Monday, July 22, 2024

My name is Joe McGuirk, and I am a candidate for Cambridge City Council. Throughout the campaign, I am often asked to summarize why I should earn folks’ No. 1 vote.

I struggled with this when I first ran in 2021. Unlike most candidates, I am a member of the working class. I am a bartender and have been a wage worker since I was 14. I became a father in my teenage years, and my first marriage ended before many of my friends had even married. The economic challenges I faced caused me to make some difficult decisions on where to allocate my limited resources. It was a real and sometimes overwhelming challenge to meet my financial obligations. Without knowing the terms, I was housing insecure and rent burdened for most of my 20s, 30s and 40s. Even today, I am unsure if I will be able to afford my next rent increase and may be forced to leave the city of my birth. During my difficult younger years, I did not have the bandwidth to engage in advocating for myself or folks like me. I was struggling, like so many, to get by. These facts seemed to preclude me from ever seeking public office to represent Cambridge residents.

But when I gave it some thought, I realized that there are a lot of folks who have had the same experiences my family and I have had. And yet we never see folks like us on our council.

There are many worthy candidates, but the very things that I thought might disqualify me from the role are, in fact, why I ask for your No. 1 vote. We need people on our council that have the same experience as the many residents struggling to remain here, and who are integral to our city. The struggles my family and I faced as we grew up here, along with the struggles lower- and middle-income folks face today, will inform every vote I take. I will continue Cambridge’s long tradition of protecting our most vulnerable, especially those who do not have the luxuries of time and energy to advocate for themselves. While our council should listen to the voices of our civically active residents, we must also do the work of seeking the thoughts of those who are not as politically active, but just as important to our city. I will engage with those vocal folks, but I will also seek counsel from those who are vulnerable and most affected by the decisions our city makes.

The next council faces important issues around affordable housing and the ongoing implementation of the Cycling Safety Ordinance. Affordable Housing Overlay zoning and the CSO have caused a lot of strife in our community. I am in an unusual position in that I support the zoning, but have declined to sign a pledge regarding the bike lanes. While some have suggested that this shows some inconsistency, I argue that my positions are guided by the same principles.

In a city that has the economic might of Kendall Square, in which our private sector has such a profound impact on every resident, it is the obligation of our government to stand with our most vulnerable, especially in the realm of basic needs such as housing. This is why I support AHO. Prosperity has come to many in Cambridge, but has come with a cost. One cannot expect to remain an economic and culturally healthy city if our housing is available only to those who can afford it. While we have an admirable stock of public and affordable housing, we still have a need for more – not because it is mandated, but because it enriches our city. Because it affirms our values. Because it is right and just. Opponents to the zoning often talk about how it will lead to negative impacts on the character of Cambridge, but our character is not defined by our skyline, but by the people who live here. We have already seen so many of our neighbors be forced to leave. If we really want to maintain our city’s character, we must do more to make our city more economically diverse.

The implementation of our bike lane infrastructure is also a source of divisiveness within our city. Again, I believe we must protect our most vulnerable, and on our streets, the most vulnerable are cyclists and pedestrians. Therefore I support infrastructure that will create safer streets for those vulnerable people. But we should be doing this in conjunction with infrastructure changes that will benefit those who do not use bicycles. In 2021, I argued for municipally funded green mass transit to augment the MBTA. I believe that this is a necessary step toward creating safer streets. Removing as many cars from our streets as we can has many benefits, with safety at the top. This is also a question of equity. Public transportation disproportionally serves lower-income residents. My refusal to sign the pledge is due to the fact I think we can do a better job serving more of our residents, especially our most vulnerable, by having a more comprehensive street infrastructure plan that includes mass transit. I will not work to undo what we have already accomplished, but I would advocate for a more ambitious plan to meet the needs of all who live and work in Cambridge.

Furthermore, I do not think signing pledges to any particular group is the best way to represent the varied opinions of our residents. If every council member signed a particular pledge, it would mean that those who did not agree to whatever the pledge entailed would have no voice at the table. We are obligated to create safer streets for our most vulnerable in a timely manner, but we can have different opinions on the best way to do that.

There are other issues besides these two, but if I am elected, I will be guided by the same principles, and every vote I take will center on our most vulnerable. I will engage with all parties with the spirit of collaboration and respect. I will listen to my fellow residents and I will seek those lower- and middle-income folks who are so important to our city but so rarely have people from their ranks elected. After all, I am one of them.

Please consider voting me No. 1 on or before Nov. 7. To learn more about my campaign visit

Joe McGuirk, Columbia Street

The writer is a Cambridge City Council candidate.