Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The corner of Cambridge City Hall shared by the offices of the mayor and City Council. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A candidate for City Council in Cambridge will be affected by a policy released Thursday by the City Manager’s Office about managing the appearance of conflict of interest while campaigning for public office.

Adrienne Klein, director of constituent services for Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and a candidate for City Council, disagrees with the new policy and isn’t immediately going along with it, a campaign staffer said Thursday when Klein declined to speak on the record.

While the memo says Klein must resign to avoid the appearance of conflict between her roles, “Adrienne has a right under the Constitution – and specifically the Massachusetts State Constitution – to run for office,” said Klein’s committee chair, Yoonjeong Cha. 

Klein

Before pulling papers to run, Klein consulted with the State Ethics Commission, Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance and Cambridge’s own city solicitor, Cha said, ultimately finding there was not an appearance of conflict of interest in forming a campaign committee and running for office in “her personal, private time.” Klein was speaking Thursday with a lawyer for advice on her position, Cha said.

The Thursday memo signed by City Manager Yi-An Huang says that “while the city supports employee participation in most activities outside of work, an employee working in/assigned to the office of a city councillor choosing to run for a city elected office could create the appearance of a conflict of interest.” (The mayor is elected from within the city’s nine councillors.) Because of that, an employee “shall either resign or take an unpaid leave of absence from their employment with the city” upon becoming a candidate.

Klein does not plan to withdraw from the race, and she does intend to keep showing up for work, Cha said. Klein’s website says she is currently the sole wage earner for her family.

Resigning to run

The memo would also apply to Dan Totten, longtime aide to councillor Quinton Zondervan. But Totten filed a letter of resignation a couple of weeks ago and on Thursday served his final hours in the job.

Totten

“I wanted to be all-in on campaigning and felt like it was necessary for me to take this step to really be focused on the important work of getting elected to City Council,” Totten said. “Everybody’s situation is different, but [resigning] was a decision that made the most sense for me.”

State ethics laws restrict fundraising as a public employee and “you have to really draw a line in terms of connections that you make,” Totten said. “You can’t just turn and use those on the campaign trail if you’re still employed, and that’s not a great position to be in if you’re really trying to run for council. So I just decided that it would be better to have a clean break.”

Though Zondervan announced officially on Sunday that he wouldn’t run for reelection, he’s still in office for more than five months and “needs someone who could could devote their full energy and attention to his priorities,” Totten said.

Uncharted territory

Siddiqui, though, is running for reelection Nov. 7 – a candidate for office on her staff is a potential ally on the council or challenger for her seat. In a press release July 5, Klein touts endorsements from outgoing city councillor Dennis Carlone and former councillor Nadeem Mazen, but not from Siddiqui.

A message seeking comment was left with the mayor by text Thursday afternoon, but there was no immediate reply.

The city manager’s memo says the resignation or unpaid leave of absence of a council aide running for office “ shall be effective immediately upon requesting nomination papers” from the Election Commission, with the employee expected to notify the city’s Office of Human Resources in writing within one business day. An exception is being made for Klein because this is a new policy that would apply retroactively, according to people familiar with the policy.

Klein was expected to be at work in the Mayor’s Office on Friday and at a scheduled event Saturday; the policy described in the city manager’s memo was expected to take effect for her Monday. At that point, the city and candidate will be in uncharted territory.