Mayor David Maher

After a long, drawn-out electoral process, School Committee member, City Councilor and 2010-2011 Mayor David Maher was (re)elected to Cambridge’s highest office earlier this year. The Scout sat down with Mayor Maher to talk about innovation, gentrification and all the -ations in between.

 My very first apartment was on Pearl Street off of Central, almost ten years ago. The neighborhood has changed so much since then.

If you went back to Central Square before rent control was phased out, you’d see a neighborhood that looked tired. Nobody was investing money in the area. After rent control, yes, families left, but you’d also just see piles of trash in dumpsters, construction everywhere, all this movement that came with this huge infusion of capital. You can’t stop gentrification, but you can strike a balance.

On that subject – we just did a piece about how Cambridge, especially Kendall, has a reputation as one of the top innovation centers in the country. How do you foster/support that start-up culture without incurring the kind of rent hikes and development you see in say, San Francisco?
I grew up in Cambridge, and I remember Kendall Square back then – just parking garages and empty lots. At the same time, we’re keenly aware of the need to strike a balance. Fifteen percent of the area is zoned for affordable housing. And that’s mixed, inclusionary zoning – it’s not like Boston where you can build the affordable units somewhere else. It’s in the same building, which I believe to be better for the community
All the studies have shown us that people want to live, work and play in the same area. The younger generation is increasingly carless, and they don’t want to have to go out to Malden for a job. So the focus is on making the neighborhoods desirable, without forgetting the long-term resident. We do this by having what I would say are very low taxes, comparable to other cities of our size, with several exemptions for long-term residents. We don’t want people just cashing in and leaving. Again, you can’t control gentrification, but you can address it.
I’ll give you an example – recently, I met a woman who owned a duplex in Central Square, who was getting up in years and wanted to sell her place and move into an apartment – a place with a doorman and a elevator, that sort of thing. She finds a place, 1,200 square feet, and she tells me it’s $3,000 a month. So I ask her, “Well, how much are you selling your duplex for?” She says “1.2 million.” So yes, the rent might be more expensive, but the place you bought for almost nothing all those years ago is now worth how many times more? There’s a balance.

 

maher2What specific challenges do you see Cambridge having to face?
We as a city have been very fortunate. We haven’t had to make any layoffs. We’ve been able to afford new schools, a new library and additional police, all without having to make any major cuts.
But the fact remains, segments of our population are being left behind. There is an achievement gap in Cambridge. The families of East Cambridge growing up in the shadow of Kendall Square aren’t being afforded the opportunities they need to succeed. We need to support our public schools and provide more job training.
And this is where – and I’ve said this before – the business community needs to step up. Take MIT and Harvard, which used to be two of the biggest employers in the city: janitorial jobs, food service jobs, etc. But now, all of those jobs, opportunities for unskilled workers, have been outsourced to independent contractors. Cambridge businesses need to employ Cambridge residents.

Regarding the election … that was quite a ride. Are you surprised that you’re mayor?
[Laughs] No, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. I built up a strong reputation as a consensus builder, and I was fortunate enough to have been the mayor once before. I wouldn’t have pursued it if I didn’t believe it was a possibility.
But I was surprised by the lack of representation of women [on the council]. Nine to one, which is [one of the] largest discrepancies I’ve seen in my 22 years in city politics. And I will say that I was surprised by the level of shenanigans that took place. I mean, I’m not naïve – my father was involved with city government back in the ‘60s, so I know Cambridge politics. But this was perhaps one of the worst examples I’ve seen.

Cambridge is not Somerville, and Boston is not Cambridge, but at the same time all the cities are interconnected in so many ways. How do you as mayor navigate those relationships?
It can be difficult, and there can be that competition for services and resources. But I will say that it’s better now than it’s ever been, and you’re seeing much more cooperation between the cities. Regarding Mayor Walsh in particular, he and his people have signaled their willingness to work with us, and we greatly appreciate that. Some of his predecessors have not been so forthcoming [laughs].

 When people talk about Cambridge, it’s usually about the schools or the squares. What’s something about Cambridge that you feel people don’t hear enough about?

The neighborhoods. Cambridge is a tightly-packed city, and there are these networks of fabulous neighborhoods that don’t get the attention they deserve. When I see the smiling faces of the families that live in these neighborhoods, that’s what I wish people saw when they thought about Cambridge.

