Harvard Democrats Host Cambridge City Council Forum

Cambridge City Council
The Harvard Democrats hosted the candidates running for the Cambridge City Council at Emerson Hall Tuesday evening.

More than a dozen candidates for Cambridge City Council discussed how to make Cambridge housing more affordable at a debate hosted by the Harvard College Democrats Tuesday night.

Abigail N. Burke ’19, events director of the Harvard Democrats, said the club has historically voted to endorse candidates in running for City Council. On Thursday, members of the College Democrats will discuss candidates' platforms and vote to endorse three candidates and aid their campaigns.

Of the candidates running for the Council, six are current Councillors, contending for nine seats—the first time in decades that a race of this kind has occurred. Candidate backgrounds ranged from current Harvard student to alumni, recent residents to Cambridge born-and-raised, software engineers to lawyers, “activists-by-night” to long-time politicians, but all of them said Tuesday that they call Cambridge their home.

Candidates discussed issues of housing, education, environment, and diversity at the event. Housing prompted the most responses, with eleven of the fifteen attending candidates using their limited speaking time to voice their stand on the issue. Gwen Volmar focused specifically on the homelessness problem, while the other candidates rolled out ideas for affordable housing.

Affordable housing in Cambridge is further complicated by the lack of housing provided by universities' failure to meet the demand of graduate students, candidates said at the event. City Councillor Dennis J. Carlone said that the City Council is currently working on zoning plans that limiting university growth with MIT, regulations for graduate students dormitories, and creating job training programs for surrounding neighborhoods on campus.

“I see no reason why we’re not going to go to Harvard after this, we’re seeing the same thing.” Carlone said. “If you’re tax exempt, and you’re blessed with being tax exempt, as the oldest university in the country, you have the responsibility to do more.”

Every year, Harvard pays the city as part of the “in-lieu-of-taxes” program. The amount paid, however, is part of an ongoing dilemma between non-profit universities like Harvard and the city.

Burke said that the Democrats held the event because they wanted “for people in the Harvard community to engage with local politics.” Around forty students attended the two hour event. Bearing fresh new faces at Harvard, freshmen Ajay V. Singh and Nirav R. Sookhai, said that they came to learn about the City Council and Board of Education races.

“Those [elections] are going to affect us the most, because it’s local politics,” Singh said. “Getting to know the candidates, being face to face, and seeing them respond to issues as students and as new members of the Cambridge community, that’s just really cool.”

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at lucy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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