2004 CCJ Notes
(items moved from main page)
Joseph G. Sakey, 79, activist, entrepreneur (Boston Globe, Nov 28)
Nov 3 - I just returned from City Hall where the City Council's Finance Committee held a “hearing” to discuss assessing models and the city's property revaluation. After waiting two and half hours to speak, I finally gave up. I'm starting to believe that the purpose of City Council hearings is primarily to give councillors an opportunity to refine their political speeches. Creative solutions seem in short supply.
My beef is with a) the sometimes arbitrary way in which assessing is done and the range of important factors that it ignores, and b) the fact that the “Sudbury Decision” that requires properties to be assessed at full market value predates the phenomenon of condo conversion.
What we need is to have the state legislature take up this topic and provide better tools to allow local assessors and local city councils more and better options for determining good tax policy. Specifically, the current situation creates every incentive for owners of multifamily homes to sell them to speculators for condo conversion and quick profits. Once done, the actual tax paid by condominium owners will be minimal because of the high residential exemption. Meanwhile, the multifamily homeowner gets a dramatically higher property valuation because of the actions of the condo developer. Effectively, he subsidizes the condo developers and the condo owners.
I will shortly write more about the particulars of my case, and I'll do all my talking here from now on because of the uselessness of City Council hearings. - Robert Winters
October 30, 2004 - The Day the City of Cambridge Flipped Me the Bird
I just received the FY2005 real estate tax bill for my three-family house on Broadway. My total taxes due in FY2004 were $3238.74. The new bill for FY2005 asks me to pay a tax of $7466.38. This translates into a 131% increase in one year. I think this is outrageous.
I will, of course, file for an abatement. However, I believe Cambridge's Assessing Department is so totally off the mark in its methodology that it should be rebuilt from the ground up.
I have never been so furious with the City of Cambridge as I am right now. I understand that the values of three-family homes have risen due to the effects of speculators buying them up and selling them off as condos. I expected that this would translate into a tax increase for me, but I never expected that the City would stick it to me in the way that they have.
The report delivered to the City Council on October 18 stated that the average three-family homeowner should expect to see a 33.4% increase in their tax bill, in part due to a shift of the tax burden from the commercial base to the residential base. Louis DePasquale and Bob Healy assured the City Council at that time that if the median was used to indicate the expected increases, the expected increase would be lower. Imagine my surprise when my increase was four times the higher figure.
That same October 18 report indicated that condominium owners should expect an average decrease in their real estate taxes. Surely you can appreciate the outrage some of us feel about the fact that condominium conversion is driving the tax bills of multi-family owners through the roof at the same time that the average tax bill for condominium owners decreases.
I urge you the City Council and City administration to reconsider the way in which assessments and exemptions are handled in the City of Cambridge. The current system is prejudicial in the extreme. Those of us who keep our rents affordable and who resist the urge to "take the money and run" by selling out to condo-converters deserve a lot better treatment than this.
Robert Winters, 366 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139
PS - The City granted my abatement application. I'll try to tell the whole story soon.
Here we go again....
On Wednesday, October 13 at 5:00pm, there will be another meeting of the Special Committee to Review the Method of Election of Mayor. In the last meeting, Councillor Galluccio brought in the Mayor and City Clerk of Worcester to help him make the case that Cambridge should have a popularly elected mayor. What we learned then is that under the Worcester system, once a mayor is elected he is basically guaranteed to remain mayor until he decides to step down (mayor-for-life). It seems that Councillor Galluccio would like to play this role and wants to change the Charter to make it possible.
At this week’s meeting, Councillor Galluccio will use the public schools to again make his case. The meeting is billed as “an opportunity for parents and other concerned citizens to comment on the method of election of mayor as it relates to the public school system and to discuss the direction that the committee would like to take on the matter.” There is a rumor circulating that Councillor Galluccio may have already cut a deal to move this ill-begotten proposal forward to the City Council for action.
It will be very helpful if people came to this meeting to taste Councillor Galluccio's latest red herring and to make sure that stable City government is not trashed for the sake of self-interest. – RW
An Internet item that circulated around the time of the November 2004 election
Dear President Bush,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination...end of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev.15: 19-24). The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev.1:9). The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?
7. Lev.21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev. 24:10-16)? Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?
I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.
Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.
Your adoring fan,
Electoral Vote Predictor
Some Election Results for you! (Sept 14, 2004)
Toomey vs. Green (26th Middlesex Rep. Democratic Primary)
|Note: Both the Cambridge and Somerville totals are "unofficial" in that they do not include write-ins, auxiliary ballots, or provisional ballots. Official results are expected by Mon, Sept 20.|
The Tale of Turnout - Precinct by Precinct
|Cambridge precincts||Somerville precincts|
|Toomey - Green =||+179||+357||+371||-16||+163||-78||-240||+18||-13||+36||-124||-158|
|In particular, Tim Toomey’s margin of victory in Ward 1 (East Cambridge) was 1266 to 359, a difference of 907 votes. His overall margin of victory in the district was just 495 votes.|
Walz vs. Glynn (8th Suffolk Rep. Democratic Primary)
|Note: The Cambridge totals are "unofficial" in that they do not include write-ins, auxiliary ballots, or provisional ballots. Official results are expected by Mon, Sept 20.|
Complete results: http://www.boston.com/news/special/politics/2004_results
|Thurs, Aug 19, 2004
7:00pm FleetBoston 11th Annual Oldtime Baseball Game at St. Peter's Field, Sherman Street, North Cambridge
This was a great event (organized by Steve Buckley). More to follow.
|"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we," Bush said. "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
- George W. Bush, Aug 5, 2004
Here's a new one on the City of Cambridge website:
A Message from the Peace Commission - July 26, 2004
EYES WIDE OPEN - The Human Costs of the Iraq War
Wednesday, July 28, 10-7, Thursday, July 29, 10-4 – Sennott Park and the Area 4 Youth Center
The Cambridge Peace Commission, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and office of Vice-Mayor Marjorie Decker present an exhibit entitled "Eyes Wide Open."
