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Cambridge Reelects Council Incumbents, Shifts Toward Center Following Progressive Departures

Voters filed into Cambridge City Hall to cast their ballots on Tuesday.
Voters filed into Cambridge City Hall to cast their ballots on Tuesday. By Jack R. Trapanick

The City of Cambridge released preliminary election results showing the election of all six incumbents in the running and three challengers to the Cambridge City Council at approximately 12:11 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Former Councilor Jivan G. Sobrinho-Wheeler reclaimed his spot on the city’s legislative body after a narrow 2021 loss, while School Committee member Ayesha M. Wilson and Cambridge transit activist Joan F. Pickett won in their first bids for the office.

The six incumbents reelected — in order of number-one ranked votes — are Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and councilors Burhan Azeem, Marc C. McGovern, Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80, Paul F. Toner, and E. Denise Simmons. All won by healthy margins, securing their spots prior to the final round of the ranked-choice count.

The preliminary results do not include write-in, provisional, auxiliary, and overseas absentee ballots. The official results will not be declared until Nov. 17 per Massachusetts state law, after provisional and overseas absentee ballots are counted.

The additional ballots are not likely to change the outcome of the race. The ninth-elected candidate, Pickett, prevailed over recent Harvard graduate Ayah A. Al-Zubi ’23, the next-closest candidate, by more than 500 votes before the city announced that Al-Zubi was defeated.

If they hold, the results mark a centrist shift for the Council, which saw two of its most progressive members, Quinton Y. Zondervan and Dennis J. Carlone, decline to seek reelection this year.

Siddiqui again received the most first-ranked votes of any candidate in the preliminary count — which she accomplished in both 2019 and 2021 — despite late-breaking allegations of workplace toxicity and retaliation in Siddiqui’s office published in the Boston Globe.

The 2023 Council election saw a slight increase in turnout from the 2019 and 2021 elections with 21,177 votes this year from roughly 20,000 votes in the previous two races.

Across the city Tuesday, Cambridge voters turned out to the polls from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School to the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Gund Hall, MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, and Cambridge City Hall itself.

At the City Hall polling station, canvassers and candidates alike engaged passersby as voters filed in to vote. Dawn Feaster, who held a sign for Wilson, said she enjoyed being part of the election day excitement.

“It’s my first time ever out here doing this, and it feels really good to help support the candidates that’s running,” she said.

Vernon K. Walker, one of the candidates who ultimately did not win a seat, expressed excitement about the race early in the afternoon.

“I’m ecstatic and jubilant about the direction that the Council could go in if we get progressives elected, and the energy on the ground is contagious,” Walker said as he approached Cambridge City Hall from Central Square.

Councilor Patricia "Patty" M. Nolan '80 speaks with challenger Dan J. Totten at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin polling site on election day.
Councilor Patricia "Patty" M. Nolan '80 speaks with challenger Dan J. Totten at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin polling site on election day. By Cam E. Kettles

Dan Totten, who sought to fill the seat of Zondervan, his former boss, shared his appreciation for the election process during an interview as voting was ongoing.

“I just want to thank everyone who’s run such a spirited campaign and all the voters for showing up and making their voice heard,” he said.

Voters expressed concerns about an array of issues facing the city, including the affordable housing shortage and the rising cost of existing housing.

Affordable housing has been a hotly contested issue on the Council this year. Less than a month prior to the elections, amendments to the city’s 100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay passed, increasing building height limits throughout Cambridge.

Pickett was among the candidates concerned that these amendments would change the character of the city.

Wilson told The Crimson that she would have voted for the amendments and said residents make up “the character of our community.”

Sobrinho-Wheeler, who was previously on the Council, co-chaired the Housing Committee during the original passage of the AHO in 2020 and has expressed support for the recently passed amendments.

“I miss my neighbors,” said voter Allen R. Perez on Cambridge’s housing issues. “They had to move to different places like Chelsea.”

“Now, it has been gentrified,” he added.

Challenger Hao Wang talks to a voter outside the Cambridge Rindge and Latin polling site on election day.
Challenger Hao Wang talks to a voter outside the Cambridge Rindge and Latin polling site on election day. By Cam E. Kettles

Transportation infrastructure, a centerpiece of Pickett’s campaign, was another key issue in this year’s race. She called on the city to rethink the implementation of separated bike lanes throughout the city.

In 2020, the Council amended the Cycling Safety Ordinance to require the construction of more than 22 miles of bike lanes by 2026. Sobrinho-Wheeler was the lead sponsor of these changes.

David Myers, who also voted in this year’s election, expressed concerns about how bike lanes were installed without input from all parties.

“I think both bikers and businesses should be included in this whole thing,” Myers said.

The city has stated that every step of the amendment process included input from residents, with officials noting a decreased number of crashes and increased bicycle safety in the wake of the changes.

“Well, regardless, I win or not, personally — I hope the Cambridge people win,” said candidate Hao Wang.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Muskaan Arshad can be reached at muskaan.arshad@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @MuskaanArshad or on Threads @muskarshad.

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at jina.choe@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at jack.trapanick@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @jackrtrapanick.

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