Campaign Digital Newsletter: Week 8
I'm happy to report that the family has figured out how to work the button maker (pictures attached). We received our first batch at campaign headquarters yesterday, fresh from the kitchen table. Let me know if you want some and I'll bring them by. This week was a little slower as far as campaign events, so it's a good time to talk about slate dynamics and the AHO Overlay in the coming election.
In Cambridge's unique ranked choice transferable voting system, slate dynamics play a large role in campaign strategy. When you vote in the coming election, you only have one vote and only one candidate will get your vote, even if you list 10 or 15 candidates on your ballot. If the candidate you rank as your #1 vote has a surplus, or is eliminated, then your ballot will transfer to your #2 vote, and so on. For this reason, candidates will often form together into slates, both to increase their own chances of election, and to advance a common policy agenda. More here:
ABC Overlay Slate
As you will recall from my earlier emails, the most well funded political action committee in Cambridge (by far) is the ABC A Better Cambridge group, which is the main group pushing the AHO up-zoning. This group receives significant money from for-profit corporate developers, such as executives from Twining Properties and The McKinnon Group, which was found to be in violation of campaign finance laws and agreed to pay a $16,000 civil forfeiture.
Two days ago, I filled out the ABC candidate questionnaire, available here. In the first page, ABC explains their strategy to form a slate of candidates and then to require those candidates to support all the candidates on the slate in all published campaign material. I expect you will all be receiving plenty of postcards about this slate in the months to come. If you do not agree with the policies of this group, you should avoid voting for the candidates on this slate.
My answers regarding the AHO and campaign finance reform are towards the end of the questionnaire. I also paste them below.
Have a good Sunday everyone, and enjoy this cool August weather.
ABC Question: The Affordable Housing Overlay proposal currently before the City Council would, if adopted, make it easier to build 100% affordable housing projects in every neighborhood, by making their development as-of-right within relaxed density standards. The details are on CDD's website at https://www.cambridgema.gov/CDD/Projects/Housing/affordablehousingoverlay. ABC AF believes the Overlay would help to provide much needed additional affordable housing and citywide diversity. Do you support the Affordable Housing Overlay? *
Yes Generally Generally Not No
[AHO] Please explain. *Your answer
Even if the AHO proposal was well-crafted, properly vetted, and presented to the public in a transparent and ethical manner, I would still be opposed to it on principle. The AHO creates a separate parallel set of residential zoning requirements that allow AH developers to save cost by cutting corners and building less desirable housing. If we believe in equity, then why does market-rate housing require a certain amount of green space and AH development less? Why does market housing require tree protections and design review, while AH does not? The AHO may be appropriate for a city with an abundance of land and a dearth of funding. But it is not appropriate for Cambridge, which has a dearth of land and is already one of the most densely settled cities in the country.
That having been said, the AHO is not a well-crafted, properly vetted policy. It is a sloppily written train wreck that has been rushed through an unsightly and embarrassing series of committee hearings, some of which have gone longer than 7 hours and have demonstrated quite clearly that this proposal is deeply flawed. The city has done no publicly available financial analysis of this proposal that would even predict how many units it would produce per year. This proposal is the opposite of intelligent and conscientious city planning. I think there are good reasons why no other city in the world has done anything like this. Certainly the greatest cities in the world (and also the cities with the most equitable housing policies) do not resort to developer-sponsored up-zoning proposals such as this.
The five city councilors who have steadfastly been pushing this proposal are also the same five councilors who take the most money from real estate developers and unions. This does not appear to be a coincidence, and it further delegitimizes what has been a travesty of a legislative process.
ABC Question: Aside from housing and development issues, what are some major policy priorities that you hope to push for on the City Council? *Your answer
I hope to push strongly for campaign finance reform and restrictions on ethically-conflicted money flowing into the campaign coffers of City Council candidates. Many residents of Cambridge, including myself, have lost faith in our City Council. I am concerned that the actions of our Councilors do not always represent the will or the values of the residents who they are obligated to represent. Regardless of whether or not you believe the AHO to be sound public policy, the reality is that there is a 1-to-1 correlation between how much union+developer money that a Councilor accepts and their support for this policy. That is unsightly at best, and unethical at worst. There is also a correlation between a Councilor's support for the AHO and what percentage of their campaign funding comes from outside of Cambridge. As one might cynically expect, those Councilors receiving a higher percentage of money from outside the city are stronger supporters of the AHO. Can any reasonable person thereby conclude that this policy is in the best interests of our city?
Reasonable people can disagree. A functioning democracy allows for that and is strengthened by a diversity of opinion. However, when the amounts of outside money flowing into both City Councilor campaign coffers and your ABC political action committee become so large as to distort our political process, then the system ceases to function and stops producing policy outcomes that are in the best interests of the residents of this city.
I hope that in pushing for campaign finance reform, we can produce a more civil and representative government that does truly solve our shared goals of housing equity and a just society.