Three challengers for council form ‘Clean Slate,’ return slate politics to city elections
Three first-time City Council candidates have formed the first official slate Cambridge politics has seen in years, and they’re inviting more challengers aboard.
The trio – Nadeem Mazen, Janneke House and Dennis Carlone – announced late Monday they were forming a “Clean Slate” for the Nov. 5 election. To inaugurate the slate they planned to travel as a group and stop by polling places for the 5th Congressional District primaries starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
“We know we can depend on each other to listen carefully, to do the hard work of gathering community and stakeholder input and, just as importantly, to be open to compromise in crafting solutions. It’s important to bring a fresh approach to Cambridge voters,” House said.
The candidates share views on affordable housing; the need for a new city master plan for development; and promotion of summer and after-school programs in the so-called STEAM fields of science, technology, engineering, art and math, according to a Clean Slate press release. If they win council seats, they also plan to bring more civic events to “community rooms, churches and other civic spaces in Cambridge to better engage members of the public and to promote a more inclusive government.”
“Make your vote count,” is the slate’s slogan. “Elect someone new!”
The idea of forming a slate took root at the Oct. 8 candidates forum at Lesley University, they said. With a 25-candidate field for nine council seats, the forum was split into three groups of candidates, and Carlone, House and Mazen were in the first. After the forum they met to discuss shared values – and how to counter the seven incumbents’ advantage in the election.
While the slate is more about shared beliefs than electoral calculations, Mazen said, a group of aligned candidates can arguably have a mathematical advantage at the polls with Cambridge’s ranked form of voting, called proportional representation. Mazen said:
With proportional representation, if your No. 1 choice doesn’t get into office (or gets into office with more votes than needed) there is a very good chance that your vote will go to your No. 2 choice (and then your No. 3 choice, and so on). The simplest way to ensure that one or more of the Clean Slate gets onto the council is through disciplined voting. Each of us makes sure that our supporters also vote for the other two slate members, such that if for some reason one of us doesn’t get in on his own steam, at least the other members will receive those transfer votes directly and increase their chances.
Slates were vital to Cambridge politics for years, with the Cambridge Civic Association created in 1945 being the most enduring and powerful. While this year’s 25 candidates may sound like a lot, historian Glen Koocher notes in a political history of the city posted on Robert Winters’ Cambridge Civic Journal website that 83 candidates ran for the council in 1941.
“Under PR, slate balloting was key,” Koocher said. “Voters needed to be reminded of how best to direct their votes to candidates who shared, for example, their political views, racial or ethnic heritage or neighborhood.”
But rent control became the association’s main issue, and voters statewide killed rent control in 1994. The association’s power was lost as its lower-income base left the city, and the CCA made its last endorsements in 2003. Winters’ analysis of voter data after the next election found two less formal slates having little effect on the outcome.
“It is important to formalize the slate to get our respective supporters on board,” Mazen said. “There is a contingent of voters who don’t know which challenger to pick, but they know they want a challenger.” He said:
By organizing the Clean Slate and clearly stating our principles, we have proven not only that we can work together as leaders, but that we stand for an exciting return to community organizing and community empowerment as the basis for our leadership. Early feedback is that this way of organizing and collaborating has really helped some undecided voters … and it definitely helps undecided voters pick the slate when they realize that they’re increasing the chances that a challenger is elected just by giving their top three votes to the Clean Slate.
The Clean Slate candidates said they were reaching out to other challengers who are willing to campaign together and help each other. In a year in which City Council dysfunction has become a campaign issue, they also expect slate candidates who win office to promote “hard work, respect and open collaboration alongside all of the newly elected councillors – incumbents and challengers,” according to the slate’s press release.
“I was attracted to this slate because House and Mazen bring their empathy with the community and their earnest approach to making community life better. That’s what I’m trying to do as well – working with stakeholders to design and plan a more balanced Cambridge,” Carlone said.