Cambridge's "old guard" of pool room politicos had better wander over to their offices in City Hall one of these days for a last look around, because the elections on November 4 under proportional representation and Plan E make it a safe bet that many of them won't be back.
The history of the fight to introduce Plan E in Cambridge is one of a colorful battle between a committee led by Law Professor James M. Landis on the one hand, and a number of local professional vote-getters who feared for their jobs, on the other.
In 1938 the plan was rejected by a more 1737 votes out of a total of 46,292 votes cast. During this campaign, Dean Landis was involved in several rapid-fire exchanges with City Hall politicians and presumably because of that, the victorious 1940 drive was launched on a very quiet, mudless basis.
Under the new system, nine men will be elected to a council by proportional representation from a ballot which already contains ever 90 names. The council elects a mayor from among its own members, who holds down a purely ceremonial post. The nine councillors hire a non-political city manager who runs the city as a business organization and is responsible solely to them.
Thus a mayor-boss government, with its ramifications of ward machines, is eliminated at least on paper.
The shift to Plan E was brought about by many factors chief of which is that the Cambridge tax rate jumped ten dollars in so many years, and is now at $47, one of the highest in the United States. Cambridge, according to Landis, was nearly bankrupt and many irate citizens clamored for a drastic move.
That the city's management was negligent, wasteful, and perhaps corrupt is partially brought out by the fact that its erstwhile mayor, John W. Lyons, is facing 42 charges of requesting and accepting bribes from various contracting and building concerns.
City councillors tried to sabotage attempts to bring Plan E on the ballot. At one time, the committee sponsoring it had to get an order from the courts before the Cambridge council would take the necessary steps to permit citizens to vote on the city manager form of government.
Dean Landis said last fall, during the campaign: "The increased responsibilities that we have placed on the old municipal mechanism has made the machine creak. Regardless of the personalities in control, the Cambridge government is unable to handle present day problems.
"The only cities," he stated on another occasion, "of any substantial size which have shown improvement in their handling of municipal affairs are those which have governments similar to those provided for in Plan E."
Mayor Lyons, who scorned the system as a "foreign importation," is well known for his rationalization on snow clearance, "God brought it. He'll have to take it away.