James Williamson for City Council, 2013
Born in Delaware, James Williamson came to Cambridge in 1971 after being expelled from New York University as a result of his protests against the Vietnam War and activism with Students for a Democratic Society. Despite support from distinguished professors (and later from Ralph Nader) who objected to the school’s closed hearings, he was blocked from readmission. He has since taken courses at Boston University and Harvard Extension School.
He became active in civic life in Cambridge soon after his arrival and describes himself as an event organizer, publicist and neighborhood activist. He ran for council in 2009 and 2011.
Compiled from the candidate’s words in publicly available sources
Williamson’s top three priorities:
Making sure we choose an excellent, pro-neighborhood, pro-community city manager to follow Richard C. Rossi, with the active participation of residents in the process (unlike what happened with the current City Council).
Create affordable housing by demanding the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard house their graduate students; identifying opportunities for new affordable housing and leveraging Community Preservation Act and other city funds to build it; increasing the share of affordable housing in new, market-rate developments; expanding the range of affordability so moderate- and middle-income families and individuals – and their children – have an opportunity to live and remain in Cambridge.
Manage development so it works for everyone who lives in Cambridge by protecting and supporting healthy neighborhoods with reasonable-scale, affordable retail and appropriate uses, not a biolab on every corner.
Williamson sent a separate set of top priorities in response to a request by Cambridge Day:
As the “citizen candidate” for City Council I rely on voters such as you learning about me and my campaign by looking at some of the resources available – free of charge – online, including this one. That’s because I have pledged to neither raise nor spend money in this campaign, for reasons I explain at the CCTV video available here (please have a look, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it). My great “guest commentary” in the Cambridge Chronicle may be viewed here.
I also urge all serious, thoughtful voters to consider the role of private money in this election and go to the easy-to-use search tool of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance website to examine – and reflect upon – where candidates are getting their money from, and for what purpose.
If elected, my “four priorities” for Cambridge will be:
Raising the minimum wage in Cambridge to at least $10.50 per hour. Why should people – young and old – get only $8 per hour or little more working at Dunkin’ Donuts, CVS, McDonald’s and other fast-food joints and corporate chains, especially when the “Living Wage” ordinance of Cambridge specifies at least $14.75 per hour?
Protecting, preserving and expanding affordable housing in Cambridge for all income groups, up to 120 percent of area median income, or approximately $100,000 for a family of four. We can do so by directing the exorbitant profits given MIT and others by the City Council in upzoning deals to subsidize affordable housing – of a reasonable scale – in Central Square on land the city owns. Affordable, independent, local retail should be included. We should insist that MIT adopt a goal of housing 100 percent of its 6,200 graduate students (currently it’s only 38 percent) and a majority of its 1,400 post-docs (not currently even counted by MIT) and that Harvard do the same!
Keeping Central Square safe and affordable for the 99 percent! Reject any push to change the zoning unnecessarily when current zoning – which allows eight-story buildings, where we now have many only one-story buildings – is completely untested. We’re already seeing the next “gold rush” threatening to put the Middle East restaurant and music club out of business or render it unaffordable. Resist the arrogant and disingenuous predation of developers such as Alex Twining, who have already said what they want to do – build 285 feet high – before even asking the community he is not, incidentally, a part of.
Transportation. Take back our streets, crosswalks and sidewalks and make them safe for pedestrians, especially our senior citizens, from the self-centered and reckless behavior of people riding bikes, who have no respect or consideration for either the rules of the road, the law or vulnerable human beings, other them themselves. We should ramp up active and widespread enforcement by the Cambridge Police Department, making this a top priority. We should also insist that Harvard replace the LMA (M2) shuttle buses that run on Massachusetts Avenue with much quieter buses so we might actually be able to enjoy all the new sidewalk dining in Central Square; and make it possible for the public to actually ride these buses (and ease congestion on the No. 1 Dudley Bus) by allowing people to pay when they board, rather than have to go to some obscure location at Harvard to pay in advance.
We must roll back the grotesque over-commercialization of our public sidewalks and public spaces by the MBTA (ignored by our current, zombielike council). Reclaim our city from the MBTA and its predatory advertising contractors!
On local business:
The “local business community” is obviously not a single monolith. For example, there are conflicts between store and restaurant owners and their landlords, and “local” banks have not always “done the right thing” to support local businesses. (Remember The Tasty?) There is not even always agreement on what “local” actually means.
That said, the city can help with fair and predictable license and permit requirements and fees; clean sidewalks; a safe environment for citizens – and pedestrians – on our sidewalks; support for the local, independent piece of economic development; “one-stop” permitting, especially for those new to business; encouraging and facilitating reasonable rents by using creatively all the sensible and fair tools available, including tax policy and zoning regulations; reducing bus and truck noise along Massachusetts Avenue for greater outdoor seating comfort; and not forgetting about the local business outside of Central and Harvard Squares, which sometimes feel ignored when it comes to street cleaning, snow removal and other city-provided amenities.
The real key to success, however, is for the city to promote and support healthy, vibrant communities in Cambridge that will be prosperous, ready and happy to enjoy a “rich” environment of affordable, useful, diverse and interesting “consumer” opportunities. We need to rebuild and restore our public spaces; that will create an environment in which our friendly, local, independent businesses will flourish, too.
Williamson on the issues
City Council dysfunction