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Cambridge Reform Battle Undergoes...Critical Election

Civic Group Faces Hard Opposition But Expects to Hold Majority

By Philip M. Cronin

Lincoln Steffens, disillusioned after years of muckraking, once remarked that "misgovernment of the American people is misgovernment by the American people. The typical citizen is too busy to take a serious interest in politics, and when his neglect has permitted bad government to go so far that he can be stirred to action, he is unhappy, and he looks around for a cure that will be quick. The patent remedy is quack."

Massachusetts tried a remedy in 1940. It was branded "quack," labeled "communistic," and praised as the "biggest step forward in Massachusetts' political history." This was Plan E, which provides for a city manager to run a city's affairs and a nine man council, including a mayor, who legislate.

Plan E. failed in many cities, just like Stiffens said quick remedies would, but he turned out to be wrong in one city--Cambridge.

Cambridge's League of Women Voters started thumping for adoption of Plan E in 1935 with a campaign for proportional representation. After a five year battle the State Legislature passed Plan E and other cities besides Cambridge voted to use it. They thought it would be a political panacea, but it wasn't. Lowell tried it, but Lowell did not improve. Waltham got a Plan E city manager, but the boodle boys and professional politicians who controlled the city council then voted the manager out of office, and put one of their men in his place.

But Plan E in Cambridge proved a startling success. Cambridge government was no different from Lowell's or Waltham's. It was contented and corrupt when Plan E was adopted; its major had just gone to jail for accepting a 30 percent kickback from an architect who did city work.

Plan E was a success in Cambridge because of a powerful civic group--something other cities that adopted the Plan E charter did not have. The original reformers, members of the League of Women Voters, formed the Cambridge Committee for Plan E the predecessor of the present Cambridge Civic Association. In 1945 reform government in Cambridge nearly failed because the Cambridge Committee for Plan E had begun to lose its prestige and power by taking a virtual "holier-than thou" attitude. The Cambridge Civic Association was founded then, and from that time on, the City Council has been CCA dominated.

University Relations Improve

Almost everyone in City Hall concedes that conditions have improved considerably under Plan E and the rule of the Cambridge Civic Association. Relations with the University have taken a turn under CCA too. No longer does the City Council threaten to declare Harvard a separate city as it did in 1938. Nor do Cambridge police lay heavy clubs on heads of over exuberant students quite so often. The first Plan E mayor, John Corcoran, went so far as to establish an annual dinner between the City Council and top University officials.

There are those who say that the CCA has had nothing to do with the improvement in Cambridge government. The most vociferous opponents are City Council members not endorsed by the CCA. Councillor John D. Lynch, once CCA-endorsed, contends: "To a certain extent, the CCA is machine politics." Even more critical is Edward J. Sullivan, son of "Mickey the Dood" Sullivan, one of Cambridge's most colorful politicians. Councillor Sullivan maintains that the CCA has never done, and will never do, anything for Cambridge. "The CCA is definitely machine politics," he claims, "and the city manager is drunk with power."

Trucking Racket

But most city officials agree that Cambridge today is much better off than it was in the days of the trucking and snowplow rackets and the part-time labor fraud. Before reform, some Cambridge mayors controlled the city's trucks and could assure themselves reelection by hiring extra part-time labor. For instance, one mayor was known to call up a majority of the fifteen City Councilors the night before a Council meeting almost all of whom had an interest in a trucking contract with the city for snow removal or refuse collection. Then he would warn them that unless they voted for a specific measure at the Council meeting, they would lose their city contracts. And a city trucking contract is much too lucrative to throw away over a single vote.

A month before election, a mayor in the old days would put on as much part-time labor as possible. But he would do so only on the condition that the workers he hired would vote for him in the coming election. By election day, citizens would see ten or fifteen men digging graves (a job ordinarily requiring only two), refuse trucks with twelve man crews, and innumerable street sweepers, who handed out campaign literature at strategic street corners. The mayor or the crony he was supporting would surely be reelected. However, the city's payroll would be exhausted, causing wholesale dismissals of both regular and part-time laborers after Election Day.

