2006 CCJ Notes

Noise a problem? (especially from air conditioning units, heating vents, and other domestic annoyances)

Then take the 2006 Noise Survey!

Nov 8, 2006 - Instant Runoff Voting was on the ballot in four places on Tuesday (Oakland and Davis in California, Pierce County in Washington, and in Minneapolis, Minnesota). It won in all four places - two by landslide (Oakland and Minneapolis). In Minneapolis, the referendum included a change to Cambridge-style proportional representation elections for several local boards.

Meanwhile, across the country we saw the end of one-party government in the U.S. as Democrats gained a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and, apparently, in the U.S. Senate. Just as significant is the emergence of an actual diversity of opinion among Democrats - they're not all “northeast liberals.” Can it be that bipartisanship might actually reappear in Congress? Might they actually accomplish something for a change in Washington? Is it possible that rational discussion and reasoned legislation might make a comeback? If so, I expect the boy from Crawford will veto it.

On the local front, let's hope that Governor-Elect Deval Patrick appoints some of our local elected officials to state positions so that we can clean house and get some new blood into City Hall. - RW

Today's Quiz Questions - Sept 15, 2006

I just compiled the merged database of all currently registered Cambridge voters with their voting histories since 1997. There are now 58,068 registered voters in Cambridge. Of these, 45,680 have voted at least once in Cambridge since 1997.

Quiz #1 -- How many of these registered voters have voted in Cambridge in the last 14 consecutive elections, including primaries?

Quiz #2 -- How many have voted in Cambridge in the last 5 consecutive general elections (Nov 2001 - Nov 2005)?

Let me know your answers to the quiz questions. [click to send e-mail]

Sept 16 addendum: Here's the breakdown of Cambridge registered voters by party designation:

33,670 - Democrat 262 - Libertarian 3 - Natural Law Party 1 - Reform Party
20,072 - Unenrolled 57 - Independent 3rd Party 2 - Conservative Party 1 - Rainbow-Coalition
3,447 - Republican 34 - Green Party USA 2 - American Independent 1 - Prohibition Party
503 - Green-Rainbow 10 - Socialist 2 - America First Party 1 - World Citizens Party

Aug 30, 2006 - Police Commissioner Ronnie Watson to retire in March 2007 (Cambridge Chronicle - Dawn Witlin, Erin Smith)

Aug 24, 2006 - Last night the City's Community Preservation Committee met in the first of two meetings to accept public testimony on the allocation of CPA funds for FY07. It is anticipated that with the state matching grant, the total allocation this year will be approximately $12.5 million. The hearing was packed, in part due to misinformation circulated suggesting that the committee was contemplating a change from the current 80-10-10 split where 80% of the funds are dedicated to affordable housing and 10% each to open space acquisition and historic preservation projects. This misinformation, no doubt, was spread in response to a recent City Council order which suggested a change in these percentages. The City Council effectively has no say in how the money is allocated other than to vote the appropriation after all decisions have been made. That Council order was defeated on a 1-7-1 vote with Councillor Kelley voting yes and Councillor Decker absent.

When the CPA was approved by voters in November 2001, there was no specification that the allocation would be 80-10-10. The only information presented to voters was that even though this was technically a tax surcharge, it would be essentially tax neutral because the City's preexisting expenditures would be rescinded and restored via the 3% surcharge. The incentive would be that funds raised via the surcharge would be eligible for state matching funds that could (and has) doubled the available funds. It is probable that most voters who approved the CPA did not do so believing that the affordable housing allocation would always be maximized and the other allocations given the legal minimum. In fact, I believe that in all other cities and towns who have adopted the provisions of the Community Preservation Act, the distribution is reversed with housing getting the minimum and open space acquisition usually getting the lion's share. Also Cambridge is exceptional in that it adopted the maximum 3% surcharge.

My interest in this is based on the mechanics of representative democracy, not on the allocation. The CPA committee is appointed by the City Manager with representatives from the Conservation Commission, Historic Commission, Planning Board and others to form a committee of nine. Unlike the budget hearings and City Council vote held every spring, the voting public cannot turn any of the appointees out of office if they disagree with their decisions. Of course, few members of the public pay any attention to the City budget and hearings, and the elected councillors make only inconsequential changes to the Manager's proposed budget. In principle, the voting public can hold the councillors accountable at the next election if they disagree with how their tax money is spent. They have no such recourse when it comes to CPA funds, and we will most likely have the CPA in effect until such time, if ever, that the state legislature repeals its provisions.

To be continued ...

July 29, updated Aug 11, 2006 - Nora Theater Company / Underground Railway Theater

The Central Square Advisory Committee (of which I am a member) reviewed on July 24 the proposal by MIT, its architects, the Nora Theater Company and the Underground Railway Company for a new building to be constructed at 450 Mass. Ave. in Central Square. The committee enthusiastically supported the proposal and made some constructive suggestions.

