The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | Overcast

Rent control dominates city politics

@ByName:By Linda D'Angelo

Proposition 1-2-3, a referendum which would have allowed tenants to buy their rent-controlled apartments, was defeated by an approximate 2-1 margin, and the city council gained a 6-3 majority in support of rent control after the November elections.

Over the summer, the council set a nationwide precedent when it approved an ordinance regulating animal experimentation in all universities and private institutions in Cambridge.

Had it passed, Proposition 1-2-3 would have allowed "any tenant who has occupied a rent-controlled unit for at least two years ... to buy it ... if the tenant and landlord both agree." This would have modified a 1979 city ordinance prohibiting tenants from buying their rent-controlled apartments without a city removal permit.

Supporters of 1-2-3 contended that the referendum would increase the stock of low- and moderate-income housing available for ownership and pointed to a provision in the referendum which would have established a fund to provide money for affordable housing. Opponents, however, argued that the referendum would have reduced the stock of rent-controlled housing by promoting the conversion of such units into condominiums.

Animal research

ordinance approved

The animal research ordinance, approved by the council on June 26, set a national precedent and represented "the first time that any legislature decided that animal research needs greater regulation," said Ken Russell, assistant director of the Cambridge Committee for Responsible Research.

The unanimous approval of the ordinance ended a two year process that began in May 1987 when the city council banned certain animal research procedures commonly practiced in the city's 13 research institutions. The Draize test, used mainly in the testing of cosmetics, was banned, as was the LD50, in which groups of animals are poisoned without anesthesia until half of them die.

This move, "the first time any research procedure had been banned because it was considered cruel and unnecessary," led the CCRR to sponsor the initial ordinance, Russell said. But fearing the promises of MIT and other research institution officials to actively fight the proposal, the activists aborted a move to put it to a referendum on the city ballots.

These events, coupled with a "tremendous outpouring from Cambridge citizens and students," led Mayor Alfred Vellucci to appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee on Laboratory Animals (BRC). John M. Moses, the chair of MIT's animal care committee, served on the BRC with Animal Legal Defense Fund president Steven Wise and veterinarian Stuart Wiles, who was appointed to the panel as an agreed-upon neutral arbiter.

The recommendations of the BRC formed the basis for the legislation, which required the appointment of a commissioner of laboratory animals to "oversee the care and use of animals" by performing unannounced inspections. The ordinance further specified that the CLA should "possess an understanding of animal welfare, physiology and psychology," yet not be "aligned with an anti-vivisection or research institution."

Under the ordinance, all universities and private institutions in Cambridge are required to register with the CLA and provide him with information such as the "number and species of animals used" and the "result of all federal and state inspections concerning animal care and use in the previous year."

As the "representative of the public," the CLA would also "bring information back to the public," according to Russell. This reporting feature would "provide assurance to the city that the requirements were being adhered to" as well as provide a vehicle for any questions raised by the public, according to a statement by MIT spokesman Ronald P. Suduiko last July.

Lastly, the ordinance made all institutions in Cambridge subject to federal and state regulations. Previously, privately funded institutions which did not use cats, dogs or primates in their research were excluded from these regulations.

While the ordinance heightened public awareness of the issue, it will not result in any major changes in the regulation of MIT laboratories, Suduiko said. In the past, animal research at MIT has been monitored by an animal care and use committee, which conducts a monthly review of animal research proposals and facilities. And since it is federally funded, MIT has always been subject to annual federal and state inspections, Suduiko said.

New council elected,

Wolf chosen as mayor

Of the nine members elected to the city council, Alice Wolf, Francis H. Duehay, Walter J. Sullivan, William Walsh and Sheila Russell were incumbents. The remaining members, in order of number of votes received, were Ed Cyr, Ken Reeves, Jonathan Myers, and Timothy Toomey.

The newly elected city council contained a 6-3 majority in favor of rent control (Walsh, Russell and Sullivan are the three members who have been critical of the current rent control policy). In recent years, the policy had survived by a 5-4 vote.

The election marked a decisive victory for the Cambridge Civic Association, a liberal pro-rent control group which secured its first city council majority since 1972. CCA actively opposed Proposition 1-2-3 and endorsed six of the elected councilors. According to pundits, strong CCA support was a result of the many "tenant" voters who came to the polls expressly to vote against the referendum and, while there, voted for the candidates who supported rent control.

The election of Reeves, the only black representative on the new council, allayed concerns about the lack of minority representation on the council. Saundra Graham, who served as the only minority representative on the council for 18 years, did not seek reelection.

Reeves, a Harvard College graduate and lawyer who ran unsuccessfully in the 1985 council election, was the only minority representative to win a seat. He had been considered the front-runner because of his support from Harvard students, blacks in the church community, tenants and white liberals.

On Jan. 1, Alice Wolf was elected mayor of Cambridge by a 6-3 vote of the city council. A 19-year veteran of Cambridge politics, Wolf served four terms on the school board, with one as chairperson and another as vice chairperson. She was also vice mayor under former Mayor Alfred Vellucci.

Wolf is the 25th mayor and second woman to be chosen under the city's Plan E charter. Under the charter, the city council chooses a mayor from its members to serve in a largely ceremonial capacity, while a hired city administrator wields most of the power. The mayor's job includes assigning committee posts and chairing city council meetings.

Rent control, a "very important issue," will be Wolf's main focus. She promised to "keep it a strong system," hoped the city would "not have a decrease in affordable housing," and called attention to the opening of three affordable housing units in Cambridge.

Wolf also urged MIT to look into the issue of low-cost housing itself, calling it "an ongoing problem that MIT has to relate to." Noting that "MIT has land to put housing on," Wolf said she would not oppose the construction of new housing if it would not interfere with other Cambridge residents.

Copyright 1990 by The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was originally published on Tuesday, February 6, 1990.
Volume 110, Year in Review
The story was printed on page 6.

This article may be freely distributed electronically, provided it is distributed in its entirety and includes this notice, but may not be reprinted without the express written permission of The Tech. Write to for additional details.

Other stories in this issue

Tech home page Search archives