Election Day for the Cambridge Municipal Elections is Tuesday, November 5th, 2019!
2019 is an off year, but local elections are happening in Cambridge and may be happening in your home town or state. Information about the Cambridge Municipal Elections can be found below. If you vote out of state and you would like to determine if your city or state has a local election, try looking online. If you would like help, please email us and we can assist you!
To view the current candidates for Cambridge City Council (including incumbents on the current city council) check out vote.cambridgecivic.com. This site lists all the candidates and links to their respective websites and social media accounts. For quick bios of all the candidates, check out this link for short bios compiled by A Better Cambridge.
Cambridge City Government
The Cambridge 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 City Council is elected at-large by the proportional representation electoral process. Upon organization of each new Council, the members elect a Mayor and a Vice-Mayor, with the Mayor serving as the Council's chief legislative officer. The Council organizes into committees, which have become increasingly active over the past few years, providing much of the research and legislative analysis on major policy issues before the Council”. For more information on the cambridge city council, meeting times and committees, visit https://www.cambridgema.gov/Departments/CityCouncil
For other information on the organization of the Cambridge City Government, check out this chart: https:https://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/publicinformationoffice/Publications/CityOrgChartOct2011.pdf
Deadlines and Logistics
The registration deadline to vote in the Cambridge City Council Elections is 20 days before the election on October 16th
The deadline to cast an absentee ballot is November 4th
The actual election occurs on Tuesday, November 5th
Where to Vote
Most MIT addresses vote at Kresge, but that is not true for all dorms and FSILG's!! The MA Election commission website has a form that you can use to find your polling place. Put in the address you used to register to vote (your address in MA). Click HERE to be redirected to that form.
Cambridge city council is elected via a “proportional representation” system, also known as ranked choice voting. For more information on how to properly vote in this system, visit https://www.cambridgema.gov/Departments/electioncommission/cambridgemunicipalelections
For background information on these issues and more resources to help you decide who to vote for, check out this primer put together by the GSC. It contains a short summary of issues that are important to the 2019 election, some views from various political groups on those subjects, and information regarding endorsements. Click HERE to be redirected to that document.
Student Issues Survey
There are issues at stake in this city council election that are of direct importance to students here at MIT. MITvote and the GSC together sent out a survey to all of the candidates with questions we believe are important to students. To check out candidates responses to our survey on housing availability, transportation, international student issues and more, click on the questions of interest below.
Please note that the candidates listed are not all of the candidates. The candidates you see listed are the only ones that replied to our survey.
Question 1: What do you think is the underlying cause of the scarcity of affordable housing for students in Cambridge? What steps would you take to address this issue?
The underlying cause is the increasing density of the population of Cambridge. This issue could be addressed by including student housing units in new construction, similar to the way low income units are mandated.
There are a combination of causes. Cambridge’s tremendous resources, economic growth,commercial development, and desirability creates the demand for housing, which has outpaced supply. Consequently, prices have increased significantly, making affordable options scarce. At the same time, the student population in Cambridge has increased dramatically, and has outpaced on-campus housing construction. Today, Envision Cambridge (our city’s planning document) estimates that 7,703 students live Cambridge, in non university-affiliated housing.
To address this, I support working with our universities to build affordable housing for their students, particularly graduate students, and explore new housing partnerships. By building taller, more dense, housing units that encompasses most/all of their students, MIT can help ameliorate the problem of heightened demand for housing in Cambridge. MIT has taken some initial steps, including the Mixed-Use Graduating Housing Tower currently under construction, and by creating micro-units to provide efficient new on and near-campus housing for students.
We can also look to Harvard and the University of California as models. Through the Harvard Local Housing Collaborative, Harvard has partnered with nonprofit development lends to create new affordable housing, with 1,600 units being built in Cambridge. The University of California launched an initiative to add 14,000 new beds on its 10 campuses by utilizing Public-Private Partnerships. MIT can and should follow suit to ensure that all students have access to affordable housing options.
Outside of university-led initiatives, I have also supported measures this term to preserve and increase our city’s affordable housing stock. I pushed to increase funding to the Affordable Housing Trust by adding a transfer fee on residential and commercial properties sold for more than $2 million dollars. Currently, the City requires that residential developments of ten or more units designate 20% for affordable housing. Through this program, over 1,100 affordable housing units have been completed or are currently under construction. I support raising the required rate to ensure that the socioeconomic diversity of our community is reflected in new housing projects in the future. I have also been working with residents, staff, and the owner of the Fresh Pond apartments to make sure we preserve those 505 units as their affordabilityrestrictions are set to expire in 2020.
tldr: more demand than supply
While Cambridge has always been a highly desirable place to live, recent market forces and broad trends have significantly increased the demand for living here (and the greater Boston area overall). Everyone from Baby Boomers to young professionals to families are eschewing the suburbs for our urban lifestyle that is dense, diverse, walkable, and well-served by public transit. Our collective preference for urban living is so high that many people are willing to pay a premium to live in an urban setting. The specific preference and increased demand for living in Cambridge is even higher because there are few communities that share a similar urban character. Urban economist Joe Cortright has framed the housing affordability challenge in a somewhat unique way by calling it a shortage of cities (http://cityobservatory.org/housing_cortright). Of course housing is a regional problem. We need our neighboring towns to become more urban to attract more of the demand.
Compounding our housing affordability challenge is the fact that our housing production is behind by several decades. So while the demand is ever increasing, our supply hasn’t nearly kept up and today is woefully inadequate. There is also some evidence that our low property taxes leads to higher home purchase costs because buyers know that the ongoing tax payments are lower than anywhere in the state.
The same trends are happening for students as well. We are seeing a huge growth in the number of students here in Cambridge, especially graduate students. But we have not seen a similar increase in student-focused housing. Over 70% of MIT undergraduates are housed on-campus. I believe MIT should invest in affordable graduate student dorms in the same way. Our city council should encourage such an investment. When I ran in 2017, I was endorsed as the top-ranked new candidate by our local pro-housing YIMBY group A Better Cambridge. I will champion smart zoning and development so that Cambridge remains affordable for everyone, including:
- Prioritize a City-Wide 100% Affordable Housing Overlay that would allow Cambridge to keep and attract more middle-income families and enable affordable housing developers (especially nonprofits) to better compete with private developers.
- Insist that the city budget include $20 million each year for the next five years, to develop more affordable housing.
- Reform our zoning codes to promote mixed-income developments and address our areas of concentrated poverty so that all neighborhoods are economically and racially diverse, and so that we can lead a national movement for an Economic Fair Housing Act.
- Support the important work of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement to enact tenant protections, fight displacement, and provide new revenue to meet these goals.
- Require our local universities to house 75% of its graduate students over the next 10 years.
- Create plans for developing city-owned parking lots into workforce housing so that our middle income families and individuals can stay in Cambridge, and begin discussions with private owners of parking lots for the same purpose.
- Explore ways to offer property tax exemptions to encourage small property owners to offer below-market rents, or for developers to prioritize workforce housing and family-sized units.
Here’s the problem: People want to live in cities. They are diverse and welcoming. They are full of character and community. They have good jobs, public transportation, and great schools & universities. Cambridge is among the best of these cities. We welcome students and workers from all over the world to come here to study, learn and build their homes. We are at a turning point, however. Cambridge has become too expensive for ordinary people including students — housing prices have doubled in the last decade. We have not lived up to our ideal of an open, welcoming community. We have barely built any housing to welcome the growing population. We have pushed out our most vulnerable — graduate students now commonly communute from the far edges of Everett. This is not okay and we should do a lot more to tackle this issue.
