Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 25, 2010

Nominating a Cambridge Election Commissioner

Filed under: Cambridge government — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:58 pm

Thursday, Feb 25 – The Cambridge Democratic City Committee (CDCC) will meet tonight at 7:00pm at the Central Square YMCA (820 Mass. Ave.) to nominate three people for one of the two Democratic seats on the Cambridge Election Commission. There are five candidates seeking this position (see below). The practice of each of the two major political party committees has been to rank their three nominees, but there is nothing in the law that either requires this or even suggests this practice. It’s only purpose is to pressure the City Manager to abide by the preferred choice of the political committee, and this choice is often dictated by which candidate is able to pack the meeting when the nominations are determined. There is also a history of using an exclusionary strategy to nominate three candidates as a group solely to ensure that one of the other candidates is not among the three nominees. (This is exactly what occurred last year with the Republican City Committee.) The City Manager is under no obligation to pay any attention to the pecking order of these political committees (nor should he). It’s unfortunate that he is restricted to only these three nominees, but this restriction dates back to the establishment of the Cambridge Election Commission in response to claims made about 90 years ago that the Democratic mayor at that time (long before Plan E) was nominating “Republicans in name only” to the Board of Registrars, the predecessor of the Election Commission.

While I have a long-standing practice of never endorsing individual candidates for public office, the choice of an election commissioner is an appointment to a City board and is not a public election (only City Committee members may vote). Because my interest in the Cambridge elections (for both civic and academic reasons) is significant, I will say that the best choice by far for this position is Tom Stohlman. He was a candidate in the recent municipal election and has been actively involved in the campaigns of other candidates over the years. He is not only one of the most likable and agreeable people I’ve met during my 32 years in Cambridge, he also has a lot of expertise in the mechanics of the Cambridge elections. He would also be the perfect choice to move the Election Commission in the direction of improved public information about our local elections. In terms of the interpersonal relations of the 4-person Election Commission and how the Commission will work with its soon-to-be-appointed new Executive Director, there is no doubt that Tom would be the ideal choice. This is not meant as a negative statement about any of the other four candidates, but only as an affirmation of just how good a choice Tom would be for this position.

Unfortunately, though I am a CDCC member, I teach a class every Thursday night and cannot attend this meeting. If you are a voting member and can attend this meeting, please cast a vote tonight for Tom Stohlman – preferably the top choice, but please make sure he’s on the list of three nominees and that the City Manager chooses wisely from these three nominees. — Robert Winters

Update: Not unexpectedly, Linda Pinti, Mushtaque Mirza, and Martha Older collaborated in a partially successful preclusionary strategy to box out the competition. They were able to get Linda Pinti nominated as 1st choice and Mushtaque Mirza as 3rd choice with Poly Cobb getting the 2nd choice. These are the same results as last time and there’s no reason to believe the City Manager’s appointment will be any different this time, so congratulations goes to Poly Cobb for successfully fending off the competition and virtually assuring her reappointment!

Unfortunately, the best candidate of all, Tom Stohlman, was not included among the three nominees to be sent to the City Manager. I once characterized the Cambridge Democratic City Committee as political hospice. I believe the shoe still fits. For those who might actually care, here’s how the vote went:

Round 1: Pinti 59, Cobb 46, Stohlman 5, Mirza 1 (Older withdrew from Round 1). Pinti has majority, so gets #1 nomination.
Round 2A: Cobb 51, Mirza 46, Stohlman 9 (Older withdrew from Round 2). No majority, drop lowest candidate (Stohlman).
Round 2B: Cobb 51, Mirza 51 (tie). After much debate, decide to revote.
Round 2C: Cobb 54, Mirza 47. Cobb gets #2 nomination.
Round 3: Mirza 63, Stohlman 25 (Older withdrew from Round 3). Mirza gets #3 nomination.

