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Three Spots Open on Cambridge City Council

Cambridge City Hall.
Cambridge City Hall. By Katherine W.K. Smith
By Joshua J. Florence, Crimson Staff Writer

Three seats will be open on the Cambridge City Council for the first time in recent memory in this fall's election, opening a door for new faces on a council where turnover is rare.

Cambridge city councillors Nadeem A. Mazen, Leland Cheung, and David P. Maher each announced over the summer that they would not seek reelection this November, opening a third of the seats on the nine-member council. Twenty-six candidates, including six incumbents, have filled out the necessary paperwork and will appear on the ballot this fall.

According to Robert Winters, a local political pundit and historian, it’s been decades since this many seats were available on the council at once.

“It’s a pretty big game changer,” Winters said of the large number of open seats. “My observation has been that when there are multiple open seats it increases the likelihood that you might have an incumbent down. There’s at least an even chance that you might see four new faces on the City Council as a result of this.”

According to current councillor Jan Devereux, who is running for reelection, the bevy of new candidates could reshape majorities on the council and change policy priorities.

“It has the potential to create a new group that collaborates more closely and votes more alike,” Devereux said. “It definitely could have a sizable impact because typically we need five votes, sometimes six, on zoning.”

The number of open seats has increased the number of “credible” candidates and could result in higher voter turnout, according to Winters.

“There's a lot of wild cards and a lot more than in my recollection,” Winters said. “If you look at the number of credible candidates who could actually draw some attention and win it's probably closer to 14, 15, or more—and that's a lot.”

Mazen—who received the highest number of votes of any councillor candidate in the 2015 election—held to his campaign promise of only serving for two terms, announcing in May he would not seek reelection. Speculation arose earlier this summer that Mazen was considering a potential run for Congress against fellow Democrat U.S. Representative Michael Capuano. According to fellow councillor and friend Devereux, Mazen has since reconsidered.

“That news came out a couple of months ago,” Devereux said of her colleague. “I believe he is no longer considering that. I don’t believe he has any immediate plans.”

Mazen did not respond to requests for comment.

Mazen has since thrown his support behind new candidates like sophomore Harvard student and Portland, Ore. native Nadya Okamoto ’20, appearing in a campaign video on the Okamoto campaign’s website. Okamoto has also received an endorsement from Khizr Khan, who rose to prominence during the 2016 presidential election when he condemned then-candidate Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention.

Cheung, who failed in his run for State Senate last fall, announced in August that he would not seek reelection. In a press release, he thanked the city for the opportunity to serve for eight years.

“It’s time for me to focus on my growing family and opportunities in the private sector,” Cheung wrote.

The salient issues of the campaign this year remain similar to those of years past: affordable housing, zoning laws, and sustainable transportation, among others. Devereux, reflecting on the mass flooding in Houston, Tex., also suggested that voters may be increasingly concerned about efforts to combat climate change.

Cambridge residents, including students, have until October 18 to register to vote. Residents will head to the polls on November 7.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

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