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Tension between the city's progressive and conservative blocs came to the forefront last night, as Councillor William H. Walsh angrily delayed action on 11 measures before the City Council.
Walsh, a member of the conservative Independent minority, said he was offended by the demeanor of the council's progressive majority, which is backed by the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA).
Specifically, Walsh objected to a comment made by Vice Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 early in the meeting. Immediately after a speech by Walsh, Reeves suggested that councillors keep their comments brief and to the point.
"I was insulted here tonight when I was told not to speak out in favor of my constituents," Walsh said. "I think you were exceptionally rude to me, Madam Mayor [Alice K. Wolf] and Vice Mayor Reeves, when I was told that I shouldn't speak so much tonight."
Relations between the Independent and CCA-backed councillors have never been stable, but last night's outburst marked a low point for the new City Council, which took office January 1.
"My anger is not unjustified," said Walsh. "There are two different groups in this council, one of five and one of four, and a gang of five is not going to cut off the minority opinion."
But members of the progressive majority disputed that Walsh had been singled out for persecution. "There is absolutely no intention on the chair's part to cut anyone off," said Wolf.
Both Wolf and Reeves also issued apologies to Walsh, but the conservative councillor refused to withdraw most of his "charter-right" requests. The charter-right is a parliamentary rule which allows council members to delay action on items of business for one week.
The measures Walsh postponed action on ranged from the trivial--a birthday greeting for a city resident--to more important matters. Although most of the measures delayed by Walsh were "communications"--letters received by the council which are typically just acknowledged and placed on file--his action also prevented an out-of-town speaker from addressing the council.
Harriet McCullough, former executive director of the Chicago Board of Ethics, flew in from Chicago to lobby for the adoption of a CCA-sponsored code of ethics for the city government.
After persuasion from Reeves and Wolf, Walsh agreed to let the council proceed with the birthday congratulations and two other minor items.
In other business, the council:
. Gave a vote of no confidence to the city's water department. The order, authored by Walsh, criticized the department for allowing the quality of Cambridge's water to deteriorate and for failing to notify the public of the presence of chemical contaminants in drinking water.
"The water has gone from brown to grey," said Reeves. "This is a whole population that is drinking water that has visible impurities in it."
. Called on all department heads to come to the February 26 council meeting prepared to discuss areas for possible budget cuts.
Councillors said they were concerned that the state's budget crisis will cause a sharp reduction in aid to local governments this year, forcing cuts in many city services. Gov. Michael S. Dukakis slashed more than $3 million in aid to Cambridge this summer, and state officials have predicted that further cuts may be forthcoming.
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