Commissioner Rideout: Election maneuvering has begun; Choose those who unify

Cambridge City Commissioner Steve Rideout

City Council elections will be coming up soon; and already we can see that the politics and election maneuvering are starting. Commissioner Hanson and I are not seeking reelection. The other current members of City Council have expressed their interest in running again and there is talk of other people planning to run for office, but the required approval of the election process by City Council was just being considered at Monday night’s City Council meeting, so as of now no one has officially signed up to run.

At our meeting we were called upon to adopt the procedures for holding the election for Mayor and Commissioners scheduled for October 17th and also in early December for those races where one candidate did not receive 50% plus one vote for the Mayor or a Commissioner seat, which by our City Charter would elect him or her to that position.

Early in Monday’s meeting was the Charter Resolution proposal that would allow the Supervisor of Elections to mail out ballots to all registered voters in the event the City was in a formal state of emergency, which we are in because of the Covid-19 pandemic. After much discussion and some public comment, the vote was taken by the Commissioners that was 3-2 in favor. Those voting for the Charter Resolution were Commissioners Hanson, Cannon, and myself and voting against were Commissioners Foster and Sydnor.

The intent of this Resolution is to help voters to vote by mail for any reason but the primary one would be if they wish to avoid being in a potentially crowded voting area on election day. It is also intended to increase the extremely low turnout that took place for the City Council elections in 2016.

Each Ward of the City has about 1750 registered voters which totals a little less than 9,000 registered voters in the city. In 2016 with four uncontested races and two contested races, the votes cast for each uncontested candidate were as follows: I received 145 votes. Donald Sydnor received 50 votes. Robbie Hanson received 60 votes. The Mayor received 653 votes.

In the contested races, LaShon Foster defeated incumbent Frank Cooke in Ward 3 with 179 votes to 166. She received 117 absentee ballots in her favor to make up for a 58-vote deficit from the in person voting. Dave Cannon received 151 votes over opponent Dion Bans who had 139 votes. We had too few voters coming out last time.

Given the health risks to all of us this year, it would seem logical to allow voting by mail ballot. Given the high number of absentee votes received by Commissioner Foster in her last election, it would seem logical that she would not object to having mailed ballots as that is what absentee ballots are. Yet she and Commissioner Sydnor voted against having mailed ballots.

As I understood one concern put forward by Commissioner Foster without any proof that I heard, she felt that the mailed ballots would be held in a PO Box at the Post Office until election day, which made them subject to theft by someone working at the Post Office. Under 18 U.S.C section 1708, the penalty for stealing mail, which is a Federal Offense, is up to five (5) years in the penitentiary and up to a $250,000 fine or both. Given that the potential punishment for stealing ballots from the mail is significant; that all of the mailed votes would be sealed; and that there would be no way for anyone to know what vote for what candidate was in a sealed mail ballot, there should be no reason for any postal worker or anyone else to steal them. The only reference that I heard was that some similar activity at an unknown post office somewhere at some time in the past had occurred. The other concern was that a person who sent in a mailed ballot could change his or her mind before election day and seek a second ballot, which would cancel the first ballot, or come to vote in person on election day, which would cancel a prior ballot.

Other concerns that I heard from the public during the comment period included asking why we did not use the county election board. The reason for that is that on January 13, 2020, The City Council voted 5-0 to hold the election on October 17th, which is a Saturday. The Saturday vote came at the request of Commissioner Foster who reasonably did not want people to have to miss work to vote.

The County Board of Elections had offered to hold our election in July but were going to be too busy to hold it immediately prior to the November national election. That meant, of course, that we had to go find a private provider of election services, which the City Manager was able to do.

A concern that Commissioner Sydnor raised at an earlier work session was that there was not a fair racial balance in the election judges. He left the meeting before the City Manager was able to explain that two of the three main elections judges are African American. He also did not like the candidate residency requirements that included providing proof of residency, but on February 13, 2017 on motion of Commissioner Sydnor and a 4-0 vote of the Commissioners (Commissioner Foster was absent), the residency requirements and required documentation outlined for the election process was approved by City Council.

Later in Monday’s meeting we were asked to decide on the vendor contract for the election, the candidate qualifying requirements, election specifics, and approve the Election Judges, Poll Workers, and Helpers. Once again despite the above, the vote was again 3-2 in favor.

Cambridge residents can do something important for this town. That is to start to break the unspoken division between the black and white communities and elect a group of candidates that will improve on what the current city council has been able to do for you. I am delighted that there appear to be many people that are planning to run for a seat on City Council and that every Ward and the Mayor’s race should be contested. That means that the citizens of Cambridge are more interested in their City and what is happening here than they have been in a long time. That is a good thing.

As the campaigning gets busier and new candidates decide to run, be sure to listen to what they or their supporters say and check out the facts to be sure that they are being honest and forthright with you the voter. Do not look at a Facebook page and immediately think that what is written there is the truth. When a friend tells you something that just seems unusual or crazy, do not just accept it. Ask questions. Look to see what other truth there may be.

Cambridge has made great strides in the past four years but has much that remains to be done. We have very challenging and difficult issues that lie ahead in the coming years that include the development of Sailwinds, the Packing House project, The Pine Street project, Cambridge Marketplace and the new medical facility and Emergency Room, finding additional revenue resources, and addressing the issues of crime and how we can help the children of this community grow up healthy and engaged in their education and preparing for their future.

What we need are candidates who are prepared to work together and collaborate on these and other important issues for this city and who will be leaders of the city and communicate often and fully with its citizens so that there is community support for the vision for Cambridge moving forward.

Maintaining our professional management of a City Manager form of government is a critical component of our past and future success, so be sure that the candidate you support also supports the current Charter and keeping the professional City Manager form of government rather than moving backward to the good ol’ boy or girl network that held us back for so many years.

The coming months will be the opportunity for you, the voter, to pay attention to the people who are running and the messages that they are offering. I would ask that you listen to the ones who are about bringing us together not the ones that try to divide us.

Steve Rideout