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MIT Alumnus To Run For City Council Spot

Major Issues Include Housing, MBTA Service

By Christine R. Fry


MIT alumnus Steven Jens ’98 will be among the candidates running for a seat on the Cambridge City Council next month.

Jens, who earned a degree in mathematics, decided to declare his candidacy for city councillor when he noticed a shortage of candidates who held views similar to his on issues such as property rights, schools, and parking regulation.

Seven of the nine current city councillors are running for reelection. There are also 12 others running for a seat on the council, including Jens.

As a student at MIT, Jens was active in the Undergraduate Association and in local politics. It was during his undergraduate years that he became aware of the city council.

However, Jens said that it was probably not his classroom education that prepared him for a political career. “I learned about the city [politics] while I was at MIT,” but not in the classroom, Jens said.

City issues have campus impact

As the price of housing in Cambridge has risen drastically over the past few years, affordable housing has become a major concern for both city residents and students. Some blame MIT and Harvard for buying valuable land to expand their campuses and real estate portfolios.

Steve Iskovitz, the council candidate endorsed by the MIT Greens, said that areas around university campuses should be zoned such that the universities can’t buy up the land to expand their campuses. Instead, the land could be used for affordable residential neighborhoods.

“Cambridge is a desirable place to live,” Iskovitz said. “The city hasn’t really done anything to prevent the [housing] crisis.”

Jens, on the other hand, disagrees with changing the zoning laws. “Cambridge is Cambridge because of MIT and Harvard,” he said. Instead, Jens believes that the main cause of the shortage of affordable housing is the influx of people who want to live in Cambridge.

“I think housing prices could be eased if we allowed development,” Jens said. “Expanding the supply would allow things to be more affordable.”

In addition to City Councillor elections, the Community Preservation Act, a measure to develop affordable housing in the city, will be on Cambridge voters’ ballots next month.

Many candidates hope that the Community Preservation Act, if passed, will help alleviate the Cambridge housing crunch. Council incumbent Henrietta Davis said that the act would provide $5 million in state funding to develop affordable housing in Cambridge. The money would also be used to preserve open spaces and historical buildings.

“We need to support CPA because that could give us $5 million from the state,” Davis said.

An issue which is also on several candidates’ platforms is the expansion of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority system in Cambridge. The MBTA is a state-funded agency governed by a board consisting of representatives from the areas served by the MBTA, including Cambridge.

Iskovitz said Cambridge should add more of its own local routes to the system. He also encourages Cambridge citizens to use cars less for environmental and health reasons.

“All over the city, you get the feeling that Cambridge is for drivers,” Iskovitz said.

Jens would like to see more MBTA service in Cambridge as well. He thinks that the subway, which currently closes at midnight, should close after bars and clubs shut down on weekends.

Other relevant issues include lowering the voting age in Cambridge to 16, making Memorial Drive safer for pedestrians, and expanding the system of bike lanes.

“Students should vote because all these specific issues are important to our lives,” said David J. Strozzi G, a member of the MIT Greens. “Democracy had to be fought for because it is not automatic or inherent.”

The Cambridge City Council consists of nine elected officials, who elect a mayor from among themselves. The main duties of the mayor include presiding over city council meetings and acting as the chairperson of the school committee. The council also appoints the city manager, who handles the daily operations of the city.