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Hoicka Discusses Student Apathy

By Sanjay Basu

Few people were sitting on the steps of the Student Center Tuesday when Cambridge City Council Candidate David A. Hoicka ’77 approached the microphone. But low turnout appeared to motivate this MIT alum-turned-politician to discuss the absence of student interaction in Cambridge city politics.

Hoicka stared from the Student Center steps towards nearby Bexley Hall, recalling the days when political rallies at MIT drew larger crowds.

“I was living in Bexley, and I remember one night when we were on the roof staring down on a bunch of state policeman on Mass. Ave.,” said Hoicka. “The Vietnam war had been going on, and the students had started a riot.... I mean, civil disobedience.”

“And I can remember having tear gas canisters thrown up on top of Bexley,” he said. “Well, we just threw them right back at those staties... Students today aren’t like that.”

Hoicka then looked back to the crowd and said, “Students today don’t even vote. And students who don’t vote don’t count.”

That message was echoed by all of the politicians who spoke that afternoon, including state representative Paul Demakis, Cambridge City Councilor Ken Reeves, and council candidate Erik C. Snowberg ’99.

But as an MIT alumnus, Hoicka has a unique perspective on the obstacles inhibiting MIT student interaction in government and politics.

“The people at MIT have good skills,” said Hoicka. “But the one thing you don’t learn here is how to network people. You have to learn how to form coalitions.”

“MIT supports individual skills so much that you have all these people who go out and start their own companies,” Hoicka said. “But then you see some other guy from another school come in and become the manager of that company. The difference is that this other guy knows how to do things through networking. MIT’s failure to teach that is a real problem.”

Hoicka is a rent control supporter

Hoicka also stated that his interest in politics developed during his time as a student at MIT, when he worked on committees dealing with student tenancy matters. He now cites that experience when discussing rent control, a major issue this year for students living in Cambridge.

“If you’re a student in Cambridge, you should be really concerned about how much you pay for rent here,” he said. “I think rent control is a major issue, because it affects one-third to one-half of everybody’s income around here.”

Hoicka is one of only five candidates to formally support the stabilization and control of rent prices. The other four are Dottie Giacobbe, James Williamson, Alan Nidle, and Vincent Dixon.

But Hoicka also states that the importance of rent control alone isn’t bringing students to the ballot boxes.

“Because a lot of students come from out-of-state, most of their hearts are really in Arizona, California, and Seattle. It’s incredibly difficult to relate to people whose minds are at home,” said Hoicka. “Many students say, ‘I’m going to vote for the presidential election, but I’m not going to care about the state and local elections, because I’ll be in Wisconsin by then.’”

Hoicka pointed to several faults in that reasoning. “The fact is that local issues here turn out to be the same as local issues there, so if you’re not participating here, you’re at a disadvantage when you go somewhere else.”

These problems caused by student apathy, Hoicka said, are going to be problematic for MIT student-candidate Erik Snowberg ’99, who is vying to be the first student elected to Cambridge’s council.

“I think he’s got a tough road up ahead,” Hoicka said. “It’s going to be hard, even with the people he has supporting him. But I still think what he’s doing is important and needs to be done.”

Hoicka was not alone in supporting Snowberg. Nearly every politician who spoke that day endorsed the student candidate.

“Even though students may have a representative here now, there’s still a reason to be changing attitudes in Cambridge,” Hoicka said. “We have these two institutions, MIT and Harvard, who are large gated communities separated from the rest of this city.”

“Cambridge doesn’t like these people, because these institutions look down on them. There’s no interaction beyond all the public relations hype. There’s always just one person to act as an intermediary for the institutions, whenever they need something like land to build on.”

“The community resents the way these institutions act,” said Hoicka. “Most of Cambridge is working class people, so you end up with this group of citizens carrying high school degrees among people with PhDs. And these institution-people will easily get what they want. What we have to work on is getting representation for the rest of the people.”

Hoicka experienced in Cambridge

Hoicka has previous experience in the Cambridge political arena. He is a member of the pro-rent control group Cambridge citizens united for rent equity which is attempting to place a rent control referendum on the ballot this year. Last year, Hoicka succeeded in placing a successful referendum on the ballot asking MIT to remove its nuclear reactor, located on Albany Street at Mass. Ave., from Cambridge. The reactor was not removed.

In 1993 he sued MIT over outstanding student loans alleging that the the Insitute unfairly reduced his financial aid package by colluding with the so-called overlap group. The group was made up of 22 universities who met to set the levels of financial aid awards to students.