Here’s what we can do. We need to push at every level:
- This means allowing more housing to built across the city.
- This means allowing density in areas are wealthy not just ones that were previously redlined and pushing the problem to our low-income and minority communities.
- This means pushing for the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay, banning single-family zoning, allowing subdivisions & accessory dwelling units, and pushing for city-wide upzoning.
- This means pushing our universities to build more student housing when there is demand.
- This means taking into account that the population will grow over-time and taking that into account in our planning.
For more information on my housing platform, go to: https://medium.com/@burhanforcouncil/housing-policy-for-cambridge-a42ee0e73c8e
The causes of the scarcity of affordable housing are a confluence of factors: Cambridge continues to feel the impact of the statewide loss of Rent Control in the mid-1990s. At the same time, Kendall Square has been built up into one of the premier hubs of the biotech sector on the planet, which has brought an influx of well-paid employees into this area. Many of these people wish to live close to their offices, they can afford much higher rents than those who have worked in blue collar jobs and in the service industry, and the rental market has responded accordingly. To address this, I have sponsored and championed legislation that significantly increases the payments developers must give to the City that goes toward the creation and preservation of affordable housing. I have created a Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan that was submitted to the full City Council in September 2017, and which continues to serve as a template for steps we can and should be taking to address our affordable housing shortfall. And I have been championing legislation that would make it easier for 100 percent affordable units to be built throughout the City. There is no one silver bullet solution to this issue – it will take many different approaches to make an appreciable impact, and I am committed to continuing on this path in an aggressive manner.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to addressing our housing crisis. Like so many complex issues we must attack this crisis on many fronts. Cambridge used to be a city where young people would come for college, fall in love with the community, and stay and raise a family. Sadly, that is out of reach for most students today. We are a highly desirable city to live in, with a strong job market and we simply have not produced enough housing to meet the need. While serving on the City Council, addressing this issue has been my top priority. In my first term 6 years ago, I was a leader in more than tripling the amount of money commercial developers must pay to the city for the preservation and construction of affordable housing. In my next term, I led the effort to almost double the amount of affordable housing for-profit, residential developers provide the city, from 11.5% to 20%, the highest percentage in the State. This term, I have been the leading voice in support of the Affordable Housing Overlay, which would make building 100% affordable housing more financially viable across our city. I also started the city’s first, Task Force on Tenant Displacement, so we can address issues of eviction and condo-conversion. However, even with all of these efforts, we have more work to do. I also support building more housing of all types. During the last recession there was no housing being built in Cambridge and we saw the greatest rent increases since the loss of rent control. Over the past several years, as more housing has been built, rent prices have declined. Building housing works. If re-elected, I would look to further the work of the Task Force on Tenant Displacement, look to pass a transfer fee on re-estate sales over $2 million, with that money going to the Affordable Housing Trust, I would continue to fight for building more housing, particularly affordable housing, would look to create a “gap voucher” program where the City would fund the gap between were housing vouchers max out and where market rent begins. I want students of the present to have the same opportunities as students of the past. Our students and graduates are the future leaders of this community, not just politically, but with the skills they will bring to our job market.
There are many underlying causes for the scarcity of affordable housing for students, including the high-income industries Cambridge has attracted, the increase in commercial space from developers, lack of funding from universities, and the fact that there isn’t enough affordable housing for anyone in Cambridge. At last count, the waitlist for affording housing through the Cambridge Housing Authority was more than 19,000 people. For a wealthy city like Cambridge, which has universities with endowments over a billion dollars, this is completely unacceptable. It not only negatively impacts our residents, especially low-income ones and African-Americans who’ve been disproportionately displaced, it drives away talented individuals who come to Cambridge to gain world-class skills.
It is time that candidates acknowledge what the residents of Cambridge have known for quite some time: we are facing twin crises of unaffordability and displacement, which exacerbate other issues such as homelessness. I believe in a Cambridge for all its residents, regardless of their income or documented status. That’s why as city councilor I will work to end displacement by pushing for tenant protections like rent stabilization policies, right of 1st refusal, right to counsel, and just cause evictions. But there’s another issue at play, which is that our city doesn’t have a housing plan other than allowing corporations to “build, build, build.”
This housing crisis is not ours alone and cannot be solved alone. As a city councillor, I will work with other municipalities to explore a comprehensive and regional approach to housing and transportation that is affordable and environmentally sustainable for all. By doing this, we can support pedestrian and cyclist safety, reduce road congestion, fight climate change, and create pathways to economic empowerment through our housing priorities. As part of my plan, I will push universities like MIT and Harvard to provide more housing specifically for students without shifting those costs to tuition, room and board, or draining them from scholarships. The city can also do more by investing in housing cooperatives and building on municipal properties like libraries and parking lots.
We have a housing crisis in Cambridge and much of the Boston region. According to the city’s own data from the Community Development Department, the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,300/month and the median condo costs $767,500.
Much like healthcare, housing is currently treated as a commodity rather than a human right. When it’s in short supply, the current owners of it charge high prices because they know they’ll be able to find people willing to pay it to have a roof over their heads.
Two main factors are driving the high price of housing in Cambridge. The first is that we have less housing than is needed, both in Cambridge, and in the region. We need more affordable and public housing, and we need to end red-line era exclusionary zoning holdovers that prevent the addition of triple-deckers, duplexes and other apartments in large parts of Cambridge. The second reason is that we lack many crucial tenant protections which would slow the direct impact of housing cost increases on tenants, including right of first refusal, right to counsel, just cause eviction, and rent control. Because the value of the land in Cambridge continues to increase so dramatically decade after decade, we can feel confident that increased tenant protections will not actually slow construction of new housing units in Cambridge.
The underlying cause of the scarcity of affordable housing for students in Cambridge is the failure of the universities to construct and provide it, despite owning a lot of the land in our city. As an MIT alum myself, I can attest that this has long been a problem. In 2017 before I took office I stood with the MIT graduate students to demand more student housing as part of the institute’s Volpe upzoning, and after lots of organizing the students were able to secure an additional 450-bed commitment as part of the deal. This was a huge win for everybody involved, but it shouldn’t have taken that much effort to get what we got. MIT, Harvard, and Lesley should provide affordable, high quality housing for ALL students throughout their tenure. Period.
Due to the lack of student housing, students are often forced to compete on the open market for housing. The open market isn’t affordable either, and there are two primary causes: the 1994 repeal of rent control, and acute demand caused by the city’s commercial development boom that has made Cambridge a global destination for tech & pharmaceutical workers, other professionals, and, unfortunately, real estate speculators. The demand is insatiable as we continue to add millions of square feet of commercial/lab development annually, and the hot market drives out renters, including section 8 tenants and traditional communities of color, who lack even the most basic of protections against eviction and rising rents. Of course, MIT’s development arm, MITIMCo, is responsible for much of the growth in this area- again, they’ve built all this stuff that has made the problem much worse, without even taking care of the needs of their students along the way!
I am one of the only councillors openly supportive of Rep Mike Connolly’s Housing for All platform, which would require zoning for multifamily housing around transit hubs and lift the statewide ban on rent control, among other things. It’s time to implement a 21st century version of rent control, and Mike’s bill would give municipalities the tools they need to bring all stakeholders to the table and come up with a fair policy. I would very much like to see the council move forward with strengthening the city’s condo conversion ordinance so that those facing eviction due to condo conversion have more rights and time. This is something we can do without a home rule petition (Somerville got it done this term) and my office has worked with many individuals and families during my first term, who could have really used this policy to prevent their displacement.
