Friday, April 12, 2024


James Williamson is a candidate for City Council. (Photo: Marcus Halevi)

Challengers for City Council have been profiled or appeared in question-and-answer sessions throughout the fall on Cambridge Day. Previously were Charles MarquardtGary Mello, Matt NelsonJamake PascualTom StohlmanMinka vanBeuzekom and Larry Ward. Election Day is Tuesday.

James Williamson, self-described as an event organizer, publicist, neighborhood activist has been a frequent presence during public comment periods at city meetings, often speaking out on matters of affordable housing, public transportation and safety and representation for the city’s less wealthy residents. He first ran for City Council two years ago, saying “we need citizens on the City Council who will really pay attention to what’s going on in our city and will not be afraid to speak up and do something about it.” He sounded the same themes for this year’s campaign.


Why are you running? What is it in you or the community that compels you to do this now?

I want to actually do something on the City Council, rather than just sit back and do nothing and collect a check from the taxpayers for $70,000 a year along with campaign contributions from the likes of multiple members of the Ratner family (of Forest City, MIT’s “developer”) from places like Shaker Heights, a wealthy suburb of Cleveland— not Cambridge. Don’t we already have enough wealthy contributors and interests right here in good ol’ Cambridge?

Several councillor-candidates seemed to respond to concerns raised at the Area IV candidate forum last Thursday night with policy orders at Monday’s City Council meeting about rats, since residents are worried about rats displaced by major development across Main Street from Newtowne Court — but what about Ratners? The family’ behind much of this so-called development, the excavation generating the “rat problem,” and they’re major contributors to some of these very same councilor-candidates, to wit: Ken Reeves, Denise Simmons, Marjorie Decker, and, of course, Tim Toomey and David Maher.

Voters should be sure to examine the searchable database at the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to see to who the various members of the extended Ratner family have been contributing to in recent months and years. They are certainly not the only corporate real estate company “investing” in Cambridge candidates (see Alexandria, for example, among others), but they are perhaps the most visible. And they are evidently equal opportunity contributors, as they have given to the cash-starved Republican, Mitt Romney, and the ethically challenged former speaker of the House, Sal DiMasi, as well. Generous of them, don’t you think?

I want safe sidewalks. I want to feel, and actually be, safe as a pedestrian everywhere I walk lawfully in this city. I want the handsomely paid cops to do their jobs and help us make our city safe.

I want to eliminate excessive T advertising in all of our (formerly) public spaces and improve T performance and public information to our residents and citizenry. Two weeks’ notice for a five-month shutdown of weekend service on the red line? And why not help address this gathering catastrophe by adding additional weekend service on the already underserviced 83 bus that runs from Alewife and Rindge Avenue to Central Square? Disgraceful.

Where are all these highly-paid councillors on these and other important issues? Put it right in front of their noses and they still do nothing.

Why do we pay through the nose for Comcast and Wi-Fi? Why is the glorious, $91 million public library not even open on Sundays from May to Oct. 15? Why are so many of the supposedly public boards and commissions essentially operating like secret societies? Try to find out reliably when the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust Fund meets. Try to get a copy of the material they hand out to their member-insiders. Why isn’t a single member of the affordable-housing resident community on this or any other city board or commission?

Sometimes it can seem like Cambridge is run by a bunch of extremely well-paid (and often incompetent or completely negligent) crypto-overlords who are busy lining their own and their cronies’ pockets while ignoring the rest of us. Their motto can sometimes seem to be: “Everything  for us, nothing for anyone else.” (“As long as we control it all, it’s ‘all good.’”) Meanwhile, everyone else goes about their business while too many homeowners seem to care only about whether they enjoy the lowest tax rate in all of the commonwealth. Nothing else matters?

Hence, I’m afraid, City Manager Robert W. Healy.

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cambridge you see now or coming up in the next two years, and what is your approach or solution to that issue? Be as concrete as possible in explaining what you will do.

The No. 1 issue is the tsunami of “development” heading toward Central Square and Kendall Square via proposals from the MIT Investment Management Co. and the Novartis and Forest City/Ratner plans for Massachusetts Avenue. And quo vadis Central Square? As noted, Ken Reeves is taking money from the “multiple Ratners,” as are Decker, Toomey, Maher and Simmons. Reeves is also taking money from a notorious Central Square landlord named Stuart Rothman! Anyone remember his history? Thanks to council candidate Gary Mello for remembering to highlight this all-important issue of campaign contributions: Follow the money.

What is the best thing done by the current office-holders during their term?

I’m honestly having a hard time thinking of anything. (Novartis upzoning? Nine to zero in favor. Bishop Petition? “Let’s not be too hasty.” And on and on.) But just to indicate how bad it is, I think the best thing may have been when I heard Craig Kelley insist at a committee hearing chaired by Sam Seidel that the public should have their stipulated “five minutes” of public comment when Seidel moved to curtail it. But then, at another hearing chaired by Craig, he interrupted repeatedly during an informal discussion and threatened to ask me to leave, in spite of the fact that I was demonstrably “on topic.” (The meeting was explicitly announced as to be about the new, so-called “bike share” program — really a bike rental program — and I think he just didn’t like what I was saying about it. Craig also didn’t even know at this hearing that the misguided CDD zoning petition at issue had not yet actually been ordained. It was frustrating, to say the least.

Tell us how you perceive the balance of power between our city manager and councillors? Is the balance of power appropriate? Do you want to do anything differently?

There’s way too much power in the hands of Healy, Deputy City Manager Richard Rossi, etc. The city’s Plan E charter should be reformed, but that probably requires too much of an effort. Meantime, we need better city councillors. How about me?

Also, there should be more of a role for citizens and city councillors to name members of boards and commissions. There should be neighborhood-based, elected community boards with meaningful authority over all significant building proposals. Residents and citizens should be consulted on matters affecting our lives.

And participatory budgeting, as practiced by Alderman Joe Moore in Chicago.