City Council Candidate Profiles, Group 3 of 5

Cambridge City HallPhoto by Adrianne Mathiowetz

This year, 26 candidates are running for Cambridge’s nine City Council seats.

Scout is putting together profiles on every candidate running for City Council so that voters can get informed about the slate of people who could shape Cambridge for the next two years.

Election Day is Nov. 7, and the last day to register to vote is Oct. 18. Find your voting location here.

The City Council candidate profiles are not grouped in any particular order. Read batch 1 here, batch 2 here, and keep an eye out for the next two groups of candidates. Candidates’ answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

Josh Burgin

What should we know about you?
I’m a tri-sector professional with over two decades of experience in small business, state and local government, and international development. I have a broad range of expertise from front-line customer service and sales, to setting policy for a public transit agency, to negotiating with the presidential administration of Kazakhstan.

I have also worked in countries throughout the former Soviet Union, having served as County Director for a USAID-funded democracy project in Kazakhstan, participated in trainings in Kyrgyzstan, monitored elections in Ukraine, selected as a New Security Leader at the Warsaw Security Forum, and he taught English in Russia.

I have a B.A.S. in supervision and management from Polk State College and a masters in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

I am a Real Estate Consultant at ePlace Real Estate. My wife Jamie and I have two children.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

It is time we demand Harvard and MIT do more to contribute to the Cambridge City Budget and offer relief for Housing Affordability and other needed community services.

The Comcast Monopoly on television and internet services in Cambridge must end. Our Internet is slow and expensive and it’s embarrassing for a globally significant research center like Cambridge for its residents to be shackled to a single provider.

The City of Cambridge has multiple buildings and offices. Navigating city services can be difficult for lifetime residents, not to mention someone who has just moved here or for whom English is not their first language. We need a helpline/one-stop office to help residents, small business owners, and property owners to navigate the system.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

Gridlock and poor traffic patterns need to be addressed at Alewife. Cambridge will need to work with MassDOT and other concerned interests to solve the traffic and congestion.

EV Charging Stations for neighborhoods with street parking only.

More proactive efforts to support local small businesses in Cambridge.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I bring a considerable background in the private sector, extensive experience in state and local government, and years of education and professional involvement in countries throughout the former Soviet Union. This interdisciplinary background makes me uniquely qualified to contribute to thoughtful solution-based policy making on the Cambridge City Council.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I love choral singing and previously sang with Harvard Glee Club and currently sing with the Cambridge Community Chorus.

 

Hari Pillai

What should we know about you?

I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta to Indian immigrants. My parents were both activist educators, and they imbued in me progressive values, sense of social justice, inclusitivity, and civic involvement.

I made the decision to move here to New England because I knew that my values and ideas were welcome here. New England, in general, and Cambridge, in particular, has always attracted progressive thinkers from all over. This place has always been a sanctuary for forward thinking ideas.

I’ve always been very interested in politics, and I have volunteered for many campaigns since ’94, and I have even been a volunteer as a grant reviewer for Massachusetts Service Alliance in the past, Sharewood Medical Clinic at Malden for 2 years, a greeter at a Cambridge Vipasana Center, and a volunteer at Shirley Prison for five years.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

In no particular order:

1) Internet Monopoly – Given that I’m an account manager at a high-tech company with plenty of negotiation and project management skills and that I have family who worked in the IT sector, I think that I’m in a position to be a productive member of the Broadband Task Force.

2) Low Voter Turnout – My idea would DOUBLE the voter turnout. Why am I fixated on increasing the voter turnout at the local level? Because I believe that this would have a cascading effect on other municipalities, given that many cities scrutinize our own policies, and perhaps internalize much of what we do.

3) Income Inequality – So, like most of the others running for City Council, support a $15/hour minimum wage, and to me this is a MORAL issue and not an economic issue. I don’t have any volunteers helping me out because I’m unable to reconcile my belief in a $15/hour minimum wage to free labor. In addition to a higher (MUCH higher) minimum wage, I believe that we should also look into INCREASING the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

Once again, in no order:

1) I support the idea that communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition should NOT have barriers to entry in establishing a dispensary (or much fewer barriers to entry). Also, there are a few people in jail for cannabis violations, and they should be given amnesty.

