On November 3, Cambridge voters will decide whether an MIT student is fit to serve on city council. Leland Cheung, a graduate student in the Sloan School of Business is running for a position on city council because he believes “[We] need a student voice representing our interest,” a “liaison” between the students and the city government.
Cheung, who moved to Cambridge in 2005 and is now a homeowner, hopes to change the city for the better. “The biggest issue is collaboration” he said. Students are “often treated as second class citizens” just because they are only here temporarily. As “somebody who’s lived in both worlds” as a resident and a student, Cheung thinks he can bring the town and universities together.
Cheung said his goals included adding more late night food options, a bike sharing program, WiFi in local parks, more protection against crime, more parking, and possibly even a new cell phone tower to improve reception.
According to Cheung, attaining most of these goals center on resolving “zoning issues.” For these things to happen, the city needs to “issue permits.”
Boston is implementing a bike sharing program this coming year and “there’s no reason why Cambridge can’t work with Boston” to bring it to this side of the river, Cheung said. “I think it’s great for students.” With the new plan, students could rent a bike for a few hours in Kendall Square, ride it into Boston, and return it later on.
“It’s not going to get done if you don’t have a student in there,” said Cheung. Asked whether all of his goals were feasible, he said “I’m ambitious, so yes, I think I can.”
And will it be hard to juggle psets with being a politician? “I’ll totally be able to manage,” Cheung said, “Most people have a job outside of city council.” The council meets as a whole once a week, though there are subcommittee meetings and committee meetings throughout the week. Overall, Cheung said that being a city council member would probably take less time than leading a club at MIT.
Cheung will encourage feedback from students throughout his term. Students will be able to contact him via Twitter and Facebook, technologies “for our generation” Cheung said. He also hopes to hold a coffee hour every week where students can drop by and chat with him. “Or they can pass me notes in class,” he added.
Cheung is not the first MIT student to run for city council. Six years ago, Matthew S. DeBergalis ’00 ran for office and lost by a narrow margin.
There are 21 candidates for the nine-seat city council this season, which holds elections for council members every two years. There is an extra slot this year since Marjorie Decker, a long time public servant, failed to file her paperwork for reelection. The fact that there’s an extra council position this year “creates a unique opportunity for students to claim their voice in the city council,” Cheung said.
MIT and Harvard students, “have the numbers” to ensure that they always have a representative on city council, he said. “The magic number [of votes] in 2007 was 1364,” Cheung said. He estimates this years’ number will be around 1500. If the whole university “votes as a block,” they can always ensure that their voices will be heard, said Cheung.
Cheung wants the city council to always have a student voice. To that end, Cheung hopes to set up a campaign fund for future student candidates. He envisions that before the city elections begin, MIT would “come together as a community” and hold a “quasi-primary” to choose a student who would represent the entire school. Once the person is selected, they would be given money from the campaign fund to help them get elected. If the MIT student body all votes for that candidate, they would be assured a seat.
Originally working at a startup that sought to make space travel possible for the wealthy, Cheung said he turned his attention to politics after hearing about the death of his neighbor’s son, who died when another car sped through a red-light.
“There had been a bill to install red light cameras that had been voted down by a narrow margin,” said Cheung. By being involved in the community instead of “shooting for the moon,” Cheung said he “could have more of a direct impact on peoples’ lives.”
Cheung’s campaign will be running registration drives on the MIT campus, along with other local universities, in the coming weeks.
Students must register by October 12 in order to be eligible to vote. Anyone over 18 with an address in Cambridge can vote, even if they are from out of state. Students can also visit Cheung’s website, www.lelandcheung.com, or www.rockthevote.com to register. Voters can only be registered in one state at a time.