Cambridge City Councilor Sam Seidel, known for his congenial personality and hands-on approach with his constituents, has once again harnessed his passions for urban planning and education in his bid for his third term on the City Council.
“I think I’ve shown myself to be a good, conscientious, hard working City Councilor who is focusing on the issues that impact people’s lives,” says Seidel, who holds weekly office hours for Cambridge residents to drop by to discuss complaints and community initiatives. “That is how to do my job.”
But his path into local politics has not been a straightforward one.
During his first foray into the Cambridge political scene, Seidel lost his bid for the City Council by 90 votes in 2005. But Seidel, undeterred, rallied to win a seat in 2007 after a hard-fought campaign that tapped into his interest in urban planning. Seidel—who received a masters in urban planning from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2001—focused his platform on lowering housing costs, addressing increasing gentrification, and bringing an environmentalist’s eye to urban growth.
“I wanted to serve in my community in a public capacity, and I came with a background in urban planning,” he says. “Urban planners think about cities and how they work.”
Seidel—who currently chairs the City Council’s Ordinance Committee and the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee—has previously worked as a consulting planner, and says he still “spends a lot of time thinking about how the city grows.”
Seidel has centered his current campaign around early education, sustainable transportation, and urban development in growing Cambridge neighborhoods, such as Kendall Square.
“These issues can include housing, open space, recreation, transportation, and economic development,” he says. “You pretty much can be thinking about any one of them or all of them at any given point in time.”
Seidel says early education is a particularly important priority for him.
“People are having a [more] enriching time at school ... and the out of school experience is equally meaningful and enriching for them. The next piece of that is going to be early childhood education,” says Seidel, who is a former board president of the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, the oldest settlement house in the United States that now serves as a community center near Central Square.
Apart from education and urban planning and development, Seidel says he considers the environment to be the “biggest, [most] important topic in society.”
If reelected, Seidel says he will focus on promoting the use of bicycles as an as an alternative form of transportation in Cambridge.
And Seidel’s passion has not gone unnoticed by peers, who remark on his amicable approach to tackling the big issues.
Leland Cheung, who is currently serving his first term on the Council, says he thinks of Seidel as a “good colleague and friend.”
Seidel’s aide Victoria Harris agrees.
“I think he focused on certain issues and really worked hard at them. I think he tried to work in a very collegial manner,” says Harris, noting his work with the Blue Ribbon Commission, which dealt with middle school students and after-school programming.
Seidel—an avid bicyclist who enjoys reading, the arts, history, and the outdoors—lives in mid-Cambridge with his wife, Ann, and his dog, Gus—a mutt who is “a mix of something and something,” he says.
Though Seidel certainly has many interests, he always comes back to his background in urban planning, which he credits with his ability to see “what the issue is today but also what the future is down the road.”
But ultimately, it is his passion for political work that drives him.
“I love the work and approach it with enjoyment,” he said.