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Author 1-2-3 sues Election Commission

By Reuven M. Lerner

Frederick Meyer, a local realtor and the author of the disputed Proposition 1-2-3, announced Tuesday that he was "petitioning a single Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court" to force the City of Cambridge to put the proposition on the Nov. 7 city ballot. Meyer claimed he did this "because the Cambridge Election Commission has failed to come up with the ballot wording" for the proposal.

Rosemary White, executive director of the Cambridge Home Ownership Association, said that her group "is supporting Proposition 1-2-3, and supporting Fred in his attempt to get it on the ballot." She added that the Election Commission has had enough time "to come up with ballot language," since her organization had collected 15,000 signatures in December.

In response to concerns raised by opponents of the measure, the Cambridge Election Commission decided to add three phrases to the referendum. These additions mention that the proposition would "change rent control," something which Meyer adamantly denies. He said that his proposition "doesn't change the rent control act," but that "it affects a city ordinance in 1979 that prevents rent-controlled units from being turned into condos."

The revised wording held until Aug. 10, when Republican Commissioner Artis Spears, who had earlier voted in favor of the proposition, changed her vote and moved to change the wording. With Sondra Scheir, one of the two Democratic commissioners on the Election Board, away on vacation, the Spears motion passed by a margin of 2-1. Since then, the commission has been unable to come up with a revised wording that would break the 2-2 commission deadlock.

Because of the unusual circumstances surrounding these votes, City Solicitor Russell Higley was asked to rule on their validity. Meyer said that he "decided to go to a Justice after Higley ruled that all the votes were valid."

White explained that Justices take turns hearing "very timely" complaints individually, and that it was now State Supreme Judicial Court Justice John Greaney's turn to hear complaints. She said that Greaney would decide on Monday whether or not the issue will go before the full court, and what, if any, actions the Election Commission must take.

Should Greaney wish to present the issue before the full bench, the suit would have to wait until Oct. 2, when the court reconvenes, White said.

According to The Cambridge Chronicle, city officials had planned to print the ballots this week, and send them to absentee voters on Oct. 7. But White did not think that waiting for a court decision would seriously delay election procedure. "We feel it is possible that they [the court] could make their ruling very early when they come back, and everything would be on schedule," White said.

According to White, Meyer has requested that the entire election be delayed should the Justices not decide by Oct. 7. Opponents of the proposition would rather see a special election, with only this issue on the ballot, White said. In either case, Cambridge rules would require the approval of a simple majority of at least one-third of registered voters. She said that a special election would make it "very unlikely" that the proposition would pass, since voter turnout would probably be low.

Meyer stated in his suit that his constitutional rights have been violated by the Election Commission. He said that the Election Commission has two options under the law -- to print the proposition as it appeared on the petition people signed, or to come up with a wording that has the same intent.

White felt that the wording should "reflect what thousands of people signed a petition for," and that "the Election Commission has an obligation to be accurate in the language that they write." She was "surprised" that the commissioners would oppose putting "the entire petition on the ballot."

When asked if the measure would hurt the poor, both White and Meyer pointed out that the Linkage Fund, which has existed since July of last year, has not helped alleviate the low-cost housing problem at all. Meyer said that since the tax on condominiums is higher than that on apartments, and since much of the money from such taxes would go towards an "affordable housing fund," the proposition would only help their situation.

White added that poor families would not have to move out of their rent-controlled apartments, and that Proposition 1-2-3 is meant to increase, rather than decrease, the number of choices available to tenants. Opponents of the measure point out that funds raised through taxes would have to be approved annually before being allocated to a fund for the needy.