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Murphy, Simmons Fill Vacated Cambridge City Council Seats

By Harold Fox


Newcomers Brian Murphy and Denise Simmons won seats on Cambridge’s City Council along with all seven incumbent candidates.

Murphy, a former Democratic campaign manager, and Simmons, a long time member of the Cambridge School Committee, fill the vacancies on the Council left by the retirement of Councillors Kathleen Born MAR ’77 and Jim Braude.

The Community Preservation Act, the only issue on the ballot, passed with 71 percent of the vote.

Murphy elected on first count

Eric Pugatch, Murphy’s campaign manager, said that the key to the election was sweat and smiles. “We won, because we worked really hard for a really long time,” he said. “Brian was knocking on doors since June, and we were holding small coffees. We had a midnight mail drop on Monday. Anyone who offered Brian their vote, we made sure all of them got a phone call before the election. We were offering rides to the polls all day.”

Simmons was elected on the 13th count when fellow Cambridge Civic Association endorsee Etheridge A. King was eliminated. The CCA, a historically dominant progressive political organization ailing in recent years, managed to elect three of its six endorsed candidates to the council.

Mayor Anthony Galluccio followed up on his strong showing two years ago with 3,230 first-place votes, nearly double the number received by his nearest challenger.

“Galluccio is as powerful now as any mayor we have had in the city of Cambridge,” said Robert Winters, editor of the Cambridge Civic Journal and long time Council watcher. “He has an incredible amount of support in North Cambridge. If there’s ever been a guy from Cambridge who has a good shot at higher office, Anthony’s the guy.”

MIT alumnus Steven E. Jens ’98 was eliminated in the tenth count, placing him in the final thirteen of the nineteen candidates who ran. Jens’ run followed the unsuccessful bid of Erik C. Snowberg ’99 for a council seat two years ago.

Among the incumbents, Kenneth Reeves was considered the most vulnerable because of the candidacy of Simmons, another African American with a large support base in Ward 4 around Central Square. Reeves was elected on the 13th count.

“That’s one of the things that happens in Cambridge politics,” said Winters. “Two candidates with the same background and issues will wind up competing with each other.”

Voter turnout down from 1999

Because of the lack of major divisive issues and because of the events since September 11, voter turnout was lower than it has been in recent years. 17,126 ballots were cast, compared to 18,777 in 1999.

“I wasn’t surprised, but I was still disappointed,” said Mary C. Tittmann, executive director of the CCA. “It’s almost 2000 ballots lower.”

“There was a strong feeling among all the candidates that national and international events were sapping people’s energy,” Tittman said.

Winters speculated that, more than issues, the major factor in the race was which candidates were able to get the most visibility and whose personality was the most appealing to voters.

“In local politics, issues don’t matter,” Winters said. “This is about representation. Which people do you want as your representative? Most of the time, if you ask in person for someone’s vote, you will get it.”

CPA wins approval

The Community Preservation Act, which passed with 71 percent of the vote, provides state matching funds for any money that the Council sets aside for affordable housing, open spaces, and historical preservation. The act had widespread support in Cambridge: all nine councillors, the city manager, and several past mayors expressed their support for the question.

Despite its popularity here, the same act did not pass in Boston.

How to spend the money provided by the CPA will probably be one of the issues that may divide the new Council, according to Winters. “You may hear some debate on the relative priorities,” Winters said. “There are trade-offs between open-space acquisition and affordable housing. Every one of the nine councillors will have to search their souls about how they will want to carve up the pie.”

Council elected by PR

The Cambridge City Council is elected by proportional representation. As the system is designed to represent a broad range of interests and constituencies, candidates need to receive a tenth of the votes cast in order to be elected. PR was adopted by several communities in the first half of the 20th century to combat the corruptness and machine politics of large parties.

Voters rank candidates in order of preference. Quota, the number of votes a candidate needs to win, is determined by dividing the number of ballots cast by ten. In the first round of counting, the voters’ first choices are counted and ranked. If any candidate makes quota in this round, his or her surplus votes are distributed to the other candidates according to the second choices on his or her winning ballots. In each subsequent round of counting, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and his/her ballots are distributed among the next candidates on those ballots.