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City Council Candidate Teaches Harvard Class

By Manlio A. Goetzl

Robert Winters' ride to work these days is a little safer, a little warmer and a lot closer.

"I used to have to drive out to Wellesley everyday in a VW van with no heat. It used to be dangerous especially in the winter, without heat, when it rained," says Winters, a mathematics preceptor at Harvard. "It is nice to be able to bike to work now.

Winters, who is running for Cambridge City Council this year, is hoping that after November his bicycle ride home will be also be short, safe, but more importantly take him down Mass Ave. to the friendly confines of City Hall.

As a math preceptor, Winters spends his days on campus, teaching Mathematics 20: Introduction to Linear Algebra and Multi-variable Calculus this fall.

In this, his second bid for the Council, the former Wellesley math professor is not seeking any outside endorsements from the multitude of partisan interest groups in the city, but rather is seeking to establish himself as the moderate in the 16-person race.

"The city is at a junction now," says Winters, who lost his race for a Council seat in 1993. "Are we going to have local politics based on moderation, compromise, concession or are we going to back to absurdity, creating extreme factions on issues?"

This election, Winters says, will give Cambridge voters the chance, after the divisive debates last year over rent control, to establish a more conciliatory Council.

"This election creates the opportunity to bring the moderates into power and minimize the extremists," says the 18-year Cambridge resident. "I have a pretty good working relationship with all the councillors, I think I could sit at the table with people on both sides of an issue and work things out."

Winters, who resides in the Central Square area, says he supports the work done by Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 during his two terms in office, especially the Central Square Revitalization Project.

"Mayor Reeves of all the nine councillors understands and appreciates the fabric of Central Square more than the others. Without him, we could not have gotten the [revitalization] process going," Winters says.

Winters, 40, is an active supporter of environmental issues and says he decided to run for the Council, because "it was the next step up in my civic duty."

"There are many things that I involve myself in, that I thought I could be more effective on the other side of the bar," says Winters, who is President of Cambridge Recycling, Inc.

Winters says the most important issues now facing the city are "housing policy," since rent control ended and some of the "major hires" which Cambridge will have to make in the near future, including a new police commissioner and a new school superintendent.

Winters also says two Harvard Square issues are important in the race: the recent proposal by Cambridge Savings Bank to raze the buildings between the bank and Pizzeria Uno's on JFK Street and the recent proposal by the owners of the Sheraton Commander Hotel to knock down three historic houses in order to build a parking lot.

The Cambridge Savings Bank proposal would demolish four buildings, which are all joined by a single wooden facade and which contain 14 tenants, including the Wursthaus and the Tasty. The Bank would use the area to construct a new four-story building, and in the process create 60,000 square feet of retail space.

Despite preservationists' protests, Bank officials say the buildings must be razed because much of the plumbing and woodwork inside has deteriorated to the point that the buildings are now considered unsafe.

While acknowledging that the buildings are not in good shape, Winters said that he hoped, if the proposal is accepted, the new building would match the character of the Square.

"It is a shame that a old building which people are very familiar with gets replaced by something that is unacceptable...we hope that [the new building] will not be a detriment to the Square," says Winters.

But, he adds, because of the age of Harvard Square, residents of Cambridge will have to keep an "open mind" about other proposals which might change the look of the area.

"Walking through the Square, there is a sense of character and you don't want to see that destroyed," Winters says. "But the Harvard Square of 15 years ago, is not the Harvard Square of today. It can't be a 19th century rustic village, you have to be realistic."

The owners of the Sheraton Commander Hotel, Walter and Ed Gulesarian, want to tear down three 19th-century houses on Garden Street in order to make room for a parking garage.

The owners say that a parking lot is essential for their survival, because they are losing business to nearby hotels which have their own parking facilities.

Winters says he is sympathetic to the owners' concerns but adds that the decision to erect a parking garage in that area would be in "poor taste."

"Putting up a parking garage in this area graced by certain types of buildings would be extraordinarily poor judgment by the Sheraton owners," Winters says.

Although the election is only two weeks away, Winters says he is not planning on increasing his campaign schedule.

In a race, where he has "not spent a dime." Winters said he prefers in the coming two weeks to maintain his low profile, instead using the time to prepare for his students at Harvard.

And Winters says that if history repeats itself and he loses again, he will continue to be active in Cambridge politics.

"I do have to go to work and get lectures prepared," Winters said. "And the election is not the end all, be all of the process. My participation is satisfaction enough, I'm not going to lose sleep over it."

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