The property includes the last remaining piece of the old South Row, one of the oldest structures remaining in Central Square (1806). Unfortunately, there is so little left of the structure and what's there is in such bad shape that it's hard to make a case for preservation. What is proposed is demolition of the existing structure and construction of a replicated structure on the footprint of the old building together with new construction extending back to Green Street. The first floor (of both structures) will be occupied by a retail tenant (or tenants), and the rear upper floors will be occupied by the theater with an attractive Mass. Ave. street-level entrance. There will also be some 2nd-floor office space available in the front building.

The design work is ongoing and the architects and proponents have been very responsive to suggestions. The building is part of a larger lot that also includes the Kennedy Building (Economy Hardware and other commercial tenants on the first floor, apartments on the upper floors) and the Mary Chung restaurant. The entire property is owned by MIT.

The next steps in the approval process are: 1) Thurs, Aug 3, 6:00pm at the Cambridge Historical Commission [they got their approval!]; and 2) Tues, Aug 15, 7:40pm at the Planning Board.

A Special Permit is needed mainly because of the pre-existing structures on the lot. The Kennedy Building is nonconforming, and because there is new construction on the lot the existing structures have to get new approval. A parking waiver is also sought. This makes some sense because of the Central Square location and the availability of (MIT-owned) parking nearby as well as underutilized municipal parking lots.

This really is a great project and a great partnership between MIT and these two community-based theater groups who will share the space. I asked them when they might actually start the construction. They said that if the permitting happens on schedule they should be able to start construction this fall (2006).

The only other wish I have is that in the years to come the back streets and side streets of Central Square become better utilized for additional (and more affordable) commercial opportunities such as specialty shops, diners, and some of the other familiar uses that often vanish as the pricier interests take over locations fronting on Mass. Ave. - RW

Here's an IDEA (originally posted July 15, 2006 and re-posted Sept 23, 2006 for additional “nominations”)

Have you ever felt that the people we elect (and reelect) to the Cambridge City Council and Cambridge School Committee are, to say the least, not the best that Cambridge has to offer? There are so many disincentives to running for public office that it's a wonder any reasonable person would ever do it.

I got to thinking about who I would nominate as candidates, regardless of their willingness to ever do such a thing. My list would include professors, professionals, artists, laborers, and just plain human beings who I've met over the years. I can think of many incredible people who would be an inspiration to the residents of Cambridge -- not career politicians, but people we would all respect and admire.

So the idea is this:  What if a group of fresh faces could be assembled and organized into a slate of candidates that ran as a team? The cost to each candidate would be greatly reduced, and people from all over Cambridge could contribute some money, time, and effort to promote the team. Individual candidates could do their own promotion as well - nothing wrong with that.

All election systems heavily favor incumbents. It's a fact of life. Wouldn't it be great if we could create a mechanism for recruiting great new candidates and giving them a hand? The alternative is just more of the same. Any ideas for candidates? Who would you love to see represent you? Be creative! The 2007 municipal election is not as far off as you may think.

Who would you nominate? I'll make a list. - RW

July 20, 2006 update - The list is growing, slowly but surely. Send in your nominees!! The list will be posted when we get a few more.

July 5 and July 12 - Sanctuary City in the News

An article in the July 5 Boston Globe reports that there's trouble brewing in Jersey over actions taken here in the Peoples' Republic of Cambridge. Apparently, Craig Nelson and his puppet regime “ProjectUSA” have chosen to declare war on Cambridge over its May 8 City Council Sanctuary City resolution. Alas, poor Craig. Considering how benign a resolution this was, one has to wonder just how little it takes to get Craig to blow a gasket. Beyond the basic statement that the Cambridge City Council doesn't have much use for the Bush regime (what a surprise!), the resolution is pure mom and apple pie compared to Cambridge's 1985 resolution of the same name.

House would deny federal dollars to sanctuary cities -- The Associated Press, July 7, 2006

Observation: The City Council's “Sanctuary City” resolution carries absolutely no force of law. It is only a statement of the sense of the councillors together with some relatively benign requests to the City Manager. The Manager is under no obligation to carry out anything in the resolution that might contradict any federal law or jeopardize any federal funds. It is not an ordinance and there are no requirements contained therein that any City employee do anything at all. Hence it would seem that any federal bill to withhold funds based on Cambridge's status as a “sanctuary city” could not stand up to legal scrutiny. If the Manager chooses not to enforce any questionable provision, then it's just a statement and there's no way the federal government can block funding based on a statement (unless the First Amendment was rescinded while I was sleeping).

However, if the federal government does manage to withhold funds, the City Council should simply rescind the resolution together with a “signing statement” that would make Bush, Cheney, and other federal parasites and right-wingers proud. - Robert Winters

From a July 4, 2006 Boston Globe review:

Bonnie Raitt’s music is steeped in the traditions and emotions of the South, but as the blues singer and slide guitarist reminded the audience at the Bank of America Pavilion on Sunday night, her heart lies in the city where she began her career 18 albums and nine Grammy awards ago: Cambridge.

“It's a spiritual home for me,” she said. “I could live here again in a second.”

Thanks, Bonnie, we'd love to have you back any time.

