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CCA Confusion

Brass Tacks

By Robert J. Samuelson

A Cambridge mavor, criticized about poor snow removal in the late 1930's, responded, "God put the snow there--let Him take it away." It is in such quotes that the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) finds its reason for existence. Formed in 1945, the CCA was to be the champion of "good government" and the fighter of corruption. In practice, its major job has been the endorsement of candidates for the School Committee and the City Council in the biannual municipal elections.

"Good government" has always escaped easy definition. Never has this been more clear than now when he CCA is seriously split over a fundamental issue: who should run the City. The conflict involves more than policy differences, it parallels the personal clash between City Councillor Edward A. Crane '35 and City Manager Joseph A. DeGuglielmo '29.

The Crane-DeGuglielmo feud has been a hard one for the CCA to handle. DeGuglielmo, a former city councillor mavor, and prominent Democrat, carefully planned political coup early in 1966 which, after a furious fight on the floor of the City Council, ended in a 5-4 vote to make him city manager. The dismissed manager of 14 years, John Curry, was a close friend of Crane and had leaned heavily on the advice of the four-time mayor.

The change was a surprise and left many CCA members with ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, they could not stomach the way the change had come about. The manager is supposed to be an apolitical professional appointed by the Council to serve as an impartial administrator. DeGuglielmo's path to power seemed to make a mockery of these principles. At the same time, many of DeGuglielmo's doubters silently agreed with him that Curry, at 68, was too old and that the City administration was beginning to stagnate.

But the CCA split over more than an intellectual appreciation of city government. Both Crane and DeGuglielmo (a councillor between 1945 and 1963) had been endorsed by the organization. Close partners while they were colleagues, both were born in Cambridge, educated at Harvard, and both had an instinctive feel for local politics. They had been the CCA's strongest and most skilled candidates. Each had many friends and supporters in the organization, and, when the rupture came, it created a deep schism in the CCA.

The feud has dominated Council politics for the past year but the CCA thus far has been able to avoid taking a stand on the issue. Time is running out. Tonight, the organization's directors and officers--33 of them--will meet to tackle the most visible evidence of the split; two of the four CCA-endorsed city councillors, Mrs. Cornelia B. Wheeler and Thomas Coates, voted to make DeGuglielmo manager; the other two, Crane and Thomas H. D. Mahoney, steadfastly fought the change.

Six of the 11 past CCA presidents have asked that the association support DeGuglielmo's administration in the platform for next fall's municipal election. Such a statement would logically lead to the CCA's endorsement of Mrs. Wheeler and Councillor Coates alone; Crane and Mahoney would find it difficult to stand on a platform that praised a man they have damned for the past 14 months.

With the prestige of so many past presidents on the line, the CCA's course might seem certain. Hardly anyone, however, seems to think so. A number of factors seem to explain why:

* Real "leadership" and centralized power in the CCA are almost nonexistent. A president serves for only two years and then gives way (often willingly) to someone else. His involvement, like everyone else's is part-time and voluntary. Membership on the formal, controlling body--the directors--is continually changing: three of the ex-presidents who want to back DeGuglielmo are not even on the board. Moreover, most CCA members are middle or upper class people whose main incentive for joining was the intangible desire to "promote honest, efficient government," as a CCA phamphlet explains. These people don't like to take orders; they prefer to follow the logic of their own moral or political position.

* There is some fear that the CCA is getting into something it can't handle. Endorsing one side might permanently weaken the organization or even precipitate its demise. "All of us would feel uncomfortable if 49 per cent went one way and 51 per cent went the other," says one prominent member. Moreover, Crane still commands a strong following and a great deal of respect. He has been a powerful figure for the past 30 years, and the prospects of his regaining lost ground are not bad.

* The CCA has never taken a stand on the appointment of a city manager, although there was pressure to do so once in the early 1950's when Curry's predecessor was removed. The burden of proof, then, lies with the proponents of change.

Because the feud is so bitter, most active CCA members will choose up sides next fall and throw their time and dollars to particular councillors regardless of the parent organizations position. Why all the fuss, then, over the CCA's formal stand?

The association does not provide direct financial support to candidates, but its endorsed slate--advertised throughout Cambridge by billboards, mass mailings, and election-day handout cards--serves as a guide for a large number of uninformed voters. "There are thousands of people who pick up these things and vote for CCA candidates as the good guys," says one old hand.

The real size of this group of blind voters is unknown. Many people who followed the straight slate in the past are probably aware of the split and may change habits next November. The endorsement still has value, however, and most observers believe it is needed by three of the current CCA councillors: Coates, Mahoney, and Mrs. Wheeler. (Crane, it is conceded, can easily win without the CCA.)

The stand of the six presidents, if adopted, would logically give the endorsement to only the two pro-DeGuglielmo councillors. The immediate goal is to keep DeGuglielmo's 5-4 majority intact. The presidents feel that the organization has an obligation to take a stand on the City's most important issue, the city manager and the "progress" he is said to represent. They cite the appointment of an assistant city manager, the hiring of a new long-range planner, the consolidation of city health services as changes that should be encouraged. Crane's constant opposition to DeGuglielmo is pictured as childish obstructionism.

Crane backers and more cautious directors have proposed a variety of other alternatives: endorsing no one for the Council and concentrating on the School Committee election; endorsing all the incumbents but not taking a platform position on the manager and avoiding all joint campaign appearances of the councillors: modifying endorsement procedures and qualifying the endorsements.

Whatever the outcome, however, this particular dispute has revived the CCA by dividing it: many inactive but interested members have come back into circulation. Yet, in the swiftness of events, one thing seems to have been overlooked. For the past quarter century, the CCA has relied on the skills of Crane and DeGuglielmo to anchor their Council delegations. Both men are in their fifties, and regardless of who wins this time, he cannot dominate City Hall for the next quarter century. Right now, the CCA has no one of equal skill to take over.

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