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.