Being a Harvard graduate sometimes has its disadvantages for Joseph K. Mackey '74.
Mackey is seeking a first term as alderman for Somerville's Winter HillTen Hills neighborhood.
Take, for example, earlier this fall when Mackey was distributing fliers outside a Somerville grocery store. An Italian woman took one look at Mackey's educational background and frowned, "Harvard -- Communista."
That doesn't happen often, but Stephen V. Mackey '80, Joe's brother and campaign manager, says they have to be careful how much to emphasize the Harvard education. "With some, it's resented; but with others, it's admired," he adds.
Somerville is a "highly ethnic community of mostly blue collar workers in which neighborhoods are very important," Stephen Mackey says. Only a small percentage of the city's high school graduating class goes on to college, he adds.
Candidate Mackey says he believed Somerville residents respect education and are concerned about their students. But he adds pragmatically that he tries to "stress the community ties because that tends to open more doors than the Harvard education."
Mackey's Somerville upbringing leaves no doubt as to his political affiliation. "If you grow up in Somerville, you're a Democrat," he says, adding that no more than 6 percent of the voters in his ward are Republican.
On November 6, Somerville voters will elect to two-year terms one alderman from each of the city's seven wards as well as four aldermen-at-large. Mackey won the preliminary October 2 with 11 more votes than the runner-up, incumbent Vito Vaccaro.
Mackey and Vaccaro will meet in the final election. A third contender, who received only 860 votes in the preliminary, will not be included in the November ballotting.
The major concerns of Somerville voters are police protection, tax rates, and services for the city's youth and elderly, Mackey says. More personal matters such as cracked sidewalks in front of their houses and gangs of teenagers that cause problems on weekends also figure prominently in citizens' minds.
Mackey says that when he entered Harvard in 1970, his Somerville friends advised him to "keep your head screwed on straight" at the college, which was then embroiled in campus unrest.
"The period during which I was going to Harvard was a lot less pressurized on a personal level than the few years before" because his was one of the first classes that did not have to "face the draft if we dropped out," Mackey adds.
Although political disillusionment was prevalent among college students of the 1960s. Mackey says that among his peers, "the tendency was that maybe you could get involved and change things from within rather than reject government itself."
Mackey says his desire to be an alderman does not stem from any grandiose political ambitions. He says he is continuing his family's strong tradition of community involvement.
"This is more my form of community involvement than an attempt to start a political career," he says.