July 4, 2006 - I like to occasionally read news articles from long ago from the microfilm archives at the Cambridge Public Library. I also collect (and read!) books on Cambridge history. As Independence Day is a good day to reflect on our history, here are some excerpts of speeches from the 1896 celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Cambridge as a city:

John Fiske, Oratory at Sanders Theater on June 2, 1896:
“We are celebrating the anniversary of the change which we once made from government by town-meeting to city government. Have we good reason for celebrating that change? Has our career as a civic community been worthy of approval? In answering this question I shall not undertake to sum up the story of our public schools and library, our hospital and charity organizations, the excellent and harmonious work of our churches Protestant and Catholic, our Prospect Union warmly to be commended, our arrangements for water supply and sewage, and our admirable park system (in which we may express a hope that Elmwood will be included). This interesting and suggestive story may be read in the semi-centennial volume, ‘The Cambridge of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-Six,’ just issued from the Riverside Press. It is an enlivening story of progress, but like every story it has a moral, and I am going to pass over details and make straight for that moral.”

“Americans are a bragging race because they have enjoyed immense opportunities, and are apt to forget that the true merit lies not in the opportunity, but in the use we make of it. Much gratifying progress can be achieved in spite of the worst sort of blundering and sinning on the part of governments. The greater part, indeed, of human progress within historic times has been thus achieved. A good deal of the progress of which Americans are wont to boast has been thus achieved. Now the moral of our story is closely concerned with the fact that in the city of Cambridge such has not been the case. Our city government has from the outset been upright, intelligent, and helpful. We are satisfied with it. We do not wish to change it.”

“Now in this respect the experience of Cambridge is very different from that of many other American cities. The government of our cities is acknowledged to be a problem of rare difficulty, so that it has begun to seem a natural line of promotion for a successful mayor, to elect him governor, and then to send him to the White House! In some cities one finds people inclined to give up the problem as insoluble. I was lately assured by a gentleman in a city which I will not name, but more than a thousand miles from here, that the only cure for the accumulated wrongs of that community would be an occasional coup d'état, with the massacre of all the city officers. So the last word of our boasted progress, when it comes to municipal government, is declared to be the Oriental idea of ‘despotism tempered by assassination’!”

“Now to what cause or causes are we to ascribe the contrast between Cambridge and the cities that are so wretchedly governed? The answer is, that in Cambridge we keep city government clear of politics, we do not mix up municipal questions with national questions. If I may repeat what I have said elsewhere, ‘since the object of a municipal election is simply to secure an upright and efficient municipal government, to elect a city magistrate because he is a Republican or a Democrat is about as sensible as to elect him because he believes in homeopathy or has a taste for chrysanthemums.’”

George W. Bicknell, sermon at the First Universalist Church, May 31, 1896:
“Morally, Cambridge stands high. We are free from saloons, gambling hells, and brothels. In the main, one must go outside our limits to find striking immorality. You seldom see an intoxicated person. There may be some kitchen bar-rooms, but they are hidden. Thefts are rare; property comparatively safe.”

“We have as clean a government as one could ask for. Look into our city hall. There is not an official there who is not a gentleman. Partisan politics does not enter into our city affairs. A Republican can vote for a Democrat for mayor if the candidate is a decent man, and vice versa, but not lose caste with his party. Match it if you can.”

George Rufus Cook, address at the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, May 31, 1896:
“In the turn of political affairs, or as a result of the increase in this metropolitan population, Cambridge may in future years fade from the map of Massachusetts. Cambridge may sometime be a name known only to history. Yet now it is ours to resolve that when the image of our city dwells only on the memory of man, it shall still be the type of a great idea. As Rome represents conquest, as faith hovers over Jerusalem, as Athens embodies the preëminent quality of the antique world-art, so may Cambridge stand for a civic patriotism which dared to be true to high ideals and would surrender to no interest which did not commend itself to an enlightened municipal conscience.”

June 30 -- Harold Cox, Chief Public Health Officer accepts job at Boston University

Harold D. Cox, the city's chief public health officer since 1996, has accepted a position at the Boston University of School of Public Health. Cox stepped down as director of the Cambridge Public Health Department on June 30. He will begin work in September as associate dean for public health practice at the Boston University School of Public Health.

As chief public health officer, Cox was responsible for overseeing all aspects of the city's public health department, including public health planning, service delivery, and regulatory activities. Cox and his staff developed numerous community health initiatives, including programs on children dental health, domestic violence prevention, and healthy weight. Cox also helped establish the Agenda for Children, a citywide collaborative to improve family literacy and promote out-of-school activities.

After the emergence of West Nile virus in Massachusetts in 2000 and the anthrax scares in 2001, Cox became a strong advocate for regionalizing the delivery of local public health services. Cox was instrumental in strengthening the public health infrastructure of 27 towns and cities surrounding Boston. His regional model received national attention and funding. Cox also united health departments in Greater Boston in the fight to pass smoke-free workplace legislation.

"The last 10 years have been a wonderful opportunity for me to grow and learn," Cox said. "I've had an impressive staff who greatly expanded the role of public health in Cambridge."

