The City Manager Clash--New Political Hurricane
It was 10:50 p.m. last Monday, and a weary Cambridge council was wading through its 17th hour of hearings on the dismissal of city manager John J. Curry '19. Councillor Edward A. Crane '35, the four-time mayor and Curry's fiercest defender, rose from his seat to speak. He wanted it understood, he said, that this speech was no "eleventh hour" filibuster or delay. He had contemplated making charges, he said, during the entire controversy.
And then Crane, who in both bulk and height is a truly imposing man, lumbered out into the middle of the Council chamber and launched into one of those bitter, vindictive monologues that have been so characteristic of this dispute. He attacked a man named Russell Smith, who, the ex-mayor claimed, had been personally plotting the removal of Curry for five years.
Smith is the executive director of the Citizens' Advisory Committee, a privately financed agency which advises the City on urban renewal matters. It was from this position, Crane claimed, that Smith--"a professional snooper"--had been "peddling around information to undermine a good man and a good administration. . . This fellow's been going round town souring people," Crane bellowed to a silent and stunned audience.
Standing in the middle of the council floor, the ex-mayor often to let the weight of his words sink in He told of alleged meetings that Smith had had and how he, Crane, had received information of those meetings. Smith "didn't know that as soon as the meeting was over, someone went out and called Crane." It was the old story of political friends, who in a time of political fighting, become one's spies. And as he lambasted, Crane also lectured. Referring to his enemies, he sneeringly scolded: "These boys and rookies . . . The most important thing is developing a little public relations. There are no secrets in public life."
The truth of Crane's accusations will always be a matter of dispute. Certainly, Smith was no admirer of John Curry or a friend of Crane, but it is unlikely that he single-handedly--as Crane seemed to imply--sowed the disscent that brought Curry down. Cran'e speech was more significant for its tone than its substance: this fight was a personal one, and its intent was not merely to keep John J. Curry as city manager, but to reaffirm the administration of the Crane-Curry era. Crane, in short, has become combattant because he reads both conspiracy and challenge into the manager's dismissal.
The Senior Partner
As mayor for the past six years, Crane was the senior partner of the collaboration, and it is indeniably he who has masterminded the defense for the Curry side. On the Council floor, he has constantly challenged Mayor Daniel J. Hayes Jr., praised Curry, and damned his enemies. Off the Council floor, he has been intimately involved in the legal aspects of the Curry defense. Throughout, he has shown why he was mayor for six unprecedented years; he has been the most articulate, the best prepared, the most pugnacious of all the councillors.
In the early days of the dispute, Crane consciously sought to destroy the power arrayed against him--the five anti-Curry votes--by demonstrating that it was, in essence, unreal. First came the mayor's election, when he attempted, it seems, to prolong the deadlocked balloting. The longer the delay, the more time there would be to work behind the scenes to shatter the majority. But the mayor's election was resolved in only a week; and with a victory for the anti-Curry forces, the dispute moved out into the open.
At first--and throughout--Crane tried to intimidate the five. He grasped at every parliamentary mistake made by an inexperienced Mayor Hayes. With his colleagues, Alfred E. Vellucci and Thomas H.D. Mahoney, he injected into the meetings the most intimate details of political maneuvering that preceded the mayor's election and the suspension of Curry. The threat was implicit: the meetings proceeded only at great risk to the political reputations of the five anti-Curry councillors. But this strategy alone failed to work, and a variety of other specters were raised before the Council.
First, there were the legal questions. Was the majority five proceeding correctly? Was it dismissing Curry under the proper law? Wouldn't the Council be reversed in the courts? Combined with this approach was the threat of turning Curry's dismissal into a popularity contest. The hearing, Crane claimed, would be jammed. "You won't be able to get an auditorium big enough to hold the people that want to come and will come." Still remaining was the possibility of escalating the political conflict: "Only a few torpedoes of minor size were let go till now," Crane said before the hearing. "But I can assure you that we've got some atomic energy." He pledged repeatedly to bring forth a long line of witnesses who would reveal further political dealings. Crane told Mayor Hayes: "You and your colleagues are going to be pulverized at the hearing. It's all going to come out. . . the whole pattern of coalition, this conspiracy is going to be revealed by competent witnesses."