After a long, drawn-out electoral process, School Committee member, City Councilor and 2010-2011 Mayor David Maher was (re)elected to Cambridge’s highest office earlier this year. The Scout at down with Mayor Maher to talk about innovation, gentrification and all the -ations in between.

My very first apartment was on Pearl
Street off of Central, almost ten years ago.
The neighborhood has changed so much
since then.
If you went back to Central Square
before rent control was phased out, you’d
see a neighborhood that looked tired.
Nobody was investing money in the area.
After rent control, yes, families left, but you’d
also just see piles of trash in dumpsters,
construction everywhere, all this movement
that came with this huge infusion of capital.
You can’t stop gentrification, but you can
strike a balance.
On that subject – we just did a piece
about how Cambridge, especially Kendall, has a reputation as one of
the top innovation centers in the country. How do you foster/support
that start-up culture without incurring the kind of rent hikes and
development you see in say, San Francisco?
I grew up in Cambridge, and I remember Kendall Square back
then – just parking garages and empty lots. At the same time, we’re
keenly aware of the need to strike a balance. Fifteen percent of the
area is zoned for affordable housing. And that’s mixed, inclusionary
zoning – it’s not like Boston where you can build the affordable units
somewhere else. It’s in the same building, which I believe to be better
for the community
All the studies have shown us that people want to live, work and
play in the same area. The younger generation is increasingly carless,
and they don’t want to have to go out to Malden for a job. So the focus
is on making the neighborhoods desirable, without forgetting the longterm
resident. We do this by having what I would say are very low
taxes, comparable to other cities of our size, with several exemptions
for long-term residents. We don’t want people just cashing in and
leaving. Again, you can’t control gentrification, but you can address it.
I’ll give you an example – recently, I met a woman who owned a
duplex in Central Square, who was getting up in years and wanted to
sell her place and move into an apartment – a place with a doorman
and a elevator, that sort of thing. She finds a place, 1,200 square feet,
and she tells me it’s $3,000 a month. So I ask her, “Well, how much
are you selling your duplex for?” She says “1.2 million.” So yes, the
rent might be more expensive, but the place you bought for almost
nothing all those years ago is now worth how many times more? There’s
a balance.
What specific challenges do you see Cambridge having to face?
We as a city have been very fortunate.
We haven’t had to make any layoffs. We’ve
been able to afford new schools, a new
library and additional police, all without
having to make any major cuts.
But the fact remains, segments of our
population are being left behind. There is an
achievement gap in Cambridge. The families
of East Cambridge growing up in the shadow
of Kendall Square aren’t being afforded the
opportunities they need to succeed. We
need to support our public schools and
provide more job training.
And this is where – and I’ve said this
before – the business community needs to
step up. Take MIT and Harvard, which used
to be two of the biggest employers in the
city: janitorial jobs, food service jobs, etc.
But now, all of those jobs, opportunities for
unskilled workers, have been outsourced
to independent contractors. Cambridge
businesses need to employ Cambridge
residents.
Regarding the election … that was
quite a ride. Are you surprised that you’re mayor?
[Laughs] No, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. I built up a strong
reputation as a consensus builder, and I was fortunate enough to have
been the mayor once before. I wouldn’t have pursued it if I didn’t
believe it was a possibility.
But I was surprised by the lack of representation of women [on the
council]. Nine to one, which is [one of the] largest discrepancies I’ve
seen in my 22 years in city politics. And I will say that I was surprised
by the level of shenanigans that took place. I mean, I’m not naïve – my
father was involved with city government back in the ‘60s, so I know
Cambridge politics. But this was perhaps one of the worst examples
I’ve seen.
Cambridge is not Somerville, and Boston is not Cambridge, but
at the same time all the cities are interconnected in so many ways.
How do you as mayor navigate those relationships?
It can be difficult, and there can be that competition for services
and resources. But I will say that it’s better now than it’s ever been, and
you’re seeing much more cooperation between the cities. Regarding
Mayor Walsh in particular, he and his people have signaled their
willingness to work with us, and we greatly appreciate that. Some of his
predecessors have not been so forthcoming [laughs].
When people talk about Cambridge, it’s usually about the
schools or the squares. What’s something about Cambridge that you
feel people don’t hear enough about?
The neighborhoods. Cambridge is a tightly-packed city, and there
are these networks of fabulous neighborhoods that don’t get the
attention they deserve. When I see the smiling faces of the families
that live in these neighborhoods, that’s

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