Somerville also recently passed a Tenant Notification Ordinance which will require landlords to provide tenants facing eviction with information on their rights and resources available to them. Finally, earlier in the term I was one of just three councillors to support considering a Right of First Refusal ordinance, similar to the “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase” act in Washington DC- this vote was particularly frustrating because my colleagues voted down the idea before we even had a chance to discuss the matter in committee. I am serious about protecting renters, and if re-elected will push the council to directly confront these issues and enact policies that would match the scale of the problem we face as a city.
The scarcity of affordably priced housing and rapid increase in real estate prices over the last 10-15 years is caused by a confluence of several factors. During the last 10 years, the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world have engaged in the most extreme monetary policy in history with interest rates at 0% for 6 years and over $2 Trillion of quantitative easing as a response to the 2008 financial crisis. These policies have distorted the economy, created prices spikes and bubbles in real estate and other assets, and led to a historic wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Low interest rates drive up real estate prices by allowing purchasers to take on more debt to bid on homes. But they also affect the behavior of investors who are more likely to speculate on real estate when fixed income assets such as money market and bond funds are paying almost no return. This speculation further drives up asset prices, especially in a market such as Cambridge. It is well-established that more “dovish” monetary policy drives up housing prices.
Superimposed on this macroeconomic environment, the Boston area, and Cambridge specifically, has seen a boom in the pharmaceutical and tech industries, with a corresponding boom in commercial development. The highpaying jobs that come with these industries further skew the income distribution of the city, leading to hardship for low-income residents and students. Housing development does not seem to have kept pace with commercial development.
I believe that much of the current action being discussed by the City Council is counter-productive to addressing the issue of housing affordability to students at MIT. The Council has spent this term almost entirely focused on one proposal, the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) up-zoning. This proposal is being strongly backed by a political action committee funded by for-profit corporate developers, many of whom also make substantial contributions to the campaigns of City Council candidates. This AHO proposal would incentivize the transfer of privately owned property to deed-restricted property owned by public entities, or for-profit management companies. Because the residents of these properties come from a long waitlist of applicants, with preference given to Cambridge residents, it is unlikely that this housing will benefit MIT students. Indeed, former MIT planning director O. Robert Simha was one of the first to speak out against this proposal for a variety of reasons. This policy will reduce the number of market-rate rental units and likely cause an increase in residential property taxes that will provide further upward pressure to market rents. In short, this policy will make the lives of MIT students worse, not better.
To create downward pressure on market rents, which will benefit MIT students, I propose a residential vacancy fee on developments with more than 10 rental units. Despite the demand for housing, Cambridge has one of the highest vacancy rates in the country. I support a fee on foreign investment speculation, which also drives up market rents. I also support the real estate transfer fee, but only for properties held for less than three years, again, to reduce speculation. There are other creative ideas that would allow for the creation of more market- rate housing that could be occupied by students, such as changing the zoning code to allow more people to live in the same house who are not necessarily related to each other. Lastly, we must encourage MIT to consider the needs of their students and staff and play its part in providing housing. MIT is an institution with great resources, financial and otherwise.
Question 2: Most MIT students commute to campus by walking, biking, or taking public transportation. What steps should be taken to ensure such forms of transportation are safe, reliable, and accessible?
More bicycle lanes and cross walks. More bicycle and pedestrian friendly signal lights. More crossing guards. More shuttle busses would be helpful, too.
This term, I took several steps to improve bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian safety. To improve the connectedness of existing bike lanes, I co-sponsored policy orders to explore options for creating a formal street connection between Terminal Road and New Street, to support the implementation of protected bike lanes on Webster Ave, Museum Way, O’Brien Highway, and Craigie Bridge, and to create a pedestrian/bicycle shuttle bridge connecting Concord Avenue to the Triangle area on Cambridgepark Drive. Additionally, research indicates that residents are significantly more likely to use bikes to get around when protected bike lanes exist. This term, I co-sponsored the Cycling Safety Ordinance, which requires the City to construct permanent protected bike lanes on all streets identified for reconstruction under our Five Year Sidewalk & Street Plan. Requiring these lanes to be constructed as part of existing infrastructure projects will ensure that they remain a priority and are built in a timely manner. To protect pedestrians in congested areas, I joined a colleague in installing a pedestrian Super LPI at the intersection of Mass Ave, Prospect St., and Western Ave to give pedestrians a 10-15 head start on traffic.
To ensure that public transit is efficient and accessible, I support the creation of separate bus lanes and priority traffic signals for busses on major corridors. This will make bus routes run more smoothly, creating an incentive for commuters who currently get to work in single-rider vehicles to switch to a more environmentally friendly and traffic-reducing alternative. We can also relieve pressure on train routes by creating a shuttle bus service. I also support measures to reduce MBTA fares. Our ultimate goal should be to eliminate fares altogether, and move towards a system of free public transit; the price of a train ride shouldn’t keep anyone from making it to school or work.
As a candidate in 2017, I was endorsed by StreetsPACMass and supported by Cambridge Bike Safety as one of the most promising new candidates. For over 15 years, I have primarily traveled through Cambridge on my bike or via public transit so the safety of our roads is something I think about nearly every day.
We are a dense, compact city that is still mostly car-centric in design so there are several areas that are unsafe to walk or ride. We need to redesign our streets for people first, including:
- Mass Ave is the main artery through Cambridge and it’s chaotic and dangerous. We must add protected bike lanes and enhance the crosswalks at every intersection.
- We must work faster to get a full network of protected bike lanes. Having a protected bike lane suddenly flow into traffic is a dangerous transition. This year, unfortunately, we didn’t build a single protected bike lane.
- Our Squares are also dangerous. Fortunately, the Inman redesign has started. Porter Sq. needs more protected lanes. The center of Harvard Sq. – both inbound and outbound – has long been a challenge, but recently made worse by Uber/Lyft.
I served as a local leader during the #UnfairHikes #FixTheT rally to push for transit improvements and new funding streams. As a city official I will use my role to advocate for state-level improvements and push locally for change, including:
- Better Buses: Cambridge hosts one-third of the key bus routes in the metro area (1, 66, 71, 73, and 77). I want to make the 71/73 bus pilot project permanent and extend the 77priority lane into Cambridge. Other key routes and high-use local routes (47 & 70) should be next.
- Kendall Sq./Cambridge Crossing: We must find new ways to get commuters in/out of this critical commercial corridor via mass transit. Priorities include the Grand Junction transit concept; pushing for Kendall Sq. T improvements, which is the 8th busiest and 5th fastest growing stop in the system; advocating for the Red-Blue line connection; and creating dedicated bus lanes in the area.
- Transit deserts: a large portion of the city is not served by any route offering all-day frequent service so we should explore and test new models, including micro-mobility options.
- Ride-Hailing: Explore options to regulate ride-hailing firms to re-incentivize public transit and reduce congestion.
Here’s the problem:
I was a student at MIT until just a few months ago, I know how important these modes of transportation are to students and all the employees of MIT. Just earlier this year, I met an MIT janitor named Jose. He was undocumented and grateful for the job. It paid decently, provide stability, and he liked making the place shine. He started work at 4 pm and ended at 2 am. In the mornings, he would take the T but at the end of the day — the T had shut down. He couldn’t afford to Uber. As such, every day he would spend two hours walking home. This is a disgrace.
