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Winters Stresses Issues of Experience, Environment in Bid for City Council

By Frank Dabek

Robert Winters, a mathematics instructor at Harvard University, is running for Cambridge City Council on a progressive platform, stressing environmental issues and his experience with local government. Winters, who did graduate work at MIT, was endorsed as part of the Cambridge Civic Association slate.

Winters did not single out one issue for his campaign but said that his run was motivated by a desire to see “decisive people occupying the seats of city council.” He called the current council a “rather ineffectual body.”

Winters, who has participated in local government through spearheading a drive for recycling in Cambridge, and serving on a library board and the green ribbon open spaces group, says that his approach to government is “more from a practitioners point of view than a crusader.”

He pointed to his success in establishing a curbside recycling program in Cambridge -- we “didn’t just bullshit about it, we did it,” he said. Winters also publishes a web-based journal dedicated to Cambridge politics and was involved in the effort to computerize the counting of ballots in city council elections.

Environment issues important

Winters stresses the environment in combination with infrastructure improvements such as the water treatment upgrade currently under construction.

He served on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on water and wastewater issues, and, along with other volunteers, began Cambridge’s all-volunteer recycling program in 1989. The program led to a citywide curb-side recycling in 1991. He also pointed to the problem of sewer overflows into the Charles River especially in the Magazine beach area as an environmental concern in Cambridge.

On the issue of housing and rent control, a major issue in this year’s election, Winters focuses on “moving the focus of development away from... commercial [ventures]” towards increased investment in new residences.

Winters does not support rent control which he feels would “destroy the availability of affordable housing in the future” by shifting investments away from new residential construction. Cambridge needs to instead “draw investment dollars towards housing,” he said.

“MIT and Harvard have to do their part” as well, he said. Winters applauded MIT’s decision to build additional undergraduate housing in the Vassar street corridor. MIT is “putting a lot of pressure” on the market, he said. He gives this message to MIT with respect to housing -- “Build it. Build it. Build it.”

Students often apathetic

While Winters said that students often don’t pay a great deal of attention to local politics, he pointed to a few key issues of interest to students.

Aside from environmental issues, he stressed the need for late night transport. Although Winters has been involved in an effort to coordinate late night taxi service, he supports the concept of a “night owl” late night bus service to selected areas as a superior solution. Winters does not believe that running trains during the late night hours is economically feasible, however.

He also called for greater communication between Cambridge’s universities and the city. Cambridge should benefit from “MIT and all of the interesting things that are happening there” rather than viewing the Institute as a “monolithic entity that [is] ... nothing but a threat,” he said.

Broadcasting speakers and other events at MIT and Harvard on Cambridge’s cable network could be a way to integrate the city and the universities, he said.

Winters has his own connections to MIT -- he assisted with tutored exams in the math department and received a Goodwin medal for “conspicuously effective teaching” from MIT.

Part-time politician

Currently a member of Harvard’s faculty, Winters plans to maintain his position at the University. “If I was elected I’d keep my day job,” he said.

A government official should “be a regular person like everyone else” rather than “their own separate political class,” Winters said. The “City Council is supposed to be a policy making board,” he said, but many councilmen “make it out as a full-time job” by becoming entangled in full time politicking and re-election campaigns.