COUNCILOR Alfred E. Vellucci weathered a tough political battle to emerge as Cambridge's new mayor last week. But for Vellucci there is no time to rest on newly won laurels. A string of social policy challenges await the council's senior member, who in recent years has controlled the crucial swing vote between four staunch conservative Independents and four equally committed members of the liberal Cambridge Civic Association (CCA).
We hope Vellucci's performance last week at his one council meeting as mayor will not be indicative of his future stances. Normally joining CCA on housing issues to preserve the city's strict guidelines for rent control and ordinances prohibiting condominium conversion. Vellucci instead sided with the Independents in a vote which might have allowed about 1000 apartments to go condo. From some tenant activists came angry cries that Vellucci had sold out rent control to become mayor.
In city politics it is rare that he who receives has not already pledged something in return. The question in Vellucci's case is simply how far he will go toward repaying the Independents, whose support made him mayor for the third time. There is little worry that Vellucci will retreat from his vocal support of rent control. But he could conceivably back Independent-sponsored resolutions that would handicap the rent control board in administering the city's restraints over landlords. And more important, Vellucci could support a weakening of the anti-condominium ordinances, which protect rent-controlled apartments from open market forces that would leave Cambridge a high-priced, posh bedroom community for Boston.
As chairman of the school committee. Vellucci will be in the middle of even more sensitive social policy debates. Whether he supports the CCA in its efforts to equip the city with a racially and ethnically mixed school system in terms of students and teachers, or whether he takes the easier course of protecting teachers' seniority and other political interests, may also depend on the extent of Vellucci's commitment to the Independents.
For the past few years Vellucci has been on a hot seat between the Independents and the CCA. In a more significant respect, however, he has occupied a spot envied by the rest of the city's politicians, able to decide with his own vote any of the city council's key debates. Although Vellucci has enjoyed that position and successfully maintained it, his original placement there was no accident.
Vellucci may not subscribe to the liberals' good government philosophy, which emphasizes the city administration's regulatory function, but he also does not agree with the Independents' tendency to support banks, businessmen, and developers before the working man. Vellucci's consistent, sincere concern for native Cantabrigians who are struggling against the economic tide to retain their homes has often torn him away from the Independents to vote with the CCA.
Now that Vellucci has formalized his leadership of the council with his accession to the mayoralty, we urge him, in guiding the city through the obstacles ahead, to temper his decisions with the compassion which has served Cambridge residents so well in the past.