It is incredibly difficult for our people to get where they need to go. Our region has the worst traffic congestion in the country. Our cyclists feel unsafe on our roads. Our mass transit is deteriorating while at the same time we keep pushing fare hikes. We are letting people like Jose down.
This should not be the case in Cambridge. We need to rethink the way we invest in our infrastructure. We should be leading on these issues, not letting our neighbors take charge (5). Here in Cambridge, we are the most progressive, prosperous, scientific, and resourceful community in the Commonwealth. We should be leading on these issues!
Here’s what we can do:
Fixing the T
MBTA service is unreliable. We have seen two derailments in the last few weeks alone. The delays are stacking up and are not about to be fixed soon. People count on the T to get to work on time and get around. Every hour spent waiting is lost income, lost time with family, and lost faith in our public services. We need urgency.
Yes, the MBTA is a state agency and the city council has no direct control over it. That 👏 is 👏 the 👏 problem.👏 Our cities understand how critical a working T is to our residents. We should demand representation on the MBTA’s governing board.
Improving Bus Service
At MIT bus service, especially the 1 Bus, is critical — it connects our city to MIT and allows so many people to get around. We should do better to ensure it is functional.
- This means adding bus lanes to speed up service and help people get to where they need to go.
- This means putting up clear signs with estimated wait times and updating our online services so that people know when the bus will arrive with certainty.
As much as 20% of our city and most studentss walk to get where they need to go. It is the single most important way to get around but we sometimes forget our pedestrians.
- We should study sidewalk expansions, plant trees, and shape our streets to make them more welcoming.
- We should study building pedestrianizing areas of our city.
The vast majority of students who don’t walk, bike. We should take the safety of our bikers seriously and fully integrate them into our infrastructure.
- This means following through on our Cycling Safety Ordinance and pushing our city manager to ensure we build up our bike network quickly.
- This means going further than building bike lanes. We should build side-walk bike paths that provide greater safety for riders and certainty for drivers.
- Bluebikes is a city-owned program to allow people to rent and use bikes if they do not own one. It encourages more people to try biking and many in our city rely on it to get around. We should invest in blue bikes to improve bike accessibility for everyone.
The City must continue to work with transportation planners to ensure that we have public streets that provide for the safety of ALL who use them – those who bike, those who walk, those who take public transportation all must have confidence in the safety of our streets. The City must also continue to work with the MBTA and the Governor’s Office to invest in projects like the Green Line Extension, which will ultimately make subway transportation more accessible to a greater number of our residents. And of course, we must continue to invest in public bicycle programs, explore discounts and incentives for our less affluent residents to utilize public transportation, and we should explore programs like e-scooters that might also help people move about our city.
I am proud to have authored a first of its kind ordinance that requires the City of Cambridge to build protected bike lanes during major street construction. New York, Seattle and Washington D.C. are now using this ordinance to create their own. This will make commuting safer for everyone. I also supported the City allocating over $20 million to save the Green Line Extension which was threatened due to a lack of funding. The City currently contributes $8 million to the MBTA to improve service on the Red and Green Lines. I am talking with the City Manager about increasing those funds provided the MBTA puts them towards improving service, cleanliness and safety. These efforts, and many others are vital to not only creating a safe city for all modes of transportation, but to address climate change. I’m terrified of the world my children will inherit and we must do everything we can, large and small, to ensure a sustainable future.
As I’ve said, we need a regional approach to housing and transportation that improves our community environmentally, economically, and also in terms of safety. As a city councillor, I will work with other municipalities to explore an approach that is affordable and environmentally sustainable for all. By doing this, we can support pedestrian and cyclist safety by building out more space for bikers that allows them to interact less with vehicles on the roads or pedestrians on sidewalks or crossing the street and reduce road congestion by getting more people out of cars and onto our greener models of transit.
Everyone knows how unstable the MBTA’s schedule is. Living near Harvard Square, I’ve been impacted by the Red Line’s derailment and subsequent delays on a daily basis. The aftermath of this is that tens of thousands of riders stopped going on the red line, which provides less funding, more emissions, and no solutions. That’s why I believe that the way that we push the state to improve the T is to work with Boston and Somerville to demand that investments are made, that the number of trains are increased where they need to be, and that we can have an interconnected city for the 21st century rather than a public transportation system trapped in the 80s.
Additionally, I’ve previously worked with the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group, sharing insights from my years as a business owner and community organizer about how they can work with the community to roll out bike lanes in a way that does not exacerbate the divide between bikers and storefront owners. I’ve also taken the Cambridge Bicycle Safety pledge to support protected bike lanes on the entire length of Mass Ave in the next city council term. This is necessary for everyone’s safety and I believe that bike lanes elsewhere should also become protected.
These are crucial in the fight against climate change and would be part of my vision for a Cambridge Green New Deal.
A central part of our campaign platform is a Cambridge Green New Deal to tackle climate change, economic inequality, and racial equity at the same time. A big part of that plan is improving public transit reducing the cost—both because it will reduce car emissions and because working-class residents and people of color depend on the T for work, to get to doctor’s appointments, and to live their lives. This also means making it easier and safer for students and everyone else to get around without a car in Cambridge, including by bike or on foot.
I have a plan to have the City of Cambridge make the MBTA free for our residents by 2025, by covering the cost of MBTA Linkpasses for every resident of Cambridge. A significant percentage of residents qualify for the reduced rate of $30 or student discounts, and the city of Cambridge should be able to negotiate significant pricing reductions. There’s new evidence that people who don’t have MBTA passes but are given them ride primarily in off-peak times, so there would not be a significant impact on MBTA service or costs. The MBTA should be able to provide significant discounts to the city while still taking in more revenue than they would under the current system. (Source: http://equitytransit.mit.edu/).
I estimate that the total cost for such a program after a 30% volume discount at ~$59M/ year, which represents about 9% of the current City budget. The plan would be funded by three primary sources: 1.) increased PILOT payments from Harvard, 2.) property tax increases (Cambridge pays one of the lowest rates in the State), and 3) a proposed shift to progressive property tax rates so that larger lots would have higher marginal property tax rates, allowing us to raise taxes on the wealthiest without raising taxes unnecessarily on low income homeowners. If enacted in the FY2020 budget, we could begin phasing in free passes over the next 5 years, starting with low income residents first. By FY2025, cumulative increase in property tax receipts would enable us to fund this 9% increase to the city budget with no cuts to any other areas.
I have had 1 or 2 people tell me that this plan isn’t feasible. But it’s exactly the sort of bold transformative policy we need if we’re serious about fighting the climate crisis.
I see this plan as integral to the broader push to make the MBTA free in general. Currently, fares account for only 30% of the MBTA’s budget, with the rest made up by state taxes and payments from municipalities like Cambridge (FY19 Cambridge will pay $9.7M in state assessments for the MBTA). By increasing payments to the MBTA in the form of purchasing bulk LinkPasses for residents, we will make a Free T easier to imagine:
- The current narrative around the MBTA is that it has a “structural deficit” of $36.5M (FY19), which plays into the hands of privatizers & Charlie Baker. Cambridge ramping up to a spend of an additional $59M over 5 years would eliminate that “structural deficit” and rob the opposition of a key talking point.
- The move by Cambridge would give impetus to Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu’s calls to make the T free and would provide a roadmap for a city like Boston to implement a similar plan.