The corruption finally became too obvious. The Boston Transcript commented: "Payrolls in Cambridge show a curious increase at election time, particularly in the street department. During the week of August 5, the street department payroll was $16,100. It was gradually built up until during the week of November 11, it had jumped to $41,500. A week later, indicating the extent to which the taxpayers' money had been used for political purposes, the payrolls in the department dropped to $21,500--half that of the preceding week."

Cheap Politicians

In May, 1941, the Police Chief told the City Council: "I've been harassed by cheap politicians every day in the week and I've had political interference in my department for years. I don't mind doing favors for people, but I do mind being asked to obstruct justice." Editorially, the Boston Herald cried out: "Never in the history of Cambridge has been increasing its total to nearly other cities have been reducing their debt, Cambridge has been increasing its total to nearly $9,000,000."

With Plan E, reform got under way and it has never stopped. "Plan E has been a success because of the Cambridge Civic Association," A. Chester Hanford, professor of Government, believes. Robert Amory, Jr. '36, professor of Law, says that one of the remarkable things about the CCA and their Cambridge reform is that "most reform movements wear off after a few years, but the CCA has kept its momentum."

CCA's success is complex. Donald Spencer '26, past president of the group, and now one of its directors, considers its non-partisan attitude its most effective weapon. "The CCA is successful because it sticks to its purpose--to protect gains and progress already made in Cambridge under Plan E, and to originate or support new civic improvements. We stay out of partisan politics and national issues." Spencer also believes that "there is such a thing as a common denominator of decency, fair play, and honesty among the voters. If you've got the ability to find a trace of this in the people, then you'll be joined by all of them and you will grow."

Machine Politics?

Another factor in the CCA's success is the organization within the group. Francis L. Sennott, a former councilor, trying for another term, has called it "machine" as have most opponents.

But Professor Amory points out that "the CCA has a great lack of force over its candidates," hardly a trademark of a well-oiled political machine. Nor can it dominate its workers, as they are mostly professional men who will not submit to the dictatorship required by machine politics.

The City's Richest Man

"The best way to look at the CCA," Amory maintains, is by process of elimination. Lynch, MacNamara, Foley, and Sullivan are not competent legislators, he feels. If anyone has the idea that the CCA is on the side of the rich, Amory maintains, he need only look at one of the Association's opposition, Lynch, perhaps the richest man in Cambridge. "On the other hand," Amory added, "MacNamara must get his $4000 yearly salary from the City Council or he would starve, but I think he would keep the City Manager in office if it came to a vote."

The quality of CCA candidates is also important to the Association's strength. Long before election time, the 22 member endorsement committee invites every candidate, whether the CCA has endorsed him in previous elections or not, to appear for an interview. Once the committee finds how the candidate feels toward the CCA and Cambridge government, its members vote whether to endorse him or not. If the candidate is not endorsed, then he can run as an "independent."

Endorsement Contribution

Professor Hanford thinks the CCA's greatest contribution toward good government is through its endorsement committee. "The problem in local politics is to bring out good, qualified men, instead of the self-seeking type," he states. Mayor Edward A. Crane '35 emphasizes the CCA's financial contribution to these endorsed candidates. "In a city wide vote, the CCA's contribution makes it easier for it to swing the election. A candidate who has ability and qualifications also needs about $2000 to campaign successfully. Many of the most qualified candidates could not scrape together this amount." The most notable examples of this, Crane says, are Professor Amory, Richard M. Gummere, chairman of the Committee on Admissions, who served a term on the School Committee, and Richard E. Shaine '41, formerly an Adams House tutor, who the CCA brought into the 1949 School Committee race.

Qualified Politicians

Besides men who ordinarily would not run because of vocation, the CCA has helped qualified politicians. Among this group is Charles A. Freeman, past president of the Cambridge Colored Civic Association who as a city council candidate was defeated in 1949. This year, Freeman, an extremely well-qualified candidate, does not have enough money of his own to wage a successful campaign and the CCA has put up the necessary funds to allow Freeman to run. Then too, there is Crane himself, a magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa; Amory calls him the "best qualified mayor in the United States."

