Saturday, April 20, 2024

David Maher is sworn in Monday in Cambridge City Hall as mayor after nearly three months in which city councillors failed to find the needed five-vote majority. (Photo: Marc Levy)

David Maher became mayor Monday, having won five votes from fellow city councillors — a total of six votes that, on a motion by councillor Denise Simmons, was made officially unanimous.

Henrietta Davis, until then a candidate for mayor, was voted vice mayor.

The election — nearly three months into the councillors’ term and on a sixth ballot — was made possible by councillor Marjorie Decker switching her vote to Maher from Ken Reeves, who had been running the city as interim mayor and hoping to be mayor again. (He had three previous terms as mayor, from 1992-95 and 2006-07.) Until Monday, he held his own vote and that of Decker; since Jan. 11, Maher held his own vote and those of Sam Seidel, Leland Cheung and Tim Toomey; Davis had the votes of herself, Craig Kelley and Denise Simmons.


During voting, Reeves too gave his vote to Maher.

After being sworn in, Maher spoke briefly, thanking colleagues and family and vowing hard, collaborative work on issues affecting the city, including being mindful of the “challenge of declining revenue from the state and very real impact this difficult economy is having on both individuals in our community and businesses in our community.”

Decker moved to nominate a vice mayor, but Toomey suggested instead a recess so Maher could collect the congratulations of his peers, family and residents.

Upon returning from recess, the council went immediately into a vote for vice mayor, with Cheung drawing four votes to Davis’ five. He had the votes of himself, Decker, Maher, and Toomey, while Davis had her own vote and that of Kelley, Reeves, Seidel and Simmons. Cheung, who is in his first term on the council, made a motion to record Davis’ election as unanimous, which was accepted.

Decker led into the mayoral vote with a 10-minute speech first praising Reeves’ leadership and passion, especially on closing the public schools’ achievement and resource gaps, then explaining her decision to vote for Maher. “There is a time in which you have to look at how to move forward,” she said. “It does get to a point where, [since] we were elected to create public policy for the people of Cambridge … We have to ask ourselves: If there is no mayor, and there are no committee assignments for us to chair, then what is the City Council doing? We cannot effectively advocate for public policy.”

After expressing her appreciation for the work of city manager Robert W. Healy, she added:

“He was not elected or appointed by the people of Cambridge to be the visionary who leads this city on a day-to-day basis and into the future. It is not his job to develop public policy. It is our job to develop public policy and work with him to implement our vision that is to represent the community. Without committees working and functioning, which you can’t have because that’s the mayor’s role — to appoint chairs to those committees — you essentially have a city manager who has to keep moving forward and department heads who have to keep moving forward. The only thing they can do is work on what they think we want them to keep doing, the priorities of the previous council. The city needs to move on.”

After the meeting, she said of the delay in electing a mayor, “It was clear to me from conversations with my colleagues this could go on for another two months. Somebody’s voting for this person, but they’re saying after tonight they’re not going to vote for them anymore — and it was looking like there were some emerging new candidates.”

After herself, she was most comfortable relying on Reeves to grapple with vital education issues, but she said she found reassurance also after speaking with Maher that he had “a general sense that he understood what was important to me and the constituencies I represent and would work hard to represent them.”

The mayor serves as leader of the School Committee and, as interim mayor, Reeves has been serving as interim leader there.

For him too, education was key. While he said he never put together an agenda with the expectation he would be mayor, he felt those who re-elected him city councillor “wanted me to do all I could to get my voice on the School Committee,” where — considering the two-thirds of students who are nonwhite — the “white middle class is overrepresented.”

During the meeting recess, Maher said his top priorities were addressing the city budget that will be before the council in spring, making council committee appointments and grappling with a plan already before the School Committee to create a middle school within a K-8 district.

Maher first ran for office in 1987 (“As a ‘young and energetic voice,’” he reminisced during his victory speech. “Well, that’s gone by. Now we talk about ‘experience.’”) and was elected to the School Committee in 1991. He served on it for eight years before running for and winning a seat on the council.

Since then he’s seen another mayoral election drag on — that of Anthony Galluccio in 2000, a race that took until mid-February to resolve.

So he wasn’t rattled by the length of this election, he said, and was willing to let the process work itself through without feeling the need to campaign too aggressively.

That’s not to say he feels the process should remain as it is.

“I have felt for some time that there is some, I would use the word tinkering, with the system that could help expedite this election process,” he said.