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First of all, I really have to thank Robert Winters for offering this website to present my platform. For me and many other candidates, the Cambridge Civic Journal's no-fee opportunity levels the playing field. I urge Cambridge voters to view all candidates at the RWinters website before you go to the polls.
Am I serious about becoming a Cambridge City Councilor? I've attended every Monday meeting for 2 1/2 years now and am a regular at municipal board hearings. I know how the Council operates, the personal dynamics, and the issues ahead.
Will you vote for megabuck campaigns promoting candidates who couldn't be bothered to visit City Hall once in a while before they decided to run for the office? I'm ready to get to business with your #1 vote.
I have very strong sentiment and recommendations for Central Square...I'll discuss that subject last.
I am a lifetime resident of Cambridge, born on Otis Street and since then living in Central Square. After graduation from Cambridge Latin I earned Bachelor and Master of Engineering degrees from Stevens Institute of Technology. I am a licensed real estate broker and Notary Public. I have worked at a neighborhood pharmacy for many years and am also a small landlord who has not raised a tenant's rent in thirteen years! With two sons enrolled in Cambridge schools, I'm as fully concerned and committed as anyone can be to a city government that puts citizens' needs first.
We're all looking at a city government that will price many of us out in a few years.
My overwhelming priority as a candidate is to curb the city's spending growth. Every other issue- better city services, affordability, public safety, schools, etc., hinge on sensible money management. Cambridge officials cannot continue to increase annual budgets because of the new money we're blessed to receive. As the new revenue tapers off, residential taxpayers will pay more, not less than our neighboring towns, to meet fixed costs with reduced services. It's happening today- the purported "free cash" is already being tapped to buffer residential tax rates. An inevitable reduction in commercial property values will be disastrous if we keep spending more and more. As it's been said before, Cambridge has no revenue problem. We have a spending problem , and it has to be arrested.
The centerpiece of my campaign is to make the Cambridge Health Alliance the primary insurer for city employees. For 2014, taxpayers will pay $68 million- a full eighth of the overall budget-on health insurance for its 3000 employees and dependents. That's a whopping increase of $8 million in one year. These costs are unsustainable , without equal in municipal government, and far above the allowances commercial employers can afford. City officials who benefit from this program simply pass on the increased costs with barely a comment. While health care is the biggest elephant in the room for every municipality or private employer, Cambridge has unique opportunities to reduce insurance costs while improving services to residents at the same time.
Where does Cambridge health care money go? Most employees elect the ultra expensive Blue Cross option because of name recognition and the modest contribution they make themselves. Blue Cross is not a health care provider; the company throttles its own outlays however it can. The Cambridge Health Alliance is a network of clinics, hospitals, and community based professionals who are the primary, maybe sole health care providers for much of Cambridge. The Alliance needs money.
Sixty eight million goes a long way even nowadays. This is money that can reopen closed neighborhood clinics, enhance coverage for everyone from cradle through old age, and keep taxpayer money in the community. A DPW worker who has a backache or bad cough can walk into a clinic around the corner instead of enduring the seven levels of approval insurers impose to see a clinician. Our health care dollars become a long term investment instead of corporate profit.
City Councillors and administrators are very happy with the top dollar coverage they provide for themselves and friends. At the same time, they criticize CHA officials who announce service cutbacks caused by financial squeezes without allocating funds to fix the problem. Public money funds both programs; if those who make the decisions use the system themselves we'll see that money used very wisely.
Cambridge has yet another terrific alternative to tame the health care monster: the state's GIC employee insurance program. Massachusetts finally cleared municipalities to join the state program because most towns just can't absorb individual plans' increasing costs. Somerville, being bankrupted by employee insurance, joined the system in 2012 and saw an immediate 25% reduction in premiums. Nobody died. After some hemming and hawing, things aren't so bad after all.
The Cambridge City Council has to get serious about cutting costs wherever it can. Taxpayers are not obligated pay for Cadillac programs the city doesn't really need.
Let's dispel the usual myth about development: new development will generate more property tax revenue and reduce your taxes! A new forty unit apartment building comes in with an appraisal of $10 million or so and generates around $90,000 in annual tax revenue. As condos, maybe even less with forty times the paperwork. Just four school kids out the 100 or so occupants eat up the money right away. The Google Bamboozle promised more tax money for quick permits and elimination of a public space. A year later, the city manager asked to appropriate $5 million from taxpayers to repair and restore the very streets Boston Properties ruined. You just wait till the real estate professionals and their lawyers get their abatements as things cool down. Cambridge City Councillors are a great investment.