CCA success depends to a great degree on the City Manager, who runs the City's administrative side. The present City Manager, John B. Atkinson, was elected by the first Plan E City Council in 1941. At the time, Atkinson, a shoe manufacturer, had not been inside City Hall for 20 years, and took little interest in city politics. A friend suggested to Atkinson that he submit his name to the Council for nomination as city manager. He turned out to be the only local applicant for the job and was elected six to four.

No Interference

Atkinson says that the CCA "in no way attempts to direct me and they never interfere with the operation of the city." Because of this, Atkinson has been able to run the city like a business enterprise--unhampered. Through a cautious spending policy, he has managed throughout his ten years in office to keep Cambridge's tax rate low. At the present time, Cambridge is the only city in Massachusetts with a lower tax rate now than it had in 1941.

"You run a business for a profit; you should run a city to benefit the people," the city manager contends. One of his more spectacular savings involved purchase of an $18,000 truck for $1,000 through alert spotting of a war surplus deal. Actually the vehicle cost only a paltry $500 but it required an additional $500 to ship the thing from San Juan, Porto Rico.

Atkinson's biggest achievement in office has been pulling Cambridge out of its financial mess. Before Plan E, the city's debt was $11,559,500; at the end of 1950, the debt was down to $3,599,700. Despite this Atkinson also has given to fire and policemen seven pay raises and four raises to other city employees. In the five years preceding Plan E, there were no pay raises for any employee.

As of today, the CCA looks like a favorite in the race. For one thing, it has a battling president, James F. Mahan, a former F.B.I. man and presently a Boston attorney. He will probably attract a good chunk of Cambridge's Irish vote for the CCA.

Spencer himself is an essential element in the CCA's campaign. An unusually able political organizer, Spencer has been able to keep the CCA powerful. Several men the CCA sponsored could probably win the election without CCA support. These are Crane, Deguglielmo, Hyman Pill, and W. Donnison Swan '17. Other candidates that should run strong in their own areas are Chester A. Higley, Charles E. Freeman, and Thomas F. Myles '37. William E. McGuire and Benedict Fitzgerald are political novices and their chances are slim.

Eighteen independents are running. They have never been able to combine into a well-knit group but, if they should, might easily carry the election. On an individual basis, each has consistently received a larger vote than any one CCA candidate. Spencer believes that they will spread the vote by campaigning independently of one another and so defeat themselves. The only time that the independents tried to combine against the CCA, they failed. This was in 1949. The independents lead by former mayor John W. Lyons (now publisher of the weekly Cambridge Courier), held a secret meeting at the Hotel Continental to plan campaign strategy. Spencer had an informer at this caucus who telephoned him information every thirty minutes. When the independents realized their plans were known, they dropped the idea of forming an anti-CCA league.

Nevertheless, some independents will run strong without a sponsor of any sort. Lynch, with the impenetrable "Lynchville" section in North Cambridge behind him, will certainly be re-elected, and John J. Foley will probably get in again.

MacNamara and Sullivan are in danger of a split vote in their ward. Sullivan, however, is optimistic, predicting that the voters will sweep the CCA out of office, and put a majority of the independents in their places. Another candidate running as an independent is Christofer Carolina. He and Deguglielmo draw on the Italian vote, but for several elections, Carolina has failed to win.

Unlike the majority of the independents, the CCA has drawn up a definite agenda for the new City Council. This includes: a long-range tax improvement program, increases in parking area, better zoning procedures, redevelopment of slums, improvement of library and recreational facilities, and extensive street reconstruction.

But the issue between the CCA candidates and the independents is hardly one of black and white, good and evil. Some independent candidates have concrete platforms too, and have turned down CCA endorsement only because they feel that they would rather legislate without allegiance.

Although they have not united systematically, all the independents consistently bang away at the CCA and Plan E because it functions by proportional representation. Some independents have suggested that PR is "communistic" and "lottery-like." But the CCA has a powerful counter argument, at least with the Irish segment of the electorate, by pointing out that Ireland uses proportional representation.

The City Manager is an issue in a campaign which is fairly issue less. The independents claim that if Atkinson is not a dictator yet, he will greedily grab power and become one if the CCA wins another election. CCA men pooh-pooh the allegation. Whether Cambridge's 52,326 registered voters will agree remains to be seen.

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