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Ilan Levy, who is running for City Council for a second time, has lived in Cambridge for the last 14 years working as a software engineer. For the past decade, Levy has been involved in local activism, inspiring him to seek a spot on the Cambridge City Council. He is pushing to implement a system in which Cambridge residents have a more direct stake in local politics. Levy has served on the East Cambridge Planning Team and ran a blog about local issues.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
THE HARVARD CRIMSON: What do you think are the biggest issues facing the Cambridge City Council?
ILAN LEVY: The biggest issue facing Cambridge is its form of government. I think that before we resolve the issue of how we govern ourselves, we cannot address the big issues that are facing Cambridge and cannot implement them in the current system of charter planning.
THC: Why should Cantabrigians vote for you over other candidates?
IL: Because I'm the only one that speaks to the one issue that is essential, which is the way we govern ourselves. The basic idea is that because Cambridge has a city manager-led, corporate form of government. We have to prioritize revenue because the job of the city manager is to generate revenue for the city. Therefore, it's systematically laid out that the only priorities that we can have are financial, and as long as we don't bring back the community at the center of the decision-making process, we cannot really address the issues that are being discussed during the campaign.
THC: What do you think Cambridge should be doing to provide affordable housing for its residents?
IL: It should change its form of government so that we can decide together what our common objective is going to be. My proposal, and the basis of the conversation that I want to have, is on what local democracy should be for the 21st century. I want to have an accountable form of local government, and this discussion should be underpinned by four fundamental principles: We should have publicly financed campaigns, we should have term limits for all elected positions, we should have the election of a strong mayor with a vision and a plan, and no two public jobs should be held at the same time. Relevant to the housing question is the fact that we should elect the direction that we are going to take as a city. Right now, because of our prioritization of revenue through the City Council, we have only very limited powers to incentify diversification of housing. If we elected a city mayor, we would have an actual decision to make on what type of a plan we want to achieve for affordable housing.
THC: How do you think Harvard and other Cambridge universities should work with the city to help the housing situation?
IL: They should be much more engaged, but they don't have any means to get engaged with the city. Again, it comes back to the same issues over and over again. We have a systemic infrastructure that doesn't allow for the type of communication that we would envision with the University in order to solve a common problem together. Not only are we dealing with the University and the city trying to implement a project forward, but it's also the reverse. How can the students help the actual community make a difference? So, it's that communication between University and city from which could emanate better solutions.
THC: How do you think Cambridge should respond to President Donald Trump’s policies?
IL: Let me put it this way, I don't want to engage in any of the Trump policy, but I don't also want to give him any platform to further his discourse or inflammatory conversations, and I'd rather actually bypass talking about him altogether.
THC: How do you think Cambridge should balance the need for more bike lanes and concerns from residents who say they take up their parking space?
IL: How is it that in a very progressive city like Cambridge we don't have a plan for bike lanes? How come it turns out that it took the death of two bicyclists last year for us to come out and suddenly implement a protected bike lane on Cambridge streets and create, by the instantaneous and rapidity of the reaction, a lot of division because there was no proper information? I am a biker, I bike everywhere I go, and protected bike lanes make me safe and I ride much slower and much less aggressively when I know I am in a protected bike lane. An example is what happens on Western Ave., by the Cambridge port, where they have a beautiful infrastructure that accommodates all modes of transportation. We need to be multi-mobile, we need to be a 21st century city. We are far from it because our infrastructure at the government level doesn't allow us to go in that direction.
THC: How do you think the City should or should not preserve Harvard Square’s historical architecture?
IL: I think it seems pretty obvious that it should be kept. One of the things that was a lot of fun during this campaign is that I became very much more embedded within the long-term community in Cambridge. By embedding myself in that fashion, you start discovering much more of the history of the neighborhoods and what makes them special. You learn the buildings and the institutions are that each neighborhood tends to really appreciate, because for them it has a historical significance. I think it's pretty fundamental that when we build for the future, we make we sure we are conscious of the present and the past, and that we integrate that into our daily background. It tells us about where we were, where we are now, and where we are going.
THC: How do you think Cambridge should regulate the use and distribution of recreational marijuana?
IL: Marijuana is a fairly benign drug in all contexts. I think that we should obviously have the same regulation—nothing less—than what we do for alcohol, but I have a tendency to not understand why we are so much stricter on the topic of marijuana, when we allow alcohol to be sold and tobacco to be sold so freely, and they have caused much much more damage than other recreational drugs.