Karen Hacker, M.D., has been appointed the interim health director of the Cambridge Public Health Department. Dr. Hacker will continue to serve as the executive director of the Cambridge-based Institute for Community Health.

The War Prayer - by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!*

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Twain apparently dictated it around 1904-05; it was rejected by his publisher, and was found after his death among his unpublished manuscripts. It was first published in 1923 in Albert Bigelow Paine's anthology, Europe and Elsewhere.

The story is in response to a particular war, namely the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, which Twain opposed.

MIT to Sell Tech Square for $600 Million to California Firm - Boston Globe, June 17 [Link expired]

April 7, 2006 – Cambridge Awarded $10.7 Million Main Library Construction Project
This is the largest grant awarded to a Massachusetts City or Town for a Library Construction Project

The City of Cambridge has been awarded $10,698,495 from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MLBC) for its new Main Library Construction Project. This is the single, largest grant awarded to any Massachusetts city or town for a library construction project.

For nearly a decade, the city administration, elected officials, library trustees and staff, and community leaders have envisioned a state-of-the-art main library for the city. The estimated $60 million construction project is under way. City officials anticipate opening the new and restored library in the last quarter of 2008.

“We were extremely pleased to learn that the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners would be awarding us a second grant for this very important community project,” said Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy. “Library services are amongst the most valued by our Cambridge citizens, and this new facility will aptly serve future generations of Cambridge residents.”

The 102,000 square-foot new library will be fully accessible for those with disabilities and will include: a newly created young adult area; silent reading room; a climatically controlled Cambridge History Room; spaces for public meetings and library programs; a spectacular children’s room; significantly more public access computers; a computer training center; greatly increased seating and places to work; as well as room to grow for at least 20 years. It will also include a 47,000 square foot, underground parking garage for 70 cars and a 350,000-gallon stormwater retention tank under what is now the historic building’s front lawn. Once the garage is completed, soil will be placed over it to allow for new landscaping, including several large caliper trees, to be planted.

Throughout the initial design process, the architects have been guided by the requirements for excellent library services and the history of the library building, which is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places and is located in a designated historic district.

The development of the site, the inter-relationship between the library, the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School and the neighborhood have all been of critical importance to the design of the new Main Library - a “green” building that will be:
   A place of pride for the City of Cambridge;
   A library that serves Cambridge citizens;
   A creative balance between old and new;
   A harmonious relationship between the library building and the park;
   A strengthened relationship between the CRLS and the Library.

“The new 21st century Main Library promises to be the civic and intellectual heart of our community. Thanks to funding from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, that promise will be kept,” said Susan Flannery, Director of Cambridge Public Library.

The Cambridge Public Library has temporarily moved its operations to the Longfellow School, 359 Broadway, for the duration of the construction of the new library.

Last year, the Library served an estimated 66,000 customers, loaned out nearly one million items and hosted 53,000 attendees for various programs. Cambridge residents logged nearly 100,000 hours on library computers.

The construction of the new library and extensive renovations to the existing facilities are being financed through a combination of tax-supported bond proceeds ($63,285,495), State Grants ($6,651,647 & $4,046,848 for a total of $10,698,495), Community Preservation Act Funds ($900,000), and Sewer Bonds whose debt service will be financed through the sewer service charge ($2,700,000) for a total budget to date of $77,583,990.

“This latest grant to be awarded to Cambridge for the construction of our new library is of great significance,” said Janet Axelrod, Chair of the Cambridge Public Library Board of Trustees. “It underscores the library's importance to our city as well as to the state, and reinforces our plans to construct a world class institution to benefit our city's people. The Cambridge Public Library's Trustees are grateful to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for the support they have deemed our project worthy to receive as we acknowledge the centrality of their grants to the successful completion of the library's mission. Cambridge wishes to convey a warm thank you to all who are involved in making the award, with the assurance that it will be used in the spirit with which it is given.” – City of Cambridge Press Release

March 6, 2006 City Council agenda    HTML    PDF 

There are no real highlights on the agenda, except maybe the following Resolution:

41. Congratulations to David R. Slavitt on his publication entitled “Blue State Blues” which is about the November 4, 2004 election for state representative in the Twenty-sixth Middlesex district.   Vice Mayor Toomey

Note that in the referenced election, Mr. Slavitt's competition for the seat was Timothy Toomey.

Blue State Blues – How a Cranky Conservative Launched a Campaign and Found Himself the Liberal Candidate (and Still Lost)  –  by David R. Slavitt

“Here is an inside view of running for office that is purely ingenuous, with no agenda other than reporting the details of the process as accurately and entertainingly as possible. What Slavitt has accomplished here is not only valuable, but unique; this book is wise, and brave, and hilarious.” – Daniel Mark Epstein, author of Lincoln and Whitman

There are a few interesting other items on the agenda:

Order #4. The City Manager is requested to confer with relevant department heads about the practicality of obtaining portable outdoor air quality monitoring equipment to help Cambridge develop data to use in setting transportation goals, anti-idling efforts and other air quality related policies and report back to the City Council on this issue.   Councillor Kelley

Order #13. That the City Clerk forward to the School Committee a request from the City Council for information on how many Cambridge Public School students are reading at, below grade and above grade levels and request that the School Committee forward this information to the City Council.   Councillor Kelley

I've singled these two orders out (both from Councillor Kelley) because they involve quantitative measures that can be useful in developing and evaluating policies. We hear plenty of anecdotal information about traffic and its effect on quality of life, but much of this is not quantified and is based on perceptions that are fleeting at best. Can we, for example, measure levels of air pollutants today (with typically cleaner burning vehicles - but more of them) and compare these levels with those of 5, 10, 50 years ago?

