How Much Does It Cost to Win a City Council Seat?

Twenty thousand dollars may not be able to guarantee any City Council candidates a seat, but according to several campaign managers, twenty grand is the minimum amount it will cost this year to make a serious run for council. And the serious candidates are not afraid of spending it, either.

"I don't see how many you could [run for council] with less than 20 to $25,000," Ann Graham, incumbent William H. Walsh's campaign manager, said. Graham, along with other campaign managers, said that to run an effective city-wide campaign, candidates should be armed with substantial resources and funding.

"Everything has to have first-class postage," said Kenneth A. Bamberger '90, the campaign manager for incumbent Francis H. Duehay '55. "It would be insulting to the constituents for us to send something bulk-rate and ask for as $25 donation."

Whether it be bulk rate or first class, most of this year's candidates are paying steep postal bills; add to that the high cost of signs, literature, advertising, printing, buttons, bumper stickers, other expenses such as campaign staff salaries and rent for a campaign headquarters, multiply it all by inflation and it becomes the general formula of the the cost of running "the successful campaign."

But the parts to this formula vary dramatically from one candidate to the next, making the costs fluctuate for each candidate.


According to mandatory campaign finance reports, which give a basic outline of donation sources, expenditures and fundraising sums from January 1 to October 18, total expenditures of this year's hopefuls range from perpetual candidate William Jones's $0 to the substantial $31,165.31 spent by veteran politician Duehay.

The top five spenders in this year's election, as of October 18, are: Duehay ($31,165.31) Walsh ($26,706.83), Vice Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 ($26,004.64), Councillor Jonathan S. Myers ($24,825.11) and Mayor Alice K. Wolf ($23,371.29).

The candidates spending the least are: Jones ($0), Vivian Kurkjian ($0), Robert Hall ($237.94), Thomas B. Watkins ($652.23) and George Spartachino (1458.25).

Despite the fact that some campaigns will spend more than $25,000 this year, the candidates' ability to reap donations from the public has been hurt by the recession, cutting campaign resources in half.

"It has been a difficult year because of the economy...People are even finding it hard to go to a fundraising event," said Jane F. Sullivan, former school committee member.

Sullivan considered distributing a humorous letter which would have asked supporters to send a small donation instead of spending the money for a ticket, babysitter and clothing to go to her fundraising party at the Marriott.

The pinch the public is feeling from the recession has had a ripple effect on Cambridge politics and is probably the biggest contributing factor to the candidates' move toward frugality this election. Walsh spent approximately $10,000 less this year than in the '89 plebiscite and Myers also reduced his spending by nearly $8,000. Top spender Duehay, however, has maintained practically the same spending habits he kept in his '89 spending budget.

"Candidates did spend less than in the last election...I've spent less than in the last two elections," Myers said. In addition to recession, Myers attributes a tightening of other candidates' purse strings to a smaller ballot. He also said he spent less this election because he "had a clearer sense this time of what [he] wanted to focus on."

Although campaign budgets have shrunk this year, there are still tremendous differences in the candidates' bottom lines--differences that can be explained by the type of campaign each candidate chooses to run.

While some candidates' potential constituency is distributed throughout Cambridge, others' support is pocketed mainly in specific neighborhoods, or wards; the more specified and bounded a constitutency is, the more the candidate can target and focus his campaigning.