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Keep the Library, Move the Museum

By Richard J. Shmaruk

You really had to hand it to the old Nixon-Agnew campaign combination. They knew how to work the crowds. They gave the voters easy alternatives and let them take their pick--victory or defeat; law and order or mugging in the streets--an old, worn political trick, but they were cynical enough to know it could still work. Except, of course, in Massachusetts.

But as it turns out this kind of political manipulation can work in Massachusetts. Indeed it is working quite effectively right here in Cambridge under the umbrella of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library effort. The idea, it seems, is to divide the Cambridge community and subsequently squelch any opposition to the Library Corporation's controversial plans.

Most Cantabrigians want President Kennedy's library built near Harvard Square. They think it would be a proper tribute, perhaps the most fitting memorial, considering the man, his integrity and his brand of intelligent administration. It should include schools of government and politics too, because Kennedy wanted it that way. But many have doubts about the museum planned for the complex, and they feel the city just can't cope with the critical problems it will create in the urban setting of Harvard Square. Build the library and build it soon, they say, but put the museum somewhere else where it might fit more comfortably.

The Library Corporation, surrounded by seasoned political regulars and brash P.R. types, has created the public impression that these critics are obstructionists, that they are against the library and, by implication, against President Kennedy himself. The corporation, refusing to address itself to the museum issue, has given Cambridge citizens a clear choice: either you are a friend of the JFK memorial or you are one of its enemies; you have to be for it or against it. This is a devisive and deceptive tactic.

Even more chilling is their attempt to muster support from middle Americans and to polarize the community by blaming the liberal Brattle St. cocktail circuit for all their troubles in much the same manner Richard Nixon blames the press for Watergate. The story has been put out that middle-class working people in Cambridge want the library, but a few snobs in the well-to-do section of Neighborhood Ten are trying to protect themselves from contact with middle-class tourists. They fail to mention, of course, the fears generated in the heavily black Riverside community on the other side of the Square. Lower class people in that neighborhood are convinced the Kennedy development will drive up their taxes and they might even be forced out of their homes.

The Kennedy Corporation has tried, however, to exploit other fears in the community. Last week, for example, they hired a research group to take a elephone survey in which 500 Cambridge citizens were asked, among other things, if the library were not built on the MBTA site would they rather have 1000 condominiums or 1000 offices there instead? You will have to admit, another helluva choice of alternatives!

Why are they putting so much pressure on the city to swallow the whole raw pill--library, archives, academic center and museum? The answer seems to lie in the original concept of the project which promised to be a very exciting and challenging prospect. President Kennedy would have retired to Cambridge as a relatively young man after serving another term in the White House, setting up an office in the same building where his books and papers were to be stored. He would teach at Harvard and be readily accessible to students. His presence would attract scholars from all over the world. And so it was going to be a pretty lively enterprise, plenty of people, constant activity. Then he died.

After his death, John Kennedy's spirit grew to something close to the proportions of deity and the eternal flame could hardly contain it. From all appearances, his family and friends are still hoping to capture the presence of J.F.K.'s expansive spirit in I.M. Pei's library structure, before it slips away and fades into history. (Inflation and community criticism have already done away with Pei's imposing glass tabernacle which, perhaps more than anything else, symbolized that captured presence.) As the Kennedy myth explodes or diminishes in the next ten years and scholars come to view his administration a bit more realistically, there has to be some built-in assurance for those who were close to him that the vitality and excitement of the place will remain intact. This is why the museum is such a key element in the plan. It will provide warm memories and the feeling of his presence, almost as if he is actually there, guaranteeing large numbers of people to poke around and keep the place alive. Two million people a year. One is tempted to conjecture in all this that the memorial is really being designed by a committee of aging advance men who think that the measure of President Kennedy's greatness in history will depend on the size of the crowd they get out, just like in the old days.

A presidential museum in Harvard Square will hurt. There is not a little irony in the fact that it won't hurt rich WASPs and poor blacks so much as the very middle-class working taxpayers who are being asked to give blind support to the project. No one has even begun to estimate what it will cost them in taxes. For instance, extra police protection necessitated by thousands of additional visitors to Harvard Square will create a strain on middle-class taxpayers who live in Cambridge. And the poor middle-class guy from Sandusky, Ohio, pretty nearly wiped out after paying his own taxes, will bring his wife and kids to see the JFK Museum exhibits and he will find that because the museum is in Harvard Square he will not only have to pay to get in, he will also have to pay for the gas wasted trying to find a place to park, pay for a parking space, pay to feed his family in Harvard Square, and probably end up paying for souvenirs and diversions around the Square to amuse the kids when the lines at the museum are long and they are turned away disappointed.

For a long time there was some hope that an environmental impact study would offer a magic formula to solve the problems the museum is bound to cause. Time after time critics of the library development were warned by the Kennedy Corporation, "wait until the impact statement is done. We will abide by that and we hope you will too." An engineering firm, C.E. Maguire Inc., short on experience with environmental work but with a long list of political connections, was contracted to do the sensitive environmental study. At that point there was a little grumbling heard to the effect that the study might well be fixed in favor of Kennedy interests. Then, suddenly, the community's trust in the firm's integrity went flat when the press began to report accusations that Maguire had bowed to political pressure and changed a report it had done in East Boston to suit the wishes of members of the Massachusetts Port Authority. Whether or not the charges of dishonesty were true, it is now evident that Maguire might have to do an exceptional job on the study if only to redeem its besmirched reputation. And this could mean a negative judgment in regard to the impact of the museum.

Somewhere around the time of Maguire's troubles the Kennedy Library Corporation's faith in the Maguire impact study was shaken. They turned to Arthur D. Little, the consultant firm, and asked them to do a private study. But the federal General Services Administration has expressed its confidence in Maguire Inc., and they will continue to employ them to write the authoritative report. It is amusing to note that even while the GSA was trying to decide whether to fire Maguire for professional misconduct under political pressure, this terse paragraph appeared in the Short Circuits column of the April 14 Boston Globe: "Former Rep. Peter Cloherty of Brighton, a 'public relations' consultant for Maguire Associates engineering firm, is using Congressman Thomas P.O'Neill's name in his endeavor to swing a big contract for his client."

In any event, the value of the environmental study when it is finished will be questionable. It will not produce the definitive document we hoped for. People will have to arrive at their own conclusions. I have. After two full years grappling with the issues I have come to think that there is only one workable solution. The museum has to go. It is time the friends of the John Kennedy Library thought seriously about another place

Father Richard J. Shmaruk is Associate Pastor at St. Paul Church, and a member of the Harvard Square Development Task Force.

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