- As the idea is proven out in Cambridge and Boston, it would enable advocates to focus on a campaign to persuade the State Legislature to fully cover the MBTA costs with tax revenue. At this point in 2025, the Fair Share Tax will likely have passed, bringing an additional $2B/year devoted to transportation & education to the state budget. Such funds could be used to pay down the MBTA debt and create a “structural surplus” that could be used to expand service rather than reduce it.
We must also commit to the full Cambridge bicycle plan of 20 miles of protected bicycle lanes, including on Mass Ave, Hampshire, and Mt Auburn Streets. Our new Cycling Safety Ordinance is a great step in the right direction, but there are still far too many places where it’s dangerous to ride a bike.
We also need municipal sidewalk snow removal like we currently have for the parts of our streets that cars drive on. Cambridge currently relies on a patchwork system of property owners clearing sidewalks when it snows. While this system is enforced on paper by fines, in reality it isn’t working—some parts of sidewalks are well-cleared in the winter, but other parts on the same block can be a mess. Sidewalks are a public good that so many residents depend on, and we should treat them as such. Better snow clearance will enable more residents to walk, especially seniors and residents with disabilities for whom winter sidewalks are especially dangerous currently.
And in terms of other public transit priorities, I think we need bus priority lanes wherever possible in Cambridge. As the recent Mt Auburn Street traffic study made clear, there are some streets in Cambridge where more than half of commuters travel by bus but more than 90% of the traffic is cars. Rush hour can result in much longer transit times for buses, leading residents to opt for using their own car or a rideshare service. If we prioritize bus traffic, and make it a joy to ride to work, we will incentivize residents to take the bus instead of driving, which will help reduce congestion an create a virtuous cycle.
I am a champion for bicycle and pedestrian safety, and I have been a bicycle commuter in Cambridge since my days as an MIT graduate student starting in 1992. I don’t understand why progress is so slow as our friends continue to die on the streets. The council passed an ordinance this term that will require protected lanes in certain situations, but that won’t move things fast enough, and the City Manager ultimately retains final authority. I would like to see a much more rapid implementation of the protected network and in particular Mass Ave and Hampshire are essential pieces that must be completed by the end of next term. I was a strong supporter of the “South Mass Ave” project, which brought a protected lane to Mass Ave along MIT’s campus. But the lane quickly ends once you get into Central Square, and doesn’t pick back up until closer to Harvard Square. This is an example of how broken our policy around bicycle and pedestrian safety is- protected lanes are not good enough, what we need is a completely protected network so that users feel safe for their entire journey. Once that happens, more people, including students, will feel safe and comfortable enough to bike around the city.
Mass DCR is redesigning Memorial Drive, which includes a shared-use path along Magazine Beach that puts cyclists and pedestrians in dangerous conflict with each other every day. In some places, the shared path narrows to as little as four feet in width. I have been working with a coalition of transit and environmental advocates to push for a significant road diet and a much wider, separated path, while protecting the iconic mature trees.
Like most MIT students, I do not own a car and I walk, bike, and take public transit around Cambridge. I personally do not feel safe on many streets in Cambridge. This is partly due to insufficient bicycle infrastructure to protect people on bikes from cars, and partly due to insufficient enforcement to protect pedestrians and people on bikes. Just a few weeks ago I filed a police report after an Uber driver in an SUV acted extremely aggressively towards me while I was on my bike.
While the city has made progress in recent years with protected bike lanes in various locations around the city, the network of protected bike lanes is not contiguous and a person on a bike cannot safely traverse the length of the City without weaving in and out of traffic at various places. I also do not believe that bike lanes to the left of parked cars in the “door zone” are safe. Bikes lanes such as this line virtually the full length of Broadway, in addition to many other locations in the city. Many accidents, including fatalities, are the result of cyclists in lanes of this type being “doored” into traffic. We must do better than this.
Question 3: 40% of graduate students and 10% of undergraduate students at MIT are international students. What actions would you take to civically engage international students in the Cambridge community? What is your position on measures that would allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections?
More student friendly civic events. I do not support non-citizens voting.
I support measures that would allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. The decisions we make in City Hall now, on issues from economic development to climate change, will impact the lives of everyone who lives here, including international students. It is therefore crucial that everyone has a seat at the table, and that we welcome new voices into this conversation. This term, I have met with students at Harvard and MIT to discuss how to make the issues we discuss at City Council more accessible. It has been proposed to have liaisons from the undergraduate and graduate programs at all the institutions in Cambridge partner with the Mayor’s office in the next term to promote more communication. I am supportive of this proposal, and will continue to create new ways to connect young people to City Hall, including working with the Mayor’s office to facilitate a Youth Town Hall.
In 2016, I supported the City Council in their work to allow non-citizen residents to participate in City Council and School Committee elections. The Immigrant Advocacy Group of Cambridge included many international students MIT and Harvard. Non-citizens pay taxes, own businesses and property, educate their children in Cambridge public schools, rent homes, and care about our city’s safety yet they still lack the right to formally voice their opinions as a constituency. It can take many years, even decades, to gain citizenship, and as a result non-citizens contribute to Cambridge before they can fully engage with their community and voice their opinion on matters that deeply affect them. Cambridge, as well as other cities in MA, has voted before to give its non-citizens the right to vote and even sent a home rule petition to the Massachusetts State House. But, despite multiple attempts, the state house has never passed the home rule petition, and no city in Massachusetts’ recent history allows all its residents an equal voice. Currently, 11 local governments, ten of them in Maryland, allow noncitizens to vote in their local elections, and San Francisco allows noncitizen parents to vote in School Board elections.
As a leader in cross-cultural communication and a founding member of Boston University’s Global Programs office, I have first-hand experience supporting an international student population and working to create a connected, cohesive community. I launched the university’s participation in International Education Week, which saw over 30 events hosted across the university. As Executive Director of Cambridge Local First, I helped our business owners better understand the international tourists who visit Cambridge. I also worked with the MIT PKG center to get students involved with helping our local businesses.
As city councilor, I will build on these experiences. Our city greatly benefits from such a large international student population. Our goal should be to keep building relationships with MIT so that students can get involved in community service opportunities, participate in local advocacy and local politics, and learn more about American culture. For international students looking to get more involved with our city, I would be thrilled to help them find specific opportunities that align with their interests. I would whole-heartedly support allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.
My campaign is centered around getting new people involved in local politics. We have a huge problem in that city hall writes policies that affect all of us but only a small minority of people actually vote. I am focusing on getting students of all stripes to vote with various events and town halls at MIT - engaging with students through their departments, dorms, and clubs. Moreover, we should absolutely let non-citizens vote in municipal elections. In many European cities, this is a common occurrence and it is only right that students should be able to partake in their local government.
I appreciate that Cambridge is very much a “college town,” and we have many, many residents who are only here for the duration of their educational careers. And yet, four years (or more) is a decent amount of time to live in a community, and the decisions impacting our city impact EVERYONE in our community – whether we’re talking about environmental policies, transportation policies, housing policies, issues pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community or immigrant community – all of these decisions can impact the students who live here, and our students deserve to have a voice in the discussions that impact them. I have long worked to reach out to our student population, to let them know that this is their City Hall and their community as well, and I will continue to speak to student organizations, to participate in events that foster closer ties between the Universities and the City, and to try to entice the local students to get more involved in municipal concerns. I have also supported attempts in the past to allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections, and I will continue to be supportive of these efforts going forward.