2) There is NO shared parking in Alewife. We have acres of asphalt that is under-utilized, and my idea is to implement a shared parking schema like they have in Indianapolis or Alexandria, Va. This actually has many environmental benefits! For example, developers don’t have to build as many parking spaces, which is very expensive, and the land could have been used for green space. Moreover, drivers won’t have to cruise around looking for street parking and emitting greenhouse gases.

3) I want to see Cambridge building our own apartments and not some real-estate speculators doing so. We should build apartments/homes ourselves and look at creative solutions like micro-housing, which we’re beginning to do around Columbia Street, co-housing, and more.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I think that many things sets me apart. I was the first non-white person to graduate from my private high school which was actually started by the White Citizen’s Council. In spite of this, I had a lot of friends from that walk of life: sons of truck-drivers, shade-tree mechanics, and farmers. As I got to New England, I have the most liberal friends as you can imagine, and I lived in a housing coop with a very diverse demographic. I made friends with ALL these people, and I bring them all together. Because of my friendship with many different people—”different” as measured by political persuasion, ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds, religion, etc.—I present myself as the UNITY candidate that’s a counter-point to this administration.

Give us a fun fact about you.

When I was in college, I was a bassist in a punk band. We won talent shows. We all had nicknames. And as a big Tupac Shakur fan, I have some of his quotes monogramed into my shirt or jacket.

 

Sumbul Siddiqui

What should we know about you? 

I am a public interest attorney at a nonprofit. My family immigrated to the United States from Karachi, Pakistan when I was about two. We were fortunate to win a lottery to enter the Cambridge affordable housing system. We were placed in Rindge Towers in North Cambridge and later moved to Roosevelt Towers in East Cambridge. I attended Cambridge Public Schools throughout my childhood.

My activism in Cambridge started at an early age when I co-founded the Cambridge Youth Council, now in its 15th year. I pursued an educational path that would empower me to advocate for and improve the vital public programs and social services that shaped my life and provided my family with the stability we needed to thrive, such as Headstart and public housing. I attended Brown University where I studied public policy. I obtained a law degree at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, which enabled me to more effectively advocate for the economic, policy, and social interests of low-income and working class people in my community. After law school, I returned home to Cambridge.

Since then I’ve been active in Cambridge as a current Commissioner on the Human Services Commission, and a board member of Cambridge School Volunteers, and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School Alumni Association. I also serve on the Board of Directors of the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston and I am a proud union member of the National Organization of Legal Services Workers – UAW Local 2320.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Promoting affordable housing: As a lifelong resident of Cambridge who has grown up in public housing, this issue is of personal significance to me. My foremost goal as City Councilor is to help plan for sustainable development that prioritizes socio-economic diversity and affordable housing, and addresses displacement and social equity.

2) Promoting economic development: Providing financial and technical support to small businesses and enhancing community development by advocating for affordable commercial space is a top goal.  As a legal aid attorney to small businesses in developing communities in Lawrence and Lynn, I help small businesses facing challenging circumstances grow every day.

3) Fostering civic engagement: One of my primary goals as a City Councilor is to promote broader civic engagement and improve the responsiveness of Cambridge city government to each and every member of the community.

What are specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

1) Enforce the City’s policies against vacant storefronts: I would research whether we can implement a vacant storefront registry similar to Arlington’s for large property owners who would be required to pay a fee to enter the registry once their storefront becomes vacant. The fee could be waived if the owner allowed public art to be displayed while the landlord looks for a new tenant or committed to allowed a pop-up use for the community.

2) Bring City Council meetings to residents by hosting them around the city (Rindge towers community or at one of our many youth centers)

3) Creating a light and helmet giveaway program at schools and community centers throughout the city as the high cost of bicycle accessories could scare away lower-income cyclists from investing in lights and proper helmets. This could limit the use of bicycles at night, or put bicyclists in greater danger of injury.

4) Establish an Office of Housing Stability to help individuals find and maintain stable affordable housing.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

As a lifelong resident of Cambridge who has grown up in public housing, I have a legitimacy and network base within Cambridge that few other candidates do. I’m running for those family and friends who had to uproot their families from Cambridge, because Cambridge couldn’t be their home anymore. I’m running for people of color in Cambridge. 

