The City Council's Summer of Discontent

IN A SUMMER of discontent that rivaled a play by Bockett or a film by Fellini with its juxtaposition of tragedy and force, the Cambridge City Council has finally disposed of the City Manager issue by deciding to do nothing at all.

After nine months of constant argument, bitter accusations, facial innuendo and political hyperbole--generated by the fight over the selection of a new City Manager--the Council last Monday night gave incumbent John H. Corcoran a vote of confidence.

To those who have followed the struggle since it began n January, this ending is not a great surprise.

But for the people of Cambridge, who last November elected a Council majority of five candidates endorsed by the Cambridge Civic Associations and pledged to a liberal platform whose first priority was the replacement of Corcoran by a more innovative Manager, it is a stupid and damaging blow.

The situation was a stalemate when most students left the City in June. Four of the CCA endorsed liberals on the Council--Mayor Barbara Ackermann. Robert P. Moncreiff, Francis H. Duehay '55 alid Saundra Graham--supported Howard C. (Neil) Peterson, former City Administrator of New Brunswick, N.J.


The fifth CCA councillor, Henry F. Owens III, continued to hold out 'for James Johnson, the black Deputy City Manager of Kansas City, Mo., even though a panel of community leaders had twice expressed their preference for Peterson over any other candidate for City Manager.

Owens insisted that Peterson, 28, was too young and the experienced for the job. The other CCA councillors countered by accusing Owens, who is black of backing Johnson Principally because of his color. Graham, who is also black, originally supported both Peterson and Johnson as a welcome alternative to Corcoran.

Since the four independent councillors favored the retention of Corcoran, there was no majority for a new City Manager.

A capsulization of the developments over the summer follows:

July 6--Owens apparently relents and casts the deciding vote as the Council, by a 5-4 margin, registers its intention to offer the position of City Manager to Peterson. However, the Council does not resolve the question of Corcoran's removal.

July 14--Owens again joins the majority in another 5-4 vote as the Council registers its intention to appoint Peterson the new City Manager on July 24, conditional upon receipt of Corcoran's resignation.

July 17--Corcoran issues a statement saying he will not make a decision on resigning until the Council takes "final action" on his replacement. In January, Corcoran said he would resign as soon as the Council agreed upon his successor.

Speculation around City Hall suggests that Corcoran is now willing to fight for his job. To five Corcoran, the Council would first have to suspend him and then hold a public hearing on the reasons for the action, followed by a second Council vote.

July 20--Independent Councillor Thomas Danehy mays he will go to court to block Peterson's appointment. Citing City Charter wording that requires the City Manager to be appointed on the basis of "administrative and executive qualifications only," Danehy noted that Peterson's experience consisted of only 16 months as City Administrator of New Brunswick, N.J.

July 24--In perhaps the most dramatic Council session of the year, Owens joins with the independents in a 5-4 vote to appoint Johnson after removing Corcoran.