City clerk Paul Healy wielded the gavel when Monday's city council meeting began; the first order of business was to try to elect one of the nine councilors to take his place.
But the four mayoral ballots cast by the council were inconclusive--no one got the necessary five votes, and no one appeared likely to win a majority if the meeting went all night. So when councilor Saundra Graham moved to recess the meeting for a week, there was no opposition.
There was, however, a short speech delivered by mayoral contender Alfred E. Vellucci--a speech that may well spell the beginning of the end of the mayoral standoff.
Choosing his words with a great deal of care, Vellucci indicated that he would become a free agent in the mayoral negotiations, a strategy likely to earn him the chair.
To understand why, a little knowledge of Cambridge politics is important. The city is split into two camps--the liberal Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) and the neighborhood-oriented and more conservative Independent coalition.
Though he shares the position of the CCA on many major issues, Vellucci usually campaigns with the Independents, an essential in his East Cambridge stronghold. And after this year's cohesive campaign--waged by the Independents under the slogan "Don't Break the Chain"--Vellucci and the other Independents agreed to try to choose a mayor from among their five-man majority without the participation of the CCA.
The only problem with the strategy was that three of the Independents--Vellucci, Leonard J. Russell and Daniel F. Clinton--had their eye on the seat. And so the Independents have been unable to produce a mayor. Some had predicted the process could drag on for months.
But then came Vellucci's speech Monday night. He began by reminding the Independents that he had never received the slate's entire support for mayor during his 14 consecutive terms on the council, despite lending his backing to other Independent candidacies for the post. And he recalled one mayoral election that slipped away from him when one Independent switched his vote at the last minute as a "severe blow to me and my family."
Referring to the campaign slogan, Vellucci said, "A lot of people have been asking me how our chain is doing, and I've had to reply, 'It's not doing too good.'"
"I don't even know if we have a chain anymore," he added, saying the vote to make Robert Healy city manager may have been the end of the coalition effort.
And he concluded like this: "I think now I'm an independent (a small-i independent) on my own," Vellucci said, adding, "It's about time we elected a mayor."
Vellucci's speech seems to signal the other Independent councilors that he is unlikely to vote for them, and could lead them to try to wring concessions from Vellucci in exchange for the mayoralty.
A more likely scenario, though, is that the CCA will bargain with the senior council member, attempting to obtain certain promises in return for their four votes.
Exactly what Vellucci will have to pledge is unclear. Councilor David Sullivan said yesterday that "a lot of people will be watching how Al Vellucci votes" on an ordinance designed to strengthen the city's condominium ordinance.
"The whole issue of condominium conversion and the mayor are intimately related," Sullivan added.