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Duehay, Russell Leave Legacy

By Kirsten G. Studlien, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

During the last year, Cambridge Mayor Francis H. Duehay '55 and City Councillor Sheila T. Russell announced their impending retirement from Cambridge politics.

Their departure, local political observers say, means more than just a loss of experience in the council chamber in City Hall. Rather, it could mean a change in the overall tenor of city government, as Cambridge loses two great political brokers who have worked hard to ensure stability reigns in the "People's Republic."

Robert Winters, a Harvard math preceptor with an interest in local politics, says that these two long-serving politicians--Duehay has been on the council for 28 years, Russell for 14, and both have served as mayor at one time or another--form the spiritual backbone of city government.

"Those guys have basically been the heart and soul of that place. Sometimes city councillors play to the camera and get full of themselves. [Duehay and Russell] have always brought things back to earth and put things in perspective," he says.

Winters says he believes that without Duehay and Russell on the council, members will need to find a new stabilizing force.

"Frank has always been the understated dean of the council. Everyone has always respected him as not voting on the winds of the day," he says.

Russell, who was considered an integral player during her husband's mayoral stint, not only held her own when she took over his position after his death, but also left her own personal mark on the council.

Russell herself says that she attempted tobring levity and a sense of humor to the oftennumbing proceedings of the council.

"Not just this council but other governingbodies take themselves too seriously. Things arenot always life or death issues and I hope thatthe new council keeps a perspective on what isimportant," Russell says.

For Duehay, whose personal skills wereinterwoven with his political prowess, hispersonal qualities of even-handedness and personalintegrity have carried him far.

"Frank has a stable temperament. He has thegood of the city behind every decision that hemakes," says long-time City Councillor HenriettaDavis.

"Frank is more the wise, intelligent one, and Iwould hate to see an upstart person [come up] whowants to swing swords and yell at everyone,"Winter said.

Duehay was the consummate compromiser, bridgingtwo camps and bringing them together over extendedperiods of haggling and negotiating. Often in theturbulent world of city politics, Duehay was thestabilizing factor on the council.

Duehay's skills for negotiating between verydistinct camps can be seen most starkly from histhree distinct constituencies he represented.Duehay pulled on the working class Cambridgecommunities as well as white collar and academicenclaves. His supporters ran the gamut frommoderate "good government" Republicans to far leftliberal activists.

But in some senses, new blood may be needed inCity Hall. Duehay's consensus-building nature ledhim into trouble with rent control, a divisiveissue that was not dealt with until statewidelegislation ended it in 1994.

For Duehay, the great compromiser, therent-control imbroglio represented the greatestopportunity for him to try to placate a hard-linetenants' union while still pushing throughrent-control reform. And for better or for worse,Duehay did not attempt to tackle the issue.

And while many lament the passing of Duehay andRussell their departure ensures the upcoming CityCouncil races will inject the council with newblood.

"We've been nursing the status quo for severalyears now," says Kenneth E. Reeves '72. "I see itas an opportunity for the Council to stand up andhave five or seven members to go the same way intothe future."

The most prominent issues that stand before thecouncil are the locations and building of a newcentral Cambridge public library and a new policestation.

The council must also deal with the impendingrenewal of controversial City Manager Robert W.Healy's contract this summer. Duehay has been astrong supporter of Healy, and with his departurethe city manager's job could come open again.

Cambridge must also deal with the disappointingnews of Massachusetts Comprehensive AssessmentSystem test results, which while they remainrespectable, do not put Cambridge schoolchildreninto the state elite. Even the number of Harvardacceptances for Cambridge high school studentsdecreased this year.

Perhaps a new perspective is best. TheCambridge where Duehay was raised and that heruled over as mayor is coming to an end. AnAbercrombie & Fitch franchise is moving in wherethe Tasty once was, and worries aboutgentrification are gaining momentum in the"People's Republic," as residents like to calltheir city.

But both have proven themselves as extremelycapable politicians. Russell has stepped far outof her husband's shadow. Their impact on the citywill continue to be felt long after their chairsare filled by others

Russell herself says that she attempted tobring levity and a sense of humor to the oftennumbing proceedings of the council.

"Not just this council but other governingbodies take themselves too seriously. Things arenot always life or death issues and I hope thatthe new council keeps a perspective on what isimportant," Russell says.

For Duehay, whose personal skills wereinterwoven with his political prowess, hispersonal qualities of even-handedness and personalintegrity have carried him far.

"Frank has a stable temperament. He has thegood of the city behind every decision that hemakes," says long-time City Councillor HenriettaDavis.

"Frank is more the wise, intelligent one, and Iwould hate to see an upstart person [come up] whowants to swing swords and yell at everyone,"Winter said.

Duehay was the consummate compromiser, bridgingtwo camps and bringing them together over extendedperiods of haggling and negotiating. Often in theturbulent world of city politics, Duehay was thestabilizing factor on the council.

Duehay's skills for negotiating between verydistinct camps can be seen most starkly from histhree distinct constituencies he represented.Duehay pulled on the working class Cambridgecommunities as well as white collar and academicenclaves. His supporters ran the gamut frommoderate "good government" Republicans to far leftliberal activists.

But in some senses, new blood may be needed inCity Hall. Duehay's consensus-building nature ledhim into trouble with rent control, a divisiveissue that was not dealt with until statewidelegislation ended it in 1994.

For Duehay, the great compromiser, therent-control imbroglio represented the greatestopportunity for him to try to placate a hard-linetenants' union while still pushing throughrent-control reform. And for better or for worse,Duehay did not attempt to tackle the issue.

And while many lament the passing of Duehay andRussell their departure ensures the upcoming CityCouncil races will inject the council with newblood.

"We've been nursing the status quo for severalyears now," says Kenneth E. Reeves '72. "I see itas an opportunity for the Council to stand up andhave five or seven members to go the same way intothe future."

The most prominent issues that stand before thecouncil are the locations and building of a newcentral Cambridge public library and a new policestation.

The council must also deal with the impendingrenewal of controversial City Manager Robert W.Healy's contract this summer. Duehay has been astrong supporter of Healy, and with his departurethe city manager's job could come open again.

Cambridge must also deal with the disappointingnews of Massachusetts Comprehensive AssessmentSystem test results, which while they remainrespectable, do not put Cambridge schoolchildreninto the state elite. Even the number of Harvardacceptances for Cambridge high school studentsdecreased this year.

Perhaps a new perspective is best. TheCambridge where Duehay was raised and that heruled over as mayor is coming to an end. AnAbercrombie & Fitch franchise is moving in wherethe Tasty once was, and worries aboutgentrification are gaining momentum in the"People's Republic," as residents like to calltheir city.

But both have proven themselves as extremelycapable politicians. Russell has stepped far outof her husband's shadow. Their impact on the citywill continue to be felt long after their chairsare filled by others

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