Friday, April 19, 2024


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. This is his fourth run for council.

Compiled from the candidate’s words in publicly available sources


Williamson is running independently but looks often to Ilan Levy and Gary Mello as candidates with good ideas deserving of attention and votes.

Three priorities:

Williamson mentioned these as priorities in a past campaign.

bullet-gray-smallProtecting, 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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 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 and a majority of its 1,400 post-docs (not currently even counted by MIT) and that Harvard do the same!

bullet-gray-smallKeeping 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.

bullet-gray-smallTransportation. 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!

Ward 6 Democrats endorsement?

Profile NOThe 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.”

Profile development and affordable housingScore from ABC:

ABC score 2015 WilliamsonThe 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.

CRA endorsement?

Profile NOThe 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.”

Profile one view of the candiate

Although his politics and approach aren’t to everyone’s tastes, Williamson loves and is willing to work for Cambridge, and work hard. The evidence of his ability to collaborate and change things for the better in the city was seen last month after Harvard worked with citizens led by Williamson on a redesign of the square’s Forbes Plaza (home to its Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center) when an early proposal found disfavor with many, including members of the Board of Zoning Appeal. The new design should be one the city and millions of tourists annually can love as much as the current one.

Williamson makes some sharp observations – never failing to remind residents of how much Cambridge property is owned by overseas investors, for instance, and calling out the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for its resistance to contributing to middle-income housing stock – and his priorities are solid. He would surely be a strong champion for Cambridge’s lower-earning residents; he is one of several candidates making a point of taking no campaign donations and spending no money.

He has also been generous this campaign in pointing to candidates aside from himself with interesting ideas, basically forming on his own a good ad hoc slate for voters who want an examination of the very principles that have governed the city for years and sometimes decades. For the most radical of Cambridge voters, and even some less radical ones who are willing to see things questioned and possibly shaken up a bit (including on the Plan E Charter form of government and its weak mayor system; how the city budgets; and whether the city is following the law on such things as licensing), Williamson is not just a candidate, but a leader.