New City Council Endures a Chaotic Year

... In the beginning and the end--and much of the middle--there was politics.

There were also the perennial issues of housing and rent control, crime in the streets, and transportation.

(Our city editor wrote this piece before he left for San Francisco, and before Alflorence Cheatham, a black, was named Cambridge's superintendant of schools.)

ACCORDING TO THE EYE of the beholder, in this case the Crimson, news in Cambridge this year was dominated by politics--a favorite topic in this City. But there were also the perennial issues of housing and rent control, crime in the streets, and transportation.

On the environmental front, conservationists could claim a victory in the six-month transformation of Brattle Street from a noisy, polluted area of the Square into a pedestrian mall. But they suffered defeat near the river as the Metropolitan District Commission prevailed in its plans to sacrifice several trees along the Charles to the construction of a new sewer.


In that area which Newsweek delicately calls "Transition," three deaths saddened the Harvard community. A physician from California was murdered three blocks from Mather House; the former manager of the Club Casablanca was shot and killed in his own establishment; and the founder of Cahaly's Market died of cancer at age 69.

BUT IN THE BEGINNING and the end--and much of the middle--there was politics. The first rumblings were from students who felt they were being harassed and illegally denied their right to register and vote in Cambridge, Clerks in the Cambridge Election Commission seemed to vary from day to day on what constituted proof of residency: some students were required to present phone bills or a lease and prove that they were self-supporting, while others joined the voting rolls merely by having a Massachusetts driver's license. Adding to the confusion, there was uncertainly about whether state law required six-months' residency or a full year for voting eligibility.

By the time the registration rolls were closed prior to the November election, less than 1000 of Cambridge's 18,000 out-of-state students were registered. On the other hand, 6000 new voters had been added to the rolls since January, the great majority of them young people.

In the City elections, five candidates endorsed by the Cambridge Civic Association won seats on the City Council. It was only the second time since 1953 that liberals had gained control of the Council. And in the School Committee election, CCA liberals won three of six places, creating a situation in which reform-minded Mayor Barbara Ackermann could break the tie in favor of the liberals. The Mayor of Cambridge is permitted to vote in both the City Council and the School Committee.

A TOP ISSUE in the fall campaigns was the quality of chief City personnel. The liberals elected to the Council had all promised that one of their first actions in office would be to dismiss incumbent City Manager John H. Corcoran. The liberal five argued that Corcoran had appointed mediocre people to important City positions and that he lacked the drive and imagination necessary to work with the Council in instituting long needed reform programs. In the type of city government that Cambridge has, the City Manager has the power to fill vacant City posts and draw up the budget.

The five Council liberals embarked on a nation-wide search for a new City Manager, sifting through hundreds of applications. After six months and more than $8000 in City funds, the hunt has narrowed down to two candidates: Howard C. (Neil) Peterson, the white former City Administrator of New Brunswich, N.J., and James Johnson, the black Deputy City Manager of Kansas City, Mo, and the former City Manager of Compton, Calif.

BUT THE MEMBERS of the liberal majority are unable to agree on one of these two men, and since the four independents who were reelected to the Council in November are satisfied with Corcoran, no change has been made. Unfortunately, the issue is now clouded by ugly racial overtones. Although Peterson twice won the endorsement of community leaders who interviewed the finalist candidates, Henry F. Owens III, a black lawyer endorsed by the CCA and elected in the fall, has charged that his liberal colleagues are ignoring the better qualifications of his candidate, Johnson, simply because he is black. Yet one of Owens's fellow liberals is Saundra Graham, a black community organizer from the Riverside section of the City. Graham is primarily interested in Corcoran's immediate retirement, and she has voted for both Peterson and Johnson.

Owens has shown little willingness to compromise so far. Ackermann and the two other liberals--Francis H. Duehay '55 and Robert Moncreiff--are firm in their stand behind Peterson. So Corcoran continues in his position as City Manager, probably finding it difficult to suppress guffaws at the liberals' fratricide. And Graham and many citizens of Cambridge wonder what they did to deserve this mess.

ATTENTION WAS FOCUSED on the School Committee in January when the Committee's liberal coalition carried out its campaign promise to dismiss Frank J. Frisoli '35, the Superintendent of Cambridge schools. The liberals accused Frisoli of incompetence and criticized the previous School Committee for appointing Frisoli as Superintendent without consulting a citizens' group that had been set up to interview qualified candidates.

Frisoli had numerous supporters however, and the controversy climaxed with a stormy, seven-hour meeting at Rindge Tech High School Auditorium. About 2000 people crowded into the hall, most of them pro-Frisoli. The session was interrupted periodically by fistfights, a bomb scare, and continual chanting and clapping. Frisoli termed his opponents "educational deviates and radicals" and at one point he became incensed at an anti-Frisoli speech. He raced to the front of the stage, where he called the departing speaker--a representative of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce--"the biggest weasel that ever hit this town." An unidentified man from the audience then began striking the Chamber of Commerce representative, but the fight was quickly broken up by Cambridge Police.