Leland Cheung for City Council, 2015
Leland Cheung was first elected to the City Council in 2009 in while pursuing a Masters in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a Masters in Business Administration at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Before assuming his role as councillor, he worked as a senior associate at Masthead Partners, a Cambridge venture capital firm focusing on digital media, mobile and Internet infrastructure. He has used this background to guide his efforts on the council, and is chairman of the Cable TV, Telecommunications & Public Utilities Commission as well as the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee.
Leland is an Executive Committee member of the state Democratic State Committee and a member of the Massachusetts Democratic Platform Drafting Committee. He was a commissioner on Gov. Deval Patrick’s Asian American Commission and is the Massachusetts state chairman of Democratic Municipal Officials. In the past term he made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, winning an endorsement from The Boston Globe before being beaten in a party primary.
He lives in Cambridge with his wife and young daughter, Yin.
Compiled from the candidate’s words in publicly available sources
Cheung is running with the Unity Slate with fellow council incumbents Dennis Benzan, Craig Kelley, David Maher, Marc McGovern, E. Denise Simmons and Tim Toomey.
Top three priorities:
Bold action to solve problems
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 A Better Cambridge:
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.
Cambridge Residents Alliance endorsement?
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.”
Little has changed from what was said two years ago about Cheung: He is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. As a councillor he has been effective in getting things done – sometimes smaller things that can add up to a lot. The city has benefited from his youth and technological savvy. But a plea for him to watch out for his politically pragmatic side went unheeded, and in three short terms he has come to fully embrace a lot of the things that makes “politics” a bad word, chiefly a preference for governing by handshake, which in the long run contributes to rather than helps corrects the city’s tendency to avoid real public processes on important issues.
It would be nice if he corrected that in anticipation of inevitably seeking higher office again, but at least in the short term Cheung has taken a lot of good positions and done plenty of good work in the city. Participatory budgeting, in which residents get to present and vote on funding priorities for a small portion of the city’s budget (because this is Cambridge, that represents more than a half-million dollars), came to the city on Cheung’s initiative, and he’s been good on open data and other tech-aided concepts. He has also made an effort to keep banks from taking up more retail frontage, which helps keep our streets lively, and (with vice mayor Dennis Benzan) sought to even the playing field for taxi drivers battling it out with Uber drivers with an immediate moratorium on fees – or at least an immediate conversation about an immediate moratorium. It’s not his fault it didn’t happen, and it’s similarly hard to blame Cheung for putting the city’s plastic bag ban on hold again when the city had been tossing it around for an absurd seven years already.
On a bigger scale, Cheung has been good on pushing for a higher percentage of affordable units in big residential developments, and it was Cheung who got developer “linkage” fees back on the council agenda in April 2013 after older incumbents had let the issue languish.
We even like the so-called Cheung Tower, his suggestion (and a term used by others, not Cheung) to seize a unique opportunity to build a 1,000-foot landmark tower on federal land that might become available in Kendall Square. It would be the tallest in New England; it also has about zero chances of being built.
So what’s the problem? Mainly it’s when Cheung gets political. He cannot see a flaw in the system in which he plays such a powerful role.
He voted against keeping the License Commission honest and accountable. He believes the city had a development master plan, maybe because he could see the jumbled mess of documents as a whole while lesser mortals could not, and is so deaf to unrest among a significant portion of the community that he not only doesn’t believe the “wild accusations” that city officials decide issues without real public input, but says that councillor Nadeem Mazen is himself making “wild accusations” by discussing it. Seriously – in June, while discussing the citywide development master plan and what kind of public process would accompany it, he tiresomely accused Mazen of making up citizen unrest from a contingent heard from every time a large development or visioning process is on the table. These people are indisputably real – they were the ones complaining about the Planning Board before its reforms, about being kept off the K2C2 committees, about how the council will vote to approve any development no matter what. It is an absolute mystery why Cheung went there. (So did the city manager, just as bizarrely.)
So it is little surprise that Cheung exempts himself from doubts that might accompany his acceptance of big-developer donations. At public forums this campaign season, he said such things as:
“I am confident enough about my own integrity that I don’t care who I take money from. I would rather take money from people who have lots of it than have to ask for some from my low-income neighbor … I’ll take money for my campaign from whoever gives it to me, and it does not mean whatsoever that I will vote with them or that I will help them. They’re not buying anything. I’m confident enough in what I believe and what I’m trying to build in Cambridge and what I stand for and my vision for the city, and that’s not influenced by whoever’s donating to me. Frankly, it’s an insult from people who, when they think of these questions, it says more about their character than mine.”
That makes it also little surprise that when councillor Dennis Carlone wanted a study of publicly funded elections for Cambridge, Cheung voted against it. Cheung “philosophically favors publicly financed elections,” the Cambridge Chronicle reported, but rejected even a study of applying the idea locally because “There hasn’t been any evidence presented that there has been corruption or untoward, unlawful behavior by any of my colleagues.”
Cheung’s done a lot of good for this city, but his shameless, willful and arrogant rejection that Cambridge politicians such as himself need checks and balances makes voting for him difficult.