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Jeffery McNary

Cambridge City Hall is located near Central Square.
Cambridge City Hall is located near Central Square. By Margaret F. Ross
By Joshua C. Fang, Contributing Writer

As candidates for federal office debate whether to shun large-dollar donations, 71-year-old Jeffery McNary, a first-time candidate for Cambridge City Council, is going even further.

No donations. Not even a penny.

“We spread the word in the same fashion as the Federalist papers, man,” McNary said.

He poked fun at the “fancy” yard signs and literature that his campaign rivals have deployed ahead of Tuesday’s election, touting the fact that he prints his own campaign materials.

At the center of McNary’s campaign is a focus on remodeling Cambridge’s housing system. His housing proposals seem to stem from a long-held commitment to homeless individuals in the city. He said he has spent a “significant” amount of time registering homeless individuals to vote, and refers to them as his “brothers and sisters.”

“I want to get people off the street — winter is coming — and into beds and into shelters,” he said.

McNary grew up in Chicago in the 1960s. He recalls watching Martin Luther King Jr. speak on television and cited the Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael as a childhood inspiration.

After attending a preparatory seminary in the hopes of entering the Roman Catholic priesthood, McNary traveled to Northern Canada to live with the Jesuits, but was never ordained.

McNary said he moved to Cambridge to study at the Harvard Extension School, and soon after made a foray into politics as a campaign worker on Michael Dukakis’s successful re-election campaign for governor of Massachusetts.

The future presidential nominee later brought on McNary as an economic development coordinator. In that position, McNary said he co-authored an executive order to establish a Minority Economic Development Commission to facilitate investments in communities of color across the state.

“I’ve worked several campaigns,” McNary said. “But working campaigns and doing the people’s business in government are two radically different things.”

“It’s the difference between poetry and prose,” he added. “You can say anything in a campaign, but that has nothing to do with government.”

For the past seven years, McNary has worked as a freelance writer in Cambridge. His work has been published in Harvard’s Transition Magazine, along with other magazine outlets.

In his campaign for city council, McNary has offered multiple proposals for improving housing in Cambridge, including modernizing the Cambridge Housing Authority and granting it oversight of the city’s homeless shelters.

McNary seems eager to tout his connections to Harvard. A photo with Philosophy Professor Cornel West features prominently on his website, and he contends that West supports his candidacy (West did not respond to a request for comment). Two of the other photos are his website were taken on the University’s campus.

For McNary, the role of a city councilperson should ultimately be about using the office as a “pulpit” to address the smaller-scale, everyday problems that Cambridge residents face.

“I’m a nuts and bolts guy,” McNary said. “It’s not always the fancy stuff around climate change or repairing the rings of Saturn.”

“It’s about getting through the day-to-day,” he added. “It’s about vision and it’s about passion.”

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