TRAFFIC and PARKING:
Every seated councillor suggests that we've got to cut automobile traffic in Cambridge, and each cites any easy villain as long as it's not the city itself. Cambridge as an employer has the absolute worst vehicle/employee and single occupancy rate in the city! With well over a thousand employee cars coming into the city daily, we are a traffic jam unto ourselves. Still, councillors demand that residents pay extra to park in front of their own homes while taxpayers foot the bill for expensive, convenient, private off street parking exclusive to city workers. Tell your candidate to stop paying for employee parking. I sure will.
Fortunately, candidates and voters alike are realizing that reliance on inclusionary zoning as our primary method to beat market rates may not be such a good idea. Whatever multiplier of allowed expensive units is applied, you end up with a wider income divide and terrible density. Inclusionary zoning can be a Trojan horse- let's use it only as a sharp tool.
Thirty months after announcement, construction of new public housing on Temple Street hasn't even begun. They're parking on the rubble. If you are one of 9000 people on Cambridge Housing's wait lists, your chances for success are pretty much the same as the list for the Cambridge Cemetery. New public housing just isn't going to happen for lack of funds and space. That's why we must be absolutely devoted to continuing ownership and upgrades to existing stock. I give the city high grades for its efforts, especially the recent successes in keeping expiring use buildings available for lifetime residents. My unqualified preference for below-market housing the city can provide is for limited equity ownership. There's nothing like your own piece of the rock.
I hope to see the finished Putnam Avenue school rededicated as the Charles L. Stead Sr. elementary school. It's a well earned recognition.
The inconvenient truth about Cambridge is our unwillingness to address our own pollution. As I stated earlier, city officials bust residents' chops about parking but sneak their pals in. Our municipal water supply comes from a fully urbanized watershed along the state's busiest highway, even though superior MWRA water is already available in Cambridge. We can eliminate the city's biggest electricity hog, the finished water pumps at Fresh Pond, with a few valve changes. Your water bill is really a gravity bill. What's the problem? City brass stubbornly defend decades of bad decisions at any cost. The City Council has already started to cover up increasing water costs by stealing from affordable housing money. It's a shell game that transfers Cambridge taxpayer cash to Lincoln, one of the state's wealthiest towns. They're quite grateful.
QUALITY OF LIFE / PUBLIC SAFETY:
When I think of public safety, I mean what happens when you dial 911? The answer, fortunately, is superb. Darn well should be. Even Councillor Toomey has remarked in session that Cambridge is way above industry norms for police and fire staffing and funding. Police, Fire, and Emergency Communications employ more than 600 full time people at a cost of about $100 million a year. We have fifty-one fire lieutenants. Fourteen police motorcycles. A fireboat equipped with side scan sonar. A SWAT team and bomb squad. An underwater recovery unit. We're still maintaining a pull station network from the nineteenth century. Maybe we can add an air wing and armored division? This stuff is really expensive. Commissioner Haas and Chief Reardon should be forthcoming with data to demonstrate just how much police, fire, and ambulance service is dedicated every workshift, every day, to the same public nuisances we refuse to address. The City Manager, Council, Police, Fire&Rescue, and even License Commission have designated Central Square as the region's dumping ground for behaviors that other towns simply will not tolerate and every Cambridge taxpayer foots the bill. Few people will head to "Central Scare" for an afternoon walk; evening businesses are nearly all based on liquor licenses. More later…
Will I again be the sole candidate in 2013 to outline a specific program to restore and enhance the services of the Cambridge Health Alliance? It's the primary source of health care for many of our elderly and I am fully committed to giving the Alliance the support it needs. City Councillors allowed a senior clinic right across the street from City Hall to close- can you trust them to maintain other services?
The City Council found an additional $8 million increase for the 2014 school budget and another $8 million on top that for their own health care. Can you guess how much new money is allocated to the Cambridge Health Alliance and Cambridge Housing Authority? Ask at the next free seniors' lunch.
