Two weeks ago, the three of us, and many Harvard undergraduates, each received a personalized email from Logan Leslie ’16, asking us to register to vote and vote for him in the Cambridge City Council race. Since then, he has had an active presence on campus, from door knocking in the dorms to distributing his campaign bottle openers throughout the school. We think it is important to take a closer look, however, at what Logan actually stands for.
A recent Crimson story covering the City Council race quoted Leslie saying, “It is good politics to say whatever you want to say if it’s against Harvard.” Leslie’s campaign website has similar talking points, such as, “City residents need to understand that the students live here too.”
This argument glosses over the thousands of Cantabrigians for whom Harvard has consistently made life difficult. It fails to address why saying things “against Harvard” might be true and even necessary.
Let’s look at some facts: Harvard’s nonprofit status allows it to pay 10 percent of what it would otherwise pay in taxes despite having more money than some small countries. In fact, it pays roughly 20 percent of what MIT pays to the city despite owning a roughly equal amount of real estate. Harvard resists paying some of its employees a livable wage, and it has secretly purchased real estate in Allston under the guise of a third party, while misleading the local community. Considering all this evasion, it is understandable why the 45 percent of Cambridge Public School families whose children are on free or reduced lunch might be frustrated with this institution. Rather than address how “students feel isolated from local government,” it may be a better use of Leslie’s time to address the residents feeling isolated from their local universities.
While on the subject of locals feeling isolated from Harvard, it’s worth addressing Leslie’s statements about Central Square and “the pit” in Harvard Square. Leslie’s website claims “Central Square isn’t safe or clean. Its large community of vagrants openly drinking, urinating, and taking drugs is an embarrassment.” About the pit, he says that “drugs are dealt and aggressive panhandlers abound.” To be fair, it only takes a walk through Central or Harvard Square to see many people suffering from homelessness or mental illness, leading them to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
But crime? Cambridge not being safe or clean? Is that really what Leslie should be focusing on when crime in Cambridge has dropped 10 percent compared to the average of the last five years?
As for those who suffer from homelessness and mental illness in Cambridge, what is Leslie’s solution? “Enough coddling. We need to clean up Central Square.” What exactly does that mean? Though we cannot speak for Leslie, we would be surprised if by "cleaning up" this population—a group whose lifestyle he seems to find undesirable—he means developing programs to address mental illness or permanent supportive housing. It is clear to us that this is the necessary approach, as such programs would not only extend a helping hand to those who need one the most, but are also proven to be the most cost effective methods in tackling such challenges. Until Leslie comments on potential implementation of measures such as these, his discussion of those suffering in Central and Harvard Squares is suspect.
In addition to an apparent lack of concern for the issues facing Cambridge’s working class and low-income residents, Leslie’s views also demonstrate a deeply flawed understanding of what the Cambridge City Council does and the type of representation students need.
Leslie’s email states that “1 in 5 residents in Cambridge is a student, and it's time the Council reflects that.” On a Council of nine members, his logic follows, why shouldn’t at least one be a student? Here’s why.
As students of Harvard College, we don’t attend Cambridge Public Schools. We don’t receive healthcare from the Cambridge Health Alliance. We’re protected by the Harvard University Police Department, we’re provided Harvard housing, we’re fed by Harvard University Dining Services, we study in Harvard libraries—we’re even subject to different alcohol policies than the rest of the city.
In fact, though students make up 20 percent of the city's population, few students pay property taxes, which make up the vast majority—about 85 percent —of the city's tax revenue. In one of the first cities to chant “No taxation without representation,” it’s unclear how much representation we should feel entitled to.
This is not to say that we as students are never faced with the consequences of Council decisions. But are we entitled to one-ninth of the decision-making power in the city when we are only temporary residents, when many Council decisions don’t even affect us, and when we contribute so little of its revenue?
Logan Leslie is able to find our emails on the Harvard College Facebook and to give out free bottle openers. But are Leslie’s views, which stigmatize the most marginalized members of our society, representative of our student body? Are local measures to combat obesity and reduce pollution “silly and unneeded,” as he calls them on his website? Can we trust Leslie, whose website and campaign materials omit his status as a registered Republican (information available from the City of Cambridge by request), to be honest and transparent? Ask yourself: Does he deserve our vote?
We certainly hope not.
Sam G. Greenberg '14 is a history and literature concentrator in Lowell House, Simon M. Thompson '14 is a government concentrator in Pforzheimer House, and James B. Pollack '14 is a government concentrator in Dunster House.