Had I been able to attend this meeting, I might have told the CDCC, all of its officers, and most of its members what I really think of them. Instead, I taught a great Linear Algebra class at the Harvard Extension School and had a greater impact in one evening than the CDCC has made all year. – RW

Attention Cambridge Democrats! Want to be an Election Commissioner? Fill out the questionnaire and submit it no later than 5:00pm on Monday, February 1. The Cambridge Democratic City Committee will have a public forum with all candidates for the three nominations on Thursday, February 11 at 7:00pm and a vote on Thursday, February 25 at 7:00pm (Central Square YMCA). [A Candidate is Qualified if s/he has completed and submitted a Questionnaire to the City Committee and has been present and responded to questions at a public hearing.]

Candidates who Submitted Questionnaires by the Feb 1 deadline are:
Polyxane S. (Poly) Cobb – Questionnaire & Resume
Mushtaque Alikhan Mirza – Questionnaire & Resume
Martha J. Older – Questionnaire & Resume
Linda Sophia Pinti – Questionnaire & Resume
Thomas J. Stohlman, Jr. – Questionnaire & Resume

February 22, 2010

Feb 22, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights – David Maher Elected Mayor

Filed under: City Council — Robert Winters @ 12:54 pm

Feb 22, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights – David Maher Elected Mayor

Feb 22 update — The Cambridge City Council tonight unanimously elected David Maher as Mayor and Henrietta Davis as Vice-Chair of the City Council.

David Maher taking oath of office

David Maher taking oath of office

The City Council returns tonight and perhaps again this Wednesday (and future Mondays and Wednesdays) until they are able to produce five votes to select their Chair, i.e. the mayor. During a time when two city councillors (Decker, Simmons) are vying for the State Senate seat vacated by Anthony Galluccio, there is no way that these candidates will want to give up two nights per week to City Council business even if the sole agenda item is a series of unproductive votes for mayor. The likelihood is that this thing will be resolved tonight, though I’ll withhold my bets on this thing being immediately resolved or on who will get to wear the crown and get the fatter paycheck. [Scorecard here on mayoral ballots to date.]

Here are some agenda items that jump out:

City Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-10, regarding a report on the status of the Urban Ring Phase 2 project.

The upshot of this is that the Urban Ring project has been shelved for the time being, but efforts will be made to protect the rights-of-way for the day when economic conditions are more favorable to built this new transit route – be it a rail or bus service partially in a dedicated right-of-way.

City Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) for $1,139,400 to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account ($759,600) and the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditures account ($379,800) and will be used as follows: $759,600-Municipal Building Energy Efficiency Program; $250,000-Community Energy Efficiency Campaign; $100,000-Community Energy Efficiency Incentives Program; $29,800-Public Bicycle Parking Program.

This is one of two items involving the use of federal stimulus money. It will be interesting to see how much of this money ultimately flows to Cambridge and if it is used as an advance for projects already planned (as opposed to just wasteful “make work” projects).

City Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer within the Community Policing Grant of $31,360 from Grant Fund Police Extraordinary Expenditures account to the Grant Fund Police Travel and Training account to cover costs associated with the Cambridge Review Committee.

This is noteworthy primarily because of its roots in the Great Gates Caper of Summer 2009 when a clueless president chose to take sides in a local Cambridge matter and was able to extricate himself politically with some airline tickets and a few beers. Meanwhile, the principals in the initial episode, Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley, seem to have resolved their altercation without the need of a multi-hundred thousand dollar study committee. Jim Crowley even gave Skip Gates the handcuffs used in his arrest for donation to the Smithsonian. Nonetheless, we see an additional $31,360 allocation for this study committee. Maybe we should just buy them a few beers.

City Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $78,980 from the General Fund Employee Benefits Salary and Wages account (salary adjustment) to the General Fund Election Commission Other Ordinary Maintenance account to support two special elections scheduled for Apr 13, 2010 (primary election) and on May 11, 2010 (general election) for the vacant Senate seat for Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex.

This interim election to fill the Galluccio vacancy should not even be happening. Whoever wins the April primary will face no opposition in the May election and will be seated in time for summer recess and the fall reelection campaign season. This same seat will again be contested in the September primary (most likely featuring many of the same candidates) followed by an uncontested November election. This is a total waste of money with no benefit.

Even more insane is the election method itself. There are 7 Democratic candidates who will be splitting the vote so completely that it will be virtually impossible for any candidate to get anywhere near a majority of the vote in a low-turnout April primary. The election promises to be a textbook example of how elections should not be conducted, but does anyone believe the Massachusetts State Legislature will ever change the method?

