Wednesday, July 17, 2024


In the few days left before Nov. 5 municipal elections, how do the undecided rank the candidates for City Council?

In a way, the voters of Cambridge should be grateful to the eight members of the council who gave Richard C. Rossi a three-year term as city manager. By promoting someone who’s been deputy city manager for three decades, they made it really easy to throw some out of office.

What you'll find hereAfter all, if they’d actually followed through with the council’s promise to hold a process for a short-term city manager search rather than just do a last-minute punt (using a process the Attorney General’s Office decided was a violation of state open meeting law), there’s a chance the city would have wound up with a newbie who needed experienced city councillors around to keep Cambridge on an even keel.

As it is, with Rossi having all the experience he does, the city can afford to bring in some challengers, who will gain experience during Rossi’s term.

And, oh boy, is this ever the time for some change. If you need to reacquaint yourself with why, check out “10 ways the City Council embarrassed itself this term,” which was posted in June and only starts with the excruciatingly embarrassing 7-2 vote to grant development rights that took away much of a beloved rooftop garden in Kendall Square. See, Google said it absolutely needed the land to build a structure a certain way for certain reasons, even though it has since showed no sign of using the structure the way it said it would. The council also bought into the plan in exchange for certain promises, even though three of five promises had literally already been promised to the city … and somehow the councillors failed to take note of this or suggest that it bothered them, save for some complaint by Minka vanBeuzekom. In a term that sets this multimillion-dollar bungle as the standard for official acts, it’s amazing there aren’t more than 18 challengers. It was seemingly designed to engender cynicism: Are they corrupt, or just stupid?

For the record, it was Craig Kelley who voted against appointing Rossi on the grounds the council had failed its promise for a public process, while vanBeuzekom voted against his contract. And it was Kelley and vanBeuzekom who voted against that moronic Google connector deal.

It also really says something that the huge majority of council challengers and even several incumbents are simply shrugging off the city’s argument that it has a development master plan in the form of some old reports and a few zoning documents. “Sure you do,” is the general tone.

The disbelievers may soon have state support for ordering a more cohesive plan; a resident has filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office charging that Cambridge is breaking the law.

Since the posting of “10 ways the City Council embarrassed itself this term” the council has had a couple more superior shameful moments: shutting down a citizen’s third try in a six-year struggle just to get the city to the point of being able to enforce its own anti-glare ordinance; and falling for astonishingly specious arguments from the city’s Law Department to keep secret any and all details of seven lawsuits against the city that follow six similar lawsuits that cost Cambridge millions in the previous term. (It should be said, in fairness, that Kelley tried to make the information public.) The council also ignored warnings that the process behind the Cambridge Housing Authority’s smoking ban was flawed and unfair and kept displaying its all too common laziness and lack of institutional memory, including letting work on Kendall Square and Central Square zoning disappear (until after the election) and MIT’s graduate housing task force miss its deadline without a squawk. This is the kind of fecklessness that still has us not even at the start of work on retaining the middle class in Cambridge, despite that being a perennial talking point and voter worry.


Maybe it will be enough to see the departure of Mayor Henrietta Davis, who opted against running for reelection, and Marjorie Decker, who will be focusing on work as a state representative, and to just get two new councillors to work with the seven incumbents. Maybe in January those nine will elect a mayor quickly, unlike in the past two terms, and set about doing business in a productive and harmonious way that seems less like the weekly unfolding of a tiresome high school psychodrama in which the upperclassmen and tough kids make cutting, undermining comments in lieu of the work they’re capable of while the rest of us sit around confused and uncomfortable.

But who knows whether a less toxic atmosphere and potential for leadership will make for a better term than the one we’ve been suffering through? This is the term where the council couldn’t pull itself together for a real process on a city manager search – that’s a theory, anyway – and had to duke it out for months just to get to the point of ordering a study of the Foundry building that, let’s face it, should have taken place the minute it became city property. It dragged its heels on an extremely popular medical marijuana mandate, and showed more resistance on simply debating a net zero emissions approach to big development.

For whatever reason, the group just doesn’t seem interested in either reflecting constituent concerns – or, in some ways, in reflecting at all – or communicating that it cares. Is it arrogance? Is it a need for change in the council rules? Are there microbes in the walls of historic Sullivan Chamber that infect people sitting regularly on or around the mayor’s podium?

Will this election change anything?

There are signs of hope. We have some very smart, energetic and accomplished challengers this year. While they haven’t held elected office, they can surely be caught up fast with the help of whatever incumbents remain, the staff and city clerk. And, of course, Rossi.



Challengers header
















Von Hoffmann




Incumbents header