Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 24, 2011

Oct 24, 2011 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights – Pre-Election Posturing

Filed under: 2011 Election,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:00 am

Oct 24, 2011 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights – Pre-Election Posturing

Anyone who has attended a recent Cambridge City Council meeting (or any candidate forums) will have noticed the pre-election posturing and efforts to capitalize on controversy. This meeting will most likely bring more of the same. One topic that was at the heart of last week’s posturing is the Bishop Petition that aims to amend the zoning in the vicinity of the Fawcett properties adjacent to the former rail line where the Linear Park now runs in North Cambridge.

Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 7, 2011 to consider a petition filed by Julia Bishop et al., to amend Section 17.20 of the Zoning Ordinance – Regulations for Special District 2, located in North Cambridge along Linear Park. Proposed amendments include: deletion of allowed non-residential uses; reduction in allowed Floor Area Ratio; increase in required lot area per dwelling unit; reduction in allowed height; new regulations for fences abutting Linear Park.

The Planning Board deliberated on the Bishop Petition on Tuesday, Oct 18. Though there is not yet a Planning Board report before the City Council, it was clear at that meeting that the Planning Board felt that the current zoning was not broken and that the existing tools were sufficient to shape whatever projects are proposed in that area. At last week’s City Council meeting, the Council did vote to discharge the petition from the Ordinance Committee to bring it before the City Council, but Councillor Kelley’s attempt to also move the petition to a 2nd Reading (a necessary step before advertising it and bringing it to a final vote) were soundly rebuffed 8-1. Though in this pre-election setting many councillors voiced their support of the petition, the rhetoric was much closer to that of the Planning Board in its expression that the best solution should go beyond merely changing the zoning.

Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 7, 2011 to consider a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance filed by Elizabeth deRham et al. The petition proposes an amendment to Section 9.16 of the Zoning which currently provides for a $100 per violation per day fine upon conviction of said violation. The amendment would provide for a fine not to exceed the maximum specified in M.G.L. Ch 40A sec.7, currently $300 per violation per day and would allow the fine to be levied at the discretion of the Superintendent of Buildings. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 31, 2011.

My suspicion is that this petition may ultimately pass – possibly before Election Day. Though the Bishop Petition has drawn the most attention, the deRham Petition was filed at the same time by essentially the same people. Politically, there may be some wisdom in passing this less controversial one before Election Day if indeed the intention is to invest the necessary time to get a better resolution of the underlying issues that motivated the Bishop Petition.

Order #4. That the City of Cambridge hereby joins other communities across the country and calls upon the United States Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification, a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and to restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people.   Mayor Maher

This may be the first example I’ve witnessed of the Cambridge City Council explicitly endorsing an amendment to the United States Constitution. The merits of the proposal notwithstanding, the suggestion that this will "restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people" is woefully naive. While many people correctly complain about the corrosive influence of money in politics, where is the civic education that’s necessary for a well-functioning democracy? The national political media features the nitwits on Fox News propagandizing from the Right, and the nitwits on MSNBC propagandizing from the Left. These and talk radio are what passes today as civic education. Meanwhile the average voter is busy watching American Idol while their national elected representatives spend the majority of their time fundraising for their reelection. Focusing on the Citizens United court decision is a distraction from much more significant problems in sustaining democracy both nationally and locally.

Order #5. Amendment to Zoning Ordinances by deleting Section 6.22.2   Councillor Kelley

It’s unfortunate that the text of Councillor Kelley’s Order provides no clue at all as to why this amendment is being proposed other than its claim "to mitigate development and parking pressures in Cambridge neighborhoods." Perhaps Kelley will explain the motivation. A few additional "whereases" in the Order would have helped.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back on legal expenses incurred by the City for the Monteiro case and related cases.   Councillor Kelley

A handful of activists and sympathizers have been pushing this as though it is the be-all-end-all issue in the upcoming municipal election. It is not. This Order calls for an accounting of the outside legal expenses for the Monteiro case, etc.; the cost of the appeals; the cost of the settlements related to each of the parties in the original ZuckerNaut of lawsuits; the amount of money paid to Malvina Monteiro; and a report on what issues are still considered confidential and why. Ultimately it will be good to have this full story told. However, the full story should also include the background information on the functioning (or lack of functioning) of the City departments and boards over whom some of the litigants presided. The deluxe edition of the book might also include some of the political motivations as well.

