Tenants Fail to Endorse Wendy Abt; Vote May Indicate Rift Among Liberals

More than a hundred city tenants voting in a convention yesterday decided not to endorse Wendy Abt in her bid for city council, a move that shocked some traditional city liberals and may indicate the beginning of a rift between them and more militant tenant advocates.

Abt--who won the endorsement of the liberal Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) in midsummer--received only a scattering of votes at the Rent Control Task Force convention yesterday. She is the first candidate in recent memory to be endorsed by the CCA and yet not win the backing of the Task Force.

"I believe that the CCA will be disappointed and shocked," Abt, who had pledged to favor rent control and limits on condominium conversion, said after the vote.

Abt and others said her pleas to also consider additional ways of easing the city's housing crisis may have cost her the bid. "She goes one step further and says we can perhaps develop something better someday than rent control," CCA campaign chair Paul Walker said last night, adding that her support for alternatives does not preclude supporting rent control. "I think it's an image problem," he said.

Abt's chances for election will be hurt by the vote. Walker, who said he was "shocked" at the results, predicted. The CCA is attempting to elect five members to the nine-seat council in the election, set for November 3.


Other observers--including several council candidates--said the Task Force rejection might not hurt Abt's campaign. "She wouldn't have gotten many tenant votes anyway," one candidate said, adding that some opponents of rent control might now support her candidacy.

The Rent Control Task Force did endorse all the other members of the CCA slate--Alice Wolf, David Wylie, David Sullivan, Robert White, Mary Ellen Preusser and Saundra Graham--as well as incumbant Alfred E. Vellucci and challengers John St. George and Brian Feigenbaum.

Despite Abt's promise--delivered in writing to each delegate--that she was "deeply committed to the protection of low-and moderate-income tenants," and despite a verbal pledge to "never" vote against rent control, many tenants at the convention said they found Abt's stand shaky.

Her statement to the convention included a list of objections others have raised to rent control. That she would even mention the allegations might have led some to think she was not "strong enough" on housing issues. Neil Rohr, an organizer of the convention, said.

The decision not to endorse a CCA candidate was "significant," Rohr said, but he added that "the CCA is much more of a multi-issue group. Her position on other issues might have outweighed any doubts they had about this."

Abt, who appeared shaken after the vote, said blind support of rent control could create a backlash of opposition. "I had the choice of making a simplistic statement, and I decided not to. I'm sorry I wasn't persuasive enough," she said