Demonstrating the costs of the Iraq war, the exhibition includes over 860 pairs of boots representing the U.S. soldiers killed, and a wall listing the names of Iraqi civilians to commemorate the over 16,000 innocents killed. Inside the Youth Center, the exhibit continues as a multimedia, multisensory journey through the words, images, and sounds of the Iraq war.
Tours of the exhibit will be followed by a viewing of the display panels, a video, and an interactive art activity. For more information or to sign up for a tour, call 349-4694 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: To my knowledge, this is the first notice I've ever seen of an event being presented by the “office of Vice-Mayor”. To be clear, there is only the Office of the Mayor and the Office of the City Council. This creeping, incremental grabbing of additional authority is very disturbing to this long-time Council-watcher. - RW
June 28 - It was a night to remember at the Cambridge City Council - up there with the night ten years ago when everyone but the mayor walked out on Jonathan Myers, and Mayor Reeves adjourned the meeting while Myers was speaking.
Tonight was the night when City Councillor Marjorie Decker lost it, plain and simple. She lost not only her bearings, but what little respect remained of her colleagues on the Cambridge City Council. She may also have done irreparable harm to her political future. Her consolation prize was the adoration of a small group of CMAC (Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center) supporters who were duped into believing that Ms. Decker was fighting for their interests.
The short version is this: Councillor Decker had an order on the agenda calling for the release of funds for CMAC that have been held up pending a resolution of their dispute with the Dance Complex. The word among councillors was that one member was planning to exercise his charter right to table the order until the next meeting (in August). During the City Manager's Agenda while discussing traffic plans during the DNC convention, Councillor Decker “pushed the envelope” by bending the conversation toward her order (even though it was not before the Council at that time). She entered into what could benevolently be called a filibuster, but which was really more of an egocentric tirade. Mayor Sullivan called a brief recess after which Ms. Decker continued as before. Another recess was called. During this time, Ms. Decker turned to the audience and continued her “filibuster” as her colleagues waited for her to wind it down. She never stopped, even as the other eight councillors sat in bewilderment and their respect for her vanished. Eventually, Mayor Sullivan reconvened the meeting and Ms. Decker insisted that she still had the floor. This led to a heated exchange between the Mayor and the Vice-Chair that culminated with Councillor Simmons moving to adjourn the meeting. That vote failed with Councillors Davis, Maher, Simmons, and Mayor Sullivan voting YES, Councillors Decker, Galluccio, Murphy, and Toomey voting NO, and Councillor Reeves recorded as ABSENT. The exchange continued with Mayor Sullivan telling Ms. Decker, “You decided to push the envelope, as usual.” Councillor Reeves then moved to adjourn the meeting and this time it passed 7-2 with only Councillors Decker and Murphy voted NO.
So, the meeting was over at 7:42pm with nearly the entire agenda untouched, something some of us associate with the days when Tom Danehy or William Walsh served on the Council. The CMAC advocates were under the belief that Ms. Decker was acting out of principle, yet those more familiar with the Council and the issue at hand knew otherwise. Ms. Decker had simply imploded. One sentiment voiced by more than one person was, “It's just sad.”
The funding for CMAC will be worked out administratively as was envisioned all along before the Decker order appeared. Perhaps the most destructive outcome was that the proposed Tree Ordinance - part ordinance and part zoning amendment - which expires on Tuesday, June 29, was not acted upon. Though the part of that initiative that does not involve zoning can be acted on at the August 2 (Midsummer) City Council meeting, the zoning part will now have to be re-filed, re-advertised, and new hearings will have to be held. This was particularly hard on Karen Carmean, the chief advocate for the ordinance who has been carrying the ball on this proposal for a very long time and who had the votes in place for ordination tonight. The champagne will have to wait. Also expected to be approved at this meeting was an ordinance to regulate skateboarding on City property (and the high school, in particular).
It was a most unusual atmosphere in the Sullivan Chamber after the adjournment. All of the councillors remained. Ms. Decker continued to talk. Other councillors gathered in small groups to marvel at the spectacle of what had just transpired. Margaret Drury and Sandy Albano were on duty making sure that no more than four councillors gathered in one place (which would be a violation of the open meeting laws). Councillors, city officials, and Council-watchers all searched their memories for comparable incidents and could not come up with anything like this.
In a paradoxical way, this incident could actually serve to unite the Council, at least the 8 councillors who kept their heads and continued to respect the Mass. General Laws, Robert's Rules of Order, and each other. It's also a good thing that there will be no meeting until August 2. It will take that long for some of this dust to settle. It will be interesting to see if they can manage a cooperative environment with the volatile Ms. Decker during the various events planned for July to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. What atmosphere we can expect at future City Council meetings is hard to predict, but it's hard to imagine Ms. Decker as part of any working collaboration in the near term. - Robert Winters
Farewell to the Peoples' Republic - William Shutkin, Boston Globe Op-Ed, June 28, 2004 [link expired]
June 24, 2004 - I just returned from the meeting of the City Council subcommittee that is discussing possible changes in the way the mayor is elected. There is much to say, especially on the revelations from Worcester officials that their directly elected mayor has never been defeated once he ascended to that job. Apparently, you stop being mayor-for-life when you decide to not run for at-large councillor and mayor. More on the meeting later. For now, here's the testimony I gave at the meeting:
Comments on the discussion of charter change to have a popularly elected mayor
1. Cambridge has had a pure Plan E Charter since 1941, a 63 year history of stable government. I believe that the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies to this discussion.
2. The only "problem" now is the inability of nine individuals to collegially act to elect a mayor and to accept the resulting vote with dignity and mutual respect.
3. Should the selection of mayor be done differently? YES, but not by changing the charter.
4. A mayoral election involving candidates who are also City Council candidates is not compatible with our at-large PR elections where proportional representation of constituencies is the primary goal.
5. There is a real issue regarding leadership in the Cambridge Public Schools. If this was really a concern of the proponents of this measure, rather than a red herring used to distract from the real goal, then why has there not been recruitment of School Committee candidates to assume this leadership and correct the problems with the schools? It is not the role of the mayor to assume this leadership. He is just one of seven votes on the School Committee.
