Friday, June 21, 2024

Cambridge women vote in an image from the Dec. 20, 1879, issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. (Image: The collection of Robert Winters)

Cambridge’s form of government is under review for the first time in 80 years, but a new television series promises to get residents up to speed in just a few half-hour episodes.

“Cambridge City Charter: From Town Meeting to Plan E” premieres at 5:30 p.m. Monday on Cambridge Community Television’s Channel 9 and on the Web at

The series is written and narrated by longtime Cambridge residents John Pitkin and Robert Winters and directed by Gregorio Leon, a graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2016 and of Boston’s Emerson College in 2020. The video is introduced by WGBH’s Jim Braude.

The show combines historical documents, images, maps and statistics to give an overview of Cambridge’s first 94 years as a city and the origins of its Plan E charter – which, since adoption in 1940, has meant a system of city councillors with a city manager as chief executive, and ranked-choice, proportional representation voting that elects nine councillors and six School Committee members.

Episode one dives into how a town meeting style of government became impracticable and led to the consolidation of Old Cambridge – the neighborhood around Harvard College – with the villages of Cambridgeport and East Cambridge to create the city of Cambridge, chartered by the state in 1846. It shows the expansion of Cambridge as bridges linked Old Cambridge to Boston in the 18th and early 19th century and migration drove population growth, suffrage expanded and participation in local elections increased.

The second episode, now in production, will look at the 83-year history of the current Plan E charter, Pitkin and Winters said.

Together, the episodes will provide background and perspective on issues facing Cambridge’s Charter Review Committee as it proposes changes to the charter and for citizens when they vote whether to adopt changes, Pitkin and Winters said.

“Cambridge City Charter: From Town Meeting to Plan E” will also be shown on CCTV Channel 9 and online at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday; 6:30 p.m. Friday; and at noon Sunday. It is available for streaming from YouTube and for classroom use.

This post was updated May 20, 2023, with a YouTube link.