Cambridge City Council Fails To Elect Mayor

For the third consecutive week, the Cambridge City Council failed to determine which of its members would serve as the new mayor of Cambridge, leaving the city’s School Committee in the lurch without its final member.

Of the nine councillors, all of whom are eligible to be elected mayor, Marjorie C. Decker and Leland Cheung each garnered three votes on Monday night when the Council made its third attempt this year to pick a mayor. Henrietta Davis, Craig A. Kelley, and Timothy J. Toomey Jr. each received one vote—because all three voted for themselves.

The nine members of the Council, who were elected by Cambridge citizens in November, choose the city’s mayor from their number by casting votes at their weekly meetings. A candidate must receive five votes to win. Voting at this week’s meeting was identical to the previous vote.

In the popular election for the Council in November, Cheung received the most first-place votes of all 18 candidates in the race, outpacing the closest candidate, Toomey, by more than 300 votes. Decker placed seventh overall of the nine councillors.

“Insofar as elected councillors are supposed to be representatives of the citizenry, Leland did it. He topped the ticket; he had very deep support.... He’s the only one who can make that claim,” said Robert Winters, a local political pundit and four-time City Council candidate.

But Winters added that as one of the newest members of the Council, Cheung—who was elected to his first two-year term as a councillor in Nov. 2009 and is a student at the Harvard Kennedy School and the MIT Sloan School of Management—might face resistance from more senior members.

“If I was somebody like Henrietta Davis or [Councillor E.] Denise Simmons or Timothy Toomey, I might feel a little bit resentful,” Winters said. “Who does he think he is?”

Davis and Toomey voted for themselves, but Simmons, who served as mayor in 2008 and 2009, cast her ballot for Cheung on the second and third go-rounds.

Touting her fitness for the job, Decker emphasized the mayor’s role as the chair and the seventh voter on the School Committee.

“As somebody who has two children who will be entering the public school system here in Cambridge, and as someone who has focused on issues of early childhood education over the last two years—what I have is a history and a record of showing that issues of education are important to me beyond a mayor’s race,” Decker said.

Though he received only his own vote on all three ballots so far, Kelley said that his ten years as a parent of Cambridge students have prepared him well for the mayoral post.

“I think I’m much, much more qualified to address school-related issues,” Kelley said.

In the meantime, Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72, who has served three terms as mayor in his 22 years on the Council, is filling in as the seventh member of the School Committee. Winters said that the temporary assignment may hinder the six popularly elected members of the School Committee from making long-term decisions.

“Having the pretend chair is not really right,” Winters said.

Historically, the selection of a mayor has frequently bogged down Council business for weeks. In 2009, the Council took six ballots to select Mayor David P. Maher. In 1948, when councillors voted many times each week, they needed more than four months and 1,300 ballots to make a choice.

—Staff writer Maya S. Jonas-Silver can be reached at