6. It has been suggested that the mayor could be an ordinary member of the School Committee and allow the Chair to be elected by the School Committee. This could even be done without a change in the charter simply by creating a tradition of allowing the elected Vice-Chair of the School Committee to assume the duties of the Chair.
7. Where is the groundswell of support for this proposal? I have seen none.
8. Have any of the proponents suggested an election method for their proposed direct election of the mayor?
Is a plurality election envisioned? This would have many flaws, especially if there were many candidates, and would be inconsistent with Cambridge's tradition of ranked ballots.
Would we consider an Instant Runoff election using the City Council ballots? This is an intriguing possibility, but it would likely be very unfair to non-incumbents because it would create a double incentive to voters to give their #1 vote to a candidate who has declared for mayor. In fact it creates an incentive for every candidate to declare for mayor, whether they want to be mayor or not.
9. It is likely that there would be an expectation that the mayor should have power that the charter does not grant. It seems likely that there would soon follow further proposals to shift powers to the mayor with the inevitable erosion of the city manager system that has served the City so well for over six decades.
10. On taking turns as mayor:
|Breathe freely - On Friday afternoon, June 18, 2004 Governor Romney signed the statewide workplace smoking ban (including all bars and restaurants). I have lots of pictures and may post some of the better ones.|
May 17, 2004 After Midnight in Cambridge
You never know what you might find when you look over the old City of Cambridge Annual Reports.
May 7, 2004 - There are some spectacular items on the City Manager's Agenda for the May 10 City Council meeting. These are some appropriation orders for major capital projects including:
1) $2,300,000 for improvements to Porter Square (long delayed and finally happening);
2) $3,500,000 for improvements to Harvard Square (including a very big change on Mt. Auburn Street);
3) $3,430,500 to finally construct a new artificial turf football field, field house, and press box at Russell Field along with various other improvements;
4) $3,000,000 to demolish 238 Broadway and to construct and develop new recreation facilities and parks at that location and at the site of the Broadway & Boardman Community Garden (to be half garden and half park);
5) $1,100,000 for improvements at the Gold Star Mothers Pool; and
6) $16,770,000 for some very important and long-awaited sewer projects in the Agassiz neighborhood, Mid-Cambridge, Fresh Pond/Alewife, Cherry Street and So. Mass. Ave., Cambridgeport, Bellis Circle, and Porter Square.
Ok, I admit it. I'm a budget and infrastructure wonk. It's at times like this that I really appreciate the relative good financial management that the City administration is famous for. We can also thank all the good grant writers and others who successfully bring in additional funds to support these important projects.
If you want to get a good taste of what really makes Cambridge tick, don't forget to tune in or show up for the Budget Hearing this Tuesday at 10am at City Hall. Up for discussion are the budgets of such departments as Public Works, Water, Community Development, Human Services, and the Cambridge Health Alliance (OK, well that one probably deserves a better explanation). The Capital Budget is also up for discussion. I've always found this annual ritual to be one of the best civics lessons in Cambridge.
How to Elect a Mayor? (May 4, 2004 update) – In case you're wondering whatever became of that special City Council committee appointed to look into mayoral election methods [Councillors Reeves (co-chair), Galluccio (co-chair), Murphy, Simmons, and Decker], the first meeting is currently scheduled for:
Thurs, May 20, 2004
6:00pm The Special Committee to Review the Method of Election of Mayor will conduct a public hearing to receive public testimony and to receive a report from the City Solicitor on whether a change could take place through a home rule petition and without a charter commission. (Sullivan Chamber)
This meeting was originally scheduled for May 19. Because I teach a mathematics class at Harvard every Wednesday evening, I requested a change in the date of the meeting. After saying that he would not change the date for one person, Councillor Galluccio relented and offered to change it to May 20. I pointed out to him that I am a presenter at a Recycling Forum that day (noting the 15th anniversary Cambridge's original volunteer recycling program), so I will be unable to make the alternate date. He scheduled at this time anyway when it's impossible for me to attend. Thanks, Gooch.
I want very much to bring important information to this committee and to participate fully in the discussion. I'll keep trying to get the date and time changed. In any case, I hope “the public” at these meetings consists of more than just the people Councillor Galluccio invites to back up his position. It wouldn't be the first time in Cambridge that a meeting was skewed by invitation.
The Plan E Charter was established with considerable forethought by visionary people in the 1930's. (It was established as a charter option by the Commonwealth in 1938, approved by Cambridge voters in 1940, and implemented with the 1941 municipal election.) The principal features of the Plan E Charter are a city manager form of government and proportional representation elections. Cambridge remains the only place in the Commonwealth (and the country) that has maintained this Charter in its original form. Other cities have abandoned proportional representation elections (for questionable reasons in every case) and the option of PR elections was excised from the Mass. General Laws (Chapter 54A) in 1972.
The essential feature of a PR election is that it represents the voters proportionally. Those who are elected are elected as equals with no one person more important than the others. Councillor Galluccio's proposal to have a popularly elected mayor would alter that balance by making the mayoral election the dominant factor in the municipal elections and would conflict with the whole concept of proportionality. This proposal threatens to turn the City Council election into a sideshow of the Galluccio mayoral campaign. I thought Mr. Galluccio made a fine mayor when he served several years ago, but it's ridiculous to throw out a solid 60-year tradition for the sake of one political player who has been unable to gain the votes of four colleagues in the last two Council terms.
The primary down side of the current method of mayoral election involves the interpersonal relations among nine people. It is ludicrous to suggest that turning the City Council election into the B-side of a mayoral election will have a positive effect on these relations. I believe it will have exactly the opposite effect. I will add that under this proposal, many good people who have admirably served as Chair of the City Council would never have had this opportunity if it had been reduced to a winner-take-all popularity contest. We would not, in all likelihood, have ever had a person of color serve a term as mayor.
