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Why I am a Candidate for the Cambridge City Council
It is in this sense that I and many of my associates, acquaintances, and friends born elsewhere happen to be living here, in New England, in Massachusetts, and in Cambridge. This is an area of the United States that retains the strong democratic tradition expressed in forms of town government and features of popular assemblies. And these political traditions offer a realistic opportunity to eradicate that invidious distinction of the government and the governed, that today allows for the malaise that results from oligarchic wisdom, ecological ignorance, and bureaucratic government. It should be noted as well that since 1997 when I joined the Mystic River Greens, I have been a responsible member of the Green Party, and after the merger of the Rainbow Party with the Green Party of Massachusetts in 2002 I was elected a member of the State Committee of the Green-Rainbow Party, the Massachusetts affiliate of the Green Party of the United States. For the past four years I have been serving on the Platform Committee of the GPUS. Though this is the only political party which I ever joined, I am no stranger to partisan politics, and understand the ideological denial of its role in City government to be a polite fraud. I am pleased to inform the public that I have the complete support of the G-RP in seeking office as a City Councillor in Cambridge.
With the above view very much in mind, I am seeking office at this time, because my private circumstances allow me to carry out my intentions. At the age of ninety years, I cannot possibly be embarking on a political career, nor can I seriously entertain the idea of more than a single term in which to act. I cannot delay the fulfillment of good intentions, need not invest in courting votes from residents or pretend to serve 'stakeholders,' and the public space need not suffer my incumbency. My leisure guaranteed by a modest pension and social security payments, every penny of my emoluments as a City Councillor can be committed to the development of self government. And the ways of doing this need not wait for my election. They should begin now, and I hope that my example will be taken up by others. I am spending neither the hard-earned money of the voters nor soliciting a share of stakeholder profits on getting elected, because I am fully convinced that this is unnecessary and ecologically destructive. Cambridge is fortunate in media of communication that allow for the creation of the needed public space. Failure to use them is self-defeating and I apologize for my tardiness in doing so.
While an interest in the individual history of a person seeking public office is, in a democratic society, a sign of good health and I will attempt to satisfy this as asked, for the moment what is most relevant are the following facts. I have lived in Cambridgeport for well over thirty years, first as an apartment renter for about fifteen and for almost nineteen as the owner of a spacious condominium at 143 Pleasant Street. I am living there with my wife of many years, Nona. In relatively good health, able to help one another, both of us expect to remain where we are for the rest of our lives. Accepting early retirement from a tenured professorship at Bard College in 1987, I have been politically active in Cambridge ever since. While living at 25 Chalk Street, I became involved in actions to protect Central Square and in getting to understand other aspects of the urban environment. After moving to our present address, I was involved in immediate actions that led to the formation of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods, and served on its board for many years. Almost all of my political action has been in concert with others, and I have extensive experience in the politics of small groups, such as the City Council, organizations, boards, academic committees, both elected and self-selected. As an elected City Councillor, I would be entering highly familiar territory, working with people most of whom I know quite well, and would not require for myself a period of orientation. On the other hand, I look forward to the idea of sharing the formal indoctrination in institutional proprieties -- conducted by a paid specialist, no doubt -- with the voters at large. I am sure that this provides much comedy, and that there is little more serious than that. Until one turns ones attention to what truly troubles and injures us in Cambridge today and may in the future.
*A common public space is both a physical space as well as a symbolic one. It can be a council chamber, a hall, a large shelter, a space in a market, a place where residents of a city gather as of right, to engage in political discourse, examine opposing positions, resolve disagreements and and thus arrive at rational decisions for the common good. The symbolic barrier in the Cambridge City Council reduces its value as a public space.
** I use the word citizen here only in that sense, and not in the restricted sense of carrying an official U. S. passport entitling one to freedom of movement within the territory of the U. S. and to the protection of its government when moving about abroad.
Various organizations, NGOs and other special interest groups send out questionnaires for City Council to fill out. This is done to encourage candidates to trade promises for votes. I am making public my responses to these organizations in the spirit of the Green-Rainbow Party's political agenda (III. Democratic Governance) which -- quoted from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Article 7 -- reads, "Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one individual, family, or class." Here are my responses to a questionnaire put out by the Cambridge Residents Alliance, followed by one or two observations on the questionnaire itself. (The questions are listed in Bold, the responses are mine,)
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1. If elected, what will be your top three priorities?
Whatever the peculiar aspects of a particular City, it stops being a political entity when it cannot house its population. Enactment into law of the "right to domicile" is a City's only secure way of encouraging the presence of traditional and non- traditional families supportable by the income of one or more wage earners whose work is required. Because of the presence of large institutions with transient populations, large R & D facilities, and hi-tech manufacturing, the required number of skilled custodial and maintenance workers may be larger than elsewhere. Another varied working population to be housed is needed for tourism, an important source of income to the cities' businesses. Finally, the residents, not the corporate stakeholders, but the people who now live, work, learn and play here have the knowledge and the wisdom to govern and plan -- both indirectly and directly.
2. Inclusionary zoning results in 25% affordable housing, instead of the current 15%. Of this 25%, 20% of the units should be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents and 5% should be for middle-income residents. All middle-income units should be family-sized two or three bedroom units. Do you support this proposal?
Yes. It should be pointed out that under current regulation 15% frequently becomes 11% in fact. To avoid similar compromises and ensure 25% affordable housing, mechanisms to implement and enforce the ordinance must be written into it.
