Cambridge City Council 2017

Customizable Voter Guide

by Rob Speer

For the last few election cycles, I've sent around a page with rankings of the Cambridge City Council candidates, with descriptions of their positions on key issues and my perceptions of them from campaign events.

In 2013, one friend of mine told me how useful my ranking was, especially after she moved some candidates around to suit her own priorities.

I think that's a great idea, so since 2015, I've provided this customizable voter guide. You can click and drag the candidates' portraits up and down to re-arrange their position in the list. (Remember that in this election, you can rank as many candidates as you like, and lower-ranked candidates on your ballot will not hurt the higher-ranked candidates.) Once you've arranged the candidates to your liking, printing this page will hide the descriptions and give you a one-page voter's guide that you can bring with you into the voting booth.

The candidates' names are linked to more details about them on the Cambridge Civic Journal. These pages have their self-described platforms, their biographical information, and links to their Web sites and social media.

Be sure to vote on Tuesday, November 7 (that's really soon). This is important. The 2013 election was decided by a margin of 20 votes.

Want some other perspectives?

  • Here are the endorsements by A Better Cambridge. A Better Cambridge promotes density near transit and affordable housing plans that actually create affordable housing. They oppose sprawl and dependence on cars. So I agree with them a lot.
  • A Globe opinion column on one national politician's bizarre decision to interfere with local politics, not in swing districts but in two of the most progressive cities in the US: Bernie Sanders' NIMBY Revolution.
  • There's another, less opinionated ballot-building tool now:
  • Marc Levy wrote a fairly even-handed voter's guide in Cambridge Day.
Sample ballot

Sample ballot


drag to reorder

Adriane Musgrave

Adriane is an extremely competent and informed advocate for housing. Any question thrown at her in the debates that I went to, she had a good, informed answer, backed up by data. Also just a positive and friendly person. I believe that she will be a good representative of all of Cambridge, but especially of renters and people facing housing insecurity.


Sean Tierney

Sean is packed with detailed and workable proposals for increasing transit-oriented density while fighting displacement. He has a very specific housing plan on his website, with headings like "Let’s Use Chapter 40R, The State’s Smart Growth Zoning And Housing Production Statute, To Develop Sustainable, Multi-Use Neighborhoods At Alewife And Vail Court".

You can tell that Sean's policies are not just vague principles, but that he's really thought about how to improve the city, a lot.


Alanna Mallon

Alanna is a strong advocate of housing, and also of educational opportunities for low-income children. She runs the Weekend Backpack Program, providing good food when school is out, and as the education liaison in City Hall, she worked to create scholarships for academic summer programs.


Craig Kelley


Craig Kelley is our strongest advocate for the environment. This is not to say that the other candidates are bad for the environment. But Craig Kelley stands out here.

He consistently gets endorsements from the Sierra Club, he used to volunteer for Greenpeace, he took the lead on banning plastic bags, and he promotes car-free transportation, especially infrastructure for bikes.

He actually has an idiosyncratic position on bike lanes -- his view is that bike lanes alongside traffic get bicyclists killed, and if the bike lane can't be entirely separate, bikes should be in the flow of traffic instead. So you might see him surprisingly advocating against bike lanes sometimes.

Unlike my other top choices, Craig does not have the endorsement of A Better Cambridge. He didn't even participate in their questionnaire. I believe he disagrees with ABC on minor points, and he often talks about being careful about the design of new developments. There's nothing wrong with that as an honest position, it's just that most candidates who say that use it as an anti-density talking point, a concern they can use to block all new buildings because no design will satisfy them.

But Craig has established by now that he is pro-density, as density is an environmental benefit. You can't make a walkable, bikeable city without density. He talks about how you can convert people away from being NIMBY if you can convince them that new development will be a tasteful, well-designed part of the neighborhood.


Samuel Gebru

Samuel Gebru focuses on economic justice, and a step toward his goals is more mixed-income housing. He's proposed fees for vacant and underutilized housing, which from what I've heard are having roughly the intended effect in cities where they've been tried such as Vancouver. He also advocates public financing of elections, which I think would be good for Cambridge. Some other candidates that advocate public elections make it their main issue and a distraction from policy, but Samuel puts policy first.

Since creating the original ranking, I have been convinced to move Samuel down one position based on campaign finance. For a candidate who promotes public financing to have spent more money than anyone else on the election is, at the least, odd.


Denise Simmons


Denise Simmons has been a great representative of Cambridge and a great mayor. In Cambridge, the mayor has only slightly more power than any other council member; what's more important is that they bring people together, and represent the spirit of the city on issues that are larger than us. Denise has done this well in her terms as mayor, including her previous term when she became the first openly-lesbian mayor in the US.

Simmons spends some of her time on a constituency who can't vote for her, because they don't live here, yet. She helps low-income people navigate the affordable-housing waitlist process, including guides written in Haitian Creole, so that not all the subsidies go to people who are well-connected and proficient in English.

In general, a Cambridge where Denise Simmons doesn't get re-elected is a Cambridge I don't recognize. There are other candidates I find more exciting, but I think she has done well and deserves to stay on the council.


