At 31, Matt P. Nelson is the youngest candidate in this year’s Cambridge City Council election. Though he lacks the years of experience of many of the current City Councilors, he hopes his energy and innovation will land him a seat on the Council.
Nelson strongly believes that City Councilors should boost civic participation through grassroots and community-based organizing.
“I represent a lot of constituencies that aren’t fully represented right now in the City Council,” Nelson says.
Nelson has been active in local politics in Cambridge and other parts of Massachusetts for years, though until his current bid, much of his work had been for other candidates.
“For the last seven years I’ve dedicated my life to progressive campaigns,” Nelson said in an interview with Cambridge Community Television in September.
Nelson has been actively involved a variety of liberal causes, including environmentalism, healthcare reform, and union advocacy. On his Facebook page, Nelson publicly supports the union strikes and other labor issues in Wisconsin.
Nelson is also committed to affordable healthcare and housing in Cambridge, and he has criticized the rising cost of living in Cambridge in recent years.
“We need to ensure that Cambridge natives can live in their hometown if they so choose,” Nelson said in a video of his campaign kickoff at local eatery Atwood’s Tavern posted on his campaign website.
While his youth might suggest that he has little professional experience as a politician, Nelson has in fact been a part of many grassroots initiatives and has a history of community organizing.
He was previously the state director of Healthcare United Virginia, a project of the Service Employees International Union.
“I had a staff of about 15 union leaders from all over America, all older than me, and I was their manager,” Nelson says.
Nelson believes that his experience working with diverse groups on communal goals will be one of his strongest selling points come election day.
“The experience really taught me a lot about how to deal with a diverse group of people, and how to use their skills to have positive outcomes,” Nelson says.
Other notable items in Nelson’s professional history include coordinating the Massachusetts Environmental Voters Education Fund in 2010 and managing a previous campaign for Cambridge City Councilor Henrietta Davis.
Nelson, a Cambridge native and a graduate of Cambridge Public Schools, has lived in the area for most of his life.
One of Nelson’s earliest experiences as a political organizer came from his time as a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where, as a sophomore in high school, he helped plan a protest against school budget cuts and teacher layoffs.
Nelson, who is a graduate of the University of Arizona and recently received his Masters in Public Administration from Suffolk University, says he is particularly interested in Cambridge youth and educational programming.
Nelson has worked as a teacher in Cambridge Public Schools summer programs, and says he wants to assemble an alliance of local non-profit organizations that all target underprivileged children in Cambridge.
“I want to set up an umbrella organization of nonprofits to help kids who need it most,” says Nelson, adding that he hopes to accomplish this by leveraging the City’s business assets and local universities.
As a newcomer to running for elected office, Nelson’s main campaign technique has been going door-to-door, and talking with Cambridge residents about the issues that concern them most.
And come election day, the politically precocious Cambridge native is hoping that his energy and devotion to those issues will be enough for him to win a position on the Council.
When asked what defines Cambridge for him, Nelson cited the City’s impressive diversity, in everything from ethnic restaurants to economic strata.
“In terms of diversity, Cambridge is one of a kind,” Nelson says.