Saturday, July 20, 2024

Quinton Zondervan listens to debate on the Cambridge City Council in January 2020. (Photo: Derek Kouyoumjian)

Quinton Zondervan, a three-term Cambridge city councillor, said he has decided against running for reelection.

That means there will be a guaranteed three new faces on the council come January, the most since 2017 – the year Zondervan was elected. Before 2017, that hadn’t happened since 1989.

An official announcement that Zondervan wouldn’t campaign for reelection was released Sunday, with the councillor calling his time in office “the honor of my life.”

“It’s a personal decision,” Zondervan said Wednesday by phone. “It was never my plan to to do this long term. And I think three times is enough,” especially considering “half of that was Covid and pretty brutal – actually, more than two-thirds of it. It’s a tough enough job, but Covid definitely made the job a lot more stressful and a lot more intense.”

But Zondervan is also going out on a high note, he said, because he ran for office with a focus on climate change and leaves having passed his three-part Green New Deal: The first two phases, passed in March, require developers of large new non-residential buildings to calculate their project emissions, including from construction activities and building materials, and the City of Cambridge to provide free access to green-jobs training programs for low-income Cambridge residents. The third piece, a Building Energy Use Disclosure Emissions Reduction Ordinance, passed June 26.

Legislative achievements

In addition, he pointed to legislative achievements such as support for the unarmed, citizen emergency response team known as Heart; the Cannabis Equity Ordinance; the Tree Protection Ordinance; Affordable Housing Overlay zoning; the Cycling Safety Ordinance; and elimination of parking minimums. “Policy making is a team effort, and I’m deeply grateful to the activists, advocates, supporters and colleagues without whom none of these great things could have been accomplished,” Zondervan said.

A release quoted colleagues such councillor Marc McGovern, who said he appreciated finding common ground with Zondervan on issues such as housing and homelessness despite disagreeing elsewhere, and from councillor Burhan Azeem: “It was my first term, and Quinton really helped me learn the ropes on how to write policy and get it passed. I’m so glad we got to work together on everything from parking minimums to the Green New Deal. It was a historic term.” Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said she appreciated Zondervan’s “contributions to policy work and his passion” and noted their work together over the last six years on a number of issues.

“He had a valuable perspective to our discussions,” Siddiqui said. “I wish him all the best in his next chapter.”

State Rep. Mike Connolly called Zondervan “a relentless stalwart for climate justice, racial equity, safe streets, open space and housing-first policies.”

Political season ahead

There are nine City Council seats, all at-large and on two-year terms, that will be decided at the polls Nov. 7. Vice mayor Alanna Mallon and councillor Dennis Carlone have also decided not to run again; fellow councillors Patty Nolan and E. Denise Simmons haven’t made their intentions clear.

At least 10 challengers have identified themselves as running for a council seat, and three among them are allies or aligned with Zondervan’s principles of climate concern, affordable-housing density, transit prioritization and a wish to see armed police performing fewer functions: former councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, who served on the council 2020-2021; educator Ayah Al-Zubi (who doesn’t refer to police in a press release sent to Cambridge Day); and longtime aide Dan Totten, who got special thanks in the Sunday press release as accounting “for more than half the work credited to my office.” Zondervan also mentioned challenger Vernon Walker, who is a program director at the organization Communities Responding to Extreme Weather

The combined interests suggests the possibility of the kind of candidate slate that is encouraged by Cambridge’s ranked-choice form of voting.

“I do take my responsibility to leave our government in good hands very seriously, and to that end I’m supporting a group of strong challengers running for City Council,” Zondervan said. “I look forward to helping them get elected and supporting them as they take office to ensure a great transition.”

Long term “never my plan”

Zondervan was born in Suriname, a small country in South America that is 90 percent Amazonian rainforest. His family fled its takeover by an authoritarian regime when Zondervan was a teen, and came to the United States. Zondervan got a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “fell in love with Cambridge and never left,” he said in 2017. He and wife have two children who attended Cambridge public schools.

Now, though, his children are grown and his wife has taken a position at Princeton University, relocating to New Jersey in 2022. “That’s not that’s not the reason I’m not running. I might have made the decision anyway or stuck it out another term, but it was never my plan to be doing this for 10 years,” Zondervan said.