Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Candidates Ayesha Wilson, Caroline Hunter (hidden) and Jose Luis Rojas Villarreal check election results Tuesday at the Senior Center in Cambridge’s Central Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

There will be three new faces on the nine-member Cambridge City Council come January, according to unofficial results released late Tuesday: Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, Ayesha Wilson and Joan Pickett.

Sobrinho-Wheeler served on the council from 2019 to 2021 and is a democratic socialist firmly behind the swift rollout of bike lanes and Affordable Housing Overlay zoning; Pickett is an opponent of the bike lanes who took the matter to court, and also no fan of the AHO; Wilson, moving over from the School Committee, is a bridge between the positions and was notably the only candidate endorsed by the pro-housing A Better Cambridge and the group it often feels pitched against in civic discourse, the Cambridge Citizens Coalition.

It was the council incumbents who came out on top, though, with another leading show of No. 1 votes for Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui – 3,031 of them – despite a Boston Globe report from Oct. 16 that eight employees from her office over the past few years had complained of a toxic workplace. Though her totals were down from the 3,861 of two years ago, Siddiqui remained the only councillor achieving a “quota” of No. 1 votes that won office on the first round of ballot counts, a distinction of Siddiqui’s for three elections in a row.

Burhan Azeem, Marc McGovern, Patty Nolan and Paul Toner followed, with E. Denise Simmons the last incumbent reelected. Though Azeem was the next closest to Siddiqui on No. 1 votes, his count was more than a thousand behind Siddiqui and he did not achieve quota.

Pickett was the last candidate to get on the council in the unofficial results; a formal count in Cambridge’s ranked form of voting begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Senior Center in Central Square.

The number of registered voters was slightly up this election to 69,849, and the ballots cast rose a bit to 21,177, the population of Cambridge also continues to rise – and the 30.3 percent of voters is only slightly higher than the 29.9 percent from two years ago.

School Committee results

On the School Committee, four incumbents remain – Rachel Weinstein, David Weinstein (no relation), Jose Luis Rojas Villarreal and Caroline Hunter – and will be joined by first-timer Elizabeth Hudson and Richard Harding, who like Sobrinho-Wheeler is returning to office. Harding served seven previous terms on the committee ending in 2017. (Update on Nov. 9, 2023: A count with more than 2,000 auxiliary ballots has moved Harding out of the seat and given first-time challenger Andrew King the win instead.)

The committee has a wide range of issues to address, including contract negotiations with the Cambridge Education Association for Units A and B (teachers and administrators), who have been working without a formal contract since Sept. 1; finding ways to address the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic; addressing racial and economic inequalities; and ensuring that all students are academically challenged and have the resources and knowledge they will need as adults.

Two new members were guaranteed for the committee as Wilson shifted her attention to the council and member Fred Fantini opted to retire after serving 40 years.

Balance of power

Similarly, three new councillors were guaranteed when vice mayor Alanna Mallon and councillors Dennis Carlone and Quinton Zondervan opted not to run again. It was the biggest turnover since 2017 – the year Zondervan was elected, though in 2013, four challengers were elected after only two incumbents opted not to run.

The new configuration does not significantly unsettle the balance of power on the council. There was no onrush by candidates seen as more conservative, such as John Hanratty, Hao Wang or Catherine Zusy, nor by those seen as a bloc of successors for Zondervan beyond Sobrinho-Wheeler: Ayah Al-Zubi and former legislative aide Dan Totten. In the first count of ballots, recent Harvard grad Al-Zubi trailed Pickett by around 100 No. 1 votes.

While incumbent Toner picks up a bloc member in Pickett with a charge of fiscal conservatism and concern over the effect of bike rollouts, Sobrinho-Wheeler was often allied with Zondervan during his previous term and is expected to pick up in some ways where Zondervan leaves off.

Season of scandal

Siddiqui’s was not the only scandal this election season. In September, candidates Robert Winters and Carrie Pasquarello were named by the city’s branch of the Democratic Socialists of America as the focus of a rally planned to “oppose bigotry.” Totten got the bulk of attention as an organizer of the event, though other candidates were on record as objecting to the challengers’ social media – described as including support for right-wing, racist, Islamophobic and transphobic accounts –  and Winters’ online presence had drawn critiques back to June 2022. After vandalism and arrests of a Central Square business during protests for which Totten was seen as an advocate, his own social media drew accusations of anti-Catholicism and antisemitism.

Ultimately, Totten landed in the exact middle of the pack of candidates; Winters and Pasquarello languished toward the bottom of the rankings, contributing to a disappointing showing for CCC endorsements: Four of 11 of its candidates got council seats, or 36 percent, compared with six of ABC’s nine, or 67 percent. The Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, seeing the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance and its bike lane rollout at risk, put out a voting guide naming a dozen candidates as pledging or showing support and saw five elected, or 42 percent. (The Cambridge Residents Alliance endorsed eight and saw four elected, for 50 percent; the DSA endorsed Sobrinho-Wheeler, Totten and Al-Subi, seeing only one elected, and Our Revolution Cambridge endorsed five and also saw only Sobrinho-Wheeler elected to the council from among Al-Zubi, Totten, Joe McGuirk and Vernon Walker.)

The at-large councillors serve two-year terms, electing one of their own as mayor after they are seated in January. For the past two terms, that was Siddiqui with Mallon as her second. There were 24 candidates this year, a typically large field for Cambridge.

On the committee side, where the terms are also two years long, there were 11 candidates.