After Rent Control: CCA Looks to Future

Led by a new slate of officers and a more compact executive board, the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) hopes to revitalize city politics and redefine itself now that rent control--for 25 years one of the group's key issues--is gone.

But critics question whether the progressive organization can over come its recent political fumblings and give a strong showing in the city council elections this fall.

As the CCA prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary next month, its new leaders promise a reformed good-government group. However, the defection of popular Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 from the group in 1993 and a breakdown in communication within the organization last year threaten to hamper the liberal group's efforts to clarify its political agenda.

The CCA confirmed a new board of directors May 1, electing a new president, Geneva T. Malenfant.

Malenfant, a longtime Cambridgeport resident and community activist, decided to downsize the executive board, reducing the number of vice presidents from nine to two. The vice presidents are Dick Clarey and Julia Gregory.


The smaller board has hit The ground running, appointing a new staff member, Jo Ann Hoffman, as acting executive director to run the group's day-to-day operations. In its first to meetings, held on May 4 and last Thursday, nearly 30 board members showed up, the highest attendance in recent memory.

"This is a new beginning," Malenfant said in an interview. "I look upon it as the beginning of the next 50 years."

Malenfant hopes the group's new structure will make decision-making more democratic. "Previously, the executive committee was too large and it pre-empted the role of the board ofdirectors in decision making," she said.

While she acknowledged taking action might takelonger and the group may become less efficient,she said the changes will involve "a wider rangeof people" and help build membership.

The CCA has traditionally prepared informationsummaries and issued policy recommendations to theCity Council members it endorses. Malenfant saidthe group has streamlined its work, assigning mostof it to one of five committees: education,housing, budget and finance, elections and acommittee devoted to the anniversary celebration.

The CCA's outgoing president, R. Philip Dowds,was the target of some criticism as the end of hissecond one-year term approached. Some members sawDowds as overly partisan in the world of Cambridgepolitics, and faulted him for the group'stenacious pro-rent control position, which theysay alienated many Cantabrigians.

In an interview, Dowds called the group'ssometimes zealous stance in support of rentcontrol "a disastrous mistake."

"I worked hard to change that during my twoyears as president. The event of Question 9 caughtup with us before we could clean up our act," hesaid, referring to the controversial statereferendum that narrowly passed last fall,abolishing rent control.

"I think it's a mistake for a group like theCCA to become solidly identified with anyposition, pro or con, on a major public issue likethat," he added.

He compared rent control to the proposedbuilding expansion of the Stop and Shopsupermarket, which also generated controversy. Thegroup adopted a moderate, low-key stance,supporting the expansion but urging the city torestrict the truck traffic on Memorial Drive thatneighbors of the grocery thought would disrupt theneighborhood.

"It should have been that way for rentcontrol," Dowds said. "How it came to be that theCCA came to be comprised only of those in favor ofrent control was a long process, and a bigmistake."