, on updating the building code, and on championing bulk buying for electricity in his first term. Going forward, he said his priorities include enacting the Quiet Zone for train crossings, seeing the town increase its housing stock and in particular its affordable housing options, and finding solutions to the stormwater issue. 

But as much as any policy victory, he seems to take specific pride in bringing a level of honesty and straightforwardness to his role. 

“People would say to me, ‘Why do you want this job?’” Keane said, stressing the word why to make it clear that many people seemed to think running for Select Board was crazy. “Because there’s this level of cynicism. I think people were really discouraged.”

Keane said he wanted to combat that by trying to bring three elements to government.

“It’s because we want civil discourse,” Keane said. “Civil discourse, open government and transparency … It really is the coin of the realm and how you behave. I guess the kids call it your brand. If you’re duplicitous, they’ll spot it. Everyone knows it. So like, just tell the truth.”

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.

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