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A City With a Mind All Its Own

By Thomas J. Winslow

It came as no surprise last November that, while the rest of Massachusetts--and for that matter the nation--veered to the right and voted overwhelmingly in support of Ronald Reagan, Cambridge went in the opposite direction: more than 78 percent of voting-age Cantabs cast a ballot for the liberal Mondale/Ferraro ticket. In fact, every single precinct in Cambridge voted in favor of the Democratic underdogs.

Long regarded as one of the nation's most progressive communities, Cambridge residents have been riding the Democratic bandwagon since the depression days of the 1930s. Even after the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, there were two consecutive U.S. Congressmen from this district who gave the area a reputation for being the nation's modern "cradle of leadership."

The first was a wealthy young carpetbagger named John F. Kennedy '40, and the second was a crusty ol' politician from North Cambridge by the name of Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. And we all know what happened to them.

Republicans, on the other hand, have always kept a pretty low profile in this city of 96,000. While the city's diverse immigrant groups and blue collar workers support bread and butter issues, intellectuals and students from Cambridge's two major universities concern themselves with issues like the nuclear freeze movement and granting sanctuary to Central American refugees.

The only real haven for the GOP is down at MIT in East Cambridge, where fewer students supported Mondale/Ferraro than at Harvard.

Welcome to Yuppieland

But the city's changing demographics and upbeat economic picture are slowly transforming the town's political tendencies. Today the young, affluent professionals fresh out of New England colleges are settling in Cambridge, displacing many of the old-time Archie Bunker-types, and bringing with them what many consider a dangerously conservative outlook.

Cambridge City Councilor David E. Sullivan says these new residents are more concerned about fiscal affairs and taxes than with society's needs.

"Although these people are more aware of waste and patronage at City Hall, they've become less aware of the city's poor people," complains Sullivan, a Harvard Law School graduate.

Don't be fooled, however, by the lack of a Republican influence in town. Just because Cambridge is a one-party town, it doesn't mean there aren't any great political brouhahas.

Longtime observers say the city is split between progressive and traditional Democrats. The city's high tenant population and white collar workers back the issues-oriented Cambridge Civic Association (CCA), which at the age of 42 is the nation's oldest municipal party. They are opposed by ethnics and landowners who support the more conservative Independents, who have controlled the city's neighborhoods for years.

Four CCA candidates and four Independents currently hold the nine member City Council in balance. Then of course, there's Alfred E. Vellucci, a 38-year city councilor and the self-proclaimed swing vote who sides with neither faction.

Under Cambridge's "Plan E" form of government, the city manager is the city's chief executive officer, placing him in charge of financial affairs and the hiring of employees.

Results from bi-annual elections for the Cambridge City Council and the seven-member School Committee take about a week to be tabulated. That's because 40 years ago the city adopted a complicated system of proportional representation whereby voters rank candidates in order of preference--one, two, three and so on.

Stormy November

Right now, city government is still recovering from the political repurcussions following the June 13 dean of Mayor Leonard J. Russell. Although the job of mayor is largely ceremonial in Cambridge. Russell's vacancy on the City Council must be filled and a new mayor elected before Cambridge can resume business as usual.

All of that should make this November's municipal election one of the liveliest in recent years. With a 10-year encumbent no longer in the running, a number of aspiring city councilors have jumped into the race. But be on the lookout for a new slate of candidates representing young, affluent concerns to emerge this fall that could oust one or two CCA or Independent incumbents.

Three referenda questions likely to be on this November's ballot should also spark considerable controversy. One calls for the discontinuation of deadly nerve gas testing within city limits; the second deals with pornography as a form of sexual discrimination; and the third asks residents to voice their opposition to Harvard's real estate practices in the city.

Most political pundits say that election '85 will be the political barometer to determine how far to the right this liberal university community has really swung.

So if politics is your game, you're in for four years of excitement in one of the nation's most politically charged municipalities: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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