Every member of the MIT community should have an interest in next Tuesday’s municipal elections. While there is a lot of interest in the Boston mayoral race and this winter’s U.S. senatorial race to replace Ted Kennedy, it’s much harder to find information about the candidates running for office here in Cambridge. Cambridge had a particularly poor voter turnout of under 14,000 (around a quarter of registered voters) in the last municipal elections, held in 2007. If you’re registered to vote in Cambridge, it’s your job to make your voice heard and cast your ballot for School Committee and City Council. Remember: think globally, act locally.
In its own words, the City Council “authorizes public improvements and expenditures, adopts regulations and ordinances, levies taxes, controls the finances and property taxes of the City, and performs many related legislative tasks.” The nine Councillors elect a Mayor from amongst their own. Under a system called “Plan E,” designed to prevent corruption and cronyism, recommendations and implementation of policy decisions as well as various appointments are under the control of the non-elected City Manager. This election cycle is of particular importance as rumors suggest the current City Manager is considering retiring after nearly 30 years. The City Council will be in charge of finding a qualified replacement for this key administrative role when this happens.
Issues of potential interest to the MIT community are the safety of our streets, affordability of local housing, the quality of the roads we walk, bike and drive and interactions between the city and our university, including availability of late night food options, special permitting for parties and support for activities such as the Cambridge Science Festival. The City Council also supports local initiatives supporting global causes like the creation of the Cambridge Energy Alliance, which helps residents and businesses improve the energy efficiency of their buildings in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Also on the ballot on Tuesday is a choice for Cambridge School Committee. Together with the mayor, the six elected committee members determine the policies and budget for the city school department. While Cambridge spends $25,000 per student — among the highest in the state — results on this year’s statewide standardized MCAS tests have prompted the state to declare Cambridge Schools “in need of improvement.” Achievement disparities between racial and socioeconomic groups were marked and the School Committee will have the opportunity to work with the newly hired Superintendent to improve achievement.
While most MIT students are unlikely to have children in the Cambridge schools, it is important that all the educational institutions in the city support one another. The success of the schools helps make Cambridge a more inviting place for graduate students, post-docs and professors, and who knows — you might even settle down and end up raising your own children here.
Under the so-called “Single Transferable Vote” system enacted as part of Plan E, voters can choose as many or as few candidates as they wish to support, and rank those candidates in order of preference. While your number one vote is most important, if your top candidate receives too few votes to remain in contention, your subsequent choices will be counted.
There are a number of resources available to inform yourself ahead of Tuesday’s vote. The Cambridge Candidate Pages (http://vote.rwinters.com) has a profile of each candidate, as well as links to their own websites, and is an excellent place to start. Cambridge Community Television recorded a series of short video introductions with each of the candidates, and these videos are linked from the candidate pages (http://www.cctvcambridge.org/candidates). The Cambridge Chronicle has also published a series of short Q&A with the candidates (http://www.wickedlocal.com/cambridge/town_info/your_vote).
A current Sloan student is among those running for City Council, who you can read about in The Tech (http://tech.mit.edu/V129/N48/lelandcheung.html). The Harvard Crimson also recently published an in-depth overview of issues facing the school committee (http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=529756). Finally, to find your polling place, whether it be Cambridge or elsewhere in Massachusetts, visit http://www.wheredoivotema.com.
Noah Spies is a graduate student in Course VII.