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Despite Lack of Divisive Issues, 16,000 Cantabrigians Cast Ballots

By Jason T. Benowitz and Courtney A. Coursey, CRIMSON STAFF WRITERSs

Despite an afternoon drizzle, about 16,000 Cambridge residents trekked to polling stations yesterday and cast their votes for the next City Council and School Committee.

Voter turnout was "average and steady" at about 2 p.m., according to a poll worker at the Harrington School on Cambridge Street, who asked not to be named.

According to Teresa S. Neighbor, executive director of the Cambridge Election Commission, more than 16,000 of the city's 40,575 registered voters cast ballots yesterday.

Preliminarly results last night indicated an approximate 41 percent voter turnout for the City Council and School Committee races. More than 16,000 votes were cast.

In an election lacking divisive issues, some voters said that they voted because it was their responsibility as citizens.

"Even though I think it doesn't really matter, I'd feel really bad if I didn't vote," said Gail R. Sylvester, 49, who voted at the Inman Street polling station.

Many voters said they based their decisions on many different campaign issues.

"It's a mixed bag this time," said Richard J. Silva, who has lived all of his 59 years in Cambridge.

"Rent control is gone, and a lot of people are hoping it will come back."

But Silva said that he is not a supporter of rent protections, which were abolished in Cambridge after a 1994 state referendum.

Other voters expressed opposing views.

"Rents are being driven up so high, people are forced to leave," said David Kriebel, 43. "Livability is a key issue."

He praised the incumbents for their commitment to diversity.

"It's very important that we continue to have a progressive city council," Kriebel said. "I don't want [the city] to become a rich white enclave like some other Boston suburbs are becoming."

C.L. Monrose, a woman who has lived in Cambridge for 15 years, identified "development and making sure that candidates are watching out for our neighborhood in Central Square" as her chief concerns.

She said the city needs "more good programs for kids."

Paul G. Rego said that "housing, cleanliness in the city, crime, and drugs" were important issues for him.

Rego, 23, voted in his first election yesterday.

But many voters said that this year's elections were not based on specific issues. "I don't think there were any issues," said Barbara Hayes-Harrison, 47.

"Cambridge isn't really an issue-oriented city," according to Laurence T. May '72, who said that personalities, not platforms, dominate the city's political scene.

May, who has voted in about 15 Cambridge elections, said he tries to become acquainted with candidates.

Kenneth May, Laurence's brother and a Cambridge lawyer, agreed. "I vote for candidates," he said. "There aren't a whole lot of issues."

According to Kenneth May, a Cambridge resident for the past 35 years, the biggest concern is "why is everybody so apathetic."

Walter A. Costa also said he cast his votes based on the candidates themselves rather than issues.

"I like to give the votes to the city councillors who are going to do the things that are right," he said.

Costa, 72, said he could not identify any issues central to the election.

"It's just about everything that's going on in the city," he said.

Politicians and their supporters were also out in full force at the polls.

Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. spent election day shaking hands and soliciting votes in front of the Harrington School.

Toomey, who is also a state representative, and School Committee incumbent Alfred B. Fantini were at the school before 7 a.m. yesterday morning and planned to stay there until the polls closed.

"Every election I always stay here," Toomey said of his early morning campaigning.

--Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to the reporting of this article.

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