Return to the candidates.
Sumbul Siddiqui, a Pakistani immigrant and a Cantabrigian since the age of two, is running for her first term on City Council. Having grown up in Cambridge public housing, she is an advocate for affordable housing, a central issue to her platform. Siddiqui studied public policy at Brown and law at Northwestern and currently works as an attorney at Northeast Legal Aid, a non-profit legal services organization in Massachusetts. Siddiqui said she hopes to use her professional experience to serve the Cambridge community. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders endorsed Siddiqui and four other City Council candidates at an Our Revolution rally earlier this month.
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?
Sumbul Siddiqui: The number one would be the affordable housing issue. This is not anything new. This faced the Council 10 years ago and it’s going to continue facing the council the next 10-15 years. I grew up in public housing in Cambridge, so for me, it’s a big issue recognizing how we’ve become a city where you have to aggregate a ton of money: it’s expensive to live here.
My platform is focused on that, and then also on how we can really make sure that our young people, and even older adults, benefit from the innovative economy. That can mean several things: making sure that our students are working and getting training through a union to be in these buildings that are getting built. It can also mean, for other people who are wanting to do internships, that we have strong enough programs.
Another priority is development and economic justice. What I mean by that specifically is that the city has become a place where you have to have a lot of money to do business and have a business. I really want to make sure that we have more mom and pop shops.
I’m really passionate about civic engagement in general. I’m 29 years old. I’ve realized that a lot of people our age don’t vote. People ages 18 to 30 make up a big population here, but it’s unfortunately a low voter turnout. So for me, running is really about connecting this population to the City Council.
THC: Why should Cantabrigians vote for you over other candidates?
SS: I think it goes it back to my experience and professional background. I am the only woman running who has grown up here, so I think that’s very valuable in the sense that I have long-term roots. I’m not planning to go anywhere. This is a city I know.
Also, we have to have more diversity on the council. I think it’s very important that we have more women, and that we have more women of color. I think someone who is a qualified public attorney who happens to be a Muslim woman of color, you talk the talk for diversity and all that stuff, but this is a time that we can actually make it happen.
THC: What do you think Cambridge should be doing to provide affordable housing for its residents?
SS: This is going to be a multi-faceted approach. It’s not going to happen overnight. There’s no clear solution. We have to first look at ways to really add more money for our affordable housing trust. That trust is a source of funding for current affordable housing. We have to continue to figure out ways to contribute to that trust.
We can also identify other taxes to make sure that we’re getting as much money as possible from the commercial development that’s occurring. That money will go towards the trust and also it will go towards preserving long-term affordability.
I grew up in the Rindge Towers over in North Cambridge that have price regulations expiring in 2020, and I can’t tell you how many people are so worried about what could happen. So we have to identify all the ways that we can save money.
Affordable housing is not going to be the only way. The city is going to have to think about building its own housing. That goes back to how much money we have in that affordable housing trust. It’s a combination of looking at policies that will create more money for affordable housing and then also look for spaces.
THC: How do you think Cambridge should respond to President Donald Trump’s policies?
SS: I think City Councillors have stood up to Trump and are outspoken about his policies and his complete disrespect for our Constitution. I think that the policy order that they filed to impeach him was a little waste of time and energy, in my opinion. It just seems really impossible to do that, and so I felt that a better statement would have just been saying that they disagree with their policies and they’re not going to abide by them.
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?
SS: I think we know that the elderly need parking. I think we know that if you’re disabled, you really need parking. So we have to prioritize those needs. At the end of the day, we have to make a compromise. If we want to be a city that is committed to fixing climate change, it’s better to bike. But we have to realize that not everyone can bike, so we have to recognize that some people have to drive.
We have to make sure that the Community Development Department is meeting with non-cyclists and cyclists, and find optimal locations for the lanes to actually be sustained and used. We’ll also then have to do some follow-up and see if it’s working. We need to have some evaluations and follow up the Cambridge bike plans.