In an election with all nine incumbents hoping to renew their terms and several challengers pushing for council seats, electoral success is far from guaranteed, even for the most seasoned of politicos.
This past weekend, The Crimson followed three of this year’s council incumbents—Kennedy School of Government (KSG) student and current Vice Mayor Marjorie C. Decker, Councillor Brian P. Murphy ’86-’87, and Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72—as they burned through the last of their shoe leather in hopes of snagging another council term.
MARJORIE C. DECKER:
Campaign at a Crossroads
Felix Arroyo, a member of the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is firmly ensconced in the middle of the intersection, arms splayed scarecrow-style, each hand brandishing a Decker campaign sign for the benefit of passing cars.
On Saturday, the Decker campaign has colonized the area outside the Central Square Au Bon Pain, located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Prospect Street. Large placards protrude from trash cans, while flyers and stickers are strewn across the benches.
Supporters have been convening here since 11 a.m., picking up signs and the occasional doughnut hole before taking their posts along Mass. Ave.
Campaign Manager Stephanie Sanchez leads SEIU volunteers down the block.
“We’re trying not to swamp poor Andre Green,” she says. Green is a 24-year-old Republican challenger who is campaigning not far away with two supporters.
But by 12:14, when Decker arrives, Starbucks coffee in hand, Green has vanished, his position on the corner co-opted by the campaign staff of Richard Harding, a candidate for School Committee, and Decker sign-holders.
Decker joins Arroyo briefly in the intersection, smiling and waving to passing cars before walking around to rally her troops and talk to pedestrians.
“I’m Marjorie Decker, candidate for City Council, and I’m asking you to think of me for your number-one vote on election day,” she tells passers-by, thrusting out her hand to be shaken.
Suddenly, Mo Barbarosa—Decker supporter and Cambridge resident—lunges into the middle of the street, offering campaign advice.
“Nobody can see you,” Barbarosa chides, as he wraps a light pink silk scarf—designed, he says, to add color to her outfit of black skirt, white pearls, and leather boots—around her neck.
Decker’s supporters are out in full force on this unseasonably warm Saturday. Decker, who grew up in Cambridgeport’s Woodrow Wilson Court public housing, has a strong local network, supplemented by family members and former high-school classmates, like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who have appeared at Decker events in the past.
The first in her family to graduate from high school, Decker says her family’s reliance on public resources first sparked her interest in politics, long before she majored in political economy and social thought at UMass Amherst.
This year, Decker has joined the mid-career program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Although she remains a proponent of liberal causes ranging from the environment to the antiwar movement, Decker, an incumbent who is campaigning for her fourth term, dismisses accusations by challengers that the current council is outdated.
“When you’re a challenger, you want to point out everything that’s wrong,” Decker says. “But the truth is, according to polls we’ve conducted, most people feel good about the way the city is run.”
Tiara Quinn, one of Decker’s god-daughters and a veteran campaigner of 10 years, wields a roll of stickers for distribution among the Saturday throng.
“My mom calls me the mayor-in-waiting,” Quinn announces proudly.
—Staff writer Natalie I. Sherman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRIAN P. MURPHY ’86-’87:
25 Doors, 55 Minutes
Murphy campaigns door-to-door in Porter Square between 4:20 and 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, distributing promotional pamphlets, answering residents’ questions, and encouraging people to vote on Tuesday.
Whenever doors open, he launches into a time-tested greeting.
“Hi there, I’m Brian Murphy, I’m running for reelection to City Council,” he says. “I wanted to come by to see if you had any questions or concerns about the city, and to ask for your vote on Tuesday.”
Murphy campaigns with a staff member—a self-described “concerned citizen,” Laurence Field, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1979. Field carries a list of addresses in the area and together they consult it often, checking off residents as they travel door to door.
Today, they are calling on homes they have not visited before. Over the course of 55 minutes, Murphy knocks on 25 doors and speaks face-to-face with 10 people.
“Door-knocking is a numbers game in the sense that most people won’t be in when you call,” Field says.
Murphy has faced so many doors since his campaign started that sometimes they all blur together.