[Note: Though Galluccio's proposal calls for a popular election, it does not specify the election mechanism. If an Instant Runoff method using preferential ballots, possibly the same ballots used to elect the councillors, were used, it is conceivable that this might not severely conflict with the principles of PR election. However, it would probably cause all candidates to declare their desire to be mayor just to guard against receiving lower ballot rankings. It would also give yet another advantage in the elections to the incumbents.]
Let's be clear what the mayor is and is not in Cambridge. The mayor is Chair of the City Council. The mayor also chairs the School Committee - an important role to be sure. Beyond that, the City is run by the City Manager who is hired by majority vote of the City Council. By tradition, the Mayor's Office also handles most of the "honorary" duties and serves as a general flak-catcher for residents who don't understand that the City Manager is the person in charge of City operations.
There is also a Vice-Chair of the City Council, but no mention of a "Vice-Mayor" in the Plan E Charter. The practice of the vice-chair getting his or her own staff assistant began only very recently when Councillor Galluccio cut a deal in exchange for his vote to make Frank Duehay mayor. That move led to a lot of resentment among councillors who objected to one councillor (other than the mayor) getting such a privilege. It was a bad idea then and it remains a bad idea today. With the exception of the mayor, all councillors should have equal privileges, and there is absolutely no basis for any of them to have personal assistants. They are paid very well for their part-time positions.
How many people in Cambridge have strong feelings about the mayoral election method? Judging from the last time this was brought up, there are very few people other than the elected officials (by the way, four councillors have already voted against considering Galluccio's plan) and a few of us civic diehards. If ever you wanted evidence that the current city councillors have more free time and political aspirations than ideas and actions, you need look no further than this proposal.
Apr 30 - Judge Lawrence Feloney, a caring judge, at 82 (Boston Globe - link expired)
Apr 28 - For Local Writer, Literature Leads to Politics - Harvard Crimson article on David Slavitt, Republican candidate for State Representative.
March 15 (The Ides of March) - What appears to be the last horse trade of the 2004 mayoral election unfolded tonight at the meeting of the Cambridge City Council. The first step in Councillor Galluccio's multi-year quest to alter the City Charter to have a popularly elected mayor (guess who?) was given the OK by the same five councillors who elected Michael Sullivan as mayor in January - Decker, Galluccio, Reeves, Sullivan, and Toomey. This proposal, the first step in what Galluccio referred to as a "campaign," reads thus:
ORDERED: That the Mayor be and hereby is requested to appoint a committee to explore the feasibility (and desirability) of providing for the democratic election of the Mayor of the City of Cambridge and that said committee will report back to the City Council on its findings, which should include, but is not limited to, an inquiry as to whether this change could be made without undertaking a charter commission; the process for making and implementing such a change; public comment from the community on this matter; and other salient benefits, issues, and concerns; and be it further
ORDERED: That said committee, if necessary, request the drafting of a home rule petition to be sent to the legislature to authorize this change; and be it further
ORDERED: That this committee report back to the City Council before the summer recess.
Several councillors unsuccessfully tried to amend the order to allow for a broader discussion of options other than what Galluccio wants, such as a change in how the School Committee is structured. Slamming down the idea of a broader discussion, Galluccio insisted on a "focused discussion" of his wishes and no other, i.e. my way or the highway. I believe the last "ORDERED" bears more than the hint of a suggestion that Galluccio wants this to be fast-tracked, possibly with the goal of ramming it through in time for its inclusion on this fall's ballot (should that be necessary).
There are some precious ironies in all of this. First, the rhetoric in support of this proposal centers around the negative aspects of the current mayoral election process (a discomfort that affects only these nine people, by the way). However, this proposal is part of that very deal that delivered the five votes to elect the current mayor and cosponsor of this order. In other words, if you don't like that process, how do you feel about this one? It surely does matter whose ox is gored.
The second wonderful irony is the rhetoric about restoring to "the people" the right to elect the Chair of the City Council (which is what the mayor really is under the Plan E Charter). Note that the Boston City Council elects its own chair and, though it isn't always a pretty process, they somehow seem to survive. When this matter came up several years ago, the total number of people who came out on this issue could be counted on two hands. Basically, this is as low a priority as there is to be found in the City of Cambridge. It will take Galluccio's "campaign" to get people to even notice.
There is, to be sure, an issue about how best to select the Chair of the School Committee. Councillor Simmons noted that in some jurisdictions, the mayor sits on the school committee but does not chair the body. It would be nice if such alternatives could be on the table, but Councillor Galluccio will not permit this as part of his "focused conversation." Let the people speak, as long as they don't advocate something other than what I want them to advocate. Oh yeah, democracy. Right.
Galluccio likes to point to Worcester as his ideal of a city that moved away from Plan E to simultaneously have both a city manager and an elected mayor. It was good of Councillor Reeves to point out that "the worst disaster in the state is downtown Worcester."
This proposal seems to me to be just another example of self-indulgence from an incredibly self-indulgent City Council (with several notable exceptions). If left to their own whims, they would each have multiple staff persons and even larger salaries than they already enjoy for their part-time jobs. The problem with both the mayoral election and the bad interpersonal dynamics on this city council has nothing to do with the structure of the Cambridge city government, the Charter, the election method, or anything else external that the backers of this proposal like to cite. It all comes down to the human qualities of these nine people. And changing the charter will not change the fact that some of these councillors could use a little "reform" themselves.
The Public Be Damned
March 11 - Pardon my griping, but I have a beef with Cambridge's Department of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation (TPT). When the Longfellow School closed last year, many neighborhood residents, including me, felt it was more than appropriate for the parking in front of the school to revert to residential use as had been the case years ago. Without the need for a school bus stop, it seemed like an easy case to make. I contacted the department head (Sue Clippinger) and received the following (non)responses:
Response #1 (Aug 15): “I'm not sure what we will be doing but it depends on the uses in the building. Unless it becomes housing it is unlikely that resident permit parking will be implemented there.”
Response #2 (Aug 25): “Thanks for all the input. We can make some of the existing metered spaces resident only at night as another option to add into the mix.”
