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Candidate Profile: Henrietta Davis

By Kerry M. Flynn, Crimson Staff Writer

After graduating college, Henrietta Davis decided to pursue higher education by going to graduate school in social work, influenced by the beginning of the environmental movement in the 1960s. Davis, a self-proclaimed activist for sustainability, sought to learn how to move an issue forward.

While filling out her application to Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work, she was stunned when she saw that she had to pick between two focuses—community organizing or counseling. She took a pencil and checked off community organizing with the thought, “Well, that sounds like me.”

“I went to graduate school in social work to become a change agent. That’s how I see myself,” Davis says.

That check mark helped shape Davis’ career. She has worked to promote change in her community through her experiences as a city planner, a Cambridge School Committee member, and founder of the Healthy Children Task Force. Now, she is running for re-election for a ninth term on the Cambridge City Council.

A HEALTHY CITY

Serving on the Council since 1996, Davis’s policies have continually focused on healthy living and a sustainable environment. Davis says she sees herself as being ahead of the curve. She analyzes trends in Cambridge’s population to decide what they will need for a better future.

When first elected to the Council, Davis says she was on the “earthy, crunchy agenda” but has since seen a shift in interest on sustainability issues across the Council.

“When I came to the Council, people were just starting to pay attention to climate change,” Davis says. “Everyone was doing it, but now they’re embracing it,” she adds.

Davis says she was one of the first Cambridge city councilors to encourage sustainability through policy change. In early 2000, she supported a policy that required all new buildings in Cambridge to be LEED certified.

“I want to make Cambridge a model green city,” Davis says.

Davis’ initiatives for this year include labeling the “green” level of Cambridge buildings, improving the energy efficiency of district heating in schools, and educating residents about energy saving practices.

Beyond Cambridge, Davis has taken trips to Europe to learn about sustainability. She recently attended a conference in Hamburg, Germany, where she learned about making public transportation safer, cheaper, and more efficient.

Davis worked as an administrator at Agassiz Preschool from 1985 to 1994 and was elected to the school committee in 1988. She founded the Healthy Children Task Force in 1990, a community group that has led public health initiatives for children. Davis still serves on the board.

Davis also supports improved services for seniors and greater housing options. This new initiative was prompted by shifting demographics in Cambridge, which has seen an influx of older residents.

The major themes of Davis’ campaign are “greening” the city and supporting the health of children and seniors.

“It was inductive rather than deductive. I came at these ideas from different vantage points, and I see a sense of urgency in all of them,” Davis says.

BROAD EDUCATION

While studying social work, Davis learned about the process of change and used these skills in her career as an urban planner and later on the school committee.

She decided to broaden her education at Harvard Kennedy School 20 years after receiving her masters’ degree, obtaining a scholarship and taking courses that would be flexible with her home life.

Her education at the Kennedy School, culminating in a masters in public administration, gave her a new set of skills for approaching policy issues. A course titled “To Be A Politician” pushed Davis to pursue a career in politics.

Davis says her education has made her more policy focused, and she envisions improving the city through policy changes.

“I feel like I’ve been infected by HKS,” Davis says.

During her time as a City Councilor, Davis says she has had great experiences working with the University.

“The University and community egg each other, prompting higher standards,” Davis says.

YOUR NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR

After eight successful campaigns, Davis says she tries to make each of them social, fun, and useful for her community.

She publishes literature—a newsletter, useful numbers card, farmers’ market card, and a savings for seniors brochure—that not only includes her campaign message but also serves as information to Cambridge residents.

“I feel like what I do should be useful,” Davis says.

Her background in journalism also inspired her campaign literature.

After working for Cambridge as a neighborhood planner out of college, Davis decided to try something else and answered a newspaper advertisement to be a freelance writer for a police magazine.

Since that first freelancing job, she has worked for Time, Life, Money, and NPR.

“There are lots of similarities between being a journalist and an elected official. You need to research and communicate effectively,” Davis says.

Davis grew up in Newton, but moved to Cambridge immediately after completing her undergraduate degree and has lived in the same house since 1969, developing close relationships with her neighborhood from the beginning.

“Cambridge is a wonderful small city full of opportunities beyond measure. Everyone else wants to live here—why wouldn’t I?” Davis says.

—Staff writer Kerry M. Flynn can be reached at kflynn@college.harvard.edu.

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City PoliticsCambridge City CouncilCambridge