The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 65.0°F | Overcast

Cambridge to elect officials

analysis

Twenty-two candidates will vie for nine Cambridge City Council seats in elections next Tuesday. All nine incumbents, including Mayor Francis H. Duehay, are running for re-election.

All nine council members are chosen in biennial, at-large elections by a system of proportional representation. Under this system, voters rank candidates preferentially on their ballots.

Housing policy has been the dominant issue in this campaign, as it has in every other city election for the past two decades. Candidates disagree over whether Cambridge's rent control laws should be strengthened, weakened or left alone.

Control of commercial and industrial development is also at issue: many candidates support one form or another of "exclusionary zoning" or "linkage" -- plans requiring developers to build low- and moderate-income housing on a portion of their sites -- but others oppose it.

The elections could affect students indirectly through city policies relating to cost and availability of off-campus housing, and may affect the long-standing debate over the development of the MIT-owned Simplex Wire and Cable Co. site in Cambridgeport.

This year's election may reshape the decades-old balance on the council between the established liberal Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) and the blue-collar oriented, generally more conservative independents. In past elections, CCA-endorsed candidates and independents have divided the council seats about equally; the council now includes four CCA seats and five independents.

But a slate of three newcomers, calling themselves Coalition85, is trying to draw support from voters it claims are disenchanted with the CCA, calling for loosening of the restrictions on condominium conversion and modifications to rent control. The coalition candidates and independent William Walsh, an outspoken critic of rent control, are courting the votes of young professionals.

Confrontation has flared over the housing issue. A vocal crowd of over three hundred attended a debate Tuesday between Walsh and CCA-endorsed incumbent David E. Sullivan '74, a leading backer of rent control. Sullivan called Walsh's description of the Cambridge housing situation "a mythical picture ... Alice in Wonderland;" Walsh ridiculed the description of the housing shortage as an emergency in the Rent Control Act of 1970, asking, "Will the alleged emergency go on forever?"

Candidates have disagreed over facts, as well as over interpretations of problems. Independent challengers Walsh, Francis Budryk and Elio Centrella assert that wealthy professionals and students benefit unfairly from below-market rents, and that rent-controlled apartments are poorly maintained.

Rent control proponents deny the charges; Sullivan claimed in the debate that less than one-third of the occupants of rent-controlled apartments are students or professionals. He also said that housing codes have been enforced more rigidly since the enactment of rent control.

Sullivan's strongly pro-rent control stance -- he wrote the city ordinance forbidding conversion of rent-controlled apartments to condominiums -- has drawn attacks from Walsh, Budryk and Coalition85. The CCA in turn alleges that there has been heavy financial influence on the campaign by the real estate industry, and that anti-rent control candidates, especially Walsh, would serve realtors' interests at the expense of tenants.

Meanwhile, candidate Michael Turk finds the CCA stance too conservative, and is running without the association's support. Turk would like to expand and tighten rent control and establish binding community control over commercial and industrial development.

Neighborhood preservation, parking, city services, education and tax reform have also been mentioned in the campaign, but have not aroused as much debate as housing.

Nine candidates are running for six seats on the School Committee. Three referendum questions also appear on the ballot:

O+ A binding referendum to amend the Cambridge Human Rights Ordinance to include pornography as sex discrimination. This referendum originated from a petition organized by the Women's Alliance Against Pornography. The Council rejected it because of doubts about its constitutionality, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered it on the ballot. The proposed ordinance would allow women to sue for damages resulting from pornography and places restrictions on trafficking.

O+ A non-binding referendum asking voters whether they are in favor of the testing, storage, transportation and disposal of nerve and blister agents in Cambridge. The council ordered the question placed on the ballot in June in response to the testing of nerve gas by the Arthur D. Little Co. in north Cambridge. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has since mandated an end to such testing.

O+ A non-binding referendum, placed on the ballot by the council in June, on the sale of properties by Harvard Real Estate to faculty members who would own and occupy them, thus removing them from rent control.