Monday, May 27, 2024

City Council candidate Tom Stohlman speaks during an Aug. 31 forum at Central Square’s Senior Center. (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 were Charles MarquardtGary Mello, Matt Nelson and Jamake Pascual; next up is Minka vanBeuzekom.

Perhaps it was only natural for Tom Stohlman to get involved in politics, as he is now as a candidate for City Council. He was born and raised in Washington, D.C., after all, surrounded by politics and politicians. Even as a student at the all-boys Gonzaga High School, a Jesuit institution, he knew “Washington, D.C., is a wonderful and unique place to grow up,” Stohlman said.

But politics took a back seat as he continued his education, moving to Cambridge as a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study architecture from 1972-78.

It wasn’t until years later, after a move to Hingham, that the bug caught up with him.

“Being involved in local politics is core, and I really got passionate about it in 1979 at the Hingham Town Meeting, where I stood up and spoke my thoughts,” he said.

As meeting members debated an issue before voting, he stood up and expressed his opposition. When the vote was taken, the proposal was rejected. Lesson learned: “If you feel passionate about an issue you should speak about it, and sometimes you can influence a vote,” he said.

Now, again a Cambridge resident, Stohlman, 57, is a husband, father, architect and planner, passionate tutor for middle- and high school students for a nonprofit organization, campaigner for office and already a member of civic committees with input on public issues — the zoning process remaking Kendall Square being a key area of involvement.

His speaking style is reasoned and low-key, and so is his campaigning.

He caters to voters who prefer to research candidates online with a user-friendly and accessible website — also low-key, to the point that he notes to potential commenters that the site “reflects on me, so please be civil with your comments … I will censor hateful words and opinions. In addition, I will not tolerate intolerance and will ban those who practice it.” His issues, as listed on the site, are wide-ranging:

City Wildlife, The Right to Quiet, Traffic, Parking, Public Transportation, Walking Around, Two Wheels/Four Wheels/Two Shoes,  City Budget, Death and Taxes, House and Home, Plan E, Single Transfer Ballots, City Manager, The Department of City Councillors, City Planning, Good Neighbors, Working in Cambridge, Old and New Cambridge,  Helping Hands, The Bowtie City, Cambridge from Space, Fueling the City, Our Commonhealth, Art and Science,  The Party City, Town and Gown, Gown and Town, Free Election, We’re in Court, Small Town Politics.

Among his policy statements:

The City Council manages the [city] manager, the manager manages the city.  If the city is unresponsive to its residents, it is the City Council who is responsible.

The council must be careful to recognize unexpected consequences of tax policy on the city’s property owners and be willing to make sure that everyone pays their fair share.

The strong City Council and strong city manager system under the Plan E Charter has served Cambridge well for almost 70 years.  Still, a regular review of our charter is desirable and necessary as time goes on and the city changes.

But Stohlman is also bidding for voters’ attention through a series of old-fashioned postcards, nine in all, showing still-life images from the photos he takes as he walks around Cambridge.

He particularly enjoys walking the streets of Cambridge meeting people, he said.

“You can ask for a vote on a local level, and communicating person to person can influence a vote,” he said, echoing the origins of his political involvement in Hingham. “This is the only job you can go out and wander around the neighborhood without getting arrested.”

Stohlman’s website is here; his profile on the Cambridge Civic Journal is here.

Marc Levy contributed to this report.