On Jan. 6, Sumbul Siddiqui was inaugurated as Mayor of Cambridge. She is currently serving her second term as city councilor. A native to the city and graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin, she is devoted to using her position to improve the public school system, increase affordable housing, and make herself accessible to the community. Scout Cambridge sat down with Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui to ask a few questions about her first month as mayor.
Can you reflect on your time as mayor so far?
It’s been fast paced. There’s so much that comes through the mayor’s office every day. I’m also building my team. We’re a staff of two right now, and could be a staff of six. So that’s coming together. And so that’s exciting, too: building the team, building a vision and strategic plan for the next 18 months. It’s all a lot of excitement. I’m not sleeping much, but I think if there’s something you want to lose sleep over, it’s this.
One of your goals has been being a very accessible mayor and having an open door. Do you feel like people have taken you up on that offer?
Oh, yeah. That’s one of the things I love about this job. As a councilor, I was able to talk to a lot of people and do a lot of constituent services. The caseload is much higher for this, just simply because of the platform, and so you can’t do it alone. That’s why you have a specific constituent director, or a few folks doing constituent services. So, I recognize I can’t do all of it. … If I can, I will meet with as many people as possible. Sometimes I can’t, but for the most part, people would say that I’m easy to talk to, or that they can call me. I work around the clock. I’ll work every hour if I need to.
A lot of the coverage surrounding your term so far has been about your identity, specifically. I was wondering if you can speak to how you feel about the coverage surrounding your term.
When you’re a first, I think people are drawn to that. They’re highlighting the Muslim piece, but I’m first in a lot of other ways. I’m the first Asian, the first South Asian city councilor for Cambridge. … There’s all these firsts and you have a responsibility in that. It’s a challenge. For people, it means so much to them and that’s important, too. I process that in different ways. I think that more people come to me now because of that identity, and may be able to get the help that they need and didn’t know how to get before because they feel comfortable coming to me. That’s an important value.
Some of these articles just focused on that, but some of the good ones I’ve seen also focused on my experience and the things that I’ve been able to get done. That comes with time. Some have also focused on the fact that I’ve grown up here and that I’m a lawyer. That’s important to me, too, because those are my identities. The Muslim part is a tiny part of me. It’s important, but I think my South Asian identity is very important as well, and my background as a lawyer.
I’m also 31. People don’t realize that either. I think some headlines have, but I think if you look at the Plan E government, I think I’m the youngest mayor.
[Mayor Siddiqui also cleared up that she and Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon are not the first pair of women serving those positions in Cambridge, as has been stated in various outlets recently. Former Mayor Sheila Russell and former Vice Mayor Kathleen Born were the first pair of women in 1996.]
What are three of the greatest issues facing Cambridge that you want to start tackling as soon as possible?
Affordable housing is key. One of the things that most immediately I’m very interested in is preserving the 504 units at the Fresh Pond Apartments where I grew up. … In conjunction with that, how the city thinks about affordable housing, and the importance of affordable housing, and how to have more of it, those are paramount issues.
The second issue that I’m very concerned about and I think is really key is how the city works on equity and racial justice as it relates to the schools. There’s just been a crisis, right? It’s inequity by design. That’s come up in different ways in the school system. So, really making a big effort from the city side and the school side to figure out how we do everything we can to fix those disparate outcomes that exist. It’s not just a Cambridge problem, but given the school budget, given the resources we have, the will here is to do something. That relates to the third thing, which is universal pre-K. It’s all interrelated.
Something that’s going to come this term is work that me and a few colleagues have done on children savings accounts. Every kindergartener will have a children savings account. Studies have shown that if children have a savings account, in conjunction with the financial literacy piece, that they’re much more likely to have an eye towards post secondary education— whatever that is, if it’s trades… Having that tied to financial literacy, we’re doing a lot of work around that. Yeah. And that’s exciting, right? Not many cities can do that.
Something that I’ve worked on just now that’s come to fruition, also related to equity, is offering Halal [foods that can be consumed under Islamic dietary guidelines] food. That rollout is starting, it’s still slow.
Now for a few fun questions. What’s your favorite coffee shop in Cambridge?
Curio Coffee [located at 441 Cambridge St., Cambridge.] I love Curio Coffee—they have great waffles.
What is one thing you never leave home without?
What’s your favorite movie?
I love Bollywood movies.
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