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At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions

Cambridge City Council candidates discussed urban issues at a virtual forum on Sunday.
Cambridge City Council candidates discussed urban issues at a virtual forum on Sunday. By Julian J. Giordano
By Jina H. Choe and Samuel P. Goldston, Crimson Staff Writers

Sixteen candidates for the Cambridge City Council convened over Zoom Sunday evening to discuss environmental building regulations and the implementation of a new renewable energy system among a swath of pressing urban issues.

The forum was moderated by Kerry Costello, the president of the League of Women Voters Boston. Additional moderators were Chuck Hinds, president of the East Cambridge Planning Team, and Suzanne P. Blier, president of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association.

The event was co-sponsored by several local organizations, including the Cambridge Citizens Coalition, Cambridge Streets for All, Indivisible Cambridge, and three others.

Eight candidates — including all incumbent councilors except Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80 and Paul F. Toner — did not attend the virtual forum.

Costello called on candidates in random order to answer questions, allotting each candidate 40 seconds to reply.

Divisions between incumbent councilors and potential newcomers to the Council were at their starkest when the candidates discussed the Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance. BEUDO, passed in 2014 and amended this summer, requires certain property owners to report their utilities usage and reduce emissions to net-zero over the next several decades.

When asked whether nonprofits and religious institutions should be exempt from BEUDO, most non-incumbents answered affirmatively or favored another form of leniency. Former Council aides Adrienne Klein and Daniel J. Totten as well as Nolan said they were opposed to such exemptions, pointing out that waivers and other necessary modifications have already been made to BEUDO.

Toner said he would support full exemptions for nonprofits and houses of worship, but acknowledged the waiver process was the best compromise he could achieve.

In contrast, the candidates unanimously supported requiring universities and large companies to address the housing and transportation needs of their many graduate students and employees.

Many candidates bemoaned the rising rents attributed to graduate student demand for housing, while others advocated using the expertise of academics at Harvard and MIT to help solve pressing transportation issues.

Candidates were also asked for their views on whether the city should start training to help pay for the highly skilled labor forces necessary for initiatives like BEUDO, or if that responsibility falls on the state.

Many candidates shared the opinion that implementing programs at high schools would be a starting point and that collaboration with the state is important.

Totten, a first-time candidate, brought up a green jobs ordinance passed by the city that provides lower-income residents with access to free green jobs training programs.

After candidates finished taking questions from the moderators, Blier presented audience questions, asking each candidate to raise their hand in support of, “maybe,” or against various topics instead of answering verbally.

Candidates were asked their positions on rent control in Cambridge, the amendment to the Affordable Housing Overlay 2.0, and endorsing legislation that major changes to zoning are complemented with a summary of public and financial services.

Some questions received an overwhelmingly positive response, such as to outgoing Councilor Dennis J. Carlone’s proposal to do a citywide plan and overall assessment for the amendments to the AHO, while others, such as a question on requiring licenses for electric bicycles and scooters, received more “maybes.”

The forum ended with 90-second statements from each candidate in a random order.

“The way to think about this is what you should want in a public servant and in a councilor,” Nolan said. “I think you want collaboration, you want principled stance, and I have a solid record of that.”

Challenging candidate Ayesha M. Wilson cited her “lived experience and professional experience” as a current Cambridge School Committee member and a “product of the Cambridge Public Schools.”

“I also want to note that when elected, I would be the third Black woman to be elected to the Council and the fourth woman of color, and that is just really important in a city like ours where we call ourselves super progressive.”

There will be an in-person candidate forum hosted by A Better Cambridge at the Cambridge Foundry on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and a forum for Cambridge School Committee candidates hosted by the Cambridge Education Association at the Cambridge Public Library on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Cambridge’s Council election will take place on Nov. 7, 2023.

Correction: September 13, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Councilor Paul F. Toner was opposed to emissions restriction exemptions for nonprofits and houses of worship. In fact, Toner said he supported these exemptions.

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at

—Staff writer Samuel P. Goldston can be reached at

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