This fall, many students opened their dorm room doors to the friendly face of a 27-year-old Harvard undergraduate seeking their support for his bid for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. While Logan Leslie ’16 at first charmed much of the Harvard community with free bottle openers and promises to deliver to them the representation he thinks they deserve, his campaign soon sparked controversy. For one, Leslie’s belief that students should hold a seat on the City Council has drawn criticism. Leslie’s language, especially the parts of his platform concerning Cambridge’s homeless population, has also hardened some hearts on campus.
While we do not believe that students should feel entitled to a seat on the City Council, we are supportive of the idea of student candidates and particularly of candidates who seek to bridge the town-gown divide.
Leslie argues that, since students constitute approximately one-fifth of the Cambridge population, a student should occupy one of the nine City Council seats. We find arguments that suggest students are not entitled to any representation unconvincing—Harvard students are just as much Cambridge residents as Cantabrigians who do not attend the school, even if the majority of Harvardians do not pay property taxes. Along these same lines, however, we do not think students have more of a claim to a certain proportion of City Council seats than any other group. Student candidates should be judged on the merits of their policy ideas and administrative abilities alone.
All the same, we appreciate that a Harvard student has expressed interest in engaging with local politics, since only good can come from increased student participation of local politics. Additionally, student involvement in Cambridge politics could go a long way toward fostering a better relationship between Harvard and the rest of Cambridge, bringing both parties in greater tune with each other’s needs and desires. To his credit, Leslie’s platform explicitly includes a mission centered on bringing the Harvard and Cambridge communities together. The question is whether he has a realistic understanding of the problems that face the community as a whole.
Leslie’s campaign has come under fire for using what some consider disrespectful language concerning the homeless population of Cambridge, whom he has called an “embarrassment.” This language may belie Leslie’s assertion of understanding—or attempting to understand—the community beyond Johnston Gate. But after Leslie faced these accusations in an op-ed published in The Crimson, his campaign manager stated that he has had conversations about appropriate ways to modify his platform.
Leslie’s candidacy is a positive sign of increased student involvement in Cambridge’s political scene, involvement that could lead to a closer connection between Harvard and the world just outside its walls. While we have our doubts that Leslie’s fixation on the question of student representation is proportional to that issue’s importance as a challenge facing the city, we are glad that his campaign has ignited interest in local politics.
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