I sponsored a policy order asking for the State to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, so I am leading in that area. I also started the Cambridge Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants that has raised close to $300,000 to provide legal support and representation to immigrants who live and work in Cambridge. We have now expanding this program into Somerville. I have also testified at the State House in support of the Safe Communities Act, as well as written an Op-Ed in the Globe calling on the legislature to pass this important bill. When the Trump administration “threatened” to send asylum seekers to sanctuary cities, I went on Fox and Friends and said that Cambridge would welcome them with open arms and called Trump out on his racist and xenophobic policies.
The issue of immigration is very important to me. Not because I’m an immigrant myself, but because of my great-grandfather, Nicola Sorrentino or “Papa” as we called him. Papa came to the United States as a teenager. He didn’t speak English, had a 5th grade education, and very likely, would not have been allowed in the country today. From the moment he got here, he worked hard. He dug graves. He did odd jobs. He eventually became a union iron worker and was able to purchase the home that I now live in with my family. Quite simply, he was my hero and I had the pleasure of living with him for the first 8 years of my life before he died at the age of 100. I am so grateful for what he was able to accomplish. He, and other immigrants like him, past and present, helped build this country, and the way they are currently being targeted under the current administration is disgraceful.
As far as how I would civically engage international students, I have spoken at MIT many times, have open office hours where all are welcomed, have worked with MIT students on a number of issues and will continue to reach out to hear the voices of our student population.
As a Jamaican immigrant, I feel it is incredibly important that we have a Cambridge for all residents regardless of their income or documented status. I take pride in our more than 30 years as a sanctuary city and am deeply concerned about the president's threat to take money away from those cities and states that would protect their residents from deportation. I believe that there are a number of ways we can be more inclusive from dealing with our housing crisis so that people can afford to live here, ensuring that our local police are not contacting ICE, and even making sure that city hall meetings are translated in real time so that residents who don't speak English as a first language have the capacity to contribute to their fullest extent to the place that they call home.
I agree with the proposal to allow long-term residents without citizenship the right to vote in municipal elections, but I believe before we can move on that decision there should be a robust engagement with the community to determine if the most vulnerable residents in that position actually want this. In this environment of fear that the president has created, I worry that allowing non-citizens to vote would put a target on their backs and incentivize ICE agents to stalk our polling locations. So, although I am inclined to agree to that proposal, I think it must be part of a holistic conversation about how we strengthen our status as a sanctuary city and make Cambridge an even more inclusive and participatory place.
I support allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. There are residents who have lived here for decades, pay taxes, and contribute to our community who are currently excluded from having a say in a big part of community life, and we need to fix that.
Our Cambridge city government should also increase outreach to students with ways to get involved with community groups. Being involved with safe streets, environmental conservation, and tenant rights advocacy has shaped my experience in Cambridge for the better, and we should make sure all residents are aware of how they can get involved in their community, especially given some of the additional challenges that international students and residents from other countries may face in adjusting and engaging in their new community.
As an immigrant and naturalized citizen, as well as an MIT alum, I’m particularly interested in making sure international students are engaged. I consider all Cambridge residents to be constituents, including MIT students, even if they don’t live in Cambridge. We always appreciate hearing from community members on issues they want to weigh in on, and I frequently attend events on campus to make sure I am hearing their perspective.
Immigrants in Cambridge face many of the same challenges as in other communities in the country. I’m particularly focused on passing a “Welcoming Communities Ordinance” that would protect undocumented immigrants from ICE when interacting with our non-criminal court system, such as probate court to deal with family inheritance laws, or divorce proceedings. I will urge my colleagues to support passing this ordinance before the term is over. I’m also in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license, and to allow permanent resident aliens to vote in our municipal elections. We are fortunate to have a very supportive City Government in Cambridge, but we can still do a lot more.
The international student population is welcome in Cambridge and brings a wealth of culture, ideas, and talent to our community. Cambridge offers robust and diverse civic groups who lead even the most progressive of populations. While specific academic programs have initiated student relocation to this area, it is mutually beneficial for MIT students to engage. I support decreasing any barriers towards connecting MIT students with our civic organizations and offering information about engagement opportunities. I favor representation of non-citizens in municipal elections. Legislators in nearby Montpelier, Vermont have just allowed non-citizen voting and I agree with the progressive representation of legal, full-time residents in city elections with the assertion that non-citizens pay taxes and actively participate in our community.
Question 4: MIT students are an extremely diverse community, including international students, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals. What actions would you take to make Cambridge a safer and more inclusive place for these communities?
People who are historically suppressed should have a more inclusive representation in their communities. This could be accomplished by educating their peers to help make it more friendly. And by making the communities more aware of the problem.
Some of the steps I have taken this term include co-hosting “Cambridge DIGs Deep,” to grow our collective understanding of what equity in practice looks like, and create a space to engage in dialogue about how we can move beyond diversity to create a culture of inclusion and equity in our City. To promote trans inclusivity, I co-sponsored a policy order requesting a petition to the state legislature that would allow Cambridge to begin offering a third gender category “X” on birth certificates. I also joined my colleagues in City Hall to endorse a Yes on 3 vote last fall, organized a Yes on 3 canvass, and co-sponsored a request for gender neutral bathrooms to be added in City Hall. To make City Hall more accessible to underrepresented groups, I have held my office hours at various locations around Cambridge, including “Coffee Hours” at various cafes, and Friday evening “Pizza Hours” at the Fresh Pond Apartments/Rindge Towers where I grew up. We can also provide childcare at City Council meetings and host more meetings around the city.
Many residents come to Cambridge and build their lives here because our city is diverse, welcoming, and accepting. But we still have more work to dismantle systemic barriers to opportunity, especially for our neighbors of color. Rolling back a century of racialized housing discrimination and creating integrated neighborhoods here in our high-opportunity city are part of the housing challenges we urgently need to address. In 2017 I hosted Richard Rothstein, author of the widely acclaimed book Color of Law: How Our Government Segregated America, along with an all-star panel to bring more attention to how our neighborhoods were formed and why, on a micro-level, we are still a segregated city here in Cambridge. Nearly 500 people attended or watched online (https://www.abettercambridge.org/coloroflaw_video). More people need to understand the full history and scope of our country’s history if we are going to build a movement to create a better future where everyone can thrive regardless of their background. I would continue this awareness-building work and couple it with policy actions to support the changes we seek.
What makes MIT unique is that we welcome and nurture different communities. Diversity is our strength.
Specifically, I propose that the Cambridge zoning provision that prohibits more than 3 unrelated people from sharing a residence be repealed. It is likely that aggressive enforcement of this provision would disproportionately affect marginalized populations. Cambridge should update its zoning citywide to require gender-neutral facilities in most new development (restrooms, sports facilities, medical facilities, etc.).
We are also the most progressive city in the nation. We should be leading on the issue. Let’s be a moral leader on this issue, leading the charge for state-wide bills like Yes On 3.
As a woman of color and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have hoped that my presence on the City Council itself speaks to the inclusive nature of our city, and I have certainly taken pains to reach out to people from parts of the community that had previously been shut of out of the public conversations to say “This is YOUR city too, and you deserve to feel safe, respected, and represented in this community.” Through holding Town Hall meetings to invite previously-marginalized communities into City Hall, by going out and meeting the members of the community where they already are, and by continually working to sponsor legislation (often which originates in the Civic Unity Committee, the sub-committee of the City Council that I have long chaired) that speaks to the concerns of historically marginalized communities, I have sought to make this a safer, more inclusive city for ALL. I will continue to engage in these actions for as long as I remain a member of the City Council.
