Sam Seidel

Sam Seidel
2011 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
48 Maple Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139
Home phone: 617-547-1067

Contact information:
Office phone: 
Campaign Manager: 

Send contributions to:
Friends of Sam Seidel
PO Box 391633
Cambridge MA 02139

Elected first in 2007, I am now serving my second term on the Council. I chair the Ordinance Committee and the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee. My professional background is in urban planning. I have been active in neighborhood groups and was on the board of the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House until stepping down two years ago. I am 45 years old, and an avid biker, and I live in mid-Cambridge with my wife Ann and our dog Gus.

Top Priorities
My top priorities in a new Council term if reelected will be these –

  1. Education. Early childhood education is the next big challenge that is before us as a community. Having successfully worked with school committee member Nancy Tauber on Out of School Time opportunities for middle school students in Cambridge during my last term on the Council, my next major priority is to work to expand early childhood options in Cambridge for our city's children. A lot of good work has already happened in this area, and all research shows that there is no better investment in the education of a child than in those earliest years, specifically 0 to 3, where so much crucial brain development happens. This should be a top priority for the city moving forward.
  2. Environment. Our challenges in reducing our carbon footprint continue to grow and the city needs to continue to push forward in this critical area. One specific aspects of carbon reduction is getting people out of their cars. To do this, and build out our transportation grid, we need to support bicycling in the city. Bikes are here to stay and that is a good thing. I believe two important steps will be to update the city's Bike Plan, which was originally written in 1994. Also a bike summit would be very helpful at this time, to explore options for making this truly a bike friendly city.
  3. Urban Planning. Whether we're talking about the proposed development in Kendall Square or neighborhood projects or the future of Central Square or the Massachusetts Avenue corridor, good planning leads to good outcomes for our urban space. In particular, I have focused my energies this term on the Massachusetts Avenue corridor. Lesley's commitment of half a million dollars to the improvement of Mass. Ave. has been a starting point to envision that avenue in the 21st century, but it will take the full involvement of the neighborhoods, of the universities and of the city. A neighborhood group convened and worked with me and city staff to bring on a planning consultant to lay out a longer range vision for the avenue. My work in a subsequent term is to take these good ideas and make them realities. Furthermore, many questions are raised by the proposed development in Kendall Square. The urban place making component needs much greater attention, as do the many questions this raises about Cambridge's economic competitiveness. These are all important questions for the future of the city, and they are important to me as well.

Quality of Life and Public Safety
Quality of life is a very important part of what a city councillor attends to. It is very satisfying to be able to help a resident of Cambridge solve a problem that has been bothering them, whether it is dealing with City Hall, figuring out a housing issue, addressing a noise complaint, or taking positive steps against rodents. It goes without saying that maintaining a good quality of life for the citizens of Cambridge is an important goal of mine, and I work hard to help people with the issues they have. To do this, I maintain "office hours" every week, where people can just stop by with a complaint or a problem, and I work with them to solve it. A lot of this issues fall under the responsibility of Inspectional Services, a very important office in city government. During the last budget cycle, I asked them point blank if they felt they were asked to do too much given the staffing resources they had. They responded that they felt that they had adequate staffing to do the work that they were responsible for.

With regard to public safety, I am happy to say that the annual crime report provided by the Cambridge Police Department continues to tell us good news – crime rates in Cambridge are very low, both by historical comparison, and by comparison to other similarly sized cities. For this we should be both proud and grateful to the people who work hard to maintain our safety. Having said that, of course any crime is disturbing and needs addressing, and the perception of safety is an important part of how safe we feel. Disturbances in neighborhoods can really unsettle daily life, and it is important that all the resources we have are deployed to make sure that people are safe and sound in their communities. These resources include the police and other parts of the city government (including Human Services and Parks and Recreation), the elected officials, and the citizens themselves, who often are the strongest force in combating crime by being vigilant and working in conjunction with police and other officials to disrupt bad behaviors impacting their community.

Traffic, Parking, and Transportation
I support the notion that Cambridge is embarked upon a long-term mission to reduce the role of the automobile in our society. We know that it is healthier for us and better for the environment when we get out of our cars and walk, bike or take public transit. What is difficult, and what we need to keep in mind, is that this large goal will happen in small steps, and while any one of those steps might not seem like a lot, together, over time, they will have an impact.

Many of the issues we have as a community surround the issue of parking, and many discussions end up as a battle about whether or not there is enough parking in Cambridge. It is true that fewer resident parking permits are issued today than 20 years ago, meaning quite simply that there are fewer resident-parked cars on the streets, but everyone's perception runs counter to this. We are in a difficult bind here. To my mind, the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of cars on the streets. Car sharing is a concept with a proven track record – people are willing to forego their car (or att least a second car) to use a shared car.