Neither of these allude to what has actually happened, namely that the Department of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation is using these spaces exclusively for themselves (and occasionally the Animal Commission). There is also a lack of acknowledgement of the fact that residents used to be able to park there once upon a time. While I'm trying hard to keep an open mind about this, I can't help but think that this is a classic case of “the public be damned.”
Before the City Hall Annex moved temporarily to 238 Broadway several years ago, TPT seemed to do OK with a mix of parking at metered spaces and resident spaces. I simply cannot believe that the situation has become more difficult now that they've moved back to Mid-Cambridge. After all, they no longer have to compete with the teachers and staff of the Longfellow School during school hours. This seems like a case of the complete disregard of local residents.
The word is that the Main Library will be temporarily relocating to the Longfellow Building as early as this fall. It is expected that there will be some adjustments for library parking, including use of the spaces behind the school. It will be interesting to see if TPT shows the same degree of indifference (or worse) to neighborhood residents at that time.
Many of us would at least like to be able to park overnight and up to some reasonable hour at the metered spaces (without having to pump quarters into the meter at 8am). This is an idea that Councillor Toomey has proposed several times in the past and which appears to have fallen on deaf ears each time.
By the way, if you work at TPT, I still haven't forgotten or forgiven the incident last October 31 when TPP posted Lee Street for street cleaning on Thursday afternoon (after I had parked) and towed Friday morning. As far as I'm concerned you still owe me $80 for the ticket and the tow. - Robert Winters
Mar 1, 2004 - Tonight the Cambridge City Council came to my block to hold a Roundtable meeting on economic development in Cambridge. I like these Roundtable meetings – not just because I don't have to suffer through the usual drivel from goose activists and raving paranoids during the Public Comment portion of the regular City Council meeting, but because they actually talk about Real Stuff at these meetings. Tonight was no exception.
For starters, I learned that the commercial vacancy rate in Cambridge is averaging about 24% right now and that's only part of the story. Because of layoffs, many of the occupied offices have fewer people working there. This reduction in the workforce impacts the number of people out on the street in commercial areas and leads to a measurable drop in sales and services. In East Cambridge the commercial vacancy rate is about 26.2% but it's just 11.5% in Harvard Square. Lest you think this is dreadful news for Cambridge, it must be noted that neighboring communities have it worse. The emerging biotech industry has helped Cambridge to remain in relatively good shape. [Louis DePasquale noted that 5 of the top 10 (and 13 of the top 25) biotech companies in Massachusetts are located in Cambridge.] The retail story is somewhat different with close to zero vacancies in Central Square and along Cambridge Street (where Tim Toomey notes he’s seeking space for a campaign office).
One thing none of the councillors asked about (which I believe should have been asked) is how much of the current level of commercial vacancy is attributable to an ailing local economy and how much can be chalked up to the overbuilding of commercial space over the last decade or more. It's easy to moan and groan about a 24% vacancy rate, but if it's just the commercial developers who are taking this on the chin, this is not necessarily a cause for widespread concern. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi points out that foreclosures have not been happening and that the owners are managing to pay their taxes. Alas, this may be an indication that better days lie ahead.
I heard at this meeting one rather startling revelation about the bill recently passed by the state legislature (at the behest of the City of Boston) to adjust the property tax classification to allow a greater burden to be shifted to commercial properties. This new law has a clause that may negatively impact Cambridge residential property taxes a few years down the road. The property tax classification allows municipalities to adopt different rates for the residential and commercial categories, but (simplifying a bit) until recently the residential rate could not drop below 50% of what the flat rate would have been and the commercial rate could not rise above 175% of what the flat rate would have been. The recent change pushes the latter limit to 200% of the flat rate, so if a municipality adopts this, they can hold residential taxes closer to where they’ve been in recent years. What I didn't know is that this 200% cap drops to 190% a year later, then to 180% the year after that, and then down to 170% - lower than what it is today. Apparently this was the bargain struck to get the legislation passed. Cambridge has consistently pushed the commercial rate to the maximum 175% for many years now and wasn’t planning to push it higher (like Boston). However, the 170% cap would apply to Cambridge in FY08, I believe. At the very least, Cambridge may have to do some additional planning and adjustment to ensure that we don't hit the wall on this and be forced to pass the burden onto the residential tax in a few years.
Councillor Reeves brought up the connection between the Swiss consulate building at the corner of Broadway and Ellery in Mid-Cambridge and the decision of Novartis, a Swiss biotech/pharmaceutical company, to relocate to Cambridge (in the Necco building). The Swiss were met with neighborhood protests a while back because they replaced Sage, Jr. (a local convenience store turned health food store) and a laundromat, both of which served neighborhood residents. It has been suggested that had the Swiss received a harder time, it may have led Novartis to go elsewhere. The suggestion here is that one should consider the collateral effects of that time-honored Cambridge tradition - the neighborhood protest. Certainly, a boneheaded lawsuit in Central Square a few years back left a big hole in the ground for more than a year and squandered any good will that existed between owners of the Holmes property and neighborhood residents and destroyed any prospect of a return of the former tenants. But, I digress....
Brian Murphy pointed out the problem of retail locations (like the HMV/Structure building in Harvard Square) being consumed and repurposed for office and other uses that take away from the vitality of a street. Some of us still remember the Central Square Cinema, the Army & Navy store, and other businesses in Lafayette Square (the other end of Central Square where the firehouse is). That was turned into labs and offices. There is now some concern that Harvard may consume the small businesses at the corner of Everett St. and Mass. Ave. Let's not forget The Tasty, while we're on the subject.
Councillor Decker (and others) inquired about how the Community Development Department has assisted the Nora Theater in the long effort to locate into Central Square. That's a complicated story because the historic building where they are to move may well have to be leveled due to its lack of structural integrity and significant cleanup costs. The building is part of what was known as South Row and where the Bradford Cafe used to be.
