DePasquale, at final council meeting as manager, hears praise for his accessibility and fiscal savvy
Cambridge began saying farewell to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale on Monday at his final meeting presenting to the City Council. His term, which began in 2016, ends with his retirement July 5.
DePasquale, who grew up in East Cambridge, has been in city government for 47 years.
“You’ve been such a dedicated public servant, and you’ve been tireless over this last half-century in helping Cambridge become a stronger city,” said Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui during the final regular council meeting before a two-month summer break. At a scheduled Aug. 1 special meeting, the City Manager’s Office will be represented by either acting city manager Owen O’Riordan, on loan from leading the Department of Public Works, or new city manager Yi-an Huang.
Remarks by councillors highlighted DePasquale’s reputation for caring about Cambridge and engaging with the community. “Your heart has always been here with the residents of Cambridge,” vice mayor Alanna Mallon said.
“You know you’ve made it when you’re known by one name – Madonna, Prince, Louis – and there’s a reason for that. I sort of say that as a joke, but there’s actually something behind that,” councillor Marc McGovern said. “And what’s behind that is your accessibility, your being out in the community and people feeling like they can approach you and talk to you not as the person who runs the city, but as Louis.”
While the tone of DePasquale’s farewell speeches from city councillors was friendly – and the officials joked that Monday’s speeches were just a preview for the gushing that would be done at a private Tuesday breakfast – there has been tension over the years.
Recently, some city councillors were frustrated when DePasquale sent $5 million in returned green line extension funds back into the free cash pool, ignoring an order that it be used to improve public transit – just one of many orders his office would ignore as it prioritized other work.
He has also been hostile toward the idea of a municipal broadband network, driving a wedge between the council over the past several years. Councillors rebelled by voting against the budget for the city’s Information Technology Department in 2020 and threatened to rebel again in 2021 when a promised feasibility study was not conducted.
“I don’t want anyone to think that Louis DePasquale was a yes man, because he wasn’t – he could go toe-to-toe. One of my favorite things to say about him and his predecessors is that they could hold on to a penny so tight it would make Lincoln cry. Because you didn’t want us just to spend money willy-nilly, because you remember the lean days,” councillor E. Denise Simmons said. (Still, Simmons’ praise to the manager that “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you lose your temper” scrubbed away a few outbursts from the past years, and one walkout.)
As the city’s budget director from 1982 to 2002 and then assistant city manager for fiscal affairs, DePasquale played a major role in a development boom and rebuilding of city finances under manager Robert W. Healy. It led to a streak of top scores from rating agencies and mountainous free cash fund, which began setting records at least back in 2010; as of the most recent budget book, free cash stood at $214.4 million, in addition to $197 million in excess levy capacity and $48.5 million in debt stabilization funds. The city is able to do everything from house the homeless during the worst of the pandemic to spend $299 million on the Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper School complex even while remaking municipal offices and revamping creaky firehouses.
“During my time as [education] union president, my job was made easy because I never had to worry about the fiscal stability of the city, we never had to worry about layoffs. We were always well-funded as a school district, and employees had great benefits and great salaries,” said councillor Paul Toner, elected last year after a focus on education. “My wife and children have benefited as residents of the city, and I’m greatly appreciative of that.”
The Covid pandemic took a toll on city finances and others stresses tested relationships, and “this was a tough few years,” councillor Dennis Carlone said. “And it’s pretty amazing how well things went.”
In his own remarks Monday, DePasquale thanked city employees and expressed gratitude toward Siddiqui and former mayors McGovern and Simmons for their leadership. He thanked the council for placing their trust in him.
“I want to thank the residents of our city for placing high expectations on all of us,” DePasquale said. “It has been a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to meet and discuss many of the important issues that you are facing.”
The council unanimously approved a resolution to congratulate DePasquale on his retirement – and councillor Patty Nolan hinted at dropping in on his home on Blair Pond in the Cambridge Highlands for lunch and advice. “You are amazing,” she said.