But this dispute has been throughout a case of massive miscalculation on both sides. The anti-Curry councillors misunderstood their opponents. Had each of the majority five foreseen the extent of the impending battle, it is doubtful that the coalition would have ever been formed. The five simply did not anticipate the preparednss or the persistence of the manager and his supporters. Nor, it seems, did the rival candidate, Joseph A. DeGuglielmo '29, who, before the whole thing became public, called Curry and asked him to resign with dignity. This was, to DeGuglielmo's way of thinking, the honorable way, as opposed to the more effective but nastier technique of confronting Curry with five votes in a public session. No doubt DeGuglielmo expected that Curry would comply and step out quietly. But the manager's concept of honor clashed with DeGuglielmo's; he was outraged, called a local reporter, and honor gave way to oratory.
But if the anti-Curry forces computed their strategy incorrectly, so did Crane and his allies. It seems likely that they expected some sort of break in the controversy. That break never came. The five, though they seemed unsure of themselves at the beginning, have not budged, and the variety of weapons that have been used against them has done more to solidify than shatter. Even prospective charges of criminal infractions of the City's charter against three of them failed to produce the pressure for compromise. Part of the reason was that many of the threats were staffs. No more than 300 people ever attended a session of Curry's hearing, a long line of witnesses never materialized, and the possibility that Cambridge would be without a permanent city manager for eight to ten months--once raised by Crane--now seems unlikely.
More significantly, however, both sides remained firm because Crane's initial analysis of the controversy was, in part, correct. Though it was not a conspiracy, the dismissal of Curry was personally as well as politically motivated. Although the five "firing" councillors did have formal access to both the mayor and the manager, they thought that Curry and Crane had rendered the Council's real power nominal. The important decisions were made by the mayor, they felt, who would uphold Curry on any issue. Whether or not this was the case--or, if it was, whether the five were as much to blame as were Crane and Curry--is almost irrelevant. What is important is that this perception of the situation created a subtle but ever-present personal resentment.
There were other, even more highly personalized elements: Curry's refusal to appoint Councillor Bernard Goldberg's father as city soliciter, and Councillor William Maher's brush with Crane and Curry in a dispute that followed his unsuccessful campaign in 1963. With the deep personality splits and with Crane's deep personal attachment to Curry, the prospect of compromise was slim in the beginning and almost non-existent by the end.
To cite these personal frictions, however, is not to deny that there were substantive issues dividing the two groups. The majority claimed that Curry had failed to provide the City with sufficiently energetic leadership. Publically, they criticized his slowness on capital improvements, and privately they complained that he had been reluctant to appoint a top-level assistant city manager to help in the job. They felt that Curry had taken on too much for himself; and, as a result, important tasks were being left either undone or half-done.
On the Council floor, another issue emerged: Curry had kept the tax rate relativly low, and last year actually cut it by $0.60 (from $72.60 to $72). The Curry supporters pounded this accomplishment in session after session, but the majority felt--although they rarely said so in public--that the low rate had only been achieved at the sacrifice of attention to services and slowness on capital improvements. The Curry supporters also emphasized the high pay scales of Cambridge's public employees.
The former manager's philosophy, so strongly lauded by his supporters, may be supplanted when DeGuglielmo takes over. The most important questions of the entire dispute may arise from their contrasting views. For although no one would deny the desireability of improved services or more capital improvements--supported by DeGuglielmo--the nagging question remains: how much more are people willing to pay for them?
Curry's supporters raised other problems. How should a city manager be selected? Should the man seek the job (as DeGuglielmo had done), or should the job seek the man? But these issues, as well as most others, were lost in hours of debate over parliamentary procedure and the details of political dealing. Lost also, it seems, were some of the deeper structural causes of the controversy.