A little closer to home (my home, that is), I noted today that my next-door neighbor, the Museum of Useful Things, is moving to 49 Brattle Street and closing up shop on Broadway. Except for the Wednesday auctions at Hubley’s (on the other side of my house), Black Ink/Museum of Useful Things has for a number of years been the anchor of this otherwise pretty depressed commercial strip on Broadway. They have also been the only real traffic generator during the last few years when the City Hall Annex was temporarily located further down Broadway. The creators of Black Ink/ Museum of Useful Things were Susan and Tim Corcoran who lived on the same block as the store. Tragically, last year Tim died leaving Susan and their two children. I really liked Tim and I'm still disoriented by his dying well before his time. The closing of the store punctuates the tragedy. Their presence on the block has been the best thing since Sabbey's Spa left 25 years ago.
The other big changes around here are the exit of the Longfellow School and the very recent return of the City Hall Annex. Now that the Longfellow School is no longer a school, the school bus stop in front of the building is no longer needed. Parking used to be permitted there years ago, so I inquired of Traffic & Parking Director Sue Clippinger a few months ago whether we would soon be able to use that again for parking. I received a noncommittal response and heard nothing more. Now that the environmentally wonderful City Hall Annex is back in the neighborhood in these days of traffic calming and the Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance, it must certainly be the case that the Annex needs no more parking than used to suffice. Alas, each day the spaces in the No Parking Zone in front of Longfellow are now occupied – by none other than the Department of Traffic & Parking. It reminds me of what the late Bill Jones used to declare each year during the Budget Hearings when he would call some City departments “public-be-damned” departments.
Councillor Galluccio pursued an all-too-common theme about the down side of Cambridge not having a strong mayor form of government. [He would like, of course, to be that strong mayor.] He argued that when licenses and permits are issued in places like Somerville, leverage can be applied to extract such apparent benefits as union apprenticeships for local residents. Call me a NAFTA-type, but I really hate this whole way of thinking. For every opportunity reserved for a local Somerville resident, an opportunity is denied to a Cambridge resident. Galluccio argues that we should also be engaged in this kind of protectionism. It's one thing if you're getting an owner/developer to create jobs, but it borders on feudal when you reserve existing jobs only for local residents. May I suggest LAFTA, a local area free trade alliance where Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, and other municipalities work cooperatively? What a radical concept.
Councillor Reeves drew attention to the upcoming Democratic National Convention to be held in Boston this summer. He correctly points out that Cambridge should not be targeting the delegates so much as the national TV audience. He suggested that this is a great opportunity to showcase all that Cambridge has to offer, especially the wealth of emerging science locally grown in Cambridge. I really do believe Councillor Reeves hits the nail right on the head here. We can trumpet all our “diversity” all day long, but the national audience will be much more interested in stories like the human genome project, the many technologies that continue to be spawned and grown at MIT, the recently announced Harvard stem cell research initiative, and much more. Cambridge is really like a Science Amusement Park where the future is being created every day. So let’s stop pissing and moaning and tell the world already.
One real “disconnect” that the City Council, School Committee, and the City Administration has no choice but to address is the fact that most of the jobs being created in Cambridge are high-skilled jobs, and our local school system is not geared for graduating nearly enough technically-capable graduates. CRLS certainly does produce some great math and science students, as I well know since some of them attend my Harvard Extension School classes, but I believe this as an “academic subculture”, as a friend of mine once called it, distinct from the mainstream of CRLS. Until this becomes the norm, the Cambridge Public Schools will always be wanting. It's easy to mouth phrases like “Excellence in Every Classroom,” but until most students make this their primary goal, we'll continue to graduate students who will have an increasingly difficult time finding work in the local economy. - Robert Winters
|Cambridge City Council Committees for 2004-2005|
|Ordinance||Reeves (Co-chair), Toomey (Co-chair) (committee of the whole)|
|Finance||Murphy (Chair) (committee of the whole)|
|Government Operations and Rules||Maher (Chair), Decker, Galluccio, Reeves, Toomey|
|Health and Environment||Decker (Chair), Davis, Galluccio|
|Neighborhood and Long Term Planning||Reeves (Chair), Murphy, Simmons|
|Housing||Galluccio (Chair), Decker, Maher, Murphy, Simmons|
|Economic Development, Training,
|Reeves (Chair), Simmons, Toomey|
|Public Safety||Davis (Chair), Simmons, Toomey|
|Human Services||Simmons (Chair), Davis, Murphy|
|Civic Unity||Maher (Chair), Decker, Reeves|
|Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations||Murphy (Chair), Davis, Maher|
|Transportation, Traffic, and Parking||Davis (Chair), Murphy, Toomey|
|Cable TV, Telecommunications,
and Public Utilities
|Simmons (Chair), Maher, Murphy|
|Veterans||Decker (Chair), Galluccio, Maher|
|Claims||Toomey (Chair), Galluccio, Reeves|
|University Relations||Galluccio (co-chair), Decker (co-chair), Davis, Murphy, Simmons|
Notes on the
City Council Committee appointments:
Though the composition of many of the committees did not change from the last term, there are a number of significant changes, most notably in who will chair certain committees. After their sterling performance as co-chairs of the Ordinance Committee, Councillors Maher and Murphy will now yield their gavels to Councillors Reeves and Toomey.
Councillor Davis was a great match for the Health and Environment Committee, but the Mayor has appointed Councillor Decker to chair that committee. We'll have to wait and see how that one works out, but the choice seems a bit bewildering. Councillor Simmons, a small business owner, immersed herself last term in her role as Chair of the Economic Development Committee. That role now passes to Councillor Reeves. I'm scratching my head over the choice of Councillors Galluccio and Decker as Co-Chairs of the University Relations Committee.
This shuffling of roles, perhaps not for the better, brings to mind a favorite tale from the Brothers Grimm:
The Mouse, the Bird, and The Sausage - by Brothers Grimm
Once upon a time, a mouse, a bird, and a sausage, entered into partnership and set up house together. For a long time all went well; they lived in great comfort, and prospered so far as to be able to add considerably to their stores. The bird's duty was to fly daily into the wood and bring in fuel; the mouse fetched the water, and the sausage saw to the cooking.
