Friday, June 14, 2024

Alice Wolf is a political legend. (“Alice Wolf leaves behind enduring political legacy encompassing education, council and Legislature,” Jan. 29.) She represents a different era in politics. She started as an active parent at her children’s elementary school and later ran for the School Committee. She worked her way to City Council and later became a state, representative but did not see either as a steppingstone. Every election was hard earned. She served during the tumultuous time of school desegregation and proposition 2½ budget cuts. She served on the School Committee during the killing of Anthony Colosimo in 1980, which shut down Cambridge Rindge and Latin School because of racial tensions and fear of neighborhood clashes. She served when Cambridge Rindge Technical School was merged with Cambridge High and Latin School. She also served during, and to the end of, the very heated and divided rent control era. For all these reasons, she had a deep historical perspective on Cambridge. Alice understood the race and class tensions of Cambridge. She understood the Tale of two Cities. She understood what divisions can do to a community.

I went to the Peabody School with Alice’s sons. Our families were friendly and active. In 1996 we ran against each other for an open state rep seat vacated by former speaker Charlie Flaherty, a Cambridge legend. I was finishing my first full term on the City Council and Alice was already a political icon. I was too young to care, and we fought tooth and nail in a race decided by 96 votes. The race was high-profile and heated. We both wore out our shoe leather and had hundreds of volunteers and canvassed night and day. No social media, no email – all door knocking, all landlines. In 1998, again young and full of more energy than brains, I ran again against Alice, now an incumbent. Again, a very high-profile race with a huge turnout and close, but Alice beat me squarely.

When I watch sports shows about rival athletes that grow to be friends over the years, I can relate to this. Those four years were defining for us both, I think. For one, it was grueling and taught us both what it really took to win. The races built and consolidated our campaign teams. Also, Alice and I both thought we were true representatives of Cambridge – though the media spin was blue-collar lunch pail vs. the ideologue liberal. Alice, a gritty immigrant Holocaust survivor, never liked being characterized that way, and I did not like being thought of as less than an academic progressive. The campaigns moved us both to speak to each other’s camps in a more intentional way. Alice grew to be more populist, and so did I. When it was over, Alice was better able to serve as a state rep for the entire district, and I went on to be mayor and senator, always aware of the importance of representing all residents.

Alice was a representative when I was elected senator and we got to work together to support the Cambridge Health Alliance and pass a bill to support expiring use buildings across Massachusetts. We had come full circle. I remember Alice, Ken Reeves, David Maher and I talking one day about our experiences as chairs of the School Committee, all sharing the feelings of wanting to move public education further. Alice worked on early childhood and adult education throughout her career. The Center for Families in North Cambridge and the Community Learning Center (in the building named after her) are testament to that work.

I am in awe of Alice Wolf and her 16 years in the Legislature after a legendary local political career. She was known for being an issues person, but she was much more. She was a dogged worker and a very kind person. Calling or coming to your door, asking how your mother or siblings were and sending personal notes was a daily routine. Her number is in the political rafters on Cambridge political history, and she earned it. She made me a better politician and a better person. We were rivals for a time and I won’t know what Alice might say of me but I am proud to say Alice Wolf’s name and proud to have served with her. Cambridge mourns an icon and a dear friend.