I have experienced firsthand the incredible opportunities young people have growing up in Cambridge, many of which were the result of a commitment by the city to providing opportunities to its residents, and others simply the result of living in a place with such a wonderful diversity of people. At the same time, I have experienced my own parents turning down work promotions so that they could remain in their housing.

Therefore, I deeply understand why people want to stay here, why diversity must be valued, and why providing middle/moderate-income housing in addition to low and low/moderate-income housing is essential. I can draw from my vast experience in Cambridge to tackle challenging problems that residents face. 

Give us a fun fact about you.

I write and have performed stand up comedy.

 

Vatsady Sivongxay

What should we know about you?

I’m a 35-year old progressive community advocate, attorney, mother, and former refugee. My family arrived to the U.S. as Lao refugees when I was 4-and-a-half years old, and my parents started over as janitors and factory workers. I knew early on the barriers I had to overcome. I’m running for City Council to make sure that Cambridge is a place where everyone has equitable access to opportunities and to ensure that we all have a voice in the decisions that impact our daily lives. I have fought for such a vision in my law practice, advising small businesses and immigrants and as the policy director for Boston’s District 7, partnering with the diverse communities on issues such as affordable housing, development, and education.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

I believe that affordability is the biggest problem facing Cambridge. This affordability intersects housing, income equality and environmental justice, as well as other issues. Solving this problem will require diversity, outreach, teamwork and accountability. My top three priorities to address affordability include:

1) Expand affordable housing for lower-to middle-income households in housing plan and inclusionary zoning requirements to achieve housing affordability and stability

2) Build a stronger workforce development pipeline for youth and adults by increasing partnerships with higher education, research, and nonprofit organizations, and engaging the business community to connect youth and adults with living wage jobs

3) Expand access to quality early education and childcare so that families have a chance to climb up the ladder of opportunity.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

1) Create a community-led engagement and accountability process to create stronger community benefits agreements, to meet housing, development, and infrastructure goals, and to ensure that all residents—especially underrepresented groups including communities of color, women, low-income residents, immigrants, people with disabilities, and small businesses—have a voice.

2) Create an Office of Housing Stability to provide assistance and resources to residents and landlords.

3) Create a Small Business & Entrepreneur Resource Center to provide resources, guidance, mentorship, and advocacy to small businesses, entrepreneurs, workers’ co-ops, and women and minority-owned businesses in order to dismantle barriers.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I believe that government is most effective when it engages people, conducts its business transparently, and offers access to opportunity. I’m bringing over 10 years of experience as a public servant, policy director, and small business owner working with diverse communities to find solutions. I’ve always believed that accountability, including diverse voices, and a commitment to justice and shared decision-making are vital to effective community service. I will be a champion for all – especially those who don’t yet have a strong voice in government.  

Give us a fun fact about you.

I launched my first small business selling homemade eggrolls in middle school.

 

Jeff Santos

What should we know about you?

I was born and raised in New Bedford and Dartmouth, Mass., I  am a grandson of Portuguese immigrants, I was the first kid in my immediate family to attend college at Northeastern University. Here is why I am running: I see great days ahead for the City of Cambridge but we also have some major issues we have to deal with in the immediate term.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

The first among them is affordable housing. I am support the 20 percent law, but I would like to add a rent-to-own option that is part of the solution to keep Cambridge citizens from leaving the city due to the outrageous cost of homes.

The second issue is leading the reform effort to fix the MBTA with other communities. Cambridge has six T stops and has to lead the way. It is important for the city to have an effective MBTA  and along with light rail it reduces the carbon footprint.

Another issue is protecting small businesses, which are closing due to high rent and ineffective city policies regarding parking in front of small businesses. In terms of changes, I would like to change how we pay for parking, more inexpensive public parking garages, increase open space on top of the garages, and create more bike paths along rail lines.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

What sets me apart from my colleagues is my radio/TV show. I will continue to do my show if I am elected and will have a massive platform to advocate for these issues in City Hall and on the air.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I am huge Red Sox and Bruins fan and enjoy going to ballparks across the country I have been to 18! I also enjoy old comedy shows from the like the Munsters!

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