With Rent Control Dead, Politicians Seek Issues

Shift in Ideological Fault Lines Seen

For six years, the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA), the city's liberal political group, has dominated Cambridge politics with a platform of "good government" and a biennial slate of pro-tenant City Council candidates.

The death of rent control has changed all that.

Politicians, pundits and activists say the demise of rent control--for a quarter century the single issue able to make or break a politician in this city of Democrats--initiated a seismic shift that could alter the face of city politics for decades to come.

State voters decided Election Day to abolish rent control--but the state legislature voted to provide a grace period of up to two years for some elderly, disabled and low-income tenants.

The 24-year-old battle between small property owners who said the system was abused, and low-income tenants who feared the city's gentrification, is over. Finding themselves without a rallying cause after 25 years of battle, Cambridge politicians are scrambling to find a new ideological fault line that will define the next generation of city politics.


For the first time since 1989, Independent councillors are poised to seize control of the council, backed by a two-year-old group calling itself the Alliance for Change.

The Alliance was formed by probusiness interests to resist what it calls the CCA's "dictatorship," and its attacks have weakened an already troubled CCA.

The CCA's slim five-person majority on the nine-member council was thrown into confusion by the defection of Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves, the council's only minority member.

Reeves, who is Black, defied the CCA board and ran in 1993 for a second term as mayor--and won. The CCA had wanted to rotate the mayor-ship among its councillors.

Adding to the liberal group's troubles was the replacement of former Councillor William H. Walsh, following his conviction on federal charges, by Alliance candidate Anthony D. Galluccio. The Alliance now has four councillors and a conservative, probusiness vote to match the CCA's progressively liberal stance.

Before the CCA takeover six years ago, the Independent councillors had controlledCity Hall for 20 years. With the 1995 council raceonly 10 months away, Independents--with thebacking of the Alliance--have a serious shot atwinning back the majority.

The CCA: A Faltering Group?

Board members and politicians say the CCA isnow in the throes of an identity crisis.

"People on the [CCA] board really made acommitment to help the CCA, and right now thereare differences on what that vision ought to be,"says board member Charles R. Colbert III. "I thinka lot of that has to deal with the demise of rentcontrol."

Even politicians who have benefited from theCCA's support have pointed to internal problemscaused by the changing political climate.

"It's been kind of floundering as anorganization," says Alice K. Wolf, who served asmayor from 1990 to 1991 and was endorsed by theCCA.