On the education front, it gets pretty old hearing about how “we're making great strides” in the public schools. This may or may not be true, but I would prefer to have some hard numbers and real comparisons. It's always interesting when a member of the City Council “meddles” in the affairs of the School Committee. While it's not a good idea for city councillors to get involved in too many specifics of public education, they do have to vote on the School Department budget every May, and it's completely appropriate to request information on the “big picture” items like reading and mathematics levels and their trends, failure rates, and, of course, whether the taxpayers' money is being well spent.

March 20, City Council agenda    HTML    PDF –  Report below

From my perspective, the most interesting item on the agenda is the annual vote to set the water and sewer rates for 2006-2007. OK, so it may not seem like the sexiest topic in the PRC, but it's important. Last year at this time, in the context of some whopping property tax assessments, the Administration and the City Council held the line on water and sewer rates - a 0% change from the previous year. This year, the rates will rise - an average 3.9% increase in water rates (in part due to rising energy costs) and an average 8.1% increase in sewer rates (due to a significant increase in the MWRA assessment and debt service from several sewer reconstruction projects throughout the City). This will result in an overall 6.6% increase. [My calculation gives 6.8%.] Rate increases on this order are expected for the next several years.

Among the Council Orders, there are these:

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development and the City Solicitor to draft an amendment to the Zoning Ordinances to amend inclusionary zoning to provide units appropriately sized for families with children.   Councillor Davis and Mayor Reeves

The goal is a noble one. My only thought is that you can only squeeze so much benefit out of this one tool for producing affordable housing, and you'll never even come close to matching the supply to the demand.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of the preparation of an amendment to the Municipal Code to ban leaf blowers in Cambridge.   Councillor Davis and Vice Mayor Toomey

While you're at it, dear councillors, please do something about the “boom cars” that cruise up and down Broadway (and elsewhere) every day with the bass on their speakers set at intolerable levels. If you want to address loud ventilation systems and noisy leaf blowers, surely you can ask the police to squelch these idiots on wheels. Anyone who lives on a well-trafficked street knows all too well how much worse and more frequent these cars are than leaf blowers.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Traffic, Parking and Transportation about the City’s plans to significantly limit right turns on red lights.   Councillor Kelley

The first I heard of this latest pronouncement from the Czar of Traffic & Parking was in the Chronicle this past week. Is this really necessary? Is Cambridge so different than every other place in Massachusetts (and the USA) that this is warranted? I don't think so.

Order #17. That the Zoning Ordinance be amended to change the language “useable open space” to “private open space” throughout the Zoning Ordinance.   Councillor Davis

Talk about truth in advertising. The Zoning Ordinance in many places calls for the inclusion of open space in development plans, yet the open space is generally unavailable for public use. Let's call it like it is. I would, however, like to know what's behind the introduction of this proposal at this time.

Order #19. Support of the Electronic Product Producer Responsibility Bill (H-3238) which requires manufacturers who sell electronic products in Massachusetts to participate in a system for their collection and recycling which would reduce the costs to cities and towns.   Councillor Davis

What can I say? Just a damn good idea.

March 20, 2006 Meeting Report

Mayor Reeves and Councillor Murphy were not present at this meeting. A large contingent of supporters of Girls Ice Hockey dominated the Public Comment portion of the meeting and made their case for financial support for these programs. During questioning from a number of councillors, City Manager Healy appeared sympathetic to this request.

Discussion of the City Manager's Agenda opened with Councillor Kelley questioning the use of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for land acquisition outside Cambridge for watershed protection. [The Cambridge watershed is in Lexington, Lincoln, Weston, and Waltham.] He suggested that any such costs should be covered by increases in water rates. The Manager responded that under similar circumstances he would again recommend the use of CPA funds for this purpose. [Currently 80% of CPA funds are used for affordable housing, 10% for open space acquisition, and 10% for historic preservation.] Councillor Davis asked if there were any energy cost savings being explored at the Fresh Pond water treatment facility, such as compact fluorescent lighting, more energy efficient pumps, or possible use of wind power to supplement energy sources. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi noted that the new plant is more efficient than its predecessor and that the Water Department is now undergoing a review of its operations for possible energy savings. Item #1 on the Manager's Agenda specifically was about setting the water and sewer block rates for 2006-7. Overall increases in the range of 6-8% annually should be the norm for this year and the next several years.