I have been a leader in supporting under-served and under-represented communities. From the work to support immigrants stated above, to hanging the “Black Lives Matter” banner on City Hall, to leading the effort to protect our LGBTQ+ community, I have tried to make it known that all are welcomed in our city and our city stands behind these groups under attack in our nation. Some additional measures I have taken include leading a series of citywide discussions titled: “Cambridge Digs DEEP” to discuss and confront white privilege in our community. I filed a policy order asking the State to allow Cambridge to place a “Gender X” designation on our birth certificates for those who do not identify as Male or Female. I was a leader in a fighting against the repeal of the Transgender Bill in the last election. During my time on the School Committee, I passed the order closing our schools for the Muslim holiday of Eid, becoming the largest city on the East Coast to do so. My record of standing up for marginalized communities is long and strong and something I am proud of.
Thank you for giving candidates an opportunity to address the crucial need for social justice in our policy. As the organizer of the Cambridge Carnival for the past 27 years, I know how important celebrating the diverse cultures in Cambridge is to many of our residents. As a community, Cambridge prides itself on its progressive and inclusive nature. But we must question how inclusive our community is when 17% of the African-American community locally has been displaced in the last decade. We have to question how inclusive we are when, as a city with almost 30% of residents born in different countries, there currently aren't translation services for city council meetings for major languages available. It is clear that there are hurdles that people of color and immigrants are facing in our community that must be abolished. As a city councillor, I would work to address the language needs of immigrants and ensure that our police are treating us as the sanctuary city we are by not contacting ICE, which disproportionately deports people of color. We also need to work to provide health services to those undocumented people who are so fearful of the current federal administration that they are not seeing doctors, which creates problems for them personally and for all of us.
I am proud that our state bans discrimination in employment, credit and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I’m glad that, after far too long, our state banned the barbaric practice of gay conversion therapy. But we still must be vigilant that in our schools and workplaces discrimination does not occur. I would push our state to adopt a bill that helps teach young people about the historic role that LGBTQ+ people have played in Cambridge. Locally, I will work with the school committee to see how we can do this for Cambridge.
Many of the challenges we face are intersectional— LGBTQIA+ residents and people of color are often more likely to face housing insecurity, have a lack of access to functional transportation, and be vulnerable to the effects of climate change we’re already seeing in Cambridge including rising temperatures and flooding. That’s why a large part of our campaign platform is focused on a Cambridge Green New Deal: to address economic inequality, racial equity, and climate change at the same time. By realizing that the problems we face are interconnected, we can create the movement we need to tackle them.
We also need to ensure our residents aren’t facing discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation—this includes ensuring that public facilities and businesses include bathroom options that are gender neutral. Finally, we need our elected officials to push back on discrimination against LGBTQIA+ citizens when attacks come from the federal level—standing up against all forms of bigotry.
In my first term I have consistently prioritized equity. In partnership with Councillor Siddiqui, I worked on cannabis legalization, putting in several provisions to ensure equity so that black and brown communities devastated by the war on drugs in Cambridge, have a real opportunity to participate in the new industry being created and build weatlh. I’ve also worked on ensuring that the city website is not discriminatory against transgender and non-binary folks by securing the removal of a binary salutation field that was mandatory for participating in essential city services. I voted to move the state flag out of the council chamber because its design is racist and oppressive to indigenous peoples. I was a strong supporter of the “Yes on 3” campaign, and cosponsored a resolution putting the council in support.
I am one of very few people from Suriname in Cambridge, but there is a large Caribbean population in Cambridge and I have worked hard to ensure they have a place at the table. I hosted the first ever celebration of Caribbean-American Heritage Month in June, which included traditional food, poetry, and music. I also am looking forward to a robust celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day,as it is not enough to simply change the name of the holiday- we must also uplift the cultures and the people. We must remember that we live on stolen land.
During the course of 2015-2016, the LBGTQ+ community at MIT set forth recommendations to the Institute that were further championed by President Reif. I recognize that identify is complex and strongly support student-generated recommendation practices to best delineate local safety and inclusion. In my professional career, as a member of the Equity and Inclusion Journal Club at my Institute; and as a city councilor, I will advocate for the safety and inclusion of Cambridge residents alike.
Question 5: In addition to the issues discussed above, what local issue do you think most directly impacts students and what would you do as a City Councilor to address this issue?
Housing and jobs. That can be helped by including student housing and including them in new projects in the city.
Beyond housing, workforce development, and encouraging civic participation, the biggest issue facing students is climate change. Young people will bear the brunt of our changing climate, and we owe it to them to do everything we can to promote environmental sustainability and climate resilience. As a City Councillor, my work during my first term to improve Cambridge’s environmental sustainability reflects the principles of the Green New Deal. For example, I have introduced and supported measures to protect our tree canopy, require new developments to install solar panels or rooftop gardens, create an Electric Vehicle Strategy, and clean up Jerry’s Pond, a contaminated “brownfield” area that has been fenced off for over 50 years. There is an urgent need for the United States to switch to 100% renewable energy and decarbonize our industries and infrastructure, and cities like Cambridge can and should be at the forefront of this effort. To reduce building fossil fuel consumption and improve energy efficiency across Cambridge, I support policies to increase the city’s operating and capital budgets to expand renewable energy generation, invest in renewable energy technologies, and build climate-friendly infrastructure, including improving energy efficiency in older buildings, district heating and electric vehicle charging stations. This term, I co-sponsored a policy order to improve our Community Electricity Program, a form of group electricity purchasing that allows the City to determine (and increase) the amount of renewable energy in our community’s electricity supply. I have promoted Cambridge’s Community Energy Initiatives, which incentivize Cambridge residents, businesses and non-profits to purchase solar panels and solar hot water systems by combining discounts, rebates and tax credits. Moving forward, I will also push Cambridge to power all publicly owned or operated facilities with 100% renewable energy by 2025.
We are so lucky to live in Cambridge. We are a beautiful city with immense resources, wealth, and jobs. Few communities have as much as we do, which is why I believe it is our collective responsibility to make sure that others have access to our opportunity-rich city.
I am advocating that we prioritize and fully invest in universal daycare and early childhood education (ECE). At this point, the research is clear that starting early makes the biggest difference in children’s academic achievement, health outcomes, even future earning potential. For many of our graduate students, childcare is one of the biggest barriers to entering, affording, and succeeding in their program. It hits women hardest. MA has the highest cost for infant and toddler care, ranging from $20k-$40K. It’s out of reach for so many of our families, especially when many are paying too much for housing. When families can’t afford care, typically the mom steps back from the workforce, making it harder for women to advance their careers and earn the wages they deserve.
Yes, there is one issue that will students and our generation in particular - climate change.
Here’s the problems:
We are far too optimistic when we talk about climate change. We aspire towards a 1.5°C temperature rise instead of 2°C, hoping that this might allow some island nations to survive (1). This is wishful thinking. We imagine our world is currently heading towards decarbonization; we think, with all this energy for change, we are taking strong action on climate change. We 👏 Are 👏 Not 👏. In the last 40 years — even after the IPCC panel and Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth — we’ve produced half of humanity’s total emissions. On top of that, emissions are rising, and they are rising faster than ever.
We know what will happen if we let this continue. Cambridge winters will be without snow or ice. Our city will feel like Florida. We’ll endure six times as many natural disasters as we do now. Our oceans will acidify. Several animal species will face mass extinction. The science is bleak, but our future is in our hands.
What we can do
The two most important factors — by far — are transportation and housing.
Transportation accounts for 20–30% of a family’s emissions. We need to invest in green, efficient forms of transportation. We need to make it so easy to get around Cambridge no one feels the need to own a car. We need to invest heavily in transportation at every level.
