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“Don’t say I’ve been on the council a very long time, I’m not that old,” says Cambridge City Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr., laughing. “Though I’ve got a few years under my belt,” he adds.
As a City Councillor since 1990 and a State Representative since 1993, Toomey says that he hopes “the big thing that people will recognize is my many years of service.”
With Council terms set at just two years, Toomey has seen his fair share of elections in the two decades he’s served.
“I’m doing everything I usually do—going to door-to-door, reconnecting with people, meeting the new people who’ve moved in,” he says of his election strategy this year.
Despite his long-standing incumbent status, Toomey warns that “until the voters have spoken, you don’t take anything for granted.” Nonetheless, his current campaign manager, Dan Weber, successfully guided Toomey to reelection in 2009, and their present attempt seems promising as well: the Toomey campaign raised the fourth highest amount in contributions, $23,915, from January 1 to September 23, according to the Cambridge Chronicle. Weber is looking to repeat their previous success, noting that the campaign is innovating this year by building an online and social media presence.
VOICE FOR THE CAMBRIDGE CONSTITUENCY?
Toomey holds a unique position in Cambridge politics because of his status as both a State Representative and City Councillor. Not since 2004 has his candidacy for the position in the State legislature been challenged, then by Harvard Kennedy School graduate Avi Green. In that closely-fought primary, Green accused Toomey of neglecting Somerville as a consequence of the dual-positions he holds.
Toomey dismisses the idea that he is unable to address his entire constituency effectively.
“Voters obviously want me in both positions, or otherwise they wouldn’t be sending me back,” says Toomey, who won the 2004 primary with 54 percent of the vote. “There’s no question that the two positions definitely complement each other in big ways,” he adds, describing how he is able to advocate directly to Mass. Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 in his position as a Representative. One issue that he says has benefited from his dual role is the potential extension of the Green Line, an issue that Toomey says is important to his Cambridge constituency.
But Green maintains that Toomey, along with other City Councilors, neglect some of their constituents. According to Green, now the Executive Director of civic organization MASSVote, the low turnout that characterizes off-year elections allows city councilors to get by with addressing only a portion of the population.
“Right now, city councilors ... focus their campaigns on the very small number of people who reliably vote in municipal elections,” said Green. “That makes strategic sense for them, but it’s not good for democracy.”
CAMBRIDGE, BORN AND BRED
Unlike his once-challenger Green, Toomey is native to Cambridge, a distinction he says helps him serve the community. Recalling the days of his Cambridge childhood in the 1950s, before housing prices skyrocketed, Toomey harkens back to a time where Cambridge was more accessible.
“The biggest change in Cambridge over the past few decades has been that the middle class is rapidly diminishing,” says Toomey, who plans to maintain a low, stable tax rate to attrac the middle class back to Cambridge.
“I don’t want to see this place become the city of the haves and the have-nots.”
Despite the decline of the middle-class in the City, Toomey says he has a deep love for his hometown.
“We were multicultural before anyone else even knew what it was,” he jokes, adding that he “wouldn’t have traded [his] childhood in Cambridge for anywhere else in the country.”
Toomey is also quick to praise the transformation of industry in Cambridge. For example, the neighborhood where Toomey’s grandmother used to dip chocolate in a candy factory sixty years ago has now been transformed into a scientific hub surrounding the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“We have to keep doing a good job at preparing our kids to enter into that new type of workplace,” Toomey says.
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
Preparing for the changes in the economy and Cambridge’s own industries are facing are at the top of Toomey’s agenda. Key among those considerations is the city’s relationship with Boston proper. In February 2011, for example, the City Council voiced concerns about Cambridge-based pharmaceutical company Vertex’s decision to move its headquarters to Boston, leading to the loss of an estimated 1,600 jobs. Toomey was among those who criticized the move in February, and stands by his sentiments today.
“Boston is doing everything in its power to take companies away from Cambridge, and my position is that we have to be very proactive to defend against that,” he says. Highlighting the various construction projects and business openings around the city, Toomey notes that Cambridge would have to match the incentives, tax or otherwise, that Boston offers. Drawing a distinction between himself and other Councillors who want to work more closely with the city, Toomey outlines a plan of greater communication with Cambridge business associations and companies to ensure their needs are being met.
“Do I blame Boston for trying to do this?“ asks Toomey. “No. We just can’t afford to let Cambridge [lose businesses].”
THE HARVARD COMMUNITY
Toomey remembers his first interaction with Harvard fondly, when in the sixth grade he was one of six students chosen to receive help from a tutor through the Philips Brooks House. “I was very fortunate to have that experience,” says Toomey. “It had a huge impact on my life, in getting me where I am today.”
“I probably would never have walked through Harvard Yard otherwise,” he says. “The most important thing is for Harvard students to get involved in the community.”
Speaking of Harvard as an institution, however, Toomey admits that he always wishes it was more supportive of the city.
“I did a calculation a few years ago that found that, in just the first few hours of the year, the interest Harvard makes on its endowment pays for the amount they give to the city each year,” says Toomey.
“There’s no question that Harvard does a lot, and it shouldn’t be unappreciated, but I always feel that financially, they could contribute more,” he adds.
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