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Cambridge City Council’s Y2K Problem

Michael J. Ring

The Cambridge City Council will soon face a Y2K problem of its own.

No, the city’s computers are not going to crash (so we hope) with the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. This Y2K problem is of a political, not a technological, nature. When the new council is sworn in next year, one of its first orders of business will be choosing the city’s new mayor. And for the second consecutive mayoral election, blood is likely to be spilled.

In the 1998 election, then-councilor Katherine Triantafillou, who won more votes than any other progressive candidate in that campaign, appeared to have five of the nine councilors behind her bid for mayor. But, at the last minute, fellow councilors Frank Duehay, Kathleen Born, and Henrietta Davis, who along with Triantafillou were members of the liberal Cambridge Civic Association, broke ranks and joined with two moderates, Anthony Galluccio and Sheila Russell, to install Duehay as mayor. The 1998 mayoral election was the beginning of the end for Triantafillou, who promptly quit the CCA, and was ousted in last month’s election.

This time around, three of the nine councilors-elect are seeking the largely ceremonial position of mayor. Current vice-mayor Galluccio, the top vote-winner in last month’s election, is seeking the job. Councilor Kathleen Born, who finished second to Galluccio, also wants the position. Councilor Michael Sullivan is the third candidate.

Currently Born has the support of fellow CCA members Davis and Jim Braude. Councilor Tim Toomey is believed to be supporting Sullivan. Councilor Ken Reeves and Councilors-elect Marjorie Decker and David Maher are currently uncommitted, although Maher is likely to support either Galluccio or Sullivan, depending on who shows more strength.

At first glance, Galluccio is the logical choice for mayor. Even his critics must concede he is currently the most popular member of the Cambridge City Council. He trounced the other candidates, tallying 2,716 first-place votes (Born was second with 1,662), and was the only candidate to exceed quota on the first count.

But Galluccio should not be chosen mayor, because he is too hungry for power and willing to pander for the position. The power play reeking of unprofessional backroom politics he revealed this week in the Cambridge Chronicle should lead the other councilors to question his motives.

The December 1 edition of the Chronicle reported that Galluccio has told State Representative Alice Wolf, who represents North and West Cambridge, that he would not run against her in the 2000 Democratic primary if he were elected mayor. Wolf and Galluccio have sparred twice over the seat since the 1996 resignation of then-Speaker Charles Flaherty; Wolf has emerged victorious both times. And if Galluccio isn’t elected mayor, he says it is “very probable” that he would oppose Wolf a third time for the state representative seat. Galluccio’s ploy appears targeted at Councilor-elect Marjorie Decker, a former Wolf campaign manager who maintains close ties to the state representative.

The stench of politicking in the Mayor’s Office is the last thing Cambridge needs. The last Council was damaged by the trickery pulled against Triantafillou. Cambridge doesn’t need another City Council torn by bitterness over the mayoral election. Galluccio’s candidacy should be turned back in favor of a Mayor who can unite all councilors, and whom all councilors can trust.

Fortunately, Galluccio’s election is far from guaranteed. His ploy against Wolf may not sway Decker, who is now in a difficult position. Despite all her talk about being unaligned with either the progressive or moderate blocs the council, Decker’s constituency is clearly liberal. The five candidates selected most frequently by Decker supporters for number-2 votes -- Triantafillou, Braude, Born, Davis, and Reeves -- are all progressive. Therefore, Decker’s constituents strongly favor her voting for Born, and as a freshman councilor she may not have the political capital to do otherwise.

Even with Decker’s support, Galluccio faces another major hurdle in his election campaign. Sullivan, one of his competitors, shares the vice-mayor’s moderate ideology. If they split that constituency, Born -- the only liberal seeking the office -- might win. But will she, and would that be desirable? If Born gets Decker’s support, she still only has four votes. Reeves, the fifth liberal of the council, may not be inclined to vote for Born. Reeves is politically and personally close to Triantafillou, and is still angered by Triantafillou’s failed mayoral bid. And there lies the problem with Born -- like Galluccio, she is a politician with blood on her hands. Born was one of those who backstabbed Triantafillou. Born is a link to a past of backroom dealing -- not a fresh, honest future.

Of the three councilors-elect expressing interest in the position, Michael Sullivan is the best choice for mayor of Cambridge. Although he finished eighth in balloting, Sullivan is the only one of the three candidates not involved in the mayoral dealings and shenanigans of the past several years. Sullivan brings an extensive knowledge of city affairs to the position and could be a mayor councilors and citizens alike could trust. Cambridge needs a fresh start, and Sullivan is the mayoral candidate best able to provide it.