Campaign Digital Newsletter: Week 11
This update is coming to you a few days late. I was in eastern Pennsylvania this weekend for my cousin's wedding. As I am sure most of you have heard by now, the AHO Overlay proposal was unceremoniously tabled at around 1:00 am last Tuesday morning, which means that it will expire without a vote. I will share my thoughts on this later in the email.
ABC Candidate Forum, 9/11
I believe that it is important to engage in dialogue with those with whom you disagree. In that spirit, I attended the ABC A Better Cambridge Candidate Forum this past Wednesday. ABC is the political action committee with strong ties to corporate developers that has been pushing the AHO Overlay. The forum took place in the basement of the Cambridge Public Library. The format consisted of three questions with each candidate given two minutes to answer, followed by two minutes at the end for each candidate to say whatever they wanted. The first question asked if a candidate was in favor of the AHO Overlay, the 2nd question asked if we should build more housing at all income levels, the 3rd question asked about tenant protections. The video is here, my response on the AHO Overlay begins at 7:55:
Mr. McGovern spoke after my comments on the AHO and continued his habit of quoting Johnathan Swift by describing the Overlay as a "modest proposal."
Curiously, despite the fact that I did not mention Mr. McGovern by name, nor did I mention developer money, Mr. McGovern said in his response that I had and went on the defensive. I interrupted him so that I could correct his misquoting me. The moderator David Sullivan then interrupted me. I informed Mr. Sullivan (off-camera) that every time Mr. McGovern misquoted me, I would interrupt him. Incidentally, Mr. Sullivan is one of the most outspoken advocates in favor of the AHO and has spoken in favor of the AHO at almost every Council and Planning Board meeting. In Mr. McGovern's answer, he claimed that the AHO would have produced 60 units per year. This number is made-up and not backed by any analysis that has been made public (we have asked). The number of units that would be built per year under the AHO is completely unconstrained and could be as low as zero, or in the thousands, as it is an unrestricted city-wide up-zoning.
CCTV Candidate Video:
On Tuesday, I saw in person the famous CCTV candidate set. Enjoy:
John Pitkin's video is here:
Upcoming Ward 6 Forum:
The Ward 6 Candidate Forum is tonight (9/17) in the lower level lecture hall of the Main Library. The candidates have been split into two groups. My group will begin their forum at 5:05 and consists of Akiba, Azeem, Franklin, Kelley, Kopon, McGovern, McNary, Nolan, and Williams. Feel free to come watch, and the event will also be live-streamed by CCTV.
Yard Signs (or Window Signs)
I have added a bunch of new people to this email list over the last two weeks, so I will reiterate my offer to bring a yard sign to your home if you wish to display one. Let me know. If you already emailed me, you are already on my list. The first two yard sign designs are attached.
Thoughts on the AHO Overlay
Short-term Political Consequences: What's the Plural of Albatross?
I was hoping that the AHO Overlay would have been brought to a vote by the full council for two reasons: 1) I would like each incumbent to be on the record supporting or opposing this policy and 2) I believe that a council vote would have generated more press and raised awareness of this issue. I believe there is still a huge percentage of the city that either is not aware or is misinformed of the details of this proposal. Nonetheless, we do have the voting record of the incumbents from the Ordinance Committee. McGovern, Mallon, Simmons, Toomey, and Siddiqui voted the AHO out of committee, while Devereux, Zondervan, Kelley, and Carlone voted to keep the proposal in committee. Already we are seeing incumbents who were the strongest and most uncompromising supporters of this developer-sponsored up-zoning proposal attempting to moderate their public stances on this issue. Because the petition is allowed to expire, it can be re-introduced at any time. It is likely that it will be re-introduced after the election if the votes are there to pass it.
I have spoken in the past about the strong one-to-one correlation between how much money a Councilor takes from construction unions and real estate developers and their support for the AHO. There is also a correlation between what percentage of their campaign money that a Councilor gets from outside of Cambridge and their support for the AHO.
In the attached table, I have annotated the table compiled by the Cambridge Civic Journal to indicate the candidates that have publicly indicated support for the AHO. Candidates who are not indicated either oppose the AHO, or have not publicly made their position clear. Feel free to share with your friends.
Long-term Political Consequences: What is the Future of Development in Cambridge?
The AHO is only one act in a larger play that is unfolding in our civic politics. Unlike our national politics, I do not believe that our local political discourse can be neatly divided between "liberal/progressive" and "conservative." Nor do I believe that the historical paradigm of "East Cambridge" versus "West Cambridge" is particularly relevant anymore. A more informative bi-polar framework that can inform our understanding of the dynamics of our city is the axis between those candidates who favor essentially unrestricted corporate development, and those favoring more carefully planned wholistic development. There are currently no Councilors who are "anti-development." However, there are Councilors who wish to implement policies that balance the hierarchy of our civic values: the need for proper planning so that our electricity grid, schools, and transportation infrastructure will be able to accommodate new developments; the need to preserve our tree canopy and protect the environment; the desire to maintain the architectural character of our historic city; the need to balance residential housing construction with corporate development; the need to avoid tenant displacement that will often be caused by up-zoning and development; etc. These Councilors who eschew the mentality of building as quickly and profitably as possible are often targeted and attacked by the corporate political machine and the Councilors who take their money. This is the fundamental dynamic at play in these elections.
The Larger Picture
I am concerned that the AHO is only the first initiative of what may be a concerted effort in the years and decades to come to up-zone all of Cambridge and the residential neighborhoods in particular. The rapid corporate and laboratory development in Alewife, Kendall, and other parts of the city have brought jobs, money, vitality, and many other benefits to the city. They have also brought an extreme demand for housing that drives rents and property values to astronomical levels. These economic pressures create political pressures. A prudent City Council can craft intelligent policies to build more housing and put in place protections for tenants and communities facing displacement. An imprudent City Council can put forward a rushed, sloppy mess, such as the AHO, which does not solve the problem and divides the community against itself. We do not need to stifle development, but we do need leaders who have a coherent vision for the future of the city and think on 50-100 year time-scales, rather than the 5-10 year time-scales of the corporate developers who might fund their campaigns. This interesting article is just one example of this dynamic. Incidentally, the executive mentioned in this article throws all kinds of money around the City Council:
The Global Picture
Not all, or even most, of the tension in our city politics derives from the pace of corporate development. We are living in extreme times in the national and global economy. While the AHO is horrible public policy, it is partly driven by political constituencies with legitimate grievances. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, central banks around the world have kept interest rates at zero (or below zero in the case of the European Central Bank) for years in a row, in addition to embarking on unprecedented multi-trillion dollar policies of quantitative easing. These policies decimate the purchasing power of lower and middle class wages while giving unearned financial rewards to a precious few, thereby driving the gap between the rich and the poor to historic levels. In particular, many of the young people in our society are being priced out of housing while simultaneously having their ability to build wealth destroyed by the crippling amount of student debt that many of them carry. Capital flight from countries around the world with unstable currencies seeks shelter in urban housing markets such as New York and Boston, while low interest rates and cheap money give financing to massive corporate expansion. To take just one example, a few years ago General Electric was planning to build a huge corporate headquarters in the Sea Port and now they may or may not be a year away from insolvency. Would any of these extreme developments be happening in a tighter monetary environment? In the midst of what was suppose to be a tightening cycle, Fed Chairman Powell recently capitulated and began cutting interest rates again. With central banks around the world giving no indication that the easy money will end any time soon, I fear that the gap between rich and poor will increase and the tensions in our society will get worse before they get better.
On that cheerful note, have a good week everyone.