Monday, June 24, 2024

Jamake Pascual speaks at an Aug. 31 candidates forum. (Photo: Marc Levy)

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. Previously was Charles MarquardtGary Mello and Matt Nelson; next up is Tom Stohlman.

There are City Council candidates who have inspiring stories to share — even current councillors who can boast of being raised in public housing and being the first in the family to go high school (Marjorie Decker) or of being a black, lesbian mother applying for public housing (Denise Simmons). But challenger Jamake Pascual’s story seems to be taking place even as voters consider their options for voting Nov. 8.

A hint of this emerged during the season’s first candidates forum, when Pascual began nearly every question with a placid greeting to the audience, no matter the time limit, and ended each with a signoff of wishes for “blessings” or even “many blessings.”

Yet he’s also the only candidate with a prominent record of involvement with violence, alerting the Cambridge Chronicle last week to “two incidents where I was gunned down in the streets” as well as two terms in jail for assault and battery — a year in 1998 and four months in 2004, when the five counts against him included the flicking of a lit cigarette toward a police officer.

Now 34, Pascual’s language of peace, health and community involvement speaks loudly of lessons learned. He is a business consultant (which is itself full of the language of empowerment and mental health, branded as “Changing Our Wayz” and talking about the need to “grow on our past”) and a volunteer at the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, where he teaches children to paint murals. Born in Puerto Rico — he is also the only candidate of clear Spanish-speaking descent, one that could put a face to the roughly 8 percent of Cantabrigians that self-identity to the U.S. Census as Hispanic or Latino — his family moved to Cambridge when he was 1.  He worked for community service at the age of 10, he said in a summer interview, and he collected garbage and cleaned parks for the city of Cambridge at 14.

With his strong roots in the community, he said, “I know anybody who has lived in Cambridge for a long time.”

When asked about his motivation for running for Cambridge City councillor, Jamake Pascual said, “Our community has been torn apart, and I wanted to rise up for the community.”

He is not as informed as other candidates on every Cambridge issue. At the Aug. 31 candidates forum (he skipped the second, held Tuesday in East Cambridge, along with Decker and Mayor David Maher), when asked about the priority of buying the Silver Maple Forest to protect it from development, he no doubt alienated some environmentally focused voters with his reply: “Where is this untapped piece of land? In Cambridge? … Oh, okay, I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s not quite untapped. … What we are buying is used. If we do buy it. I would have to find out more information before I make any determination about it.”

But faced with a question about the differences from one square to another in the city, when some other candidates expressed befuddlement with the wording, he was able to smoothly assure the anonymous questioner, “I understand the question.” And in a moment of debate about affordable housing and homelessness, he gave another answer smacking of the language of self-improvement: “We need to look into ourselves and see why people are homeless.”

On the issues

In his opinion, the No. 1 issue facing Cambridge is its inherent lack of health, manifesting itself in racism and sexism and in neighbors’ inability to establish friendships because of the frequent moves resulting from such root causes as a lack of homeownership. He sees hypocrisy among members of the City Council, including conservatives pretending to be liberals but blaming others for various faults. “Adults become children, and they constantly run away from reality,” Pascual says.

Pascual sees the problems in the council, blaming its members for a lack of transparency and for not keeping the public informed. They “don’t seem to let people know what the Council is doing,” he said of the councillors.

He gave a personal example: He grew up with Simmons, mayor for the 2008-09 term of her five in office. He remembers Simmons as once being “very accessible,” but “once she stepped into politics, [he is] never able to reach her.”

He also sees problems with councillors being too aggressive toward each other. “They can’t seem to agree upon anything,” Pascual says, even as they fail to talk about issues that benefit Cambridge at large.

The power centered in the office of City Manager Robert W. Healy is a problem, Pascual says, expressing fears that after 31 years running the city Healy will somehow try to name his successor instead of letting one be voted in — but also that the Plan E system of government itself is flawed.

“Nine people are given the power to vote, but only one person decides what to vote on,” he says, calling it a system that creates room for “indecisiveness and unhealthy behavior.” As a result, the council is inclined to coddle large businesses and “forget about the community.”

In response, Pascual vows that if he is elected he will promote more openness in informing and involving the public in issues concerning it, so that “there is no room for corruption.” He promises he will not be corrupt.

When asked the best thing done by current office-holders, Pascual declined to answer. “I cannot judge what they do best unless I am informed about what they do,” Pascual said.

Pascual’s profile on the Cambridge Civic Journal is here.

Marc Levy contributed to this report.