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Decker Boasts Experience, Strong Cambridge Roots

By Sanjay Basu

Cambridge native Marjorie Decker has grounded her campaign for Cambridge City Council on affordable housing issues -- stating that her past involvement in city politics in Cambridge has qualified her for a council position.

Decker, who grew up in public housing in Cambridgeport and attended high school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, became involved in city politics while studying at UMass-Amherst. After being elected to membership on the Amherst Town Meeting, Decker served as a first grade instructor in Louisiana as part of TEACH for AMERICA.

She then came back to Cambridge to work as a legislative aide to Representative Alice Wolf.

“While I was working with Alice,” Decker said, “I became really involved in housing and urban development issues, as well as education issues.”

“I decided to run for city council last January because I wanted the council to really focus on developing some new policy on these issues.”

Decker, who has worked on affordable housing projects at both the state and local level, said that the council needs more members experienced in urban development issues. While she sees the need for improvement on the board, Decker also attributes responsibility to other city organizations.

“The universities have a responsibility to plan affordable housing, particularly for their students,” she said. “There’s a lot of pressure on the housing market. I think the loss of rent control has certainly contributed. But the universities have as well, and we’ve got students here who don’t live on campus because there’s not enough room for them.”

When asked what she would do to resolve the housing problem, Decker did not present a specific plan, but said that a proposal for action would have to be created by a coalition of city councilors, housing authority members, tenants, universities, and homeowners.

“We must actually talk with that group and say, ‘What resources do we have available? Who are we providing this housing for? And what does affordable housing mean in today’s market?’”

Decker also emphasized that, while she works with many community housing and planning boards, her working class background brings a new political perspective to the election.

“It makes a big difference that I have a working class background in a community that’s very polarized around class,” said Decker. “I have succeeded because of what this community has offered me. I’m the first in my family to go to college, but I don’t lose my background.”

Decker represents political middle

To emphasize her position in the middle of the political spectrum, Decker chose not to be endorsed by the Cambridge Civic Association this year, despite the political risk associated with turning-down a CCA slate offering.

“I have people who have supported me and have supported both CCA and independent candidates,” Decker said. “And the differences between those two camps have not been policy issues. They’ve been over these historically entrenched camps.”

“The stereotype,” said Decker, “is that if you’re CCA, you’re a liberal from an upperclass background. And that if you’re not, you’re a conservative.”

“But there’s a lot more people who fall in the middle,” Decker said. “That’s where I come from.”

Decker called Cambridge “a city in crisis,” saying that the city council has not had the strength to come together and build coalitions.

“My strength is that I bring a lot of people together who have not been together in the past,” Decker said. “We took a risk by not being on a slate, but it’s about saying that it’s time to do things differently and not be boxed in by labels that do not give the full picture of who I am.”

Decker comments on Snowberg

Decker also commented on the candidacy of MIT student Eric Snowberg ’99, who is also a Cambridge City Council candidate.

“I don’t think it’s enough to support a student just because he’s a student,” Decker said. “With that said, I think Erik Snowberg has done his homework and is running on a solid set of issues that he cares about. There are people here who have lived longer in Cambridge than he has and are running for a council position even though they know less than he does about the community.”

But Decker also pointed out that Snowberg’s campaign has called attention to the problem of student apathy at universities, particularly with regard to local politics.

“Students come to MIT to learn,” Decker said, “and while they’re there, part of their experience is being part of the community. But when students come of age to vote, they’re leaving home and entering this whole new world, and that’s where their interests lie.”

“Apathy has such a negative connotation,” Decker said. “But usually it’s just the fact that student interests aren’t so local. Getting students involved in local issues is a challenge.”

Decker attributed responsibility for student inactivity in local issues to neighborhood universities.

“This is where the universities can be involved,” she said. “The universities have to be more connected with the community. But I certainly think students can put pressure on their universities and initiate reform at the local level. When I got involved in issues involving both my university and my community, I began to realize my power to change things.”