Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

Election Ballot 2009

I hope that you all vote today if you can.

As the left gained power, many cities switched to off-year elections and non-partisan candidacy. Removing party affiliations from the ballot servers as a kind of poll tax, it forces people to spend time researching each candidate individually instead of just knowing they support a particular party. For those in Cambridge, MA, I have tried to help out by doing the research for you.

Cambridge has the additional complication of having a decent voting system, so you can list your candidates in order of preference. There are two questions on the ballot. For city council, there seem to be three basic categories: People with good ideas, people with no ideas, and people with bad ideas. I have listed them in that order:

  1. Lawrence J. Adkins (more public services, affordable housing and health)
  2. Mark Flanagan (homeless shelter)
  3. Larry Ward (inclusionary zoning)
  4. James M. Williamson (elected mayor, street nusiances)
  5. Kenneth E. Reeves (Harlem Children’s Zone)
  6. Charles Marquardt (fire the city manager)
  7. Gregg Moree (energy efficiency, living wage)
  8. Kathy Podgers (housing vouchers, parks)
  9. Tim Toomey (fuel efficient vehicls)
  10. Marjorie Decker (community engagement)
  11. Neal Leavitt (achievement gap)
  12. Silvia Glick (neighborhood protection)
  13. Sam Seidel (afterschool)
  14. Henrietta Davis (goo-goo)
  15. E. Denise Simmons (311)
  16. Minka vanBeuzekom (transparency)
  17. Tom Stohlman (do nothing)
  18. Craig Kelley (traffic enforcement, no TV for kids)
  19. Leland Cheung (promote entrepreneurship, school reform)
  20. David Maher (segregated schools, service cuts)
  21. Edward Sullivan (tough on crime, homeland security)

School issues are inevitably depressing. Everyone says they oppose the achievement gap and so on, so my first test was to see how people felt about standardized tests (ordered from opposition to support):

  1. Marc McGovern (community education centers)
  2. Alice Turkel (portfolios, high quality preschool)
  3. Richard Harding (no high-stakes)
  4. Nancy Tauber (no teaching to the test)
  5. Patty Nolan (no drill and kill)
  6. Alan Steinert, Jr. (tests are “something to be endured”)
  7. Joseph Grassi (desegregation)
  8. Fred Fantini (more assessment)
  9. Charles Stead, Sr. (tight ship principal)

Happy Election Day!

UPDATE: The winners were (in order): 9, 14, 15, 20, 5, 18, 19, 13, 21. And: 4, 3, 1, 8, 5, 2.

You should follow me on twitter here.

November 3, 2009


As a Cantabrigian, I appreciate this very much. Thanks, Aaron.

posted by Paul Irish on November 3, 2009 #

Ha! Charlie Stead was my tight ship principal. I think he might be more of a sweetie than his platform would reveal.

posted by Anne on November 4, 2009 #

Here’s a good object lesson in why we use representative democracy, and not ballot initiatives, to govern our cities.

You’ve attempted to reduce each candidate to one or two planks. You give no account of their competence, their political capital, their experience, the practicability of their proposed solutions, the costs and offsetting revenues, or of the host of other factors that intervene between admirable intentions and concrete accomplishments.

To take two examples off your list: Larry Ward supports inclusionary zoning. Good for him. He’s an uncommonly nice guy, and well intentioned. But after falling into a seat on the council through a resignation, he’s accomplished…nothing. He chairs the university relations committee, and it met - once, back in May. He introduced a resolution then calling for an annual report on ties between higher education and public education in the city - it passed, and there’s been not a peep since. And he supported inclusionary zoning back before he was on the council - a year later, he’s done nothing to implement it.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s David Maher. You rightly point to some elements of his program that are objectionable - although saying he supports segregation is needlessly hyperbolic and mildly slanderous. But the guy’s also the resident technocrat on the council - the member most inclined to busy himself with the fiscal minutiae of government. With Murphy gone, there isn’t another another sitting member of the council with either the inclination or the evident skill to parse these sorts of issues. That’s a broader problem with the batch of councillors, but it also means there’s much more to Maher than a couple of issues - particularly since we’re talking about the council, not the school committee. I wouldn’t rank him first, but he’s a long way from last.

And then there’s Kathy Podgers - your eight pick. Kathy is nuts. She’s got a monomaniacal focus on a single issue - the rights of the disabled - and pushes it in a manner that discards civility. That can be a valuable trait in an activist, but would effectively guarantee her isolation on the council, a body that requires five votes to accomplish anything.

Politics is about people as much as it is about issues. People change their minds in office; issues evolve; other factors mediate the ability of officials to implement their agendas. You might like Podgers stated positions on the issues, but I can’t think of a more effective way to undermine their advancement than making her their leading advocate on the council. You might like Ward’s commitments, but his apparent inability to follow through has got to count. You might dislike Maher’s stands on certain flashpoints, but I, for one, respect his diligence, and would hate to imagine the council without someone like him on it.

There’s more to elections than ideas.

posted by Cynic on November 5, 2009 #

Yep. Unfortunately, I don’t have this kind of detailed information about people — I just have their platforms. So you should start a blog and tell us this stuff so that we can make better decisions.

posted by Aaron Swartz on November 6, 2009 #

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