City Council Candidate Profiles, Group 5 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. Find your voting location here.

The City Council candidate profiles are not grouped in any particular order. Read batches onetwothree, and four. Candidates’ answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sean Tierney

What should we know about you?

I work full-time in state government as the research director and legal counsel for the Massachusetts Committee on Housing. Every day I work to create smart growth, affordable, and middle-income housing opportunities. I also help create policies to improve public housing and prevent homelessness and I work with nonprofits to protect tenants from eviction.

My connection to Cambridge runs deep. I grew up on Appleton St. in the house where my dad, Teddy, grew up and where he lives today with my mother, Mary. As a kid, I went to the Peabody School and then the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. From both teachers and peers I learned about other cultures and identities. I was exposed to the realities of economic diversity. I learned that in Cambridge, we don’t shy away from conversations about gaps in opportunity and the roots of inequality and privilege. I learned respect, empathy and, compassion. I learned not to judge, but always to listen. These are the values I want to bring to the City Council.

After college, my first job was at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics where I ran the JFK Jr. Forum, Harvard’s well-known public affairs venue. I hosted national and international leaders and learned about the importance of strong and effective leadership. Inspired by President Kennedy’s famous words that an “educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public,” I decided to attend law school with the goal of serving my community. My first job after law school was as Deputy Legal Counsel for the State’s Revenue Committee where I helped draft the Fair Share Amendment to the state constitution to fund universal pre-K and transportation improvements.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Work towards making Cambridge a livable, affordable city. A city of opportunity.

2) To be a voice for underrepresented communities in the city.

3) Find ways to collaborate with the Kendall Square economy to benefit our residents.

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

1) Designate the Alewife Quadrangle and Vail Court as 40R Smart Growth Districts. This will allow the city to work with the state to plan transit-oriented, mixed-use, and mixed-income neighborhoods with open space, housing, and retail. We should access the MassWorks Infrastructure Program to mitigate environmental concerns and work to increase access to T stations.

2) Create an oral history program in collaboration with the Historical Commission, CRLS, and possibly even Harvard’s Innovation Lab. This program would feature high school students interviewing long-time residents, similar to NPR’s StoryCorp. This program would teach skills to students, bring to life our city’s history, create cross-cultural engagement.

3) Over the course of the campaign, I have heard many residents wanting to know how to accommodate bikes, cars, buses, and pedestrians on our crowded streets. One immediate step we should take to make our streets safer is to enforce our 25 mile per hour speed limit. We should collect data on traffic infractions committed by Uber and Lyft drivers. Anecdotally, I find the most dangerous drivers in our city to be distracted, speeding, or lost drivers looking for their passengers.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I believe that an effective City Council must bring together people with the knowledge and skills to tackle the issues facing our city. I stand out from other current candidates for the Council because of my experience as a lawyer working on tax and housing policy for the State of Massachusetts. I believe that Cambridge will benefit from policies that create housing and job opportunities for a diverse array of people. I will make a unique and valuable contribution to the council because of my understanding of how housing and tax policy can be used to further these civic goals.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I once served as a driver in Vice President Joe Biden’s motorcade.


Samuel Gebru

Samuel Gebru did not answer Scout’s questions for this series. You can read about his platform on his website.


Gwen Volmar

What should we know about you? 

I love Cambridge. In this singular place, I am surrounded by the inspiration to do good. Where I work (I help Harvard undergraduates apply for scholarships), I am surrounded by bright young people who will be the change agents of the future and who inspire me to be one myself. Where I live, I am surrounded by people getting priced out of their homes who inspire me to advocate for stable and diverse communities. Where I play, I see my favorite bars, shops, and open spaces being replaced or left to rot and it inspires me to fight to keep Cambridge, this place that I love, unique and local.

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

1) Create a direct leasing program which would empower the city to lease directly from landlords and re-lease to voucher holders. This serves to overcome traditional barriers to entry experienced by voucher holders and generates a more comprehensive database of landlords who are willing and able to rent to voucher-holding tenants.

2) Restore social enfranchisement to homeless individuals and families by creating access to storage and mail: Create a Safe Keeping Center, where homeless individuals can have a storage locker and a mailbox. This would restore access to services that depend on the mail (federal, state, and city agencies, banks, doctors, courts, schools, etc.) and allow homeless individuals to store vital, but high value, items such as a cell phone and a winter coat.

3) Uphold the right to equal access to utilities by ending the Comcast monopoly over broadband service in Cambridge: Move forward with the feasibility study suggested years ago to investigate and make plans for a network of municipal fiber broadband.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I have lived in Cambridge for 10 years and qualified for affordable housing for 10 years. I have never moved out of the 500 square-foot apartment I moved into when I was 22 because I can’t afford to. I have made sacrifice after sacrifice, just like so many other Cantabrigians, because I want to live here. When we talk about those who are struggling in Cambridge, we’re talking about me and my personal friends and family. I have genuine experience living these issues and trying to navigate these systems. We need someone in City Hall with that kind of perspective.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I love sweets, I almost never miss a dessert!


Dan Lenke

Dan Lenke did not answer Scout’s questions for this series. You can read about his platform on his website.


Ilan Levy

Ilan Levy did not answer Scout’s questions for this series. You can read about his platform on his website.


Quinton Zondervan

What should we know about you? 

I was born in Suriname, a small country in South America that is 90 percent Amazonian rainforest. When I was a teenager, Suriname got taken over by a dictatorship and my family fled to the U.S. I faced many challenges, but persevered and eventually realized my dream of studying computer science and mathematics at MIT. I fell in love with Cambridge and never left, and my wife and I have since raised two children who both attend CRLS. I have served on the city’s Climate Protection Action Committee for nearly a decade, including three years as committee chair. During that time, I have advocated for the city’s climate vulnerability study, the plastic bag ban, and very recently the goal of 100 percent renewable by 2035.

What I am most proud of, however, is the zoning petition I co-authored in 2013 with Mike Connolly, which resulted in the pioneering Net Zero Action Plan. This plan will reduce our emissions from buildings to zero over the next 25 years. Since building emissions account for 80 percent of the total emissions in Cambridge, it is extremely important that we implement this plan as quickly as possible—and that’s why it is so important that you elect me on November 7.

What are your top three priorities if elected?

Top three priorities are addressing the affordable housing crisis, preparing for climate change, and improving the sustainability and efficiency of public transit options throughout the city.

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

If elected, I would work to ensure smooth implementation of the city’s Net Zero Action Plan, which I advocated for and helped write. I would explore the feasibility of implementing a foreign buyer’s tax on real estate transactions to address the rampant speculation which is artificially inflating our city’s real estate market. Finally, I would call for swift implementation of the city’s Bike Plan, including a clear timeline so that nobody is surprised by the changes.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

What sets me apart is that I actually have experience writing and advocating for municipal policy right here in Cambridge. I’ve co-written a zoning petition and had success in pushing it through the legislative process, and no other first-time candidate can claim that. I have a deep understanding of the nuances of municipal government which prepares me to be effective from day one. I have tackled the major crisis of climate change with a data-driven approach, and have a first-hand understanding of the biotech and software industries which flourish in Cambridge. I’m also not taking money from real estate developers or other special interests so that you can be sure I remain accountable to the people.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I grew up in the Amazon rainforest and speak Dutch, because Suriname was a Dutch colony before it got taken over by a military strongman. I was an official observer at the Paris climate negotiations in 2015, and I have traced my ancestry to people from every inhabited continent except Australia. My cousin is Romeo Zondervan, a retired professional soccer player from Europe. In my spare time, I play the drums, classical guitar, and write poetry as well as science-fiction.