The Cambridge City Council has been considering a Charter Change since the resignation of our former Mayor earlier this year. The discussion has focused on how to eliminate the Mayor position that is elected by the voters of the entire city and have that position elected by the five members of City Council. This is a position that is now called the President of the Council. This process is similar to the way in which the Dorchester County Council determines who should be its President and run its meetings.
While I am not opposed to a change with regard to the structure of our government under the City Charter, many people have approached me and expressed their concerns about the elimination of an official city position that is elected by all of the voters. My response has been that when the former Mayor resigned my efforts to find someone to run for the position resulted in no one wanting to do it. I sought candidates because I felt that having a mayor elected by all of the voters of the city was important.
After thinking further about the issue, I have another proposal that I hope will be considered. The mayor position would remain but would become one of five elected positions. In addition, there would be a position of Vice Mayor. The Mayor would be elected by all of the voters. The Vice Mayor would be the person elected from his or her ward that had the most votes cast for the candidates for election in that Ward. So it would not be which candidate from the Wards that received the most votes but rather the person representing the Ward that registered the most total votes.
Why do that? The main reason is that voting in Cambridge for the Mayor and City Council has traditionally been extremely low. When I ran uncontested in 2016 in Ward 1, I received 145 votes out of 1600+ possible voters. Some contested elections in the Wards resulted in fewer than three hundred votes between the candidates. We need to find a way to increase the interest in voting by our citizens. I think that this could be the way.
The other part of this process would be to reduce the number of Wards from 5 to 4. There could be the same majority Wards such as 1 and 2, but the other three Wards would be combined into two Wards where the racial balance could be made more even.
In my thinking, the number of potential elections when an elected official resigned, retired, or was otherwise unable to serve out his or her position would be minimized in this way. If it were the Mayor who left, the Vice Mayor would move into the Mayor position, and the next Commissioner from the Ward that had produced the next highest number of votes in the prior election would move into the Vice Mayor position. If he or she declined the position, it would go to the next Commissioner from the Ward that had the next highest vote count. Once the Vice Mayor position was filled by this process, there would be an election in the Ward of the former Vice Mayor to fill that position. Now some might be concerned that there could be two people in the five-member council that were from the same ward in the leadership of the city.
That might be true, but it would happen only when the Mayor and the Commissioner from the same Ward were elected both by the community in the case of the mayor and by the voters of the Ward where the mayor lived also casting the most votes for candidates for that Ward position. To me that would mean that the Candidates would need to help inform their voters how important their vote is in these elections. It would also mean that more people might register to vote and actually vote.
With this make up of the City Council, the Mayor would have the same vote as the other Commissioners but would have to lose the power to veto any ordinance. In addition the city would have two representatives, the Mayor and Vice Mayor, to attend important but competing events. In this way the city will have the potential of more of its leadership being at these events. Salaries could be adjusted for the Mayor and Vice Mayor positions due to the increased work that they would undertake. The training and preparation of future leaders of the city could be enhanced by the Mayor and Vice Mayor working together on the functioning of the city.
What do you think? I welcome your responses.
Judge Rideout is the former Chief Judge of the Alexandria, VA Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (1989-2004). From 2004 until the present he has consulted in different states to support their efforts to improve their child welfare systems. From 2016 to early 2021, he was the Ward 1 Commissioner on the Cambridge City Council. Throughout his career, he has been an advocate for improving the lives of children in his and other communities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org