The Independent Incumbents


In other cities they wouldn't be called independents--these old-style incumbents riding their conservative friendship-building ways into office election after election. If Cambridge was a normal town the "independents" would be the liberal, reform-minded mavericks, and this group of all white, all male traditional politicians would be the ones on the slate.

But everyone knows politics are a little backwards here, and so it comes as no surprise that those incumbents not supported by Cambridge Convention find themselves in roughly the same position as they always do: relying on their strength in the neighborhoods to carry them through yet again.

It's fair to say that four of them--Alfred Vellucci and David Clem excluded--are cut from roughly the same cloth. Daniel J. Clinton, Thomas W. Danehy, Leonard J. Russell and Walter J. Sullivan have all been on the Council for a number of years. They oppose controls on vacant housing and bans on condominium conversion. They believe Cambridge Convention has blown these issues out of proportion in order to liven up an otherwise dull campaign. They clearly represent a constituency other than the students and professionals of the Harvard Square area.

Walter Sullivan

Walter J. Sullivan, who has served on the council longer than any other member, is a well-liked--some would say beloved--figure in Cambridge politics. He is consistantly the top vote getter in the city.

He is also the top fundraiser. As of October 31, according to the city clerk's records, Sullivan had raised $10,905 for his re-election campaign--more than twice as much as any other candidate.

As an assistant clerk of courts at the Middlesex Court House (his brother is clerk), Sullivan knows a lot of lawyers. They contribute significant amounts to his campaign; some speculate they do so in part because of the clerk's influence in scheduling cases.

"There are no major issues. It's a popularity contest, as it always is under the [proportional representation] system," he says, adding that voters are looking for 'a fellow who will represent them with honesty and sincerity, and I think I do that."

Sullivan, a former Cambridge mayor, finds a large number of people who agree with him. Even liberal critics have grudging respect for his feel for the neighborhoods.

Whether Sullivan has grudging respect for the liberals is another question. "These Convention people are mostly univeristy-oriented, but once they get their education they take off an leave us saddled with a lot of bills," he says. "A small minority is trying to control the council."

As always, Sullivan is sanguine. "I love this city," he says, "We've got a great future ahead of us."

Leonard Russell

When liberals are asked which of the four independent incumbents they'd take if forced to make such a choice, Leonard J. Russell often gets the nod. Along with Walter Sullivan, critics consider him friendly and responsive to constituency needs--although they say he is a defender of real estate interests and not particularly constructive in his legislative proposals.

Russell, who made it onto the council in 1973 after losing by under 60 votes in each of the three previous elections, provided the critical vote in the 1974 decision to rehire City Manager James Sullivan.

Reformers owe him a debt of gratitude for that move, but his ties to Sullivan have incurred the displeasure of some conservatives-a few of whom say Russell has profited from the relationship patronage-wise.

Russell, an employee of a garbage collection firm, would say only that he believes those who live in Cambridge should have first crack at city jobs, and that the "city manager should find as many jobs as there are men to put ot work."

He is equally reticent on other issues. On rent control: "I don't think it has done the job it set out to do and I don't want to discuss it any more." On condominium conversion: "I don't believe it[the charge that conversion forces the poor out of Cambridge]--next question, please."

Russell opposes hiring a police commissioner, supports further development of Kendall Square, and opposes Harvard expansion on Observatory Hill. He stresses fiscal responsibility as the most important issue facing the city.

Daniel J. Clinton

Daniel J. Clinton is one of those independents whom the liberals consider vulnerable. He hasn't placed particularly high in recent years, and his bid for a fifth term may depend on how successful his last minute doorbell ringing is.

The issue he stresses: why a proposal to hire a police commissioner to help the police chief stop crime is ill-advised. He says crime is down and $150,000--his figure--is too much for a commissioner.

As for rent control, Clinton says he objects to candidates "whipping up elderly people" in order to get elected. "We've spent one and a half million dollars on rent control, but [Cambridge Convention] will hide this until after the election."

It's the owners, not the tenants who stand to suffer from housing problems in Cambridge, Clinton claims. "I hear some complaints that small owners just aren't making it. Seven or eight say that they are going to convert [to condominiums]--energy costs are up."

One control Clinton does support is of DNA research. "The University should be a little more careful about pouring things down the sewer," he says.

A resident of Cambridgeport, Clinton is a former mailman and construction company employee. He is now on leave of absence from a job as a police sergeant in the Middlesex County Courthouse. One of the two commissioners signing his appointment to that job is John Danehy, the patronage-wielding brother of Cambridge Councilor Thomas Danehy. Councilor Walter Sullivan is also an employee of the Courthouse. Clinton, Danehy and Sullivan may be independent--but not of one another.

Thomas W. Danehy

Thomas W. Danehy, seeking his sixth term, is the farthest to the right of any council member. He says it adds balance. "We can't have all liberals on the council."

By his own account, he is rent control's staunchest foe--the only councilor to vote against it in all forms. Rent control advocates, he says, "shy away from a study of what the need for it is." And they don't understand what he sees as the dangers.

"In talking to developers my general impression is that they stay away from a city that has rent control," Danehy, who owns a lot of real estate, says, adding that "even the strongest proponents of rent control would at the very least admit that it's somewhat counterproductive."

Condominium conversion, he claims, is a perfect example of liberal opportunism. "When the issue came before the council, liberals wanted to minimize condominium conversion because if they aren't converted there would be young students living in them who would vote liberal," Danehy charges. Needless to say, those who favor controls on conversions deny the motives ascribed to them.

Danehy, an owner of a drug store and director of a bank, got himself into a little difficulty a couple of weeks ago when a story appeared in the Real Paper saying he and his brother owe more than $17,000 in back real estate taxes for 1974 and 1975. Although he does not deny that the property is delinquent, he contends his most recent bill did not show him in arrears.

The most important issue in Cambridge's future, Danehy says, is the extension of the MBTA Redline, which he believes has not been sufficiently monitored by the council.

Not surprisingly, Danehy has alienated a number of women voters. When the issue of a Commission on the Status of Women came before the council last month Danehy had an answer for council candidate Byrle Breny's accusation that the council was "playing with these women in an election year." Danehy told Breny he couldn't think "of anything better to play with."