On Manager's Agenda #3, Councillor Kelley expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of neighborhood group experience with the two new appointees to the Cambridge Conservation Commission. Mr. Rossi noted that the primary function of the Conservation Commission is the regulate provisions of the Wetlands Protection Act.

Manager's Agenda Item #4 produced a long discussion about community policing efforts with much attention focused on the fatal shooting two days earlier on Hamilton St. in Cambridgeport. Councillor Sullivan took strong exception to Councillor Kelley's intimation that there was ineptitude on the part of Cambridge Police in the handling of this incident. Police Commissioner Ronnie Watson's report included a list of the "Points 4 Safety" program meant to improve interaction between motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Councillor Davis moved to add enforcement of bike lanes and sidewalk bicycling prohibition in business districts to the list.

On Manager's Agenda #5, a report on recent violence in North Cambridge, Councillor Kelley asked about the use of police overtime in Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) properties. Mr. Healy noted that this is reimbursable from the state's community policing grant. The Manager and Commissioner Watson noted specific concerns with Jefferson Park - which led Councillor Kelley to conclude that crime rates were higher at CHA properties. The Manager emphatically noted that no one is saying this and that there were only very specific concerns at isolated locations.

On Manager's Agenda #7, a report on proposed reductions in MBTA service, Councillor Kelley suggested tapping into private and institutional bus service (such as the Longwood Medical Area shuttle) to supplement service. Mr. Healy noted some of the legal restrictions in doing this, but said he would take another look at these possibilities.

One notable aspect of the discussion of Manager's Agenda #8 regarding the annual Town-Gown reports was Councillor Galluccio's emphatic hope that the Harvard Law School remain in Cambridge as Harvard's Allston plans take shape. He also emphasized support for continued housing construction by the major universities for their affiliates. Councillor Davis urged Harvard and MIT to provide housing for staff, especially low-income staff, in addition to students and big-time faculty.

Manager's Agenda #10 was a communication about Cambridge being selected as the Accessible America 2005 grand prize winner for its focus on disability issues and for its successful design of programs, services, and facilities. Councillor Kelley questioned Cambridge's practices regarding curb cuts, snow removal, and provision for people with visual impairments. Councillors Davis, Toomey, and Galluccio disagreed and touted the actions of the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities as well as the Public Works Department. Councillor Kelley responded by moving to table the matter. This was defeated on a 1-6-2 vote. He then exercised his charter right to table the communication.

The other notable item on the City Manager's Agenda was the appropriation of a $1,300,000 contribution from Harvard University to support the Harvard Square Enhancement Project - specifically to support pedestrian safety and street and sidewalk improvements including Lampoon Plaza, Palmer St., Winthrop St., and JFK Street and Johnson Gate signalization.

Council Order #1 (Davis, Reeves) showed different perspectives among councillors on the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. Councillor Kelley noted that "Inclusionary zoning makes buildings much bigger. The more problems we try to solve with inclusionary zoning, the bigger buildings will get." Councillor Davis noted that while there are many 1-2 bedroom units being built, there are not nearly so many family-sized units of 3 bedrooms (or more) and that there is great need for more housing for families with children. Councillor Simmons noted that many low to moderate income people have incomes that are high enough to render them ineligible for these affordable housing units. Councillor Galluccio noted that the rules under the current Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance are too rigid and that there is a need for more flexibility in order to achieve the goals espoused by the City Council and the City administration.

Order #2 concerned the proposed housing at the self-storage facility on Concord Ave. across from the Armory site near Fresh Pond. Responding to the potential of 120-140 housing units being built at the site, Councillor Kelley said the site was "already full" and expressed concern about the development potential at other sites around Cambridge. Councillor Davis noted that these concerns were also expressed at a recent Council committee meeting.

Order #6 (Sullivan) regarding safety at the Fresh Pond Parkway/Mt. Auburn St. intersection brought out the usual expression of exasperation among councillors about the MDC/DCR (Dept. of Conservation and Recreation) and their design and maintenance of roads under their control. Councillor Galluccio again suggested that legal action against the DCR should remain an option.

During the discussion of Order #17 (Davis), Councillor Davis explained that the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance refers to "useable open space" in numerous places, but that this is very misleading in that it includes private decks in the calculation, a sore point in the proposed redevelopment of the Blessed Sacrament properties in Cambridgeport. The order proposes replacing this phrase with "private open space" - a move toward more appropriate and less misleading language in the ordinance.

Vice-Chair Tim Toomey, who chaired the meeting in Mayor Reeves' absence, ended the meeting by reminding residents that street cleaning starts on April 3.

How much does it cost to get elected to the Cambridge City Council or School Committee? (2005)

The true measure of what candidates spend is the expense incurred over a full two-year election cycle. In recent years, more candidates have adopted the “never-ending campaign” philosophy complete with rented headquarters, phone bills charged to campaign accounts, and more in addition to the expenses associated with the actual election.

