Council Ending Lackadaisical Year
Halfway Through the Term:
At the half-way point of the Cambridge City Council's two year tenure even members say there are few real accomplishments to show for their effort, despite passage last night of a tough new anti-smoking ordinance.
Usually a legislative body like the city council is at its busiest during its first six months in office, but the nine local lawmakers this year have not taken much significant legislative action since elections in 1985.
In fact, to date, the council this term has: passed the smoking ordinance; eased rent control, regulations for small landlords; begun a review of the whole rent control apparatus; approved increases in their salaries and a five-year contract for the city manager.
During the last term, for example, the council passed a ban on nerve gas testing in Cambridge, made the city a sanctuary for Central American refugees, a preliminary smoking ordinance, and attempted to make commercial developers finance low-cost housing in the city.
Much of the reason for the inability of the council to act decisively this term is that councilors are deeply divided on important issues, especially on housing and development in Cambridge.
The city council is divided evenly between four members of the liberal Cambridge Civic Association (CCA)--the city's oldest political party--and four loosely affiliated, more conservative Independents. The CCA strongly supports rent control and a progressive agenda, while the Independents are more pro-business, and neighborhood-oriented.
The ninth city councilor, Alfred E. Vellucci, aligns himself with neither group, making it more difficult for either faction to gain a five-vote majority on any issue.
As a result of a snail-like pace and the desire to lessen disagreements, the council has deferred important decisions on key issues--like rent control and regulating commercial growth--until next year, just when campaign rhetoric begins anew.
"I think it will get less congenial because its getting to an election year," said City Councilor Sheila T. Russell, a first term Independent.
CCA-backed City Councilor David E. Sullivan said he thought the councilors had worked well together but said the council had not achieved much except some changes in the policies of the Rent Control Board, the municipal bureaucracy charged with administering Cambridge's strict housing policies.
"It's hard to point to any major legislation" from this city council, said Sullivan.
Asked about next year, he said, "I think there are some pretty clear policy issues on which councilors disagree. I think they'll probably get worse."
Most councilors interviewed said they thought that changing rent control in Cambridge will probably be the largest issue for the next year.