Cambridge Political Observers See Growing Partisan Friction in City

In a city whose political landscape has remained virtually unaltered for 20 years, any kind of change seems unlikely.

But a new political era is unfolding in the city of Cambridge.

The one-term-old liberal majority on the City Council is beginning to exercise its power in City Hall. As a consequence, the level of antagonism and friction between political factions in the city is approaching a volatile pitch.

Cambridge, observers say, is in flux.

And it is a time of flux, citizens and politicians say, that will be shaped by the vicissitudes of backdoor meetings, patronage politicking and party-line discord.


The Progressive Cambridge Civic Association (CCA)-backed councillors have held a majority in City Hall since 1990. But their first term in power wan relatively free from overt partisan politics. Since CCA councillors won a second majority in the 1991 election, they have done far more than appoint like-minded officials.

Progressives say the last election has given them the mandate to alter the way power flows in the city by pursuing their mission of bringing open, responsive and progressive government to Cambridge.

But Independent councillors believe it is more a question of political retribution. The CCA is engaging in its own brand of political favoritism, they maintain. And some Independents allege that the liberal councilors are looking to bolster their power with fundamental changes in the city's form of government.

There are 28823 Democrats and 3396 Republicans in the city of Cambridge. One would not expect to find partisan politics in a city where nearly everyone affiliated with a political party is a Democrat.

But historically in Cambridge the Democratic City Council has broken into two political camps.

For the past 20 years, a City Council majority of Independents--mostly conservative Democrats--has been a fixture in Cambridge politics. The long-time Independent councillors built a political foundation in City Hall, appointing supporters to posts throughout the political hierarchy.

But in 1989, the CCA--progressive "good government" Democrats--managed to oust the Independents for the first time since 1969.

Since last year's election the Independents have been reeling in the wake of victory of the CCA-backed majority. The Independent councillors have lost struggle after struggle with the new majority, including their recent failure to lobby the necessary five-vote support to re-appoint the city clerk.

But despite their losses, the Independents have maintained a foothold in City Hall due to the wealth of politically sympathetic employees whom they hired over the course of their 20-year hegemony on the council.

And it is this foothold, both politicos and citizens say, that is under dispute as a subject for change for the CCA and as the Independents last bulwark of power.