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COLUMN

The Tech’s Wimpy Election Coverage

John A. Hawkinson

Today is election day in Cambridge. The Tech did tell you this, but not a whole lot more. I’m particularly displeased by the coverage that we’ve seen across the paper’s departments.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I consider Matthew S. DeBergalis ’00 (deberg.org) a friend, and that I have a passing acquaintance with Aimee L. Smith PhD ’02 (www.electaimee.org). I also know Nancy Galluccio, the mother of City Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio. I don’t think these facts have much bearing on my column today, however.

If The Tech’s editorial board really believed what they had written in “Get Out and Vote!” [Oct. 10], and if they really are the voice of the paper, you’d expect they could have induced some ink on the subject.

It seems to me that three departments should have covered the election:

* News: factual information about the candidates and their positions; where to learn more about the candidates and their platforms and history.

* Editorial: The Tech’s endorsements and recommendations for what candidates meet the needs of The Tech’s readership.

* Opinion: thoughtful rhetoric from members of the MIT community explaining the virtues of particular candidates.

In my view, the editorial board is the only one who even came close, but I think they all could have done better. Efforts from news and opinion seemed almost token.

I was worried about coverage of this, so back on Sept. 15, I e-mailed both the news department and the editorial department. I asked them to “consider having some content on the people running for Cambridge City Council. Not just deberg [Debergalis] and alsmith [Smith], but other people.” A reporter expressed the intent to cover, but it didn’t pan out, and the news editors didn’t feel it sufficiently high priority to re-assign.

What did The Tech actually achieve?

News

On Aug. 6, The Tech ran a story [“Two MIT Alumni to Run For City Council in Fall”] announcing DeBergalis’ and Smith’s candidacies, along with accompanying profiles of each.

On Oct. 17, “Rent Control, City Government Organization, and University Taxation Debated by Council Candidates,” summarized a debate. It told us who is in favor of rent control, and touched on university taxation and concerns about the City Manager system. It told us almost nothing about the candidates, other than classifying some as “long-shot,” and did not tell us how they might govern.

Why was there no mention of the candidacy of Daniel J. Greenwood, lecturer in MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning (www.civics.com)?

Editorial

The Tech published two editorials regarding these elections: the aforementioned entreaty for registration, and “DeBergalis for City Council” [Oct. 31]. The registration piece was fine, but it wasn’t a tough argument.

The DeBergalis endorsement bothered me. It begins suggesting that for his “educational effort alone” (meaning encouraging voter registration) The Tech “would support his candidacy.” Encouraging registration is not pure altruism; it benefits the candidate, and is in his best interests. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t say anything about how fit he is for city governance.

The second paragraph did address reasons to vote for DeBergalis. I have no problem with them.

The editorial then went on to mention Smith without endorsing her, but noted in passing that since Cambridge has preferential balloting, you can vote for multiple people. What kind of message is that? Does The Tech think Smith is worth voting for, or not? Surely The Tech doesn’t recommend Cambridge voters vote exclusively for DeBergalis? If he were to lose, then you’d be throwing your #2 vote away.

It’s not as if it is normal to only endorse a single candidate. The Cambridge Civic Association (www.cambridgecivic.org), a “progressive government” advocacy group, endorsed seven for city council (Bellew, Davis, DeBergalis, King, Murphy, Simmons, and Taymorberry), and three for school committee. The Cambridge Chronicle, also on Wednesday, endorsed a full slate of nine: Davis, Decker, Galluccio, Maher, Murphy, Reeves, Simmons, Sullivan, and Toomey (and they “laud Matt DeBergalis’ call for a closer relationship with the city’s student population”).

In Boston, The Boston Globe endorsed four candidates for at-large seats this past Wednesday, and The Herald did so as well (a different, but overlapping set of candidates) on Friday, Oct. 24.

It makes you wonder: did The Tech even bother to talk to anyone other than Smith and DeBergalis? What about Boston (both at-large and the 8th district)? Was it just not worth bothering for 800-plus students residing in Boston proper (plus faculty and staff)?

They also omitted Sidney-Pacific from their voting location information; S-P votes at 150 Erie St.

Opinion

The Tech received and published columns by two MIT candidates. That has some value, but it’s no substitute for columns about the candidates written by the MIT community; such columns should have been solicited.

Where to get candidate information

If you haven’t already voted by the time you read this, please do. Polls in Cambridge close at 8:00 p.m. Ranking additional candidates cannot hurt your top choices.

Robert Winters’ Cambridge Civic Journal Web site, www.rwinters.com, has a lot of very useful information about the elections (candidate statements, meeting attendance records, etc.), and Cambridge government in general. Not only is there a city council election, but there is also a school committee election and a ballot question on rent control.

The Tech’s Ombudsman welcomes your feedback, to ombudsman@the-tech.mit.edu. His opinions are his own.