I've explained my plan to fund the Cambridge Health Alliance. I can't ever promise to reduce taxes, but a freeze on the tax rate is possible because increasing residential assessments automatically give more money to the city. I oppose Cambridge Housing policy allowing under 55 placements specifically for drug and alcohol "disabilities", mental illness, or even criminal behavior. Seniors become prisoners in their own apartments. Abuse of Handicapped placard and parking spaces is rampant - are we talking about you? A placard is issued for a real disability, not a certain birthday. The parking department must do a much better job enforcing handicapped zones and every on- street reserved spot should be checked for authenticity every three years to be fair to neighbors. Our water should come from the Quabbin Reservoir, not a mineral loaded Waltham marshland.
The 2013 city election will be another low turnout contest dominated by AARP eligible voters. Every candidate is aware that Cambridge seniors decide council elections and they all prioritize senior housing complexes for their campaign efforts. They'll pull some pretty low end stuff with promise you anything, free lunches or trinkets, and put on their sincere faces. Don't be a puppydog. Ask why your property taxes rise every year. Ask them how they find extra millions for their own health care but abandon public clinics. When 237 Franklin Street residents waited an hour for an elevator, who cared?
OPEN SPACE, PARKS, RECREATION:
How did the city handle the $84 million problem? Well, first we advanced the "fully funded" date from 2013 to 2029, then started paying a few extra bucks from each year's budget to make up the difference. Pay now and pay later. Kicking the can down the road has a fancy name: it's called serial refinancing. Cambridge is just as exposed to this bad habit as towns with a fraction of the income. Today we allocate about one tenth of our budget to debt service with an admirable goal of retiring the debt in ten years. Problem is, we're loading up another credit card when we can tighten the pursestrings today and pay for things like the Putnam School as we go. Would the High School renovation cost have doubled or tripled if the whole deal was out of pocket?
Sensible spending is the key to the best we can have in Cambridge.
GRAFT, CRONYISM, and CORRUPTION
The last two School Committee members to lose their seats are back on the city payroll. Same for two of the last three City Councilors to resign or fail to re-elect. What's wrong with you, Sam Seidel?
Ex-councilor Brian Murphy's story is a record breaker. Along with David Maher, Murphy cowrote the controversial Bob Healy contract that still makes front page news five years later. Murphy resigned his council seat shortly after the contract was ratified and immediately demonstrated his unemployability at suitable compensation levels outside our borders. After only months' absence, Murphy was hired by patron Bob Healy as "Assistant City Manager", now receiving $175,000 a year! And he's due for a raise! Incredibly, Healy diluted Murphy's duties significantly before his own retirement by resurrecting the perfectly nonfunctional Cambridge Redevelopment Authority with yet another brace of appointees.
The hands down ultimate political plum job in the Commonwealth is Cambridge Election Commissioner. Commissioners meet twice monthly for full time pay and benefits costing Cambridge taxpayers more than $40,000 each. Somerville pays about $2000 annually for the exact same duties; Worcester even less. Commissioners got a verbal spanking from the full council following their dismal handling of the November 2012 election, yet approved reappointment of pal Peter Sheinfeld to another four year term. Take my word for it, folks- other Republicans would love the job.
The common thread to the above stories? No physical exam; no pesky civil ser vice lists; no employment applications or interviews. They all got on the payroll at the sole discretion of City Manager Healy.
Councilors themselves are chewing at the trough more than ever today. With the exception of Councilor Kelley, who refuses to participate in the racket, each councilor appoints a full time paid "councilor's aide", a friend or campaign supporter who gets a city salary to work for their re-election. No City Councilor works full time, yet their "aides" are paid more than Somerville's elected aldermen. David Maher pays his aide, Leo Gayne, from his own campaign account, a blatant violation of state law involving a subordinate. Ken Reeves employs his bar owner buddy John Clifford for valuable counsel on the future of Central Square. Even Councilor Minka vanBeuzekom drank the KoolAid upon election. I had hoped to see her take direct action against the scam.
While Bob Healy did not choose councilors' aides, he had to appropriate the necessary cash and bypass an alleged hiring cap on city employees to complete the maneuver. Only in Cambridge.
By now most voters understand that real estate developers like Forest City Enterprises, Boston Properties, Chestnut Hill Real Estate, Alexandria Partners, and others are the largest contributors to City Council campaigns. MIT's Forest City leads the list and has been the largest source of campaign cash for councilors Maher, Reeves, Decker and Toomey. Just recently Forest City has become #1 for contributions to Denise Simmons and Marc McGovern as well. Council voting histories make it clear that donor developers get exactly what they pay for.
