Friday, February 23, 2024

(Photo: Marc Levy)

City Council candidate Gary Mello says the spirit of Bill Walsh, a year after his death, continues to haunt Cambridge politics. To put the skids on what he sees as runaway development fueled by contributions to councillors, Mello has called for a two-year moratorium on new development.

His call for a stall with an emphasis on contributions is expected to be heard at the West Cambridge City Council Candidates Forum, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Russell Youth Center, 680 Huron Ave.

“The last things we need are more unsold $400,000 condominiums and tiny $2,500 apartments,” said the candidate, a licensed real estate broker for 30 years. “Current market conditions, which have made financing difficult for potential purchasers, mean that developers are more likely to build expensive rentals instead of drawing new homeowners who will be a lot more interested in their community.”

“Increased density and quality of life are at opposite ends of the seesaw,” Mello said. “One goes up, the other goes down.”

His comments extended those from the Sept. 27 candidate forum in which he referred to the spirit of Walsh, convicted in 1994 of bank fraud, of lingering on too strongly in council chambers. He wanted “councillors who are the direct beneficiaries of zoning changes to recuse themselves of involvement in those discussions.”

Asked this week what councillors he meant, Mello answered with a list of four: Leland Cheung, Mayor David Maher, Denise Simmons and Tim Toomey.

He did not link any specifically with Walsh; instead, he made a general charge that campaign contributions made to these four are tied to developers for Massachusetts Institute of Technology projects.

Two council candidates have known links to Walsh — Marjorie Decker and Ken Reeves — but Mello called accounts about them “old news.” Instead, he added them to the list of hopefuls seeing an influx of contributions from development interests.

Click here for a state Office of Campaign and Political Finance list of political contributions of $200 or more this year for each City Council candidate.

Click here to see “Who is Paying for the Cambridge City Council Election?” by CCTV blogger Saul Tannenbaum, showing the percentage of campaign money coming from out of town and which candidates are raising the most of it.

Community activist Mark Jaquith has followed the paper trail that appears to show Decker getting a unit at 61 Walden St. in 2006 as a gift. Among others, Walsh signed the deed. Decker has denied that it was a gift.

Reeves and his partner bought the house at 340 Harvard St. in a deal involving a Walsh real estate trust, and clearly Reeves has a soft spot for the man, referring to him as “my old friend Bill Walsh” at the Sept. 27 forum.

To some, Walsh was not just the guy who led the 1994 ballot push to remove rent control. Some recall many acts of kindness.

Politics watcher Robert Winters remembers him as the “janitor’s son who built his political and financial network by providing the means for working people to obtain property and wealth, but who was both reckless and somewhat unscrupulous in delivering those benefits. Perhaps his greatest violation was not any specific violation of law, but rather the fact that he left his friends in financial ruin when the speculative housing market soured in the early 1990s.”

And this: “It is widely acknowledged that Bill Walsh resumed his real estate wheeling and dealing after his release from prison, though he largely acted through other agents and remained out of the public eye. Some current city councillors clearly benefited from their ties to Walsh in recent years, though no one has definitively proven anything illegal in these deals.”

He died Oct. 15, 2010. A year later, Cambridge struggles with some of his legacy.

For Mello, it is the other candidates’ views that development will provide ever greater revenue to the city. “At half a billion dollars a year in spending already, what on earth do we need more money for?”

Citing a proposal for a new 429-unit complex near Fresh Pond, Mello said: “That’s not a development; it’s a city.”

Mello strongly supports a proposal known as the Bishop petition, which will roll back densities in parts of North and West Cambridge.

Even so, other parts of the city deserve sensible review as well.

“Six or seven unaffordable units for one inclusionary affordable unit is a lousy tradeoff,” he said. “The City Council and zoning board should lay out a map for our city’s new development. After neighborhoods have decided the proper level of density they can tolerate, we can call in the developers to fill the holes.”

Through Oct. 18, Mello had received no campaign contributions.

Candidate James Williamson goes one better. He’s not listed among Cambridge candidates on the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance website.

Asked about it, he wrote Monday: “OCPF has my required signed statement indicating I will not ‘raise or spend money’ at the current time. And I am not.”