DeBergalis Runs for City Council on Student Platform

MIT grad looks to students to support ideas of later restaurant, bus hours in elections

David E. Stein

City Council candidate Matt DeBergalis.

Matt DeBergalis trudges through Mather low rise, a clipboard in one hand and a fistful of pamphlets in the other.

A so-called “dark horse” in tomorrow’s city council election, DeBergalis has been no stranger this election season to Mather House—or to the Yard or MIT frats, for that matter—in pursuit of student voters, a typically-neglected segment of the electorate that he targets as his core constituency.

Sporting cargo pants and carrying a bike messenger bag across his shoulder, the young software writer turned candidate knocks on every door to remind voters of the impending election in a low-key spiel punctuated with the words “cool” and “sweet.”

His platform is unconventional. He promises to push for better late-night transportation hours, for the preservation of beloved local nightclubs and for licenses to allow eateries to stay open later.

“Why is there nowhere to eat around here at 2 a.m.?” reads a typical DeBergalis campaign poster. “It’s because the city of Cambridge chooses not to grant licenses. You think this is absurd. We think it is absurd. DeBerg thinks Cambridge’s 15,000 students should have a voice where it matters.”

At 26, DeBergalis is the youngest of this year’s 20 candidates and is not so far removed from his own undergraduate years at MIT.

A software engineer by training, DeBergalis lacks the natural politician’s ability to effortlessly schmooze and casually construct sound bites.

But the earnest young candidate has recruited students and friends to his campaign, which he says has registered 800 students across Harvard and MIT—400 of whom, he says, have pledged their votes to him.

Even though DeBergalis has a niche, he is still a long shot.

In order to make “quota” and win a council seat under Cambridge’s proportional representation voting system—a system in which voters rank their top nine choices—a candidate typically must receive about 1,700 votes.

And this year’s race is competitive by any standard.

Once elected, city councillors usually enjoy a good deal of job security, and all nine of the incumbent city councillors are seeking reelection. DeBergalis is one of 11 challenger candidates this year.

Before he leaves Mather to cap off his night with some campaigning in the Yard, DeBergalis reflects on his effort to energize students.

Win or lose, DeBergalis says he hopes to stay involved in local politics.

“I love that for the last three months, I’ve been out meeting people, having a direct effect on things. I really enjoy that,” he says. “It’s hard to change the world writing software.”

Mr. DeBergalis Goes to City Hall?