091013i-Gary-MelloImagine my reaction Nov. 5, 2011, when I made a delivery to 50 Churchill Ave. in North Cambridge. Posted on the wall was an invitation to a Sunday party for resident seniors “with refreshments and prizes” to be hosted by Mayor David Maher. Like me, David was a candidate for City Council and the election was only two days later.

I call it a puppy dog party. Candidates get a captive audience of 200 senior citizens, the likeliest of all to vote in their own building for the price of some snacks. Put on a Sunday suit, smile a lot and tell the old folks just how concerned you are with their needs. Would you like a biscuit? Do it immediately before the election so opponents can’t protest and pretend that residents really need the mayor’s advice before they head to the polls. It’s a cheap stunt and everybody knows it. Don’t be a puppy dog.

This con job doesn’t sound fair, and it isn’t. Burns Apartments are public housing administered by the Cambridge Housing Authority, funded largely by the federal government. It’s a no-touch zone for campaign activity because the law forbids any kind of fundraising on public grounds. Campaign rallies are indistinguishable from solicitation, as Massachusetts’ regulating agency, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, has clearly indicated. For candidates, it’s play till you get caught.

It’s good to be king. My own complaint to the Cambridge Election Commissioners about the then mayor’s behavior was dismissed without consideration by member Peter Sheinfeld. Not his job. Early this year, Sheinfeld was reappointed for another four years to the political plum costing Cambridge taxpayers annually a little less than $30,000 plus a benefits package of up to $11,000, according to Cambridge’s Personnel Office. Pretty good money for what I understand to be two hours’ work a month – particularly when I’m told Somerville pays about $2,000 for the same thing. Talk about puppy dogs!

It was déjà vu all over again a few days ago. Another candidate will be hosting a community event with lunch provided this Friday at Burns. If you enter or leave the building, it will be impossible to avoid.

There’s a way to stop this nonsense. The city or the Housing Authority itself can establish a radius around the buildings forbidding campaign activity. That regulation’s already on the books. If your favorite councillor thinks that’s a good idea, but not till next year, vote for somebody else.

Maybe I’ll host my own puppy dog party one of these days. What’s your favorite Milk-Bone flavor?

Gary Mello, candidate for City Council