Neal Leavitt

Neal Leavitt
2009 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
36 Highland Ave., Apt. 39
Cambridge, MA 02139

Contact information:
Tel: 617-308-8209

Send contributions to:
The Committee to Elect Neal Leavitt
36 Highland Ave., Apartment 39
Cambridge, MA 02139

I have lived in Cambridge for seventeen years. For the last three years, I have taught ethics and human rights courses at Boston University.

Before that, I taught courses at Boston College, Merrimack College and Northeastern University while completing my dissertation.

It is a privilege to teach. The Donald H. White Teaching Excellence award I received at Boston College is the accomplishment I am most proud of.

Boston College, PhD
Boston College, M.A.
Harvard College, B.A cum laude

I am a progressive. I believe that promoting education, health care and a sustainable relationship with the environment are just as important as promoting personal safety within the city. A commitment to these ideals will ensure Cambridge's fairness and its prosperity.

My greatest concern is that the economic downturn - the most severe since the 1980's and possibly the 1930's - will threaten Cambridge's ability to sustain critical services.

Cambridge must preserve its critical services without relying on large property tax increases.

I have devoted my life to teaching. I am very familiar with the challenges of the classroom.

The administration and financing of the Cambridge Public School System is the single most important task given to city government. It takes up the largest portion of the City's budget (133 million dollars in 2010) and currently $25,000 is spent per student.

For some people the cost of the school system is too high. This is an important criticism.

For me, providing the best education to our children is fair. It gives each child the opportunity to develop crucial skills and abilities.

Also, providing our children with the best education possible creates more prosperity and wealth within our society in the long run. The more skills and abilities our children have, the more successful they will be in a very unforgiving global economy.

A high price tag is not, in itself, an argument against Cambridge Public Schools. A school system that works more than repays the money spent on funding.

My greatest concern is the achievement gap within Cambridge Public Schools. Cambridge Public Schools must work for all of our children. The School System must achieve better results with the money it is receiving.

The City Council must provide a stable budget for Cambridge Public Schools. The city of Boston has been forced to lay off two hundred teachers. Cambridge must avoid this fate.

A separate issue is the question of using fees to fund some school programs.

I am opposed to the use of fees to fund school related activities. A sense of equality needs to be preserved within Cambridge Public Schools. No student should be excluded from any school related program because they cannot pay for it. I hope the school committee will not turn to fees to fund school related activities.

Cambridge's Public School System is a great asset for our community. I will make every effort to protect our school system during the economic downturn.

Health Care:
The population of Cambridge is increasing. The population of Cambridge is also getting older.

These facts are crucial to Cambridge's long-term health care strategy.

The Cambridge Health Alliance recently closed down one of its clinics for budgetary reasons. This will lead to a shortage of primary care physicians in Cambridge.

Also, the Cambridge Health Alliance closed an "Inpatient Addictions and Detox" center for budgetary reasons. This is a mistake. Treating addictions saves lives. Also, untreated addiction will lead to more drug related crimes. Fewer addicts will seek treatment if they must travel large distances to get it.

Cambridge and Somerville are among the most densely populated regions of the country. Outsourcing health care to other cities is poor policy.

Cambridge needs to increase the number of primary care physicians working in the city. Cambridge needs to find a way to open a smaller version of the "Inpatient Addictions and Detox" center.

Energy and the Environment:
I believe the City of Cambridge - with careful planning and coordination with surrounding municipalities and state government - can construct an offshore wind farm in the outer reaches of Boston Harbor.

Creating new sources of renewable energy will help Cambridge reduce its greenhouse gases emissions by 17% in 2020 - the target established by the Waxman/Markey bill.

The Cambridge Energy Alliance is one of the most innovative energy saving programs in the nation. Cambridge must continue to support the Cambridge Energy Alliance.

Replacing the least efficient cars, boilers and cooling systems with more efficient systems provides the greatest amount of energy savings. This fact must continue to govern Cambridge's energy strategy.

Making 0% loans available to properties can help businesses and homeowners upgrade to more energy efficient heating and cooling systems and other appliances.

Cambridge should also help bring homeowners together with home renovation companies. Home renovations can be disruptive. It is important for household work to be completed as quickly as possible.

When the economic downturn eases, fossil fuel prices will increase dramatically. We will suffer financially if we have not transitioned away from burning fossil fuels.

The recession puts strains on low and middle-income families. This shows up in Cambridge's housing markets.

Paying off a mortgage for thirty years is difficult enough.

Paying off a mortgage while raising a family without job security is an extraordinary challenge. This is the situation facing many low and middle-income families in Cambridge.

I am opposed to large increases of the property tax rate. The city council needs to be mindful of the housing challenges facing all families and homeowners when setting property tax rates.

The number of homeless school children in Cambridge public schools is now over 200. Some individuals and families are "doubling up" - moving in with relatives to make ends meet. This softer form of homelessness is also problematic and has many negative consequences.

The city must not allow its affordable housing programs to erode during the economic downturn.

More details
The city's affordable housing program is primarily funded by the Community Preservation Act (The CPA).

The CPA raises funds for affordable housing through two mechanisms.

1) A 3% surcharge is added to property taxes.

2) The state matches the amount Cambridge raises through the CPA.

There are several reasons to be concerned about this way of funding affordable housing.

The amount of state matching grants is decreasing because more towns are participating in the state's CPA program.

Property values have held steady in most areas, but have declined in others. This will lower the amount generated by the CPA surcharge.