When people are too well off they always begin to long for something new. And so it came to pass, that the bird, while out one day, met a fellow bird, to whom he boastfully expatiated on the excellence of his household arrangements. But the other bird sneered at him for being a poor simpleton, who did all the hard work, while the other two stayed at home and had a good time of it. For, when the mouse had made the fire and fetched in the water, she could retire into her little room and rest until it was time to set the table. The sausage had only to watch the pot to see that the food was properly cooked, and when it was near dinner-time, he just threw himself into the broth, or rolled in and out among the vegetables three or four times, and there they were, buttered, and salted, and ready to be served. Then, when the bird came home and had laid aside his burden, they sat down to table, and when they had finished their meal, they could sleep their fill till the following morning: and that was really a very delightful life.
Influenced by those remarks, the bird next morning refused to bring in the wood, telling the others that he had been their servant long enough, and had been a fool into the bargain, and that it was now time to make a change, and to try some other way of arranging the work. Beg and pray as the mouse and the sausage might, it was of no use; the bird remained master of the situation, and the venture had to be made. They therefore drew lots, and it fell to the sausage to bring in the wood, to the mouse to cook, and to the bird to fetch the water.
And now what happened? The sausage started in search of wood, the bird made the fire, and the mouse put on the pot, and then these two waited till the sausage returned with the fuel for the following day. But the sausage remained so long away, that they became uneasy, and the bird flew out to meet him. He had not flown far, however, when he came across a dog who, having met the sausage, had regarded him as his legitimate booty, and so seized and swallowed him. The bird complained to the dog of this bare-faced robbery, but nothing he said was of any avail, for the dog answered that he found false credentials on the sausage, and that was the reason his life had been forfeited.
He picked up the wood, and flew sadly home, and told the mouse all he had seen and heard. They were both very unhappy, but agreed to make the best of things and to remain with one another.
So now the bird set the table, and the mouse looked after the food and, wishing to prepare it in the same way as the sausage, by rolling in and out among the vegetables to salt and butter them, she jumped into the pot; but she stopped short long before she reached the bottom, having already parted not only with her skin and hair, but also with life.
Presently the bird came in and wanted to serve up the dinner, but he could nowhere see the cook. In his alarm and flurry, he threw the wood here and there about the floor, called and searched, but no cook was to be found. Then some of the wood that had been carelessly thrown down, caught fire and began to blaze. The bird hastened to fetch some water, but his pail fell into the well, and he after it, and as he was unable to recover himself, he was drowned.
Fight the Charter - Information about what you can do to oppose the charter high school proposal of Paula Evans, et al.
Feb - Mar, 2004: There are ten proposed amendments before the joint session of the Massachusetts State Legislature. The most controversial of these, the “Proposal for a Legislative Amendment to the Constitution relative to the affirmation of marriage”, is Amendment #8.
Proposed amendments before the Constitutional Convention
Jan 9, 2004 - The first regular meeting of the 2004-2005 Cambridge City Council will take place this Monday, January 12. City Council committee appointments are expected to be announced at the next meeting on January 26. Here's my personal wish list for the Council committees:
• I hope that Councillors Murphy and Maher are again willing to co-chair the Ordinance Committee. They did a great job last term.
• I hope Councillor Murphy is again willing the chair the Finance Committee.
• I hope that Councillor Davis will again chair the Health and Environment Committee.
• I hope that Mayor Sullivan makes appointments to the University Relations Committee that will ensure a more cooperative relationship between Town and Gown. In this regard, Councillors Maher, Murphy, Davis, Galluccio, and Reeves would be my top choices.
Commentary - The Cambridge Chronicle just printed an unsigned editorial calling for a change in the city charter to have a popularly elected mayor. There is precisely one person in Cambridge who would benefit from this change, a good fellow by the name of Anthony Galluccio, the person who that paper endorsed for mayor the previous week. It would appear that the Chronicle fails to appreciate what the principal job of the mayor really is, namely that of Chair of the Cambridge City Council. I would argue that most elected bodies, as well as the boards of most organizations, function best when they are able to choose their own Chair.
I will further suggest that if Cambridge were to have a directly elected Mayor and a City Manager, there would inevitably be pressure to diminish the role of the City Manager and to transfer more authority to the Mayor. This would not be in the best interests of Cambridge which has prospered for over 60 years under the Plan E charter. It is equally inevitable that the role of the city councillors would substantially fade in elections where much of the emphasis would be on the proposed mayoral election. We are well-served by a City Council of nine equals who are elected at-large as equals and who get to choose their own Chair.
The case is often made that the Mayor should be popularly elected because of his role as the Chair and 7th voting member of the School Committee. I disagree. Until recently I believed it was useful to have the mayor serve on both bodies, principally because of budgetary considerations. Now I'm not so sure. Though my first preference would be to leave the charter as is, I would consider a change to a five-person directly elected School Committee that chooses its own Chair. With no members in common with the City Council, this may lead to greater tension between the two bodies, but that may also force the School Committee to be more accountable, especially around budget time, if the City Council feels no need to be deferential to one of its own. This would also put more responsibility on the voters in School Committee elections and may even attract more qualified candidates for School Committee. – RW
Jan 5, 2004 - Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
The Cambridge City Council today once again elected Michael A. Sullivan to be mayor for the 2004-2005 City Council term. Mayor Sullivan was once again elected on the 1st ballot. The initial vote went like this:
Voting for Sullivan: Decker, Galluccio, Reeves, Sullivan, Toomey
Voting for Davis: Davis, Maher, Murphy, Simmons
Once these votes were on the table, Brian Murphy changed his vote to Reeves. Denise Simmons then did so as well. If one more person (other than Reeves or Decker) had also changed to Reeves, things may have become quite interesting, but that third vote did not materialize. If it had, one could surmise that Reeves might then have voted for himself, and I would expect Decker to have then provide the 5th vote. In the end the final tally was:
Sullivan (5 votes): Decker, Galluccio, Reeves, Sullivan, Toomey
Davis (2 votes): Davis, Maher
Reeves (2 votes): Murphy, Simmons
After Mayor Sullivan was sworn in, the Council elected Marjorie Decker to be Vice-Chair of the City Council. The initial votes was:
Voting for Decker: Decker, Galluccio, Reeves, Sullivan, Toomey
Voting for Simmons: Davis, Maher, Murphy, Simmons
At this point, Brian Murphy and Denise Simmons changed their votes to Decker, and David Maher then moved to make the vote unanimous.
