Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 27, 2013

A Better Cambridge (ABC) Grades the City Council Candidates

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,City Council,elections,planning — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 8:53 pm

"A Better Cambridge" (ABC) Grades the City Council Candidates

ABC Scorecard
Leland Cheung 10
Marc McGovern 10
Sam Seidel 8.5
Denise Simmons 8.5
Janneke House 8
Ken Reeves 8
Tim Toomey 8
Kristen von Hoffmann   8
Craig Kelley 6
Dennis Benzan 5.5
Mushtaque Mirza 5.5
Minka vanBeuzekom 5
James Lee 3
Nadeem Mazen 2
Luis Vasquez 1
Gary Mello 1
Dennis Carlone 0.5
Ronald Peden 0

Oct 26 – "A Better Cambridge" (ABC), the Cambridge resident group that describes itself as "working to build a more diverse and livable city on the path towards sustainable growth," has released the results of its 2013 City Council Candidate ratings. Since its inception, ABC has been a consistent supporter of the planning principles of "smart growth" and transit-oriented development, especially housing for a broad spectrum of incomes. Of the 18 City Council candidates who responded to the group’s questionnaire, top scores went to Leland Cheung and Marc McGovern, and lowest scores went to Dennis Carlone and Ron Peden.

"A Better Cambridge looks forward to working with all 9 members of the next City Council to help build a more diverse and livable city," said ABC chairman Jesse Kanson-Benanav. He added: "We believe a better Cambridge is a Cambridge that grows smart and sustainably, taking advantage of Cambridge’s proximity to public and alternate transportation to expand housing choices for all Cambridge families." The full ABC mission and vision may be viewed at

ABC’s analysis, including charts listing the candidate ratings on the individual question plus summary analyses of each candidate’s positions, may be found at the ABC website:

The group’s press release noted that its candidate questionnaire and analysis is intended to give information about how the various candidates stand on the issues that ABC has focused on and is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of their stance on every issue currently facing Cambridge.

ABC’s Candidate Grid (2 page PDF)     ABC’s Candidate Analysis (56 page PDF)

The ABC questions/topics posed to the candidates were:

  • DIVERSITY: If elected, what policies will you support or propose to help strengthen the diversity of our community through increased affordable housing and greater economic opportunity for all Cambridge residents?
  • SUSTAINABILITY: If elected, what policies or initiatives will you support to ensure that there is adequate housing near public transportation that supports sufficient retail to meet neighborhood needs, meets the needs of current and future residents, reduces auto usage and encourages energy efficiency?
  • GROWTH: Do you agree that in order to support diversity and meet the housing needs of sustainable growth in Cambridge increased density may be necessary? If elected, what specific policies or initiatives will you support to achieve sustainable urban growth and to increase low and moderate income housing for all populations, including families?
  • LIVABILITY: What traits of Cambridge neighborhoods do you find most distinctive? If elected, what policies or initiatives will you support to help reinforce these characteristics through new development, public and open spaces and other means?
  • DIALOGUE: In your opinion, do public planning processes in Cambridge support open and constructive engagement between stakeholders? If elected, how will you help ensure transparent and mutually respectful planning for the future of Cambridge?
  • K2C2: Which three K2C2 recommendations do you believe should be top priorities for the City of Cambridge over the next few years? What specific policies or initiatives recommended will you support to ensure these priorities are achieved during the next City Council term? Are there policies and recommendations that you oppose?
  • CONNOLLY "NET ZERO" PETITION: Does this candidate oppose the Connolly Petition?
  • BUILDING HEIGHTS: Does this candidate support the possibility of increased height allowances for certain transit-­oriented developments?
  • MORATORIUM ON NEW DEVELOPMENT: Does this candidate oppose a moratorium on development?
  • CITYWIDE MASTER PLAN: Does this candidate oppose a master planning process that freezes smart growth projects?


  1. It was interesting to read (elsewhere) the response to this press release from one of the Connolly people who said: “It’s unfortunate that a group called A Better Cambridge has used opposition to the “Connolly Petition” for net zero emissions as a key factor in its assessment of city council candidates… And it’s ironic, too — since the group also claims to support sustainability and dialogue. In fact, it was the dialogue created by the Connolly Petition — and the many courageous candidates who supported it — that has led to better prospects for the sustainability through the recently-approved Getting to Net Zero task force…. Over the past few months, I joined with hundreds of other Cambridge residents to say “Yes” to greener building standards. Unfortunately, A Better Cambridge did nothing to enrich the debate, opting for a tired Not-In-My-Backyard stance.”

    Truth #1: While it may be the case that the Net-Zero petition has helped to re-prioritize energy conservation among City policymakers, the fact is that nobody ever disagreed with that goal, and now there is a task force of stakeholders and experts being appointed who will collaboratively develop rational proposals that will further that goal. The Connolly Petition supporters never consulted other stakeholders. That’s why the Connolly Petition had few supporters among the elected officials and why it is being allowed to expire. It’s also worth noting that supporters of affordable housing were among those who had major issues with the petition. Indeed, concerns that badly needed new housing would be stopped cold by this petition formed the basis for opposing the petition by A Better Cambridge.

    Truth #2: The phrase “Not-In-My-Backyard” typically refers to people who choose to block such things as affordable housing, homeless shelters, drug clinics, etc. I have never heard that phrase used to describe people who actually want to encourage new housing construction. Perhaps the writer of the comment has his organizations mixed up. Indeed, it is actually Mr. Connolly who has chosen to affiliate himself with two groups who have been opposed to most new development, including housing development.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 28, 2013 @ 9:47 am

  2. I was somewhat surprised to see that Jefferson Smith failed to respond to the ABC questionnaire. He strikes me as someone who would have ranked high as a result of his background in transportation and transit-oriented development with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 28, 2013 @ 10:31 am

  3. I am also a bit surprised that Jefferson did not respond. I would like to believe that he would be among the top of the list here.

    The way that ABC put this together should be a big help for voters in the next week who may still be on the fence with some of the candidates. It reads much better than the personal shots thrown at some of those running, deservedly so or not, from the Cambridge Day.

    Comment by Slugs Aiello — October 28, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

  4. The ABC analysis of Janneke House’s public positions for Category 4: “Liveability” and on the Analysis Grid under “Master Plan” incorrectly state that Ms. House supports a Citywide Master Plan which stalls or halts new smart growth development.

    For the record:

    Janneke House opposes a Master Plan or a Master Plan process which explicitly or effectively halts new smart growth development in Cambridge.

    Janneke House supports keeping the City’s Master Plan fresh, in an open, community-centric way, with the best data available.

    Tom Stohlman
    Campaign Manager for Janneke House

    Comment by Tom Stohlman — October 30, 2013 @ 11:10 am

  5. With respect to ABC’s last question, I’d also like to know when the candidates stopped beating their wives, husbands, children, dogs and/or cats.

    Comment by Heather Hoffman — October 30, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

  6. The questions ABC asked of candidates for Council certainly do read more like a push poll than an unbiased attempt to elicit the candidates’ views on development issues. Nevertheless, the answers are actually quite revealing of the very real differences among the candidates. My recommendation: Read the individual responses in the 56-page PDF and skip the ABC’s partisan analysis.

    Comment by Esther Steffens — October 30, 2013 @ 11:50 pm

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