Measure for Measure
The battle between the reformers and the politicians continues on Beacon Hill. This Wednesday afternoon the lower house of the State Legislature will consider Senate Bill 5, which would outlaw proportional representation as a method of voting in this state. The bill is only one of many proposed in this session to do the same thing, but the others either remain in committee or have already been reported out unfavorably to the legislature. Senator Joseph A. Melley introduced this measure in support of a petition by the "Massachusetts Citizens Committee for the Repeal of Proportional Representation," headed by Miss Edna Spencer of Cambridge. Anti-PR forces in the House are led by Representative John J. Toomey, also of this city, who has introduced his own PR repeal bill-House 1535.
Opponents of proportional representation have been trying to effect its repeal since passage of the revised Uniform Charter Act in 1938. That law gave reform-minded cities in the state a choice among five types of municipal government-the different charters were termed "plans." Plan E was one that provided for city council election by proportional representation; the voter marks his ballot by numbering candidates in his order of preference. Thus any bill aimed at that provision would cripple the plan and make it an unnecessary addition to the Charter Act, since plan D carries the same provisions, but without the proportional representation clause.
According to Senator Melley and Representative Toomey, proportional representation is "Un-American" because it "does away with the two party system," and PR "accentuates minorities." They refer to the fact that under PR all citizens vote on all city Council seats, so a simple ward majority cannot elect a candidate, and candidates can run without party label. However, proponents of this method of voting state that it eliminates the evils of the ward system and destroys the power of the "ward boss" over city officials; the councilmen are responsible only to the people And, since the Council in turn appoints a city manager, the voters have direct control over the entire civic administration.
Plan E, with proportional representation, has been in operation here in Cambridge since 1940; it has been so successful that five other cities in the state have adopted the plan, and the fight for its adoption in Boston still continues. If Senate 5, or any one of its ilk, passes the legislature, Cambridge and other Plan E cities will have to return to old methods of voting, ward system and all. Plan E, an effective means for achieving municipal reform, will be emasculated; the politicians who would like a return to old times, as well as those who want no change in present city government, would have what they've been after all along.
Senate 5 was defeated on the House floor once before, when the body voted on March 15 to accept a committee recommendation to withdraw the measure. Only expert parliamentary maneuvering by Senator Melley saved the bill in the upper chamber. However, by delaying renewal of the discussion until this week, the House has given Toomey time to strengthen his forces, and another vote may be close. Though the "Citizens Committee" has only one known member, Miss Spencer, and is not registered officially as a lobby at the State House, it may be able to change many votes during this well-timed breather.
The success of Senate 5 would be a big defeat for Massachusetts people in the struggle to gain and preserve institutions for good city government.