Ultimately we will have to face these difficult choices that pit individual personal convenience against larger goals of environmental sustainability and healthier living, and it will almost certainly be the case that we cannot have everything we want, all right now, all at the same time. Many of these discussions will happen around the issues of cars, traffic, parking and transportation. It is the role of a city councilor to continue to advance this discussion.

Municipal Finance
I am one of those who believe that our budget is a well constructed document that is conservative in its estimates, and is well managed, and that it provides benefit to us all. I think there is no greater proof of that than this last fiscal year, which saw a continually worsening economic picture across the Commonwealth, and yet the city of Cambridge was able to reach balance without reductions – an amazing accomplishment, especially when compared too other communities in Massachusetts.

Government and Elections
I do not advocate changing the Plan E Charter in Cambridge. I fully recognize that the charter has its faults and its shortcomings, including the institutional power it vests in the city manager over important parts of local governance such as development of the budget, but overall, Plan E has provided a very stable form of government that has produced significant positive results for the city and for the citizens of Cambridge over the past few decades. I should add in this context that I voted to extend the current City Manager's contract, on the basis that he would be a steady presence during what clearly was going to be a very difficult fiscal year. I believe that the City's performance over the past year has borne out this decision. And I believe this next fiscal year will also prove to be a challenging time, as state revenues fell short of their September mark, meaning that local aid will be likely be cut again. Regarding staff for Councillors, I hired an aide once I became vice mayor, a staff position that has been part of the vice mayorship for many years. The person works part time, and supports the work that I am doing as vice mayor. I expect my aide to work hard not only for me, but also on behalf of the citizens of Cambridge, and in my estimation, she does that. Her contribution to the work I am doing on after-school programming, on neighborhood planning, on economic development and fairness has been crucial and this work benefits all the citizens of Cambridge.

Land Use, Planning, Zoning, Density
I am a supporter of density around transit nodes. There is a strong urban rationale for this, as well as a compelling environmental argument for it too. I also feel that it is a delicate balance to create the right transitions between density and then the residential neighborhoods that are crucial to the fabric of this city. Residential neighborhoods do need sufficient buffers from higher density (or intensity) development, and that is the responsibility of the city to make sure good urban design ideas actually create that buffer.

I want to see the North Point become a real community in this city, and I want to see the corresponding Lechmere T stop built as an important component of East Cambridge. I have worked with neighbors, businesses and city agencies along Massachusetts Avenue north of Harvard Square, and a plan has been produced to improve this section of the avenue. This vision will guide the future of the avenue, to make sure it remains a great place to work, shop, stroll or dine.

Economic Development and Commerce
Promoting Cambridge's niche in the 21st century economy is an important challenge for the city over the next decade, and will certainly be an important issue for the upcoming Council. Cambridge's role in the regional economy also is an important issue, because the future of the region is highly reliant on both effective cooperation and competition between entities and municipalities. These are important questions that will confront this next City Council, and I would like to be a part of finding the right balance.

But economic development is not simply about the large corporations. We also need a vibrant retail economy to serve the needs of Cambridge residents and to make it possible for small business owners to thrive in Cambridge. Small businesses play a very big role in our quality of life, not simply because of the goods they provide, but also because of the impact they have on street life. The Mayor and I have been in discussion around Central Square -- an important and vibrant square in Cambridge that deserves a fresh look -- about its opportunities and its challenges. I look forward to the work that the Community Development Department will do to further support the Central Square retail environment, and I think that will help foster a deeper and broader conversation about all aspects of the square.

Human Services Programs
I am very proud of my work integrating our many youth programs in this city into a more intentional set of offerings – offerings that support eeach other and provide a better overall experience for the children. I have done this work as the co-chair of the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Middle School Youth, which has looked at after-school and out of school time for middle school students. This work has led me to a much deeper understanding of what the challenges are for this important age group, and also has opened my eyes to what the opportunities are for excellent education in the city, using our existing resources. I have worked closely with my School Committee colleague Nancy Tauber on this work, and together we have engaged the new Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeffrey Young and the Assistant City Manager for Human Services Ellen Semonoff , because we realize that real headway in this important work will only happen with their commitment to seeing it happen.

The next big area is early childhood education, where the best investment is made in the lives of young people, getting them ready for school and for success beyond. This is a very important issue to this community, and to me.

Open Space, Parks, and Recreation
I am proud of the open space that the city has been able to create or refurbish in recent years. In particular, I am very happy to see the complete renovation of the Joan Lorentz Park at the new main library, a park that will serve the dense neighborhood of mid-Cambridge well, as well as serving the library patrons well. It is a real gem for the city. I am concerned about the decline of the state's portion of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) money, which means that our annual expenditures are likely to decline in coming years. It is very important that neighborhoods have open spaces to recreate and relax, and it is already true that we as a city have a very difficult time identifying and purchasing open space opportunities in neighborhoods that need it most. With declining CPA funds, this is just going to get worse in the coming years.