Marc McGovern


Marc is a housing advocate, a fighter against poverty, and a policy wonk. Last election, I liked enough of what he had to say that I ranked him #1.

What changed? Just one thing: within the past two years, there was a petition to downzone most of Riverside. This is a neighborhood where it's illegal to build a house like the houses that are already there, or to add so much as a shed to your house, and the petition was to make it even more illegal. I went to City Hall to oppose that petition and was very surprised to find Marc speaking for the supporting side.

This was very surprising, given everything I've heard him say in favor of density. Is it different when it comes to his neighborhood? Was he coerced into it by his supporters? I don't know, but it makes me support him less, even though I still agree strongly with his policy positions.


Paul Toner

I haven't seen a lot of Paul Toner in this campaign. I see he's been collecting a bunch of union endorsements and yard signs and stuff, but I have to go look him up on the Web to see what he stands for: representing retirees, partnering with education and industry to help local students prosper, and a "regional approach" to housing and transportation issues.

He does say the magic words, which are that we can't just subsidize our way out of the housing crisis. I'm not sure what exactly is going to be different about his regional approach -- what makes him uniquely qualified to negotiate with Boston and Somerville? This is a task that past councillors have found very difficult.


Sumbul Siddiqui

Somehow, Sumbul Siddiqui managed to get a respectable score (though short of an endorsement) from the pro-housing A Better Cambridge, while also getting an endorsement from the anti-housing Cambridge Residents' Alliance / Our Revolution. That's kind of amazing.

This could mean one of two things: either she's a uniter who everyone likes, who will bring people together and find compromise; or she's just a politician talking out of both sides of her mouth.

So far I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt. I've heard her speak at all the candidate events I went to. I've found the things she said generally agreeable, and her credentials as a Cambridge native who grew up in public schools and subsidized housing give her a lot of credibility.

In her policies, she's a little bit focused on homeownership and single-family homes -- though she also mentions triple-deckers, which we need more of and are generally not allowed by our current zoning. And she explicitly mentions the most important place to build new, denser housing: near transit and workplaces. Outside of these areas, I worry that her affordable-housing plans sound like mere juggling of tax incentives, which won't work for long, but her motivations are fine.


Tim Toomey


Tim Toomey used to have two elected positions, as a state representative and a city councillor, a situation I considered not quite reasonable. Now he's just our city councillor. He lost the state rep position in 2016 to Mike Connolly, and I'd say it's because of his massive blunder of opposing marijuana legalization while the public was passing a referendum in favor of it.

Aside from that, he seems fine, just a little bit bland. His big issue right now is creating affordable housing in space that's becoming available near Harvard Square, for which he says he withstands "unprecedented attacks" from the neighbors. I'm glad he's standing up for that issue. I can't get excited about Tim Toomey, and my ideal council would have 9 other people on it, but he earns this honorable-mention place on my ranking.

Other candidates

You can drag candidates below here to make them not appear in your printed guide. The candidates here are candidates I don't support, but you can drag them up into the above ranking if you disagree.

Dennis Carlone


It is to Carlone's credit that his actions in office are not as bad as his campaign. I've seen his fear-mongering campaign flyers and heard his nasty robo-calls for several elections. And then in office he's just meh. He has a vision for Cambridge that he's competently working on. It's not my vision for Cambridge, but he's not just trying to be a wrench in the works, which is to his credit compared to some other CRA candidates.

Richard Harding

Richard didn't respond to the ABC questionnaire and I don't know enough about his positions from other sources, but I see he's already talking about raising the inclusionary housing requirement to 25%. Why not keep going until we end up as the Bay Area where people chant "100% affordable or none at all!" and get none at all?

The purpose of the inclusionary zoning requirement is to get affordable housing whose subsidies are already paid for. 20% appears to be a workable percentage. The more you raise the percentage, the more insanely expensive the market rate has to be to pay for the affordable housing. However, this is small ball. 20% versus 25% is a valid point of disagreement. I just think that continuing to raise the percentage should not be the first plan. We need more ideas for affordable housing and this one will stop working at some point.

Apparently Richard was reasonably well-liked on the School Committee, and he's not a CRA-endorsed candidate, which counts for something.

Ron Benjamin

I don't think Ron Benjamin is asking for my vote. The only event I saw him show up to was the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Commission one, and the things he said there were all just vague identity politics, no specific policy positions. "You in North Cambridge know what I'm talking about". Maybe they do. Anyway, it's proportional representation; if enough people know what he's talking about, they'll get him a seat.

Bryan Sutton

Bryan Sutton has made public financing of elections his main focus. This is something that I generally think is worth a try. But I want it to come with some other policies as well, not just vaguely "helping government work for the people".

He does put his (lack of) money where his mouth is on campaign finance, to his great credit. He appears to have raised and spent approximately no money on his campaign.

He doesn't talk much about housing. ABC gives him a "no", apparently on the basis of his questionnaire answers being really vague. What's a bad sign for me is that he's been retweeting Our Revolution, who has sided with CRA and the NIMBYs in this election.

