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In Cambridge, where the average single-bedroom apartment rents at $550 per month, housing is by far the chief issue in any political campaign. This year's city council race should prove no different.
A thoroughly Democratic city, Cambridge traditionally splits between the "independents" --of local lineage and time-honored political methods--and members of the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA), a self-described "good-government" organization whose main concern is the preservation of Cambridge's rent control laws.
Members of the CCA, the only political organization that behaves like a party in the race, hold four of the Council's nine seats, and frequently win majority votes by wooing Councilors Alfred E. Vellucci or Sheila E. Russell, independents who occasionally support the CCA.
The CCA's main goal in this year's election will be to gain a fifth seat on the Council, giving it a majority and the ability to protect rent control for another two years.
Yet several political observers interviewed this weekend say the prospects for a fifth CCA victory are doubtful. All nine incumbents, including the five "independents," plan to seek re-election and do so with few significant weaknesses, politicians point out.
"They all have exceptionally good positions at this point and I don't see any of them being turned out," said Jack Martinelli, CCA president.
There is also evidence of continued political support for freshman Councilor William H. Walsh, who won his seat in 1985 through attacks on the rent control system, which restricts the rents of 17,000 city housing units to levels far below market rate. Walsh brings a third, more politically conservative element to the council.
Two new candidates for the council Jonathan Myers and Ed Cyr, have already begun to campaign, and some political observers predict the field's eventual size to reach the upper teens.
Cyr, 30, a North Cambridge activist, chairs the Cambridge Committee of Elders and Cambridge Toxic Alert. He says he will attempt to win victory by securing a firm minority of voters rather than presenting a broad city-wide appeal.
Cyr said he would reject a CCA endorsement because of his working class North Cambridge constituency--although he supports many of the liberal organization's positions. "The CCA is still seen as [belonging to] Wards 7 and 8," he said, referring to the affluent Harvard and Brattle Street districts.
Martinelli acknowledges the stereotype but denies its validity. Nothing that he is himself an auto mechanic, he commented, "We're no Brattle Street garden party."
Myers, 29, is a Cambridge youth coordinator who expects a CCA endorsement in March. He has already begun one of the earliest campaigns in recent years. The $10,000 campaign chest he claims is also more than respectable by the standards of a race in a city which is small enough to give personal loyalties more weight than purchased mediaexposure.
Campaign manager Brian Murphy '87 said Myersand several volunteers were already passingleaflets at Saturday's Democratic ward caucuses.Myers also plans to distribute about 45,000leaflets in March--in contrast to severalincumbent candidates who don't plan to campaignpublicly until June.
Saundra Graham, who regained her seat by anarrow margin in 1985, plans a longer campaignthan do most of her fellow incumbents.
"This is the best time to have yourfundraisers," she said in an interview thisweekend. "People start leaving town around the endof May and don't come back until September," shesaid, adding that "Cambridge is so transient thatthey might or might not come back."
Esther Hanig, who managed Councilor DavidSullivan's 1985 campaign, noted that both Grahamand Sullivan must work unusually hard forreelection because they appeal to young, liberalCambridge residents who are likely to leave townbefore the next election. They must build a newconstituency every other year, said Hanig
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