It's not as easy as it should be to get all this information. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) is useful, but their records are incomplete. The Cambridge Election Commission has the reports from School Committee candidates but they no longer keep track of Council candidates. Here is a table showing the estimated two-year expenses of the elected members and challengers. Some figures are estimates due to incomplete records at the OCPF. I used figures from previous years to make the estimates. I welcome clarification of these estimates in order to determine the true costs. – RW

City Council Campaign Expenses
Candidate year expend Notes #1 votes $ per vote
Sullivan 2004-5 $ 102,795.19   1464 $ 70.22
Maher 2004-5 $ 49,174.82 from monthly reports 902 $ 54.52
Hees 2004-5 $ 9,759.69   198 $ 49.29
Gordon 2004-5 $ 30,471.88   626 $ 48.68
Murphy 2004-5 $ 59,687.98 estimate $6000 expend. for 2004 1236 ~ $ 48.29
Davis 2004-5 $ 62,032.96   1459 $ 42.52
Decker 2004-5 $ 60,445.31 estimate $2500 for 2004 1524 ~ $ 39.66
Kelley 2004-5 $ 38,175.42 no 2004 reports 1042 $ 36.64 +
Reeves 2004-5 $ 43,446.27 does not include campaign hdqtr. cost
and this amount is significant
1207 $ 36.00 +
Galluccio 2004-5 $ 65,010.71 estimate $7500 for 2004 2001 ~ $ 32.49
Seidel 2004-5 $ 24,727.49 incl. Dec 2004 973 $ 25.41
Toomey 2004-5 $ 33,925.92 estimate $4000 expend. for 2004 1432 ~ $ 23.69
Simmons 2004-5 $ 30,732.78   1330 $ 23.11
Adkins 2004-5 $ 4,748.67   243 $ 19.54
Green 2004-5 $ 3,008.15   181 $ 16.62
LaTrémouille 2004-5 $ 1,779.08   118 $ 15.08
Condit 2004-5   no reports 42  
Hall 2004-5   no reports 75  

School Committee Campaign Expenses
Candidate year expend Notes #1 votes $ per vote
McGovern 2004-5 $ 11,814.08   1413 $ 8.36
Lummis 2004-5 $ 11,098.99   1514 $ 7.33
Schuster 2004-5 $ 11,372.31   1843 $ 6.17
Harding 2004-5 $ 11,868.31   1981 $ 5.99
Nolan 2004-5 $ 13,850.05   2387 $ 5.80
Walser 2004-5 $ 10,989.46   2004 $ 5.48
Fantini 2004-5 $ 7,617.69   2281 $ 3.34
Grassi 2004-5 $ 5,925.54   1990 $ 2.98

Feb 17, 2006 update - Campaign Finance Reports, 2001-present (PDF)

Cambridge Health Alliance in the News (Boston Globe, Feb 11)
  – Response from Dennis Keefe, CEO, Cambridge Health Alliance (Boston Globe Letter to the Editor, Feb 14)
  – The Critical Condition of Have-not Hospitals (Ellen Murphy, Boston Globe Op-Ed, Feb 14)
  – Editorial: Beyond the Health Pool (Boston Globe, Feb 15)

Feb 11 – If you thought your assessment was too high, try this! (Boston Globe).

Feb 11 – Joseph Carson, 83, former School Committee candidate (1959, 1961)

Index of all Cambridge City Council and School Committee candidates, 1941-2005 (revised)

Does Proportional Representation Make a Difference? Here's an article by Steven Hill:

Vote System Gave Hamas Huge Victory
By Steven Hill
Hartford Courant, February 8, 2006

Much hand-wringing has resulted since Hamas, a group on the Bush administration's terrorist list, won a sizable majority of legislative seats in the recent Palestinian elections. But the planners of the elections could learn a thing or two from the recent Iraqi elections.

The problem is that the electoral system used for the Palestinian elections gave grossly unrepresentative results in which Hamas won nearly a super-majority of seats even though they did not win even a majority of votes. If the Palestinians had employed the electoral methods used in Iraq and in many other democracies around the world, the story would have turned out very differently.

The Palestinian elections used a combination of a U.S.-style winner-take-all electoral system and a more European-style proportional voting system. Palestinian voters had a vote for their favorite political party (the proportional vote) and votes for individual candidates (the winner-take-all vote). Unfortunately, the winner-take-all part broke down, and Hamas won way more seats than their votes should have given them.

Look at the actual results. In the proportional vote, which is a national vote and therefore the best measure of the overall support for each political party, Hamas won about 45 percent of the popular vote and about the same percentage of seats - 30 of 66, no majority there. The incumbent party, Fatah, won 41 percent of the popular vote and 27 of 66 seats, only three behind Hamas.

So the election was actually quite close, and if those were the only election results, Hamas would not have won a majority of seats and would have needed to form a coalition with other political parties. A likely possibility is Hamas would have formed a grand coalition with Fatah, which would have provided a stable transition.

Instead, the winner-take-all seats, which are allocated by local districts, completely threw the election to Hamas. Though Hamas and Fatah had nearly equal support nationwide, Hamas won 46 of 66 seats, 70 percent in the winner-take-all districts and Fatah won only 16 district seats.

