Robert A. Jones is disgusted. The walls reverberate, the muzak is obscured in the slick real estate office as Jones sounds off about the do nothing city council: "It's been ten years since anything has happened. They know if they are going to build anything at Kendall Square they have to get some zone changes first and zone changes take a 6-3 count. What good is a 5-4 vote when a 6-3, 7-2 or 8-1 is needed. That's the function of a coalition, isn't it?" Jones, still enjoying his inaugural honeymoon as president of the Chamber of Commerce, wonders if he is already too late--whether he missed out on the gilded age of coalition makers.
"I'm not talking about a God or a Franklin Roosevelt stepping out of the wood-work either," Jones says. "What we need is another Eddie Crane. He could get the coalition together to get something going at Kendall Square."
But Jones is not alone. "Yes, if Eddie was still on the council," another business man recalls, "that complex wouldn't be just a pile of weeds--it would be out making money for the city right now."
Eddie Crane retired from the city council four years ago to return to a private practice as an attorney in Boston. He had lost his power five years before that. And yet say the name Eddie Crane to a Harvard Square businessman and his face lights up--it's like a code-word for action. They won't say whether it was beneficial action, but businessmen will admit it was progress just the same. "Crane was a catalyst--the person to whom people went when they wanted something done," Cambridge Trust President H. Gardner Bradlee '40 recalls. "He was a real leader. He had the respect of the whole community."
Edward A. Crane '35, poor son of a Cambridge cop, Harvard magna cum laude, successful Boston lawyer, director of Harvard Trust, Cambridge City Councilor for almost 30 years, was a power broker for as long as most Cantabrigians can recall. "He touched all the bases," says insurance man Jack Dyer, an inveterate political observer of Harvard Square.
"He transcended class differences," excouncilwoman and Coolidge Hillite Cornelia Wheeler recalls. "He knew Cambridge inside out, the bank presidents, university presidents, everybody."
And yet Crane was a product of his times. It took three hundred years before the political setting was ready for its cog and for the powerful interest that revolved around him. And it was with the Harvard Square bushings that he meshed best.
Under Crane that fieldon, stretching from the kiosk to the point where you couldn't get a New York Times at the corner newstand, was conveniently divided into powerful parcels with politicians, bankers, developers and a university monopolizing most of the tithes.
It wasn't always like that. There was a time in the early seventeenth century when the upper class, not yet concerted in its Brattle Street redoubt, ruled unopposed. In 1688, 16 of the 20 most prosperous Cantabrigians held elected posts. They were all alumni of Harvard but unlike Crane and many of his political cronies of a later day, being in the majority they didn't have to straddle the Harvard Yard fence. It wasn't political suicide if the politicians sided with Harvard.
After the Revolution the ascension of the working class in Cambridge port and the condesension of the old settlers towards the new split the Harvard Square town meeting house government and placed the City Hall in Central Square--a clear victory for the Cambridgeport squatters. As the Cambridge Book--1966 published by the Cambridge Civic Association notes of the social stratification:
Polite society kept aloof from the Porter and the Pointers, as the residents of Cambridgeport and East Cambridge were called. When a single high school for the entire city was opened in 1840, 74 pupils were admitted, all but one from the Port or the Point, and that was the mayor's daughter.
The immigrants and the industrialists swooped down on Cambridge in the late 19th century--with newcomers quickly filtering into elective office. What followed were rising taxes, cut-rate services, a jailed mayor and a business and industry exodus that pre-dated most of the nation's industrial suburbanization.
Finally, in 1938 the good-government knights, now a small minority, came charging down Coolidge Hill and in a sort of verbal fox-hunting pushed for the acceptance of a plan E form of government, a reformers' panacea that attempts to separate city administration from politics by hiring a city manager to make up the budget and execute city business. By forming the Cambridge Civic Association Brattle Street and Harvard University officials could then back hand-picked candidates in the city's new non-partisan proportional representation election system.
After all, Harvard, already the largest land-owner in Cambridge (and all of the land was tax exempt) stood a lot to lose from damaging town-gown relationships. As early as the nineteenth century rival Cantabrigians were wise to Harvard's moves as this wary campaign plea indicates: "Will you permit the CLIQUE of Harvard University and OLD CAMBRIDGE after their attempts to be set off from the town, to elect all the officers of the city from their own section, and RULE with aristocratic sway?
Although those Harvard administrators and alumni who led the Revolution of '38 may not admit it today, their reformist undertakings, left over from one of William Jennings Bryan's platforms, lay down a fertile field for disguised power plays and seemingly innocent maneuvering. For rather than fostering antiseptic government, the University-Brattle Street coalition spawned an amorphous council, a vacuum just waiting for a few bosses to step in.