“I can’t remember whether this has been our second or third time around [this neighborhood],” Murphy says.
“Second,” Field replies.
Knocking on doors is not hard—that is, once you find them. In the increasing darkness, locating the right door—especially in multi-family homes and larger complexes—requires more than a little campaign strategy. Murphy and Field search around corners, through alleys, and even up a secluded flight of stairs behind a doorway in order to find the entrances to the housing units.
Many of the residents are not home when Murphy comes to call, so he leaves literature in their doorjambs. Sometimes, he’s not the first. One of his pamphlets brushes up against literature left by another council candidate, Andre Green.
For those residents who aren’t at home, Murphy still makes personal contact—at least in writing.
“I find that it works pretty well—the time it takes to wait for someone to answer the door is enough time to write ‘Sorry I missed you,’” Murphy says after personalizing a pamphlet that he leaves for an absent resident.
Most of the residents who are home offer Murphy nothing more than a handshake and a smile after hearing his overtures.
However, Murphy speaks with residents for as long as they wish, sometimes for more than 10 minutes. One Porter Square resident, Glenn Heinmiller, chats with Murphy at length about issues ranging from homelessness to local diversity. Near the end of their conversation, Murphy makes a quick call on his cell phone to find out where Heinmiller should go to get an absentee ballot.
The hallmark of door-to-door work, Murphy says, lies in its variety.
“You just don’t known what you’re going to get at the doors,” he says.
—Staff writer William L. Jusino can be reached at email@example.com.
KENNETH E. REEVES ’72:
A Man About Town
Although Reeves’ cell phone vibrates six times during his live half-hour interview on Cambridge Community Television Friday afternoon, the eight-time City Councillor and nine-time campaign veteran never once looks down at it. He just keeps on talking, unfazed.
Reeves, decked out in a dark suit and yellow-and-blue striped tie, is chatting with CCTV host Laura Montgomery about the year he spent in Benin after graduating from Harvard in 1972 and about the role of the traditional king in Africa.
He also drops in mentions of the city’s new charter school, the achievement gap that has scarred the Cambridge public schools for years, and a citywide construction boom.
His years of work on the council may make him a savvy politician, but, according to Montgomery, he’s known more as a political homeboy than a distant star.
“When you say Ken Reeves, you say, “Isn’t he from Cambridge?’” Montgomery said on the air. “He’s always been in Cambridge.”
For many, in fact, he’s a familiar face. During the three-minute walk from Reeves’ storefront campaign headquarters at 555 Mass. Ave. to the CCTV offices at 675 Mass. Ave., the councillor exchanges greetings with at least five passers-by.
At the CCTV offices, a man raps the window to get Reeves’ attention. Rapping his own fist against the glass in response, Reeves explains that the man’s former landlord had sold his house, leaving the man in the hands of a new landlord who wanted him to leave. Reeves had helped the man find a new home.
On the way back, Reeves chats briefly with others he encounters on the street, including Gregory H. Daugherty, who normally hawks Spare Change newspapers outside of Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square.
Reeves is known around Cambridge, but he says he isn’t taking any chances with this election. His election standings have varied widely over the past two decades. In 1993 and 1995, he led the council with number-one votes—in Cambridge, council candidates are ranked, not selected outright. In 2001, he was eighth by this standard and, in 2003, fifth. Reeves says that despite being a council veteran, he’s always seeking out new voters.
“You are always introducing yourself to people who are new,” he says.
Reeve’s Friday schedule is packed with both civic and campaign events—a funeral; two visits to senior facilities; a meeting with representatives of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, king of the Asante people of Ghana; the CCTV interview; and, during the evening, two parties.
Earlier this week, he says, he campaigned door-to-door in every unit of three 22-story buildings near Alewife.
Leaving the CCTV offices, Reeves notes that two storefronts have blue and yellow “Re-elect Ken Reeves” signs on them. Still, the veteran campaigner isn’t quite content.
“I’d like to have a sign at every storefront,” he says.
—Staff writer Joseph M. Tartakoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.