City Council candidate Deonna Desir files her nomination papers Wednesday with the Election Commission, only 40 minutes before the deadline. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The deadline to run for public office this fall arrived Wednesday with fields of 23 candidates for City Council, 11 candidates for School Committee and one big surprise: Committee member Kathleen Kelly decided not to run, bringing a last-minute candidate into that race. 

Ruth Ryan Allen became the final candidate to sign up – picking up papers for her run for School Committee at around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the final day of the entire nomination period, and only about an hour and a half after seeing on Facebook that Kelly had pulled out. She brought in her signatures at 4:49 p.m., meaning she’d gathered her dozens of needed signatures in just three hours. (That beat out Ilan Levy for last-minute runs; he picked up papers for his council run on Friday and dropped off his signatures Wednesday.)

Kelly’s dropping out means there will be three guaranteed new faces on the committee come January, when a new, two-year term starts. Committee incumbent Patty Nolan said in June that she’d decided to run for council and Laurance Kimbrough said recently that he’d decided against another arduous campaign. According to the Election Commission, Nolan could have run for both offices, but serve in only one.

Ruth Ryan Allen, right, with the help of Nancy Russell, files her nomination papers with minutes to spare – and only about three hours after pulling papers to run. (Photo: Marc Levy)

“When I learned Kathleen Kelly wasn’t going to run, that was a scary moment for me,” Allen said outside the Election Commission offices. Friend Nancy Russell called to urge her to run, and her husband urged her as well, she said, leading to a call for nomination signatures that went out over Facebook. “I was overwhelmed by the people who came out in the rain to sign,” Allen said.

Allen said she would focus on a “working class” platform that included vocational and technical job training for students who don’t want to go to college, and work in support of special education kids and their families.

On the council side, there will be one guaranteed new face, as incumbent Jan Devereux opted out of a reelection run in May; two years ago, it was councillor Leland Cheung who declined to run for reelection and committee member Richard Harding who decided against reelection to that body in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to jump to the council.

Council challenger Deonna Desir has a nomination story nearly as breathtaking as Allen’s: Though she pulled papers July 1, a crisis at home made it difficult for her to gather the needed signatures, which meant she locked in her ability to run only 40 minutes before the deadline. The problem was a discovery of mold in her Corcoran Lane unit that uprooted her entire family at a crucial time. “We were displaced for three weeks,” Desir said. “We were only able to return on the 25th and I could start to do this again.”

She got her 57 signatures in one day – a thin margin for the 50 that are required – then realized she could add her own name to give that margin a little bump.

But her personal crisis underlines the reasons she wanted to run for office, she said, as she struggled to get help with the mold in her public housing. “I was looking for support in the city and I was very disappointed. We have so many things wrong with our units, and no support,” Desir said. “We’re families in those units, and not just numbers.”

“I want to advocate for people who feel like their backs are up against the wall,” she said.

Levy, who filed his signatures with the Election Commission only a few minutes after Desir, said he is still looking to see over the next couple of weeks whether his work responsibilities will allow him a full campaign season.

The final candidate to visit in the final moments before the Election Commission closed its doors on the nomination period was incumbent councillor Sumbul Siddiqui – who at 72 preliminarily certified signatures already had far more than needed, but came to drop off more signatures just in case.

Council incumbent Sumbul Siddiqui, right, stops by the Election Commission late Wednesday to add more signatures to those she’d already filed in nomination papers. (Photo: Marc Levy)

This pool of candidates is large, but smaller than the past election season, which had 26 candidates for council and an even dozen for School Committee, and it’s far from the largest Cambridge has seen. In 1941, there were 83 candidates running for City Council; races with candidates numbering in the 30s were not uncommon in the 1950s and 1970s.

The candidates are so far unofficial. They had the month in which to gather at least 50 (but no more than 100) signatures from eligible voters supporting their nomination, and the Election Commission is due to certify the final signatures by Aug. 14. Two days later is the deadline for candidates to withdraw officially.

Election day is Nov. 5.

The council is made up of nine elected officials; the School Committee is made up of six, and led by the mayor. They are elected via Cambridge’s rare form of ranked voting, this year with a changed ballot design. In the past, voters were allowed to rank the full roster of candidates from first choice to, for instance, the past election’s 26 council candidates; this year the ballots allow rankings from first to 15th choice. Election experts say tests of past elections show results don’t change with only 15 rankings allowed.     

Among the challengers for City Council were names that may be familiar from past runs: Levy, who’s looked for changes to Cambridge’s Plan E form of government, with its city manager and weak mayor and council; Moree, a perennial candidate whose consuming focus on a jobs platform has never overcome his limited appeal with voters; Musgrave, who led the Cambridge Local First business group between runs; and Pitkin, an environmentalist who has been prominent over the past months as an opponent of the city’s Inman Square redesign plan – and suer of the city over accusations of lack of process for the plan. 

Among the seven committee challengers were six newcomers and at two that may be familiar from past runs: fourth-timer Elechi Kadete, who graduated from Cambridge Public Schools, and David Weinstein, a management professional and former classroom teacher.


This post was updated Aug. 6, 2019, to correct information about School Committee challenger Jose Luis Rojas Villarreal in a graphic.