E. Denise Simmons for City Council, 2015
E. Denise Simmons, a lifelong resident of Cambridge, has been on the City Council since 2002 after starting civic life as executive director of the Cambridge Civic Unity Committee in the 1980s, then serving on the School Committee in the 1990s. In her 2008-09 term she drew national attention as the nation’s first black, openly lesbian mayor.
In addition to her work on the council, Simmons owns a small insurance business just outside of Central Square. She and her wife, Mattie Hayes, live with her grandchildren in the Central Square area.
Compiled from the candidate’s words in publicly available sources
Simmons is running with the Unity Slate with fellow council incumbents Dennis Benzan, Leland Cheung, Craig Kelley, David Maher, Marc McGovern and Tim Toomey.
Top three priorities:
When people come to see me about an issue, it is usually focused upon needing either housing, jobs or both, so I will remain committed to fighting for more affordable housing and to foster a more vibrant local economy, one that offers more robust opportunities for jobs that pay living wages.
The intersection of race, class, gender and sexual orientation in our community and in workforce continue to be a prime concern of mine, and I will continue focusing on issues that promote fairness, acceptance, tolerance and inclusion, and I’ll continue to promote policies that enforce the concept of equal pay for equal work, and equal opportunities for all.
Of course, I will also remain committed to providing excellent constituent service to residents and business owners.
Ward 6 Democrats endorsement?
The Ward 6 Democrats endorsed nine council candidates this year, choosing only from among registered Democrats and saying it “sought to recommend candidates who would bring the vision, skills and experience most needed to govern Cambridge at this time, regardless of slate affiliation.”
Score from ABC:
The residents group A Better Cambridge rated 19 out of 22 candidates for City Council (all who responded to a comprehensive questionnaire) measuring their level of agreement with the group’s “smart growth” platform of development- and transit-focused priorities and goals. In the words of the group, “higher-rated candidates demonstrate a strong understanding of the complex housing and development challenges facing Cambridge [and] are best prepared to make Cambridge a more affordable and livable city for all residents, especially low-income families.” There is a maximum score of 45 points.
The Cambridge Residents Alliance endorsed five council candidates this year. The residents group is focused on development and housing affordability issues and opposes projects it feels will gentrify neighborhoods or add to traffic and transit congestion. Its endorsed candidates were those it felt would “allow real planning”; refused campaign donations from “large developers”; and vowed to work for a citywide development master plan that prevented “overdevelopment and displacement.”
Simmons is a mixed bag. She is on the right side of various fights, making herself prominent in supporting lower-wage workers such as construction contractors and security guards, expressing concern for psychiatric patients affected by a merger of emergency rooms at Cambridge Health Alliance and seeking guarantees that renters get the right to return to apartments they were thrown out of abruptly when the property owner decided to make repairs. She is on the right side too in the city’s lawsuit against a monthly nonprofit event putting fliers on cars – which is in opposition to the city. She did right in threatening eminent domain over the absurd delays in action by the owners Vail Court, prime land near Central Square.
She was an original co-sponsor of a bill seeking finally to determine if the city had a real master plan, and to move ahead on getting one if it was determined one was needed. And she has a mind that is independent and open enough to want to continue exploring the so-called Carlone petition, which would have given the council more power over certain large real estate developments at a time many viewed the Planning Board with some rightfully earned skepticism. (A view the board agreed with, and has since taken steps to correct.)
But there are unsettling aspects to Simmons’ work as a councillor as well. In the ongoing clash between the heavily regulated taxi industry and the largely unregulated car services that are killing it, such as Uber and Lyft, she agrees they should be regulated the same – yet is okay letting the situation ride, as it were. “I just don’t know how we would regulate that,” she has said, throwing responsibility to the state, which could take years to decide its approach on enforcing the law (or creating one). It’s an inconsistent stance that leaves cab drivers to fend for themselves, although if they’re forced to quit driving cabs and turn to janitorial services, construction or security, they will then find a champion in Simmons.
She failed to serve as a check and balance on the License Commission, which revealed last year its ability to act arbitrarily and hurt entrepreneurs without justification, and she failed in the most reckless way imaginable, saying the council didn’t need to act on a policy order looking at the commission because “the city manager, as I understand it, is looking at this matter. It’s in the right place … this does not increase a response from the city manager when he already has this in front of him.” This was entirely incorrect, as the city manager had already failed in his oversight role and put the issue right back before the commission that sinned in the first place. Simmons didn’t do her homework – didn’t even bother to talk to the victims who were in the chamber where she voted – and thus failed once again to uphold the law consistently for all.
Perhaps the worst of it was shown when it came to voting the “linkage” fees charged to developers by the square foot to help pay for affordable housing. It’s not just that her comments made it unclear whether she understood the issue – it’s that she’s been on the council since 2002, and that means that the disappearance of linkage until this year is her responsibility as much as it is that of Mayor David Maher and councillor Tim Toomey. They were all on the council when an increase in the linkage fee came to, and died in, a committee co-chaired by Maher in 2003, and they are all culpable for the $3.9 million in affordable housing money left on the table in the dozen years since. They talk about how much they care about the people who need affordable housing, but none has explained why they let linkage limp on far below reasonable rates as the housing crisis grew.