The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 72.0°F | Overcast

DeBergalis Falls Just Short of a Victory

All City Council Incumbents Re-Elected, Rent Control Defeated With 61% of Vote

By Frank Dabek


Matt S. DeBergalis ’00 stunned the city’s political establishment when his upstart campaign fell short of an unlikely victory by less than 200 votes.

DeBergalis, a recent MIT graduate, was the eighth place finisher in first place votes, ahead of incumbent councilors Denise Simmons and David Maher. DeBergalis’s support proved to be not as deep as that of the incumbents, and after the votes of leading vote-getter Anthony D. Galluccio were redistributed, DeBergalis fell behind Maher and Simmons. He was counted out in the 12th round with 1,640 votes.

The prospect of a student on the council added nearly all of the excitement to an otherwise routine election: all nine incumbent councilors were re-elected.

Though he was defeated, DeBergalis’s campaign will likely bring a renewed focus on the role young voters play in Cambridge politics. DeBergalis predicted Cambridge will “see a lot more mail to students in 2005” as candidates make efforts to reach out to students and young people. “Win or lose, that opportunity is still there,” he said.

DeBergalis campaign manager Geoff Schmidt said that DeBergalis’s success had “changed the landscape” of city council elections.

Councilor Brian Murphy called DeBergalis’s campaign a “testament to having a message that resonated ... with a group not traditionally courted by candidates.” Debergalis’s platform centered on bike safety, relaxing licensing restrictions on closing times for Cambridge restaurants, and improving affordable housing options for students.

DeBergalis defeated after transfer

DeBergalis’s strong showing in first place votes bucked tradition for candidates that appeal to student voters. His 1,206 first place votes dwarfed the 429 votes collected by the last strong student candidate in recent memory, Erik Snowberg ’99 in 1999. DeBergalis was not able to produce significant transfer votes to maintain his position, however.

In Cambridge’s system of proportional representation, voters rank candidates according to their preferences. When a candidate is defeated by being the lowest vote getter in a given round, each ballot cast for a candidates is redistributed to other candidates according to the voter’s preferences.

DeBergalis, in eighth position after the first count, was defeated during the transfer process, or as his campaign manager Schmidt said, “as the wheels of PR turn.”

Schmidt said that the campaign had worked to reach a broader base of voters in the last weeks of the race to improve the likelihood of DeBergalis garnering transfer votes. But before the final count, DeBergalis said that he worried that he didn’t have the name recognition necessary to appear as an alternative choice on a large number of ballots.

Likely transfer votes from fellow MIT alum Aimee L. Smith PhD ’02 and from fellow Cambridge Civic Association endorsees did not materialize.

The influence of the CCA, a progressive political group, on Cambridge elections appears to have all but disappeared.

Smith’s transfer votes ended up going heavily to ninth-place candidate, and fellow rent control supporter, Denise Simmons, enabling her to extend her 16 vote lead over 10th place DeBergalis to a more comfortable 66 votes.

Smith said that she was not surprised that her votes did not transfer to DeBergalis in larger quantities. Smith said that she and DeBergalis took “opposite strategies” in their campaigns. The Smith campaign recognized that students are “not all white guys in frats,” she said. While Smith was critical of DeBergalis’s approach to the campaign, she said that his ability to involve students in the process was “admirable.”

Campaign focused on students

The DeBergalis campaign was a mix of high-tech (including a candidate “blog,” or Web log) and traditional campaign techniques.

The campaign registered between 700 and 1,000 voters at MIT and Harvard, according to Schmidt. The campaign took the additional step of allowing voters to “pledge” their vote to DeBergalis; 426 did so and they were reminded to vote by messages sent to their cell phones. At the other end of the campaign technology spectrum, volunteers knocked on the doors of each registered voter in MIT and Harvard dormitories.

DeBergalis’s success took the collection of candidates and local pundits gathered to watch the counting of the ballots by surprise, but Schmidt is looking ahead. “If I had to do it over again, I could do it twice as well.”

DeBergalis has not ruled out running again in two years. “We know how to win now,” he said. The campaign has a base of support and an organization in place and has learned how to raise money. “It’s hard to turn all that down,” he said.

In the meantime DeBergalis plans to make progress on his platform from outside the council. There is a “lot of momentum here we want to capture,” he said.