Energy, the Environment, and Public Health
Reducing our carbon footprint is without a doubt one of the greatest challenges before us as a community and as a society. We have spent the last 100 years developing a carbon-based economy, one which is heavily reliant on fossil fuels to power. We now have overwhelming evidence that the release of all of this carbon into the atmosphere is quite literally "cooking" the earth, with many dire consequences for us in the future. It presents to us many many challenges.

I am very proud of my work identifying funding to help reduce carbon emissions in city buildings. The Council has now adopted the turbine provisions and will soon consider a whole host of other green zoning related matters that will be important steps forward. Furthermore, the Council has passed the state's Stretch Code, which will improve energy efficiency in building and renovation. And new buildings are being built to a great standard of efficiency too, using the LEED rating system as a benchmark for that work. The Council also passed the necessary zoning modifications to allow the Hubway bike sharing program to come to Cambridge.

On a personal level, I am a bicyclist, and ride almost everywhere (my exceptions are rain or snow). That means that I have used almost no gasoline for personal transportation this year, and I expect that to continue going forward. I have also made improvements to my home, including tightening up the envelope, installing a new furnace and an electronic thermostat, and lowering the ambient temperature. All of this will lower my use of fuel for heating this winter. I think bicycles is our next greatest challenge, and I want the Council to call for a Bike Summit very soon to talk about this important issue.

As chair of the Housing Committee in the prior term, I had the opportunity to work on this very important issue and develop a deep understanding of the challenges.

In addition, I know we need to work the Cambridge Housing Authority, and important provider of housing in the city – particularly as they moove forward with their plans to renovate their various properties throughout Cambridge. While those renovations need to happen, how they get paid for is another matter, and there was a great deal of resistance to them using Section 8 vouchers as a way of paying for the millions of dollars of cost associated with the capital upgrades.

Finally, the Council is in the midst of an important discussion about housing in our newest neighborhood, Kendall Square, where the location of residential units is a key component to a thriving neighborhood.

Arts and Public Celebrations
I agree with all of those who say that Cambridge needs to stay lively and fun. Public art and public celebration need to be a big part of that. I have been a strong supporter of the arts in Cambridge in my first term on the Council, since the arts are an important part of our culture and leave a lasting impact on generations to come. I also participate in, and want to see more public celebrations. For example, I had the opportunity to enjoy the Honk! Festival which started in Somerville and roamed its way down Mass. Ave to Harvard Square to celebrate Octoberfest this past weekend. I have also spent a good amount of time this term activating Inman Square through constructive programs that bring the public space to life, and give neighbors another good destination in Cambridge. The arts are a very important part of civic and cultural life, and support them fully.

University Relations
It is very important that we develop good working relationships with the universities that are honest and direct, and address those issues where our interests converge, and those where our interests differ. The universities play a big role in this city, a fact that can "cut both ways" to use the common expression. MIT's recent report on its positive impact for the local economy is interesting, but it doesn't cover the issues where they are not treating their service employees well during the downturn. Lesley has grown in size and stature as a university, and it plays a very positive role in our schools and in our non-profits throughout the city, but at the same time they pay nothing in lieu of taxes. Harvard is a huge developer, and a multi-billion dollar institution, surrounded by residential neighborhoods on almost all sides. All of their actions need close attention by the Council.

Civic Participation
Engaging voters both new and experienced in the city's civic process is very important, and I have worked very hard to integrate them in the work I do by reaching out to them on a consistent basis to keep them informed and up to date on the topics of today.

Cambridge Public Schools
The public schools are our most important public institution in the city. They are the one place where all of Cambridge comes together on a daily basis, and they have the singular challenge of making it work for every child who walks through the door. I am very excited about the arrival of the new superintendent, and when I was asked earlier in the campaign, I said the two most important challenges we face in the upcoming year are the 1) the continuing fiscal crisis, and 2) making sure that the new superintendent gets off on the right foot and has everything he needs to succeed. I think it is also true to say that there are many good things going on at all grades in the Cambridge Public Schools. What we need to do on the City Council is to support the good things that are going on the schools, examine the resources that support education that are not contained within the School Department budget, and make sure those are doing all they need to do for excellence, and support this new superintendent, who was chosen through an open and deliberative process, and who now needs the backing and the support of the elected officials in the community so that he can bring success to all the children of the district.

Candidate's 2009 responses     Candidate's 2007 responses 

CCTV candidate video (2011)

Page last updated Thursday, October 27, 2011 6:08 PM Cambridge Candidates