It’s 357 days until the municipal elections, and the field has just begun to shape up.
Longtime city councillor David Maher said Thursday that he would not run for a 10th term, and instead lead the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce as its president and chief executive – after 11 months of dual council and chamber responsibilities starting Dec. 5.
Second-term city councillor Dennis Carlone held a fundraiser Sunday looking forward to a reelection campaign to “fight for the very soul of our city.”
And as of Tuesday, the city has its first challenger candidate for City Council in Samuel Gebru, who has turned his 25th birthday party Nov. 30 into a fundraiser for his campaign. This winter will be used as a listening tour, during which he plans to visit “every neighborhood,” to form a complete agenda he will reveal in April at the formal kickoff to his ground campaign.
“The impetus for me is that there are a lot of changes happening in Cambridge, and I’m running to make sure no one gets left behind,” Gebru said.
He’s been planning his run since February, he said, and has a website up and much of his team in place. (By way of contrast, the first challenger in the previous municipal elections declared nine months before Election Day, not a year.)
“This is in my DNA,” Gebru said. “I’m a Cambridge kid. I’m not passing through. I want to make this city work.”
Gebru was born in Sudan to Ethiopian parents in 1991, but was moved to Cambridge when he turned 3. He attended the city’s public schools, and during his time at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School helped introduce an Eid holiday to the academic calendar, giving Muslim students’ celebrations recognition alongside Christian events such as Christmas and Jewish events such as Yom Kippur. He also worked on lowering Cambridge’s municipal voting age to 17 – the bid ultimately failed – and launched a monthly study group and think tank for those 18 to 40 called Young Cambridge Minds.
He is founder and managing director of Black Lion Strategies, a firm that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Ethiopia, and ran a nonprofit for 10 years also focused on Ethiopia. He has worked on city and state election campaigns and served on various board and commission, and is now on the board of directors of the Cambridge Community Center.
And, though only in his 20s, he has his own scholarship at CRLS that awards $1,000 to a graduating senior who has shown a passion for public service.
While he knows housing, development and the environment will be key issues for his campaign, and has raised anew the notion of taking meetings into neighborhoods rather than forcing citizens to come to Central Square, much of his agenda will have to wait to be formed by his listening tour.
“I don’t want to come in with a pre-baked list of things that I want to achieve. And that’s part of my message of inclusiveness – it’s not my agenda. Yeah, it’s my name on the ballot, but it’s really an agenda that was formed in hours and hours of conversation with ordinary people,” he said. He promised the platform, when revealed in April, would be “meaty.”
In a city of increasing racial and ethnic diversity where 48 percent of the population is between the ages of 18 and 34, he believed his youth and background as an immigrant would be helpful in guiding the city.
“It’s time that we bring on some new voices onto the council who represent new or different constituencies and different demographics and make sure everyone has a seat at the table,” he said.
This post was updated Nov. 15, 2016, to correct the year Gebru was born, and on Nov. 16, 2016, to clarify his position at the Cambridge Community Center.