- This means ensuring that every sidewalk is well maintained, easily walkable, anddoubling down on services like snow removal so that it is always easy to get around.
- This means clearing up our streets and ensuring it is easy and simple to get around. We need to separate our bike lanes from the streets and build proper bike paths. It is safer and easier for everyone — pedestrians, bikers, and drivers. We also need to complete our bike network quickly.
- This means investing in public transit. We need to get to a place where the entire city has reliable transit access and that we are never waiting for more than a few minutes. We need to prepare for emergency scenarios for when the T breaks. We will need to work with the state and the MBTA to increase capacity. We need to make the best use of our existing routes by building bus-only lanes across the major corridors.
Housing is the #1 contributor to climate change. In the most direct sense, housing policy is climate policy. We need to build more housing and build it greener.
- This means allowing for the construction of more homes. It is better for the environment if you live in a dense, transit-oriented community like Cambridge. This is the single most important policy. We can cut our emissions by half — or more — just by where you choose to live. We should let far more people choose Cambridge.
- This means making those homes multifamily. The emit a fraction per person as compared to single-family homes. We should allow for the construction of multi-family homes and apartments throughout the city.
- This means making new housing green. We should push to be more aggressive on net zero policies and provide adequate funding to support such projects. We also need to ensure these projects are resilient to increasing risks of floods and other natural disasters.
I think that so much of our society is still currently reacting to the convulsions coming about due to the Trump Administration – with his race-baiting, xenophobic, anti-immigrant stances, Sanctuary Cities like Cambridge (which embrace and promote our diversity) are directly in the crosshairs of this administration. The students that are coming to Cambridge from all over the globe deserve to feel safe, included, and comfortable while they live here, and I think that we all do need to make a more concerted effort – the students, the university officials, and the members of the local government – to make sure that we continue to reach out to and support one another. I have worked to ensure that Cambridge prepares for any punitive policies and directives coming out of Washington, whether it is in the form of creating safe spaces for undocumented immigrants, refusing to cooperate with ICE agents, or directing the City to make contingency plans to ensure that we can weather the withholding of federal funds because we are a Sanctuary City. I will continue on in these actions, and I will continue to sponsor programs and city-wide discussions that make clear that so long as you live in Cambridge, you are a valued member of this community, no matter where you come from or how long or short your time here is. I will also continue to be available to all those students who wish to speak with me and seek advice, support, or wish to collaborate on ways to strengthen the ties between the local student population and the City.
There are so many issues that are important. Climate Change is one that impacts all of us. Cambridge is leading the way on this issue, but we must not become complacent. I ordered the City Manager to convene a task force to look at ways we can require developers to build more sustainably. I sponsored a policy order directing the City to transition our fleet of vehicles to electric, as well as place more charging stations around the city. I worked closely with the Sierra Club to strengthen the City’s plastic bag and polystyrene bans. As stated above, as a father I am terrified of the world my children will inherit. We must move boldly and quickly to address climate change.
I think you asked thorough questions and I thank you for giving me an opportunity to engage with the MIT community. Our campaign is not accepting any money from corporate PACs or special interest groups and could use your help to bring our message of community-first to all of Cambridge, whether through a donation or volunteering. If you want to learn more about my experience, my platform, or how to get involved, go to www.votenicola.com
I think our dysfunctional transit system and often dangerous streets are one of the issues that most impacts students. Our street design and dramatically underfunded MBTA system make driving the least bad option—of all the bad options—for many trips in Cambridge and the greater Boston area, but most students don’t have cars in the city. Walking or biking can also be dangerous on many of our streets and intersections. We have seen multiple cyclist deaths in the past few years, and a pedestrian was killed in Harvard Square just last week.
We are pushing for the rapid constructions of the full Cambridge Bicycle Plan with 20 miles of protected bike lanes, including on the stretches of Mass Ave, Hampshire, and Broadway that don’t currently have them. We also need more bus-only lanes because, as the recent study on Mt Auburn Street showed, more than half of people commute by bus on some streets but more than 90% of the traffic is cars. If we make it easier to take the bus, we can see a virtuous cycle where more people will choose that option, traffic will be reduced, and our streets will become safer.
As I mentioned above, I also have a plan to have the City of Cambridge make the MBTA free for our residents by 2025, by covering the cost of MBTA Linkpasses for every resident of Cambridge. I estimate that the total cost for such a program after a 30% volume discount at ~$59M/ year, which represents about 9% of the current City budget. To make this a reality, we need the political will to push for it. This will also provide increased revenue for the MBTA system. And if we have City Councilors who are actively working with other municipalities to put pressure on the state legislature to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund the MBTA with measures like the Faire Share Amendment, we will see improved services from the T as well.
MIT is part of the Cambridge community, and many issues on campus interact with the broader community and vice versa. In 2015 I sat with the students demanding that MIT divest from fossil fuels. In 2017 I joined MIT graduate students asking for more housing to be built on campus. In 2018 I joined students and community members on the steps of 77 Mass. Ave to protest the visit by Mohamad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. And this year I spoke at the student rally denouncing the Epstein donations and demanded in The Tech that President Reif investigates a whistleblower complaint of environmental pollution and academic misrepresentation at the Media Lab’s Open Agriculture Initiative. MIT’s partnership with the broader Cambridge community is very important and as an alum and elected representative I’m particularly well positioned to facilitate that relationship and to hold MIT accountable when necessary while at the same time making sure the Cambridge community remains open and welcoming to all students.
Another issue that affects the students is municipal broadband. I’ve advocated for years with the city to invest in fiber optics to the home municipal broadband, but the city has so far refused. This term I was able to convince them to start a digital equity study which will greatly inform future efforts to establish a municipal broadband solution in Cambridge.
I have been and will continue to advocate strongly for environmental justice in Cambridge, especially the Port neighborhood where the majority of our black community lives. The city is planning a major stormwater and sewer infrastructure project in the Port and I’m working with community members to make sure their concerns are addressed, including the temporary loss of a basketball court that is central to a lot of positive neighborhood activity in order to place a storage tank there, which wouldn’t have been ok’d in a more upscale neighborhood. I’m working on holding a community meeting in the neighborhood so we can truly hear resident perspectives before moving forward.
Eversource has proposed massive grid expansion, including a substation in East Cambridge that could be as high as 120 feet tall right next to a school. It is a huge injustice that this diverse neighborhood should bear the burden of Kendall Square’s rapid commercial and lab expansion of the last decade, expansion that has already displaced many lower income residents, and I am fighting the plans tooth and nail.
I believe that our current system of campaign finance disenfranchises all residents of Cambridge, none more than students, who usually do not have the financial resources at their disposal to influence the election. Some Council Candidates will spend over $100,000 during the course of their campaign – money that often comes from large corporations outside of Cambridge seeking permits or zoning relief for their own profit. This money will be spent on paid staff, direct mail, robocalls, robotexts, advertisements, signage, high-gloss flyers, paid consultants, websites, etc. The result is that often those elected, and indeed many current incumbents on the Council, are not the most experienced, nor the most qualified, nor the candidates who best represent the residents who elected them. They are simply the people who were able to raise the most money in order to game a system with few, if any, restrictions on outside corporate money. MIT professor Noam Chomsky often quotes political philosopher John Dewey, who said that politics is the “shadow cast on society by big business.” A true democracy must reflect and represent the values of the voters, not the interests of those outside the City who fund the campaigns.