Overall, Hamas won a stunning 58 percent of legislative seats even though their national support was only around 45 percent. It was a tragic breakdown of the electoral system. Instead of talking about negotiating a coalition government for the Palestinians, the talk now is about picking through the shards, figuring how to salvage the road map to peace.

It didn't have to be this way. The designers of democracy in Palestine had only to look to neighboring Iraq to figure out how to design a better method that would have produced more representative results and provided more stability for the peace process.

On Dec. 15, Iraq held its second election, with Iraq's 18 provinces electing 275 members of parliament using a proportional voting method. Each political party was awarded legislative seats in direct proportion to their vote in each province. Because of Iraq's proportional method, when the dominant Shiite party failed to win a majority of the popular vote, they also failed to win a majority of legislative seats. Surely if they had used a winner-take-all method like that used in the Palestinian elections, the Shiite bloc would have won a strong legislative majority even though they lacked a popular majority.

Instead, now the Shiites in Iraq are forced to negotiate with their legislative partners, including the Sunnis and Kurds, producing a government that preserves the fragile consensus in Iraq.

It is really a shame that for all the billions of dollars in aid poured into Palestine, no one had the sense to make sure the elections were conducted using a method like that used in Iraq that would guarantee representative results.

Various political analysts are saying Hamas' victory is a disaster built on short-sighted policies by the Palestinians, Israel and the United States. The truth is a bit more mundane. Hamas' overwhelming victory is the result of a poorly designed electoral system. Unfortunately, when you are trying to jump-start democracy, the devil is in the details.

Steven Hill is director of New America Foundation's political reform program and author of "Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner-Take-All Politics."

Jan 15 - Glenn Koocher's remarks at the Jan 2, 2006 School Committee Inauguration

Jan 14 - MIT to put complex on block - Technology Square could fetch $500m in hot market for investment properties (Boston Globe)

Jan 10 - The first Regular City Council meeting of the new year took place last night. Nothing spectacular or unusual. Some observations and commentary may follow in the next day or two.....– Robert W.

Jan 2 - It's official! The Cambridge City Council today elected Kenneth E. Reeves to be Mayor and Timothy J. Toomey to be Vice-Chair of the City Council. The mayoral vote went like this:
Davis, Kelley, Murphy, Simmons - voted for Denise Simmons
Decker, Galluccio, Reeves, Sullivan, Toomey - voted for Ken Reeves
Murphy, Davis, and Simmons then changed their votes to Reeves. Final vote: 8-1 to elect Ken Reeves

The vote for Vice-Chair went like this:
Davis, Kelley, Murphy, Simmons - voted for Brian Murphy
Decker, Galluccio, Reeves, Sullivan, Toomey - voted for Tim Toomey
Murphy, Davis, Kelley, and Simmons then changed their votes to Toomey. Final vote: 9-0 to elect Tim Toomey

Later in the day, the School Committee unanimously elected Fred Fantini as its Vice-Chair.

Cambridge School Committee (2006-2007)
L to R – Cambridge School Committee members Richard Harding, Fred Fantini, Patty Nolan,
Mayor Ken Reeves, Luc Schuster, Nancy Walser, and Joe Grassi

Jan 2, 2006 - Today is Inauguration Day for the 2006-2007 Cambridge City Council and School Committee. The City Council Inauguration starts at 10:00am at City Hall. The School Committee Inauguration starts at 5:00pm at the Henrietta Attles Meeting Room at CRLS.

Nestled among the speeches, introductions, and musical interludes, the City Council Inaugural meeting consists of two principal events - the swearing-in of the councillors and the vote to elect the mayor for the 2006-2007 term. The officiating officer is City Clerk D. Margaret Drury. There are some indications that a mayor will be elected this year on the 1st ballot, though we won't know until the gavel strikes three times. There are no limits on how many ballots may be taken, but during any ballot any councillor may change his or her vote until the gavel strikes three times. Historically, votes often shift during a mayoral ballot. After the new City Council (hopefully) elects a mayor, another vote will be taken to determine who will serve as Vice-Chair of the City Council. Assuming a mayor is elected in the morning, the new mayor will wield the gavel later in the day for the School Committee Inaugural.

In truth, the election of the mayor is not particularly important to most Cambridge residents. The mayor's job mainly consists of chairing meetings of the City Council, appointing City Council committees, chairing School Committee meetings, and ceremonial duties. A good choice or poor choice for mayor will affect how the City Council and School Committee operate from week to week, but the relationship between the City government and its residents depends primarily on who serves as City Manager (and the people he hires) and who the individual city councillors are. In Cambridge's system of government, those are the two primary routes to the local government.

Let's hope the 2006-2007 City Councillors make a wise choice - for their own sake.

City Council Scoreboard
Note (2006): The Scoreboard has moved over to the new City Council page. The Nine have had top billing far longer than they deserve and far more than they've earned. The author of these pages has come to believe that randomly selecting nine Cambridge citizens off the street would yield a better City Council than the one we have. As former City Council candidate (and street performer) Ian McKinnon said during his campaign: “Hire Better Actors”