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Council Race Crowded, Unpredictable

By Ira E. Stoll

Trying to predict winners two months in advance of a Cambridge election is a risky business.

In fact, it can take as much as a week after the election to figure out exactly who's won. Cambridge's arcane system of proportional representation makes it possible for citizens to vote for as many as nine candidates, and excess votes are transferred from one candidate to another.

Pre-election polling is expensive, inaccurate and rarely performed. Shifts of as many as a few hundred votes in the weeks before the election can mean a candidate wins the ninth coveted leather seat in City Hall's council chambers--or finishes tenth and ends up watching the meetings from home on cable TV.

This year, the outcome of the election is even more unpredictable than usual, because Alice K. Wolf and Walter J. Sullivan, the top two vote-getters from the last election, decided not to run again this time.

"Absolutely anything can happen in this election," says council hopeful Anthony D. Galluccio.

Moreover, incumbent William H. Walsh's trial on bank fraud charges is scheduled for October, adding another ingredient of uncertainty to the mix.

"It's really impossible to predict this in a traditional fashion," says council candidate Jim McGrail.

Still, for all the uncertainty, the six incumbents other than Walsh who are running for reelection have excellent shots at keeping their council seats. "PR" may stand for perpetual representation as much as for proportional representation, city political lore has it.

In a field of more than 20 challengers, it's hard to figure out who has a real chance of replacing Wolf, Sullivan and possibly Walsh.

Observers say that Michael A. Sullivan, Walter Sullivan's son and an assistant state attorney general, has a good chance of joining the council--where members of the Sullivan family have served continuously since 1936.

But beyond that, "it's a toss-up," said Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55.

The Cambridge Civic Association, a progressive "good-government" group which endorses council candidates, currently has a five member majority on the council.

To keep that majority, the Civic Association will need to elect a new member to the council to replace Wolf. This summer, the association endorsed architect Kathy Born, lawyer Katherine Triantafillou and Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association head John R. Pitkin. All three can rely on the Civic Association's institutional muscle making it somewhat easier for at least one of them to gain a spot on the council.

But, says Cambridge Civic Association President R. Philip Dowds, "nothing is in the bag."

The Civic Association also endorsed incumbents Duehay, Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72, Jonathan S. Myers and Edward N. Cyr.

Non-Civic Association candidates Jim McGrail and Jim McSweeney have been running strong, buoyed by the endorsement of the newlyformed Alliance for Change. The group opposes the Cambridge Civic Association.

The Alliance also endorsed independent incumbents Sheila Russell and Timothy Toomey, as well as Galluccio, Cambridge recycling organizer Robert Winters, neighborhood activists Gloria Beeks and Ron Potvin and Dr. Paul Kearns.

Among the rest of the field, candidate Michael Baldasaro will attempt to capitalize on the legacy of his grandfather, the legendary former Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci. Elaine Nobel will compete with Triantafillou for whatever "lesbian vote" may exist in the city. And Tom Weed has a strong base in East Cambridge.

As for the many other candidates present on the ballot but not yet on the lips of Cambridge political pundits, they can comfort themselves with the fact that the results of this election are unpredictable.

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