After the inauguration, the usual political chatter ensued about deals having been made and broken - nothing that we haven't heard before. It does, however, seem to be the case that the votes for mayor were only finally decided in the hours before the election.
Addendum - Later in the day on January 5, the Cambridge School Committee unanimously elected Richard Harding to be its Vice-Chair.
Jan 5, 2004, 9:30am - It's Inauguration Day today and, at least in theory, the day when the mayor is to be elected by the City Council from its ranks. You may be interested to know what the result would be if the same 20080 valid ballots that were used to elect the councillors were used to elect just one person in an "instant runoff" election where the candidate with the lowest number of ballots was defeated each round.
Using the 2003 City Council ballot data, here's what would happen in the last few rounds:
Round 17: Galluccio 5331, Davis 4795, Sullivan 3703, Decker 3475
Round 18: Davis 6137, Galluccio 5951, Sullivan 4039
Round 19: Galluccio 8008, Davis 6852
Let's see if these voter preferences are reflected in the mayoral vote today.
Jan 2, 2004 - The Inauguration ceremonies for the Cambridge City Council and Cambridge School Committee will take place this Monday, January 5 (10am at City Hall for the City Council, and 6pm at the Henrietta Attles Meeting Room at CRLS for the School Committee). After the swearing in, the only business item at the City Council Inaugural will be the election of the mayor and vice-chair of the City Council (called the vice-mayor by some, though no such title exists in the City charter). Of course, there is no guarantee that anyone will be elected on Opening Day. The School Committee will also choose their vice-chair on Monday.
In past years, a flood of speculation has usually preceded the election of the mayor. It was not uncommon to hear of private meetings taking place here and there and of hard bargains being struck in the quest for that fifth vote. This year has been strangely quiet. I suspect the cause of all this peace and quiet may be that there are only be a few dozen people in Cambridge who actually care who the mayor will be (9 councillors, 6 School Committee members, family, friends, and a few people who might want to work in the Mayor's Office).
OK, you may say, but what about the important role of the mayor as Chair of the School Committee? That seems like a good argument, but most of the heavy lifting and controversy took place last term. Furthermore, there's a new Superintendent of Schools and everyone seems to be deferring to his judgment during his honeymoon period. So, does it really matter who will be chairing the School Committee? I suspect this is just posturing on the part of one or more councillors who are trying to land the job of mayor.
It's more important, I think, to hold the elected members of the School Committee to high performance standards rather than look to a mayor to come riding in on a white horse. I don't see a whole lot of controversy to trouble the School Committee this term, but they may have their work cut out for them just trying to sell the public schools to residents who are growing more and more skeptical about the quality of the system. It's a Catch-22 to be sure. To attract and retain students who will lift the system, you need to have confidence in the system; but to have confidence in the system you need to see ample evidence of student achievement. The secret ingredient here may be faith and the belief that things are moving in the right direction. Building this faith is one of the most important things that the elected officials can do. In fact, if that's the only thing they succeed in doing, they will have done well.
Back on the City Council side, it's hard to say what the significant issues will be, if any. We managed to weather the economic downturn reasonably well, most of the important zoning decisions are now behind us, and we may never again hear a peep about rent control. Maybe this is a good time to focus on the small stuff rather than looking for big issues.
Will the Department of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation develop the capacity to actually listen to people? Miracles could happen. Maybe the News and Events link on the Cambridge Water Department web page will be updated for the first time in four years. I doubt it. Perhaps someone in the Elections Department will actually post campaign finance reports in a timely and user-friendly way. We can all dream, I suppose.
Editor's Note (Jan 16, 2004): The Water Dept. has unveiled a very good-looking new website. Check it out.
There was a series of books a few years back with the “Don't Sweat the Small Stuff” theme. While I'm not suggesting that we get ourselves all worked up about the small stuff, this may be a good time to take care of all the little things that could really use some fixing in Cambridge. They could start by replacing the bulb in the streetlamp across the street from my house.
The abandoned gas station in Lafayette Square has been waiting for half a decade now for the “Cambridgeport Roadways” project to be completed. The DPW tagged a few abandoned bikes in Central Square this past year, then abandoned the initiative leaving scores of bikes rusting their way to oblivion as they clog up the limited amount of available bike parking near the T. Some of the bike racks just went away, never to be seen again.
Have you ever wondered why control boxes for traffic signals are the size of small refrigerators even though the working parts could be reduced to the size of a cell phone? Lack of creativity, I suspect. You don't need nanotechnology to reduce the clutter in the streets and sidewalks of Cambridge.
My hat is off to Councillor Toomey for his December 22 order calling for a reduction of signposts (and signs per post) in Cambridge. The DPW never met a sign it didn't like. Around the corner from my house is a classic. Everywhere else in the country a little paint on the curb is enough to keep people from parking too close to a driveway. In Cambridge, up goes another 9 ft tall sign. It's idiotic. - Robert Winters
What works and what doesn't work in the City of Cambridge?
With the start of the new City Council and School Committee terms, I would like to build a list of all the big and little things that work well and not so well in the City of Cambridge. My hope is that the new (yet familiar) City Council and the new School Committee as well as the City Administration will take note of these observations as they shape their agendas.
Tell me about your experiences in dealing with the City of Cambridge. Are there City departments and or divisions within departments that do an unusually good job? Have you been frustrated by the unresponsiveness of others? Can you suggest ways in which things can be done better? Submit your observations so that I can join them with mine. Help set the agenda.
E-mail your observations to Robert@rwinters.com. I won't accept anonymous contributions, but I will respect all requests to either not post your name or to post only your initials. I reserve the option to edit or reject any abusive submission. – Robert Winters
Return to Cambridge Civic Journal