Here’s the change they should make: Change the law for the filling of vacancies in State Senate and State Representative seats so that the first election is an open (nonpartisan) preliminary election followed by a top-two runoff. No election system is perfect, but this would at the very least produce a majority winner in a meaningful final election. Until Massachusetts seriously addresses the topic of electoral reform, state government has no business referring to itself as “progressive.”

City Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 09-125 and 10-17, regarding an update on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Middle School Youth.

This item is noted only because the middle school proposal has the potential to be one of the top political hot potatoes this year. Nothing at the City Council has yet emerged as either controversial or especially pivotal, but the year is young. In the meantime, everyone obsesses over the mayoral election which is peripherally related to the middle school proposal.

Order #1. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to prepare a response to Google’s RFI which would nominate the City of Cambridge to be a candidate for Google’s plan for the installation of a fiber optic network.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Toomey

Once again, Councillor Cheung steps forward along with Councillor Toomey with a good initiative. It’s hard to say what a Google fiber network in Cambridge could yield, but it does seem like a natural place to do this. Telecommunications, the Internet, and access to television programming is evolving rapidly, and this at least has the potential to change the landscape in which Comcast now operates in a nearly monopolistic manner.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to determine whether or not the flights to and from Logan Airport have any zone, time, or other restrictions and if the Cambridge community is notified in the event of changes in flight patterns.   Councillor Decker

File this one under wimpiness and entitlement. Cambridge people want to use cell phones, go grocery shopping, and fly out of Logan to destinations of their choosing, yet they protest loudly when trucks have to drive the local streets to deliver groceries, when cell phone transmitters are affixed to buildings, and when planes fly over someplace other than Winthrop, Chelsea, or East Boston.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Information Technology Department and the Community Development Department to work with interested councillors to explore organizing a competition among local technologists, programmers, and CRLS students to develop an iPhone application for the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Davis and Councillor Cheung

Once again, Councillor Cheung (with Councillor Davis) attempts to drag the City Council kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Whoever ends up being elected Mayor should appoint Leland to chair the Cable TV, Telecommunications, and Public Utilities Committee (as well as the University Relations Committee and perhaps Co-Chair of the Finance Committee). This fellow could really make things interesting. By the way, the author of the Cambridge Civic Journal, though he maintains quite a few websites and has been known to kick around databases and software and plenty of other technical stuff, drives a 30+ year old vehicle, has neither a cell phone nor an iPhone, and has no intention of upgrading any time soon from his current Luddite existence. — Robert Winters

February 14, 2010

The Plot Thickens….. (State Senate Vacancy)

Filed under: 2010 State Senate election — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 12:00 pm

Jan 22 (updated Feb 14 and Mar 1) – The contest to determine who will fill the State Senate seat formerly occupied by Anthony Galluccio is getting interesting. It exhibits all the worst aspects of a plurality election without runoffs and with vote-splitting, strategic voting, and ulterior motives. Here’s the latest roster of possible declared candidates:

OCPF IDNameAddressOffice SoughtParty
15031DiDomenico, Sal125 Clarence Street, EverettSenate, Middlesex, Suffolk & EssexDemocratic
15001Hill, Daniel C.60 Sullivan Street, CharlestownSenate, Middlesex, Suffolk & EssexDemocratic
13783Simmons, E. Denise188 Harvard Street #4B, CambridgeSenate, Middlesex, Suffolk & EssexDemocratic
13736 Decker, Marjorie C. (withdrew)61 Walden Street, CambridgeSenate, Middlesex, Suffolk & EssexDemocratic
13239Flaherty, Timothy5 Concord Avenue, CambridgeSenate, Middlesex, Suffolk & EssexDemocratic
15023Albano, Michael J.32 Crest Avenue, ChelseaSenate, Middlesex, Suffolk & EssexDemocratic
13055Benzan, Dennis48 Townsend Road, Belmont MA 02478Senate, Middlesex, Suffolk & EssexDemocratic
14594Cesan, John24 Tina Lane Feeding Hills, MA 01030 (Agawam)Senate, Middlesex, Suffolk & EssexUnenrolled

Related – The Committee to Election Anthony Galluccio has filed a Dissolution Report (Feb 16, 2010).