This meeting will also feature a presentation from the Reeves committee (excuse me, the Red Ribbon Commission, etc.) on Central Square – well timed to occur two weeks before the election. Time will tell what the next few years will bring to Central Square. There are some who would choose to turn it into a 24-hour entertainment zone. Others want to build densely on every available parcel. It is doubtful whether the report from the Reeves committee will reveal anything particularly world-shaking. In the end, the good health of Central Square will still be determined by the individuals – residents, business owners, and property owners – who have a personal stake in the Central Square area. – Robert Winters

I received an inquiry over the weekend about incumbent city councillors who were not reelected. Since the beginning of the Plan E era (since 1941), here is the chronology of these unfortunate incumbents:

Candidate 1st elected defeated Notes Candidate 1st elected defeated Notes
Thomas McNamara 1941 1943 after 1st term Daniel Hayes 1957 1969  
William Hogan 1941 1943 after 1st term Henry Owens 1971 1973 after 1st term
James Cassidy 1941 1945   David Wylie 1967 1975  
Thomas McNamara 1941 1947   Daniel Clinton 1967 1977  
James Casey 1945 1947 after 1st term Barbara Ackermann 1967 1977  
Francis L. Sennott 1941 1949   Leonard Russell 1973 1977  
Thomas McNamara 1941 1951 later replaced
Francis Sennott
David Clem 1975 1977 after 1st term
W. Donnison Swan 1945 1953   Mary Ellen Preusser 1977 1979 after 1st term
Chester Higley 1949 1953   Lawrence Frisoli 1977 1979 after 1st term
Marcus Morton, Jr. 1953 1955 also elected
1941, 1943
David Wylie 1967 1983  
Charles Watson 1953 1959   Daniel Clinton 1967 1985  
John D. Lynch 1941 1961   Alfred LaRosa 1985 1985 had replaced
Leonard Russell
Thomas McNamara 1941 1961   Thomas Danehy 1967 1989  
Cornelia Wheeler 1957 1961 later replaced
Guy Belin
Edward Cyr 1989 1993  
Andrew Trodden 1959 1965   Katherine Triantifillou 1993 1999  
Thomas Coates 1963 1967   David Maher 1999 2005 later replaced
Michael Sullivan
William Maher 1965 1967 after 1st term Larry Ward 2009 2009 had replaced
Brian Murphy


  1. So were there 2 Daniel Clintons, or was he re-elected and then defeated again?

    Comment by Dee — October 24, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  2. Yes, the same Dan Clinton. If you go back further, you’ll see that Thomas McNamara was elected and subsequently defeated four times!

    What I found most surprising is that in 1977 there were four incumbents defeated.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 24, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  3. Any idea what the big issue was in ’77?

    Comment by Dee — October 24, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

  4. I was thinking about that when I discovered the defeated four incumbents. I know that the CCA Slate was known as the Cambridge Convention in 1975 and 1977 and that this may have affected which CCA-backed candidates were elected. Also, Kevin Crane ran and was elected that year (finished 2nd in #1 votes, in fact) and that would have pushed out an incumbent or two. I’d be interested to hear from others what else may have been going on that year to cause such an unexpected upheaval.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 24, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

  5. The City Clerk just informed us that the scheduled presentation of the Reeves committee on Central Square has been postponed. No date has been set for a rescheduled presentation.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 24, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

  6. The councillors are now talking about those evil bicyclists. Councillors Davis and Reeves have now stated that they want to require all bicyclists to get licenses with required training. Isn’t this getting a bit out of hand?

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 24, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

  7. After watching the public comment period of the Oct 24 meeting, I wonder if city council rule 37.6 has ever been used during an election season to stop a public speaker from _PRAISING_ the mayor or individual council members. JChase

    Comment by JChase — October 25, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

  8. Bob, In 1977 the overriding issue was rent control although ironically the lack of development (Kendall Square was a desert, the red line extension was just being built, and East Cambridge had not yet been discovered) was at play. Also, the then City Manager was an issue with myself and challenger Larry Frisoli generally being against. This was also the bad old days of independent versus CCA. On rent control you were CCA and all in or ostracized. One of the defeated incumbents was David Clem who was CCA endorsed previously and I can’t recall whether he was Endorsed by the CCA in 1977. In any event he was open-minded on some of the specific rent control policies and this hurt him. Ironically again he went on to be a significant developer in Kendall Square. Being off the council can be liberating for some. Barbara Ackermann’s downfall could probably be attributed to the whimsy of CCA voters who were looking for someone new every election to the advantage of Mary Ellen Pruesser. Finally my friend the late Larry Frisoli and I ran aggressive well organized campaigns which is the underpinning of any successful PR election. Best KCRANE

    Comment by kevin Crane — October 25, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

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