3. Zoning petitions for additional height and density should only be approved when a significant benefit to the community can be proven. If the increase does benefit the community, developers should pay at least $50 per square foot, with the money going to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust.
Yes. And recognize that in addition to one time fees, 'community benefits' as such must be determined in a way that secures a continuing degree of return on investment from that provided by the large-scale development. E.g. the provision of a continuous income stream for the preservation of public housing.
4. City-owned parking lots in Central Square should remain owned by the city, and, if the city wants to convert the parking lots to other uses, the lots should be re-developed by a non-profit developer as 100% low-, moderate-, and middle-income housing (i.e., not market rate), with at least 25% of the lots' area being used for open space.
Yes. In Cambridge where too much of the potential housing stock is a financial commodity rather than a utility, 'market rate' housing is a doubtful measure. City-owned land is an opportunity for new land use policies that allow for civic investment in cooperative, racially integrated housing and regulation of rents, in addition to providing for other civic needs such as food markets and sheltered public spaces.
5. Increase middle-income family housing by expanding the city's limited equity first-time homeownership program, which includes middle- income families. Accept a modest increase in density in exchange for the inclusion of new middle-income units, if 100% of them are 2- and 3- bedroom units, and 75% of them are homeownership units. Do you support this proposal?
Yes. Despite some concerns about the 'ideology' of home ownership as a driver for keeping people in debt, or increasing disparities of income, there is no reason to prevent people from buying inexpensive units with favorable mortgage structures to live in.
6. MIT should provide dedicated housing on MIT-owned land for the majority of its 5000 off-campus graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Do you support this proposal?
Yes. Corporations unable to manage the consequences of their actions cannot be allowed persist in those actions to the detriment of others. When an institution of learning maximizes the use of the spaces in which learning occurs by enrolling more people than it can house, it directly attacks the civic space. The best arguments against urban hypertrophy (overgrowth) were developed at MIT itself.
7. Reject dramatic up-zoning changes; an increase in density and housing stock can be brought about in Central Square by development on a human scale that stays within the 8 stories currently allowed. Do you support this position?
Yes. High-rise apartment buildings project huge capital investments that preclude less intensive land uses for an indefinite future. Whatever 'green' credentials they may have, they impose large ecological footprints elsewhere. Furthermore, high-rise buildings and the overproduction of 'market rate' housing invites the purchase of units as warehoused investments rather than homes for active residents engaged in community.
9. The city should impose a one-year moratorium on all large-scale up-zoning while a city-wide plan accurately assesses and analyzes the combined total impact of all major up-zoning proposals on housing prices, traffic, transit, infrastructure (water, sewer, gas, electric), the environment, and sustainability.
a. Do you support our call for a one-year moratorium on all up-zoning for large projects?
Yes. But, given the inadequacy of the available information, a single year may be insufficient to gather and analyze the necessary data. E.g. How many housing units fail to meet Cambridge and State lead-based paint restrictions? How will the maximally desirable carrying capacity of the public transportation be determined?
b. Do you support our position that Cambridge needs a comprehensive master plan/city-wide planning that accurately assesses and analyzes the combined total impact of all major up-zoning proposals, see 9A above; do you agree that any discussions flowing out of this assessment and analysis must be completely transparent and community-centric?
Yes. This assessment must include a careful re-examination of zoning, its origins, successes and failures. Can problems created by 'incentive zoning' be solved in the language of 'incentive zoning'?
10. Do you oppose the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority being given control of planning and development for Central Square, or anywhere else in Cambridge?
Yes. Redevelopment Authorities, a creation of 1950s, are designed to remove residents ('citizens') from the making of planning decisions. The institution is anti-democratic and threatens efforts to act for the common good. People should be studying the work of Jane Jacobs on city planning.
11. The City should perform a city-wide transportation study that looks at all heavily traveled streets and intersections. Do you support this proposal?
Yes. But such studies are of greater value if they are ongoing, and instate a continuous audit of how attempted solutions are faring.
12. How do you propose to keep Cambridge affordable for low- and moderate-income residents?
Rent control is a proven way of insulating the civic fabric from the monetary interest. It is thus used in many parts of the civilized world. The future of a city in a changing climate, demands that former ways of doing things will have to adapt to new facts. It is necessary that all its residents, the demos, have a clear say in what happens. All residents including immigrants intending to remain here should have a vote to choose the policy makers.
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Most striking to me in this particular questionnaire was the lack of political imagination. Almost everything in the questions asked, is framed in the language of 'received ideas,' thus making it difficult for any candidate motivated by a desire to respond to current and future realities to inform the more thoughtful of our residents -- to engage in a genuine discourse on how to respond to changed circumstances. Meeting the economic challenges of globalization, the physical challenges of catastrophic climate change, and changed geographies, and advancing knowledge and understandings of the urban situation are nowhere to be found.
It was easy to respond with an assenting "Yes" to all the questions asked with all the caveats and explications desired. But nowhere was the candidate for public office asked to respond to the civic problem of the persistence of involuntary poverty. In view of the fact that some neighborhoods the CRA claims to represent; "Cambridge Residents Alliance represents individuals and neighborhood organizations committed to preserving and promoting a livable, affordable, and diverse Cambridge community." are especially afflicted by the social institution of Poverty, the lack of concern is glaring. The evidence of the disenfranchisement of those living in Poverty is glaring, in the conventional electoral politics of Cambridge.
November 1, 2013
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