If Steven Jens gets his hand on Cambridge’s helm on Election Day, he’ll head hard right. Locating himself between Libertarians and Republicans on the political spectrum, he stumps with a campaign of shrunken government, free development, and a staunch defense of civil liberties.
Avowedly representing a minority in Cambridge politics, Jens says he believes he can sneak onto the council without majority support through Cambridge’s proportional representation voting system, and temper the city’s liberalism with his quiet voice and right-wing stance.
Against a crowd of seven incumbents and 11 other challengers, most with more endorsements, more popular platforms, and more experience, the young torchbearer for Libertarian Republicans faces a tough fight for his niche. Nine candidates will be elected to the council in elections on Tuesday.
“I think it will be close one way or another,” Jens says. “There are several people who could go either way and I think I’m one of them.”
With his Winnie the Pooh tie and a bowl haircut, the 25-year old Jens enters his first race for public office after having served on a number of local Republican committees.
The 1998 MIT graduate, who spent the past three years as a computer programmer, places property concerns at the top of his agenda.
He points out with alarm what he perceives as the leanings of Cambridge’s current City Council to interfere with private property rights, and says he will relax zoning laws and simplify permit processes to allow more rapid development by property owners in Cambridge.
“I think most of the time capitalism works out for the best,” he said.
For Harvard, long fenced in by Cambridge zoning restrictions, Jens’ principles would green-light expansion.
“People say if Harvard wants to develop it must benefit neighborhoods. I say as long as they don’t screw the neighborhood, it’s fine,” he says.
Jens places development high above open space or affordable housing—two staples of most council candidates’ platforms—on his list of priorities.
“I’m not in favor of paving over parks, but I don’t think we need any more,” he says. “People come to Cambridge because it’s crowded and if they don’t like it they can go somewhere else.”
A founder and chair of the Committee to Oppose the Community Preservartion Act, Jens strongly opposes the referendum proposal, which will add a three percent property tax surcharge to support a fund dedicated to open space, historic preservation and affordable housing if Cambridge voters approve the measure on Tuesday.
He argues that the tax will drive small businesses out of Cambridge.
Affordable housing, a key issue for most council candidates, is also not a priority for Jens.
“Affordable housing certainly affects a small group of people very strongly, but it doesn’t affect the whole constituency. I’ll concentrate on more general problems like road paving and straightening sidewalks,” he says.
Jens says he would vote against any attempts to reintroduce rent control, eliminated in Cambridge in 1995, as a measure to provide affordable housing, and instead believes that the free market will ease the housing crunch.
“Development and more tall buildings will fix the short supply,” he says, referring to the potential for expansion in the newly zoned North Point neighborhood. “It’s not exactly going to be cheap, but there will be more housing.”
Jens bases his campaign on other issues: more parking, better street maintenance, later MBTA closings, and, of course, more individual freedom.
On the municipal level, his defense of civil liberties takes unusual forms. He says he believes that the licensing and fees required of street performers are an infringement on free speech, and will work to eliminate them.
He says he will leave educational reform to the School Committtee and the state, and has not focused on the environmental and traffic issues that other candidates have highlighted in their campaigns.
—Staff writer Matthew F. Quirk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.