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When Cambridge voters go to the polls today, they will vote for nine city councilors from a large field—all nine incumbents as well as eleven new candidates are running. Many of the 20 have markedly similar platforms, but there is one candidate who deserves particular attention. Matt S. DeBergalis would bring to the Cambridge City Council a perspective that is too often underrepresented in Cambridge politics. DeBergalis graduated from MIT in 2000 with an undergraduate and masters degree, and he represents the thousands of Cambridge students whose interests have been ignored by local politicians in recent years. With the quality of student life often hinging on the City Council, a vocal supporter of students is necessary. As a recent graduate, DeBergalis understands students’ lifestyles, and we encourage voters—students and non-students alike—to cast a vote for DeBergalis.
While the University’s town-gown relations with Cambridge have been generally strained, focusing on issues of re-zoning and new University construction, DeBergalis wants to bridge student-community issues by advocating for later hours for restaurants, more affordable student housing and safer transportation with longer hours—goals that are popular with the city’s college students. An advocate for students could also direct some of the city’s improvements in resident safety towards heavily-student areas of Cambridge. Improving street lighting and traffic patterns would enhance pedestrian and bicyclist safety, directly benefiting students, few of whom have cars. But pressure from students is often not forceful enough to motivate change without an advocate on the City Council itself. DeBergalis wants to be that advocate.
In addition to pushing a student-friendly platform, DeBergalis has recognized the power of Cambridge’s students and encouraged them to be more pro-active in the election process. Unlike the majority of other candidates, DeBergalis has shown unusual concern and respect for the needs of the student voter. He has campaigned in various Harvard Houses and has helped students register to vote locally. Increased voter participation is key to DeBergalis’ campaign, but it is also necessary to secure a longer lasting voice for students in Cambridge politics.
The voting system of Cambridge is a “proportional” system, in which first place votes count the most. Last election, approximately 1,700 first-place votes secured a seat on the council. While DeBergalis says he has helped as many as 800 students at Harvard and MIT register, this number falls far short of the turnout he will need to be elected. At the time of the last election, two years ago, only 649 Harvard undergraduates were registered to vote in Cambridge, and less than eight percent of them voted in the race for City Council. In order for the student voice to be heard and for candidates like DeBergalis to succeed, students must take a larger role in local politics.
Students can easily register for local elections in Cambridge and switch back to their home state to vote for other offices. Only paperwork stands between students and their vote. Harvard’s varied student groups that focus on politics should encourage student participation in local elections, and the College should provide Cambridge voting information in students’ fall registration packets. Harvard students spend nine months of the year in this city. It’s time that students exercise their rights in Cambridge voting booths.
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