Friday, May 24, 2024

Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere. Handling the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak took two years. But like many communities across the United States, Cambridge is struggling in part simply because we have highly paid people in city and elected leadership who are not qualified to be there.

I have often said that elections should be job interviews, not popularity contests. By way of example, and not to embarrass anyone, I note that a current city councillor for some unknown reason decided to do a cartwheel immediately before one of last year’s debates. It was an immature performance no one in their right mind would do before one of their own job interviews (unless, of course, they were applying to Cirque de Soleil) and should have been a disqualifier for holding any elected office. Would you want your physician doing a cartwheel before treating you or a loved one for cancer or Covid-19? But many voters found this bizarre, immature action charming, and gave this candidate their vote. The candidate now holds a seat on our council during a crisis not seen in our lifetime, and I have little confidence they have the capacity, or in some cases, the maturity to do so. I am sure the councillor’s supporters will find my opinions insulting or take it as some political challenge, as opposed to understanding the bigger, broader picture. I do hope this councillor has learned that we as Cambridge residents deserve professionalism and appropriate maturity to hold such a leadership position.

There are many such examples throughout our City Council and city staff, and it makes me afraid for my neighbors that such immaturity and inexperience is now part of the team trying to keep us safe.

There have been sparks of leadership during this crisis. Members of our council have worked to help me find masks for elderly and disabled East Cambridge residents; U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley held a town hall recently to answer constituents’ questions or respond to their needs. Cambridge has yet to hold a similar town hall for residents, though months ago our mayor and vice mayor held one to support businesses. I found this shameful, because they placed commerce before people. This will forever be obscene in my eyes, another disqualifier to hold a leadership position in our city again. Sadly, I know this will not be the case.

For years I have criticized elected officials for caring only during campaign season about those of us who live in public housing. (In my more than two decades of community advocacy, only state Rep. Mike Connolly has taken the time to visit my home and building outside of election season.) Months after this pandemic began, EMTs are just now going door-to-door through elderly housing to test for Covid-19 – yet another sad example of how the elderly, poor and disabled are not a top priority in communities across America. Commerce and privilege will always come first.

I don’t expect our entire council and city staff to be epidemiologists or crisis experts. I do hope this coronavirus has forced us voters to understand that while we rarely face such a worldwide crisis, it is our sole responsibility to elect people who possess the life and/or work experience needed to handle one. We need to stop electing people we like, or find charming. Your life or the lives of your loved ones may depend on it.

Emmanuel “Manny” Lusardi is an East Cambridge resident, long time immigrant advocate and former Liaison for Immigrant Affairs to the Cambridge Mayors office.