In the near term, the city should look for ways to shift some funds and free cash to its affordable housing program.

Carefully growing the number of businesses in Cambridge is the best long-term response to this problem. This will stabilize or increase the city's revenue without raising its tax rates.

The city MUST be fiscally cautious in the next few years while maintaining its commitment to services.

Large increases to property tax rates should be avoided during this difficult economic period.

Expanding the tax base by carefully growing the number of businesses in Cambridge is the best way to create revenue in the long term.

Cambridge must prioritize its services. Security, education, health care, housing and poverty programs must be preserved. Green energy initiatives that save money should be preserved.

Worthy programs that are lower on the list of priorities may have to be reduced.

More Details
The city budget for 2010 is remarkable. There is little difference between the 2010 budget and the budget of previous years. One would not realize the country is in the middle of a severe recession by looking at the 2010 budget.

There are a few key facts about the economy that will impact Cambridge's budget.

1) The unemployment rate in Massachusetts is very high (9-10%) and the corporate sector is struggling. The state government will face serious budget shortfalls until the unemployment rate and the corporate sector recover.

2) The federal government is taking on large amounts of debt.

3) The city of Cambridge has been promised 43 millon dollars of funds from the state and federal government in 2010. The status of these funds is unclear.

4) A prolonged economic downturn will effect Cambridge's Biotech, IT, tourist and information economies in unpredictable ways.

5) Property values in Cambridge have held steady in most areas but some property values have declined. This will effect Cambridge's revenue.

These 5 facts are critically important for Cambridge's budget. Cambridge must be prepared for a decrease in revenue.

Economic Development:
Economic development is beneficial to the city. More businesses in the city will lead to more revenue for city services. There are several principles, however, that need to govern this growth.

Cambridge needs to support its strengths. Biotech, IT and medical research companies are critical to Cambridge's financial health.

Cambridge needs to promote a diversity of businesses. Cambridge should try to attract more renewable energy companies.

Promoting locally owned business and temporary markets in city squares is very important. Local entrepreneurs must not be excluded from Cambridge's economic planning and development.

Finally, residents MUST be involved in city planning. One of the most important functions of city government is oversight of the city's zoning laws. City Councilors must listen to and represent the needs of residents and neighborhoods during the planning process.

Public Safety:
Cambridge must protect its resident. No one should feel fear in their own home and neighborhoods.

Domestic violence and rape continue to be a very common violent crime in the city. 820 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2008. Almost half of these cases involved romantic partners or ex-romantic partners.

The city recently created a case-officer position to identify high-risk relationships. This is a very positive response to the problem of domestic violence. This outreach should be expanded to include more counseling and services.

The city must continue to promote preventative approaches to crime, and especially drug related crimes.

Preventing addiction through education, and treating addictions that do form, is crucially important. Money spent on addiction and drug treatment programs saves lives and families.

The prevention and treatment of drug addictions are also more cost-effective in the long run than repeated incarcerations.

Most crimes are committed by men between the ages of 18 and 35. Preventative approaches to crime must focus on this fact.

Human Service Programs:
Cambridge needs to provide a social safety net for its citizens during the economic downturn. The services of government are needed now more than ever.

Many of the problems facing residents of the city track the incomes of Cambridge residents. The city must focus on the needs of its most economically vulnerable populations.

Job training programs and childcare programs are very important to combating poverty.

Preventative approaches to poverty are also essential.

Children born into impoverished families are likely to live beneath the poverty line as adults. A good school system - which must include good vocational schools - is the best way to reduce poverty in the long term.

Green Spaces, Parks and Recreation:
The city of Cambridge is very densely populated. Preserving the remaining green space in the city is a top priority.

Increasing green spaces will make the city more beautiful and attract visitors.

Also, maintaining existing park playgrounds and structures is important. Our parks must be beautiful and safe.

Traffic, Parking and Transportation:
Prompt clearing of sidewalks and roads of snow and ice is essential for Cambridge to remain a friendly place for pedestrians and cyclists in winter.

The city should offer a fee based snow and ice clearing service for residents who are unable or unwilling to promptly remove snow and ice from their sidewalks.

The city of Cambridge is dense and is well suited for walking and cycling. I am fortunate because I am healthy enough to walk or cycle to work. Cambridge should do more to help its residents realize the benefits of walking and cycling.

Arts and Public Festivals:
Festivals in Cambridge tend to be one-day affairs. I think the city can explore the idea of a weeklong festival. August is a time in the city that is usually quiet. Summer school has ended and the fall semester has not begun. A local film and arts festival could be a possibility.

A few of my colleagues at Boston University organize a student film festival each year. These are incredibly successful. The computer revolution has made it much easier to shoot and edit a movie or make documentaries.

Cambridge's CCTV could also be a part of this film week. Documentaries about Cambridge could be shown.

Civic Participation:
Voting is one of the essential acts of democracy. Cambridge should encourage employers to be flexible with employee hours on election days in November.

Government and Elections:
The city of Cambridge has adopted the Plan-E form of local government.

In this system, the city council is elected by the registered voters of Cambridge and establishes the city's priorities. The city council appoints a city manager to conduct the daily affairs of the city and enact these priorities.

The plan E form of government has served Cambridge well and I do not believe it should be changed. The combination of democratically elected leaders and the expertise of the City Manager is a very fruitful combination.

CCTV candidate video 
Sept 9, 2009 Candidate Forum

Page last updated September 23, 2009 Cambridge Candidates