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Reeves an Outspoken Veteran

By Frank Dabek

Ken Reeves is a ten year veteran of Cambridge’s city council, a two time mayor and perhaps the most outspoken politician in an electoral system that usually breeds backslapping and number two vote trading instead of dissent.

Reeves and his campaign staff will tell you how the press is against them (the Cambridge Chronicle failed to endorse him this year), about differences with City Manager Robert W. Healey and with other candidates. Despite this directness -- Reeves says understatedly that he “does try to speak the truth as I know it” -- he has retained a strong community following. This election, Reeves has been speaking stressing the bread and butter issues of affordable housing and education.

Within the MIT community, Reeves felt initially that “most people at MIT didn’t know where Cambridge was.” He became involved in the MIT public service center and helped to integrate students into the city through the center’s tutoring programs because he doesn’t “believe in isolationist worlds.” The situation is improving, he said, and “people are filtering” into the Cambridge community from the Institute.

Reeves encouraged students to become more active in Cambridge’s politics, however. Students at a rally held earlier in the year at MIT “exhibited a profound amount of disinterest,” he said. Such apathy is disconcerting especially since MIT is such an important institution in Cambridge, Reeves said.

As an institution, MIT must understand it’s impact on the community and be responsible member of that community, he said. That impact can be felt in areas such as the contentious debate around affordable housing.

Reeves says that Cambridge is experiencing a “very real crisis” in housing. He opposes rent control not on philosophical grounds but because its return is politically unfeasible. “I support it 100 percent but don’t see the constellation in the sky that will bring it back.” Reeves’ pragmatism may be, as he acknowledges, bad politics.

In place of rent stabilization measures, Reeves proposes budgeting additional city funds to create more units of affordable housing. His belief that the city should spend more than its current $4.5 million on housing is one of the areas where he comes into conflict with city manager Healey. Reeves has also raised questions about Healey based on the number of discrimination suits being pressed against the city.

Reeves points to the city’s failure to invest $20 million to purchase industrial sites at the end of rent control as one source of the current crisis -- Reeves was a supporter of the plan. The city manager tells the council what to do, Reeves said, and Healey is not in favor of additional funding.

Increasing home ownership and expanding the amount of housing owned by non-profit organizations are Reeves’ other plans to improve the housing situation.

On the issue of development Reeves claims a neutrality -- “I’m not pro or anti-growth [but] support community enhancing change,” he says. The city must manage growth and economic transition lest it overwhelm the city in traffic, height, or environmental impacts, he said. He questions, however, the so called “nostalgia party” of those such as James Williamson. “It’s a difficult way to talk about pragmatic politics,” he said.

Reeves is not running under the banner of the Cambridge Civic Association, the traditional stronghold of progressive city politics whom he calls “lip service liberals,” and bills himself as one of the few true progressive candidates on the ballot.

Reeves’ own credentials include ten years on the council including two terms as mayor. Reeves came to Cambridge as a student at Harvard (and is still a student, he says) and went to law school at the University of Michigan. He studied in Africa and Sweden’s social welfare state as well as at MIT as a Department of Urban Studies and Planning fellow.