Olivia D'Ambrosio

Olivia D'Ambrosio wants to be our "arts councillor", even though that is not a thing and there's no particular reason for that to be a thing. She has no platform beyond this.

The city can support the arts without using up a seat on the City Council for it, and I fail to see what the benefit would be of her sitting in City Hall instead of directing a show or something.

Vatsady Sivongxay

She hasn't taken much of a stand on anything. She will advocate for people and support people, yada yada. I'm tired of just hearing nice words; I want to hear a plan.

She wants stable and affordable housing but has no real proposal for how to get them, and her endorsement by the CRA indicates that she may not really be interested in creating housing to any significant extent.

We could do worse, but we could also do much better.

Gwen Volmar

I was almost on board with the things Gwen Volmar was saying, but I don't really trust her. She does the kind of politics that involves getting really mad about things, and it turns out some of those things aren't real.

There was a policy she was railing against at the ABC forum that she says is a massive loophole in inclusionary zoning, where developers get to build the expensive units in one place and the affordable units in a separate location that's marginalized and undesirable. That would very much defeat the purpose of inclusionary zoning and would be something to get mad about, if it were true, but it isn't. After corrections, she kind of backed off and said it's something that happens in other cities and could happen here.

As a commenter on Reddit pointed out when I started to be swayed by what she said in a forum, "She just makes things up."

Hari Pillai

A friendly enough guy, but he seems to have bombed on the ABC questionnaire with an incoherent plan that's more about blaming people than creating housing. He's straight up against the Volpe development, which after all this time has arrived at a compromise with something for everyone. He's got some good policies like municipal broadband, but that's the kind of thing that's easy to talk about and easy to sideline once you're actually in office.

Jan Devereux


Jan Devereux represents a vision of Cambridge as a rich, homogeneous suburb, not as a diverse and thriving city. You will see her campaign signs on nice detached single-family houses with nice yards that you definitely can't afford. In the previous election, she touted the fact that she once opposed a sidewalk repair because the concrete was the wrong color.

If you want to see what her policies look like, look at West Cambridge, the richest, least dense, least racially diverse part of our city.

Nadya Okamoto

Nadya Okamoto tells the story about how she escaped domestic violence and joined relatives in Cambridge, which became a safe, welcoming place for her. And now it's important to her that other people in her situation can f*** right off, because Cambridge is full now.

Am I caricaturing her a bit much? She hasn't given us much else to go on. Her platform is pretty weak and reflects her lack of experience.

It seems like she wanted to put a City Council run on her resume, she looked around for a platform to campaign on, and CRA gave her one, even though it doesn't match her story at all. She's a young candidate failing to represent young voters. If so far she's only lived with relatives and then in a dorm, she may not have experienced the search for a place to live in Cambridge.

Dan Lenke

If I suspected anyone of being a poorly-programmed robot posing as a City Council candidate, it would be Dan Lenke. He strings together nice-sounding words without ever forming a relevant, meaningful sentence.

I appreciate that he ran; everyone's been so serious about this election and we've been kind of running low on comic-relief candidates.

Jeff Santos

Talk show host who is running as a publicity stunt. He is strongly pro-car and thinks Cambridge should have more parking spaces. I guess this makes sense, because where else does anyone else listen to a radio talk show?

Gregg Moree

Perennial candidate. Talks about his uncle who worked for FDR a lot, as if we're supposed to be impressed. The claim he repeats is "My uncle wrote the Second Bill of Rights", which refers to an FDR campaign prop with large-print words on it like "A Good Job", not exactly a defining document of our time.

This guy is messed up, frankly. He is not going to solve his problems by running for City Council. I don't understand where he even gets the signatures to get on the ballot every time.

Quinton Zondervan

A loud populist and a fake environmentalist. Real environmentalists like Craig Kelley understand the importance of density. Quinton Zondervan advocates for low-density sprawl. It's as if he believes the environment is a bubble over Cambridge, and anyone pushed outside of the bubble doesn't affect the environment anymore. He touts alternatives to driving, but he supports policies that displace people to outlying towns where they have no alternative to driving.

His solution to the housing shortage seems to be to shout at people until they lower the prices. "Just BUILD AFFORDABLE HOUSING", he tweets angrily while opposing all policies that would allow building affordable housing. He even opposes inclusionary zoning, as to him, 20% affordable is 80% evil.

He talks about his campaign as a way of fighting back against the Trump administration. In this election, he's not running against the Trump administration. He's running against progressives.

Ilan Levy

There are candidates I support and candidates I oppose, some of them strongly. But for all the other candidates, I can say that if they implemented their policies, there would still be a Cambridge. Not so with Ilan Levy.

He considers the entire city to be in a conspiracy against him and his neighborhood, and his response is to start fights at community meetings (he proudly claimed this at a forum) and to propose to abolish the entire Plan E government. He wants to replace our ranked, proportional voting system with a system of districts and a directly-elected mayor, like in Boston, where most candidates run unopposed.

Cambridge's system of government is remarkably inclusive and effective. It lets us enact progressive policies while running a budget surplus and earning a AAA bond rating. Our system of government has done well for us, and without it, we might as well get annexed by Boston.