Four Cambridge political pundits explained the unique structure of Cambridge politics, and stressed the importance of Harvard student participation in local politics at a panel discussion yesterday at the Science Center.
The lecture, sponsored by the Philips Brooks House (PBH) Cambridge Youth Enrichment Program, featured discussion of Cambridge's form of government, which is headed by City Manager Robert W. Healy and a nine-member city council.
"The city manager system was implemented right after the second world war, when we had the mayor in jail and the city was in debt," said panel member Barbara Ackermann, former Cambridge mayor and current chairman of the Cambridge Health Policy Board.
"[The present] system is a little less democratic, but we are no longer in debt, and there are no major scandals," Ackermann added.
Cambridge's city council consists of four liberal Cambridge Civic Association (CCA)-backed members, who actively support rent control, four conservative Independent Party members, who are pro-business and anti-rent control, and one independent member, Al Vellucci, who often casts the swing vote on controversial legislation.
Cambridge attorney Martin C. Foster called the city council "a bipolar political organization--a Darwinian type system."
With considerable tensions existing between the two majority parts of the council, the independent member serves a key role in deciding council policy, said Clifford A. Truesdell '66, legislative assistant to State Rep. Peter A. Vellucci (D-Cambridge).
"Al Vellucci has a long record of showing up CCA hypocrisy and prevents the independents from selling the city to the highest bidder," Truesdell said.
Among the important issues in the city, rent control is the most divisive, panel members said.
Cambridge is a diverse city with many ethnic groups and many different income levels, and interests have a tendency to clash--especially with the increasing demand for Cambridge housing, Ackermann said.
The recent housing crisis in Cambridge has threatened many low income residents with eviction, as some landlords try to convert rent controlled properties into more profitable condominiums, panel members said.
"We have a population of 100,000 people in Cambridge, 70 percent of which are tenants, but only 50 percent are registered voters, and of that number, only 30 percent actually vote," said CCA Director and Cambridge attorney Kenneth E. Reeves '72.
"Therefore, only 30 percent of the residents are the group that really controls what will happen in rent-control and in the city," and often those people are not the ones who really need government aid, he added.
But Truesdell urged students to participate in local politics, saying, "Local political issues can be of some concern to you [Harvard students], and you can exert some intelligent effects on the system."