We’ll likely learn on Monday soon whether or not Denise Simmons’ bid is a real one or just a poker move for leverage in the still unsettled mayoral sweepstakes in Cambridge. Marjorie Decker is seen by many as a long-shot candidate whose hope rests in being the only woman candidate in a field where they may be significant vote-splitting. She’ll also have to share the union and real estate money with some of the other candidates, but they all have the advantage of a new calendar year with a blank ledger for campaign finance donation limits. Denise Simmons’s chances are between slim and none for this Senate district, but she would likely harm Decker’s chances among Cambridge voters. Though Decker has not yet officially filed as a candidate for the seat, she made it clear at a Jan 14 meeting of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee that she was running for the seat and had her campaign manager Jeni Wheeler in tow. [She subsequently officially threw her hat in the ring.]

Mar 1 – Marjorie Decker today officially withdrew from the race.

It’s worth noting that about 30% of the district is in Everett and only 20% is in Cambridge with the remainder spread across portions of Allston-Brighton, Somerville, Chelsea, Saugus, and Revere. Anthony Galluccio was able to build substantial support in Everett which was pivotal in his winning the seat in the 2007 Special Election to replace former rival Jarrett Barrios. Much of that Galluccio support will likely transfer to Everett City Council member Sal DiDomenico who also has deep roots in Cambridge. Tim Flaherty also ran for this seat in 2007 and should be able to quickly reassemble some of his campaign apparatus for this relatively short election cycle. He also retains some name recognition as a result of his previous run and his family’s history in Massachusetts politics. The other Cambridge candidates are basically unknown outside the Peoples Republic.

There’s no word yet on any challengers from any other political party, so (as usual) the contest should be decided at a low-turnout party primary on April 13. Then again, maybe Scott Brown has a cousin in Revere who drives a pickup truck.

300 valid nominating signatures due with local city and town officials – March 2, 2010
Primary Election – April 13, 2010
Special Election – May 11, 2010

February 8, 2010

Feb 8, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:58 pm

Feb 8, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Cambridge is still without a mayor, i.e. Chair of the City Council, and the consequences are minimal. [Scorecard below or here.] That said, it would be nice if the boys and girls would settle their grudges and pick someone who can appoint members and Chairs of the Council subcommittees and be the 7th voting member of the School Committee. Someone suggested that the councillors should begin getting their salaries only after this matter has been settled. That would bring this impasse to a rapid end. It is unlikely that there will be a mayoral vote tonight since Councillor Toomey is expected to be absent, and next Monday is a holiday, so the next opportunity would be Feb 22 unless a Special Meeting is called for this purpose. There was a Late Order introduced last week by Councillor Cheung calling for such a Special Meeting on Feb 10 (and possibly Feb 17 if necessary), but Councillor Davis exercised her charter right to delay discussion of this proposal until tonight (Charter Right #3).

The Feb 1 meeting also featured another Late Order from Councillor Cheung calling for the members of the City Council to select their Chair using Instant Runoff Voting. Councillor Decker exercised her charter right to end debate on that proposal, though it will come up again tonight (Charter Right #1). Though it’s relatively clear that this idea is inconsistent with the Charter and City Council rules, a more significant problem is that in a small election (only 9 people voting), there could be the unintended consequences of strategic voting in this or any similar alternative. For example, it is very possible that voting councillors could “bury” their 2nd choices in order to increase the possibility that their 1st choice would prevail. This might result in the most favored candidates becoming unelectable with 3rd or 4th preference candidates gaining an advantage. Instant Runoff Voting can work well in a large population, but a top-two runoff may be preferred in this kind of election. In any case, it’s a moot point.

Councillor Cheung (with the support of Councillor Decker) also introduced a Late Order calling for the Council subcommittees and Chairs from last term to be temporarily reappointed with Councillor Cheung assuming positions then held by former Councillor Ward until a new mayor is chosen. One councillor suggested that this might only further delay the vote (possible), and Mr. Reeves objected on procedural grounds. However, with the current configuration of councillors, this might be a very good idea. Councillor Kelley exercised his charter right to delay the proposal until tonight (Charter Right #2).

