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Sullivan Stresses Education

By Frank Dabek

Michael A. Sullivan brings two terms of experience to the Cambridge City Council election, in addition to a family history of involvement in city politics -- Sullivan’s grandfather, father, and uncle were city councillors.

Sullivan stresses education and quality of life along with this year’s standby issues of affordable housing and development.

Education is the “one opportunity that can’t be taken away,” Sullivan said. He noted the role of volunteers from MIT and other universities in the educational system as tutors, especially in the areas of mathematics and science. Activities such as these “build bridges between town and gown” and benefit both parties, he said.

Sullivan, however, makes a distinction between the role of students and MIT as an institution. He applauded MIT’s construction of a new dorm as a way to improve safety for new students. Coming to an urban city like Cambridge can be a shock for some students and you “don’t want to go back in a body bag,” he said, in reference to the several student deaths in recent years.

The new dorm will reduce crowding in the Cambridge housing market by “taking students out of the mix.” Sullivan isn’t a fan of Steven Holl’s proposed “sponge” design, which he described as ugly. He did however, find Frank Gehry’s design for the Stata Center “really cool.”

While relations between the city and MIT are often marked by conflict, Sullivan says that Cambridge’s relationship with MIT is better than with Harvard. “There is an arrogance at the other end of the river” that doesn’t exist at MIT, he said. MIT’s centralized administration is also easier to negotiate with than Harvard’s collection of deans.

Quality of life issues boil down to clean and safe streets -- MIT students would most likely see these issues in improved safety and lighting along the Charles riverfront.

Sullivan against rent control

While Sullivan opposes rent control measures because he feels that they eventually decrease the supply of housing by removing incentive to construct new housing units, he hopes to improve access to affordable housing.

Cambridge is in danger of becoming a city composed of only the very rich and the working poor unless the city is able to provide housing subsidies to middle income residents currently not eligible for assistance. Such assistance would come largely in the form of government spending of tax dollars -- “we should all bear the price” of affordable housing, he said.

Cambridge has spent more than $80 million towards affordable housing in the last five years and, while he said the city could to better, Sullivan believes that the city is “light years ahead” of other communities.

Debates over development have gone hand in hand with housing questions this election. Sullivan supports limited, planned development in Cambridge. “You can’t have it both ways,” he said -- new housing can’t be created without new development.

Sullivan gives Kendall Square as an example of a how not to develop an area. While the Kendall development consists almost exclusively of office space, the ideal development would include retail, office, residential and open space.

Sullivan feels that it is “important to keep small businesses” and that it is possible for small business to compete with larger, national businesses.

He says that despite efforts to ‘save’ Central Square, the area is not in its heyday and should move towards becoming an area that can support a neighborhood -- complete with additional supermarkets and retail clothing outlets.

Sullivan supports some moratoriums against development to allow communities to review development which will affect their neighborhoods.

Aside from his experience on the council Sullivan has served as an assistant attorney general, and ran for district attorney in Middlesex County last year. He is a Cambridge native and was educated at Boston College.