NEWS ANALYSIS: In City Election, Harvard Graduates Take On Key Role

For a constituency traditionally ignored by Cambridge politicians, Harvard students played a surprisingly influential role in last night’s city elections.

Twenty-two-year-old political newcomer Megan A. Crowley ’05 led challenger Craig Kelley’s campaign to a surprise victory in the City Council race, while School Committee candidate Patricia A. Nolan ’80 shocked the competition by defeating all six incumbents in her first bid for office.

Sam Seidel, a graduate of the Harvard Design School, just missed stealing a council seat, and Kennedy School of Government graduate Jesse Gordon played a key role in securing a victory for Kelley.

Crowley began working as Kelley’s campaign manager just days after graduating from the College last June. The former Kirkland House resident beat out a host of veteran Cambridge political operatives in a closely contested race.

“I did not expect, at the age of 22, to win a campaign,” Crowley said last night, speaking by phone from Kelley’s campaign headquarters near Porter Square.

Running on “little sleep and a lot of Red Bull,” a sometimes breathless Crowley said the job had been an “incredible learning experience.”

“I got over and over again, ‘Wow, how old are you?’” she said of her work on the campaign. “It was disconcerting and I had to react by being more confident in my decisions.”

As a government concentrator at Harvard, Crowley said she gained “confidence in my opinion and my ideas, even in a situation where I was by far the youngest and least-experienced person.”

Crowley said she worked 16-hour days for the past two weeks and has skimped on sleep since last Saturday.

“I’m a little shell-shocked,” she said happily.



PROGRESSIVE POSSE

Thanks to Cambridge’s idiosyncratic proportional representation (PR) system, Kelley owes his unexpected victory partly to the failed campaigns of his closest political competition.

A trio of progressive challengers—including Gordon, Kelley, and Seidel—scored well with Cambridge’s progressive voters. When Seidel and Gordon were eventually eliminated in last night’s tally, a substantial number of their votes transferred down to Kelley, boosting him over incumbent David Maher and onto the council.

Kelley, an environmental consultant, also ran in 2003, placing 12th. Former council candidate Matthew S. DeBergalis said Kelley’s past support gave him a strong advantage over this year’s other first-time challengers.

It’s “a lot better than working from scratch,” DeBergalis said.

The crowd was surprised by Gordon’s weaker-than-expected showing, and some observers said his sharp tongue cost him votes. Gordon had been by far the most vocal critic of this year’s challengers, loudly lambasting incumbents for higher property tax rates and alleged complacency.

“I think the problem is that negative campaigning does not help in a PR system,” said Trellis Stepter, chair of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee. “He may have been hurt by challenging the establishment in his campaign.”

Stepter added that he was “somewhat surprised” at Gordon’s showing.

“He ran a very strong Internet-based campaign and took on controversial issues,” he said.

DeBergalis, who endorsed Gordon in the campaign, said the candidate was hurt by his lack of a core constituency.

“It’s hard to run a campaign without a physical base to work on and he didn’t have one,” DeBergalis said.

At the Cambridge Senior Center, gasps arose from the packed crowd when the first-round results, showing Kelley and Seidel both placing ahead of council incumbent, were announced.

The focus in the room quickly shifted to how the transfer votes would play out.

Traditional favorite Anthony D. Galluccio placed first again this year, but lower voter turnout and stronger showings from challengers diluted his influence. This would prove fatal for incumbent Maher, who has in past years benefitted from Galluccio’s transfer votes.

In 2003, Galluccio had 985 transfers, which partially helped Maher eke out a victory over dark horse DeBergalis.

This year Galluccio only placed 390 votes more than quota. Maher received some boost, but it was too little too late. In the eighth round of balloting, Gordon’s 615 transfer votes went overwhelmingly to Kelley and Seidel.

This windfall was the final blow for Maher, who fell behind the challengers into 11th place and was eliminated.

When Maher’s votes transferred in the ninth round, incumbent Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 and Kelley were the primary beneficiaries. Seidel slipped back out of contention, and the race was over.

—Staff writer Michael M. Grynbaum can be reached at grynbaum@fas.harvard.edu.