I suspect that none of these proposals will go anywhere, but you have to like newly-elected Councillor Cheung’s willingness to dive right in with creative proposals for getting things moving. We need more councillors like him.

Other than the mayoral soap opera, there are a few other items of note on this week’s agenda:

Councillor Decker introduced 32 identical resolutions for each student graduating from the YouthBuild Just-A-Start Program. This should have been a single resolution – ample evidence for why councillors should never be judged simply by the number of resolutions they (or their political patronage assistants) introduce.

Councillor Maher’s Order #1 inquires about the circumstances leading to the recent exit of Pearl Art from Central Square. It’s worth noting that there are now many vacant storefronts in Central Square. It would seem that commercial property owners are somewhat unaware of the current economy and are determined to accept high rent or no rent for their properties. Go figure.

Councillor Seidel’s Order #7 asks for publication on the City website of funds received by the City of Cambridge from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Far be it from this writer to comment on national politics, but “stimulus” money should only be expended on projects that would soon have been undertaken anyway, i.e. an advance payment rather than just throwing money around on anything in the hope that jobs and economic activity will follow. This should be only about spending sooner and not about spending significantly more.

That’s enough for now. It will be interesting to see how Council business proceeds over the next two months with two members (Decker, Simmons) competing along with five others for the State Senate seat vacated by Anthony Galluccio. When City Council “research assistants” were first introduced several years ago, it was in the context of several councillors planning to seek other elected offices and wanting taxpayer-funded stand-ins to handle their business while out on the campaign trail. This looks to be more of the same this year. — Robert Winters

February 1, 2010

Feb 1, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:42 pm

Feb 1, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Now that the City Council is entering its second month without choosing its Chair or forming subcommittees, it should surprise no one that the agenda is light. The fact that at least one councillor and possibly as many as three are exploring or actually running for the vacant State Senate seat also means that not a hell of a lot of attention is being paid to City Council matters. For those keeping score, here’s the record on the mayoral votes so far:

CouncillorBallot #1
(Jan 4)
Ballot #2
(Jan 11)
Ballot #3
(Jan 25)
Ballot #4
(Feb 1)
Ballot #5
(Feb 1)
Mayor Ballot #6
(Feb 22)
Vice-Mayor Ballot #1
(Feb 22)
CheungDecker (2)Maher (4)Maher (4)Maher (4)Maher (4)MaherCheung --> Davis
DavisDavis (1)Davis (2)Davis (2)Davis (3)Davis (3)Davis --> MaherDavis
DeckerDeckerReeves (3)Reeves (3)Reeves (2)Reeves (2)MaherCheung --> Davis
KelleyReeves (2)ReevesReevesDavisDavisDavis --> MaherDavis
MaherMaher (3)MaherMaherMaherMaherMaherCheung --> Davis
SimmonsSimmons (1)DavisDavisDavisDavisDavis --> MaherDavis
ToomeyMaherMaherMaherMaherMaherMaherCheung --> Davis

As is often the case, those who argue about who should get to wear the golden tiara of Mayor mention the role of Chair and 7th voting member of the Cambridge School Committee. Here’s a suggestion that requires no charter change and might just earn the undying respect of the other 6 members of the School Committee: Once elected, the Mayor voluntarily takes a seat as an ordinary member of the School Committee and allows the School Committee through its elected Vice-Chair to lead the School Committee and chair all of the meetings unless unusual circumstances dictate otherwise. This would be a nice tradition that could start now. It would also permit the Mayor to exercise greater leadership in the more appropriate setting of the City Council.

City Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Marlissa Brigget as the Executive Director of the Cambridge Human Rights Commission and Executive Secretary of the Police Review & Advisory Board effective Jan 19, 2010.

It’s good to see that this appointment has been made and that there will continue to be a joint responsibility of this person to manage both of these City Boards. A City Council Order encouraging the City Manager to further consolidate City Boards, departments, and divisions with overlapping responsibilities would be welcome, but don’t anyone hold your breath waiting for that kind of leadership.

There are a few other minor items on the agenda, but nothing to write home about. — Robert Winters

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