Corrupted process is the norm in city business when it matters. David Maher, as chair of the council's ordinance committee, is the gatekeeper for new development proposals and our city's most powerful elected official. He gets huge donations from out of town. Maher demonstrated his true loyalties last Spring in a public hearing on a dense apartment complex in North Cambridge as he terminated local residents' objection to the plan while permitting the developer's hired gun, James Rafferty, to speak long past his allotment despite booing from the crowd. Rafferty, no surprise, donates liberally to councilors and no doubt advises his clients to do the same. Attorney James Rafferty is involved in everything in this city from curb cuts to liquor licenses to the tallest buildings and he knows how the gears are turned. It's not what you know…
I've been clear with my opinion that Tim Toomey should not be running for Cambridge City Council while holding the State House job. Constituent services for East Cambridge residents are coincident and Mr. Toomey's delivering half the bang for twice the bucks. If he really feels that business as usual at City Hall is good government he's not spending enough time on the job.
When I'm elected to City Council I'll be bringing a screwdriver behind City Hall to remove the "POLICE" license plates our city manager abuses commuting to work and return the plates to the registry. Just me, the city manager, and a judge to settle this farce once and for all. I'm fed up with excessive salaries, perks, and crony favoritism our elected officials ignore.
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT CENTRAL SQUARE
A binocular sighting of just one of "those people" near Dunstable Road would bring out the SWAT team.
Nobody needs to explain or apologize for their desire to have safe, pleasant sidewalks free of drunks , junkies, and all the hazards they bring. So why do we tolerate and even invite this behavior in Central Square? The Cambridge City Council has done a miserable job for decades in serving area residents. The square is where we dump everything nobody wants.
Your city recently spent hundreds of thousands to develop new visions for what Central Square might be. It's all pure fantasy and money wasted without addressing the real problems every first time visitor sees stepping off the bus. People will never want to live or do business in an area dominated by drugs and alcohol by day and liquor licenses at night.
Councillors are doing much worse than ignoring the problem. Ken Reeves' plan to expand the permissible locations for late night bars failed a full Council vote, but he went right to work locking up the old Blockbuster storefront for years to come as the new location for the area's most troublesome nightclub. With Ken, it pays to pay. Denise Simmons wants more funding for the 240 Albany Street drunk tank - the whole council went along with that one. Reeves argued against Councillor Van Beuzekom's proposal to restrict the sale of "nips", a drunk's quick fix, and Simmons coyly abstained from voting to deny the one vote she needed. Who are these two councillors working for?
You have to make a decision: Is the Central Square of the near future going to be a residential and light business neighborhood or will it continue downhill? The two are totally incompatible and the time for action is now. I am the clear #1 candidate for anyone who cares.
Central Square is overwhelmed with programs nobody else wants. My immediate proposal for improvement is to close the drunk tank at 240 Albany Street and the needle exchange at 359 Green Street, a.k.a. junkie haven. We'll still have more than our share of halfway houses and rehab outfits. 240 Albany serves as the disgraceful warehouse for the mentally ill we ignore as well as the drunks who are ineligible for homeless shelters. These are issues conveniently swept under the rug. 359 Green Street might be Eastern Massachusetts' best known drug bazaar - the dealing was so egregious that the obscured side entry had to blocked off when contractors watched while renovating 5 Western Avenue.
200-300 Albany Street is the exact location for the new dormitory buildings we need to force upon MIT as part of our continuing negotiations with the school. Addicts can walk into any pharmacy in the state and buy syringes without a prescription - each costs less than a Marlboro.
Readers who don't live near Central Square may disregard all of the above as a local problem not really affecting them, but the truth is that everyone in the city is adversely affected. Get yourself a police scanner. Read the crime logs. So much of our expensive police, fire, and ambulance resources are devoted to dealing with the same characters in the same places with their everyday problems that it's coming out of every Cambridge resident's wallet. Just how much more are you willing to pay for?
I hope that readers will not write me off as Central-centric. With forty years delivering in Cambridge, I know your street. If they hold a Cambridge geography contest for candidates, smart money will go with Mello. Central's an important topic for all to discuss, but far from the whole enchilada.
CCTV Candidate Video (2011)
|Page last updated Sunday, November 3, 2013 11:03 PM||Cambridge Candidates|