A campaign season hobbled by the limitations of a pandemic limps to a close Tuesday, with 21 candidates in the race for nine City Council seats.

At least one new face is guaranteed for the council’s next two-year term, because Tim Toomey won’t be returning. After a run of public service that lasted more than 35 years, Toomey announced in June that he would retire.

Signs still went up this year, flyers and brochures got delivered to voters’ doors and mailboxes – in abundance – and candidates met with voters. But with indoor public gatherings out of the question while a new wave of the coronavirus spread, organizations turned to hosting virtual candidate forums that seemed fewer in number than in past election seasons. Robert Winters’ Cambridge Civic Journal site shows eight in October after forums held by A Better Cambridge and the Cambridge Citizens Coalition took place in September; he posted a 2019 campaign calendar for comparison showing 15 events in September and October.

What forums were held didn’t always benefit from candidates being able to call in from their homes, though politically based boycotts played a role. A forum hosted by A Better Cambridge drew 15 candidates; a questionnaire from the Cambridge Citizens Coalition drew 13 responses. When the arts community held a forum, 11 candidates RSVP’d.

Politicking went online to a greater degree than might have otherwise been necessary, and the debate could be sharp. In one case, letters flew and groups formed around the installation of protected bike lanes on Northern Massachusetts Avenue and a pledge by candidates to adhere to the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance. In a more unusual case, candidates found themselves under fire for being endorsed by the CCC because it was under fire for its response to an October 2020 incident involving the East Cambridge Planning Team.

Some challengers struggled for visibility. First-timers Dana Bullister maintained a lively Twitter feed and Frantz Pierre was just as active on Instagram – though with three kids, it was hard to find the time for public forums, he said Friday – but newcomer and write-in candidate Roy Ribitzky didn’t speak at forums, and his social media ran dry in midsummer. As online access to voters to get a message out became more crucial, Gregg Moree’s attendance dropped off. Jeffery McNary decided to jump into the campaign season on Oct. 13 as a write-in candidate when there was just five forums remaining, but he said Friday that he was opting for finding voters by walking the length of Cambridge rather than by addressing them online.

Campaign as art project

And Ilan Levy, running for the fourth time after campaigns that were about ending Cambridge’s city manager form of government, admitted Thursday that his campaign was really a “launching pad” for a project to create an “Encyclopedia of Non-Sense,” meant to be a repository of “imaginary solutions” for Cambridge and other cities.

“Using pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions, let us put to art our community’s vision,” Levy said. “I think for anyone who has participated or not in city life, it is pretty clear no-non-sense has failed us.”

He urged people to upload a 30-second video from their phone in which they give an imaginary solution. In his own video, he recommends term limits for public offices and total transparency in government; in another submission, Alan Greene wants people to be able to find such things as free food distribution, public transit and a hardware store within any 15-minute walk. Virginie Greene proposes that no building exceed the height of the tallest tree that can grow locally, which is around 150 feet in Cambridge.

“The Encyclopedia of Non-Sense” site and a link to submit your ideas can be found here – replacing Levy’s campaign website.

The candidates

The candidate profiles below show who’s running and in most cases offer a sense of their thinking on some key campaign issues: housing; making government bodies and the voices at meetings more inclusive; and hiring the next city manager. Most responses are taken from this season’s public forums and candidate questionnaires by civic groups, and they were edited for publication.

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The challengers

In alphabetical order


Burhan Azeem


Dana Bullister


Robert Eckstut


Tonia Hicks


Ilan Levy


Joe McGuirk


Jeffery McNary


Gregg Moree


Frantz Pierre


Roy Ribitzky


Theodora Skeadas


Paul Toner


Nicola Williams


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The incumbents

In alphabetical order


Dennis Carlone


Alanna Mallon


Marc McGovern


Patty Nolan


Sumbul Siddiqui


E. Denise Simmons


Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler


Quinton Zondervan

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