Council challenger: Marquardt campaigns on fiscal responsibility
Students in a summer Harvard journalism course interviewed some challengers for City Council as part of a class assignment, and their work — some as profiles and some in question-and-answer format — is running, one a week, on Cambridge Day. First up is Charles Marquardt; next up is Gary Mello.
As the economy has worsened and fewer federal dollars find their way to Cambridge, Charles Marquardt is running again for City Council on essentially the same issues as in 2009 — but with greater urgency.
In the next two years, he sees a new city manager transitioning into office, a significant change since City Manager Robert W. Healy has had his job for about 30 years. During that time the balance of power has shifted to the city manager from the council, he said, with Healy financial requests being almost always approved.
That apparent lack of review hurt the city when it came to the wrongful-termination lawsuit Malvina Monteiro vs. City of Cambridge, and he finds it “a conflict of interest of a relatively high order” that Healy was the one to decide to appeal a losing verdict — leading to a roughly $10 million bill for the city — in a case in which he was so intimately involved. “It was a mistake,” Marquardt said, especially when the failed appeal cost about $55,000 to $60,000 a month to pursue, an amount he thinks of this way: “That’s about a teacher a month.”
The council failed to act, Marquardt said, and while other bills may have been reasonable or necessary, the tendency has been that Healy “will get pretty much what he puts forward, [and that’s] not a good balance of power.”
“We will need leadership” when he retires, Marquardt said. “We need to restore that balance.”
“It’s challenging because it’s an unknown. It can be scary because it’s unknown. But it’s also an opportunity to look at how we have done things and how we can do them differently,” he said. “We need to as a city all understand what we want in a city manager.”
Among other things, he said, “We need someone fiscally responsible. I know we’re not having the discussions that we should be having on how we should plan for our fiscal future.”
For example, money that should have been set aside into an Other Post Employment Benefits fund for city workers equals about $624 million, he said, and “we’ve set aside $2 million … We have this entire chunk of our services that we’re not paying for. I don’t like that. That scares me.”
Money and development
As a massive round of development comes to a close with the opening of a $112 million high school renovation, following a $91 million renovation of the Cambridge Main Library and $26 million renovation of the War Memorial Recreation Center, the city is gearing up for several more millions to be spent improving aging school buildings and adding separate schools for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
“We need to make sure that we are focused on the basics. Could we build something a little smaller and put that money toward [something like] maintaining sidewalks?” he wondered. “You talk to some seniors and they purposely avoid certain streets where they feel that they can’t walk on the sidewalk.”
He suggests soliciting input on fiscal matters from Cambridge’s great intellects, including Nobel laureates. “Let’s use them. Let’s make it public. Let’s do what Cambridge does best, and bring in the best and the brightest to come up with a solution,” he said.
The current councillors have maintained the flow of funds for those in need, and “I don’t doubt their passion about the people they are serving,” Marquardt said. But he feels they are in “maintenance mode,” and with state and federal dollars dropping away, Cambridge needs to be prepared “so we’re not saddling our children with government debt.”
Another concern is development. “It’s a relatively small city,” he said. “We’re running out of space, so we’ll need to do more development. But we need to do better in that area. So far we’ve been responding to developers’ requests to rezone rather than being proactive and having a master plan from which we derive our zoning.”
Marquardt, a frequent speaker at public meetings and board member of the East Cambridge Planning Team, has a bachelor’s degree in economics and biology and a master’s degree in business administration. He is a certified public accountant and has worked in investments and as an accounting instructor at the Boston University School of Law. He opened Mid Cambridge Cleaners last year.