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Independents seek office

Most of the candidates running for seats on the Cambridge City Council are not members of either of two local coalitions. These 13 candidates -- including five incumbents -- represent the entire local political spectrum.

The use of the term "independent" in Cambridge politics can be confusing. Technically, it refers to candidates who conduct separate campaigns without a common platform, as the thirteen council hopefuls have.

But the word is also used locally to describe a group of established politicians with blue-collar roots, who run on their tradition of service to neighborhoods rather than more abstract issues. These independent candidates are generally more conservative and pro-business than the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA), although their views are not uniform. Five incumbents fit into this category, along with Sheila Russell, widow of former Mayor Leonard Russell.

The seven remaining candidates, all new to politics, do not fit as easily into categories. They include all facets of the political spectrum.

Traditional Independents

Thirteen-term incumbent Walter J. Sullivan is one of three councillors who voted against last year's linkage proposal. Linkage is a plan which would require developers to build medium- and low-income housing as part of each new construction project. Sullivan also said that downzoning -- rezoning of an area to prohibit large-scale development -- lowers property values.

Incumbent Alfred Vellucci, seeking his 16th term, supports rent control in its current form. He also supports linkage.

Vellucci acknowledged MIT's previous housing efforts, including construction of 750 units of housing for the elderly. But "1986 needs" require MIT's cooperation on the Simplex issue.

"MIT should surrender the [Simplex] land to Cambridge," Vellucci said. He proposed a ten-year use of "emergency, temporary homes" on the property, for which MIT would receive a tax break.

"People who have kept their rents low are penalized" by limits on percentage rent increases, said Daniel J. Clinton, another incumbent councillor. Rents that were originally low remain low, while other rents which entered the system at a higher level are now over $1000 per month, he claimed. Clinton opposed the linkage proposal which came before the council last year.

Incumbent Thomas Danehy supports a comprehensive, city-wide rezoning process. He said that Cambridge's plan for redevelopment should be cohesive, not piecemeal. He also voted against last year's linkage proposal.

Alfred LaRosa was installed in the council after Leonard Russell's death in June. His appointment was based on a recount of the 1983 ballots.

LaRosa supports linkage. His platform states, "rent control can fulfill its goal ... only if it operates efficiently and fairly" for everyone.

"Tax-exempt institutions should be encouraged to provide payments in lieu of taxes that reflect the true cost of the city services they receive," states LaRosa's platform. MIT is exempt from most Cambridge taxes.

Sheila Russell favors linkage in general, but does not support last year's proposal. Russell is running on a platform of balancing the development of Cambridge and the needs of its residential areas through the creative use of existing zoning laws, according to the Cambridge Chronicle. She also hopes to get more federal funding for housing programs.

Unaffiliated challengers

Among the remaining candidates are both strong attackers and strong defenders of rent control, as well as moderates.

Lewis Armistead is opposed to linkage. But he favors downzoning of residential areas, such as Kendall Square, which have already been impacted by development. "Talk of providing large amounts of new affordable housing is erroneous," he said. Cambridge has "a limited spatial situation."

Frank Budryk charges that "rent control is pretty much out of control." The current system subsidizes the well-to-do, he said. He proposed a "means test" to determine qualification for rent control, and suggested a head tax on universities for all students living off campus as an incentive for the schools to build new student housing, freeing housing units.

When questioned about linkage by the Cambridge Chronicle, he responded, "anything proposed by David Sullivan I'm opposed to," but said he would approve downzoning if "the neighborhood really wants it."

Elio Centrella told the Chronicle that rent control should not exist. "It's giving housing to those who can well afford it," he said.

He supports a free market for housing, which would enable the city to "set priority to those who need it the most." Centrella is against linkage, and in favor of downzoning in some areas: "Our homes are already being kicked out by the universities."

Vincent Dixon unsuccessfully sought the endorsement of the CCA, according to the Cambridge Chronicle. He backs linkage and municipal bonds for housing development.

Dixon also supports neighborhood development plans that are created by local residents, and is concerned about a lack of open space in the city. He has some doubts about rent control, preferring to encourage homeownership.

Commercial development of land is not the proper role for a university, Dixon said. He predicted serious tax consequences for MIT and Harvard if they continue "creeping" through Cambridge. "I'd like to see a more positive approach" to housing problems from the universities, he said.

Michael Turk said he has a "much stronger emphasis on [limiting commercial] development" than does the CCA.

Turk, a spokesman for the Cambridge Rent Control Coalition, said rent control provides "indispensible protection for low and moderate income people in Cambridge." He feels that rent control should be strengthened, a low-interest fund for the rehabilitation of affordable housing should be established, and the rent control board should be elected to make it more accountable to the people.

He endorses a strong linkage program and the adoption of the Simplex Steering Committee plan, which includes substantial amounts of low-income housing, for the development of MIT's Simplex property.

Candidate George Spartichino refused to answer questions about his campaign, according to the Chronicle.

William Walsh has waged an aggressive campaign on a platform of cutting back rent control and removing restrictions on condominiums. Rent control discourages construction and maintenance and shifts the property tax burden to housing that is not rent controlled, he charged in his debate with David Sullivan.

Walsh would institute a means test for occupancy of rent-controlled apartments and would decontrol units when the current tenants vacate them, he said in the debate. Additional tax revenue generated by the higher rents would go for rent stamps to help the poor find housing on the open market, he continued. Sullivan's supporters questioned the constitutionality of the means test.

Walsh favors the right of condominium owners to occupy their units and the right of tenants to buy the units they rent. He emphasized the importance of the "American dream" of homeownership in the debate, saying that Cambridge does not do enough to encourage its citizens to own their own homes.

He does not approve of linkage and other restrictions on business development. "We've got to give positive incentives, not negative incentives," he said in the debate.