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City Council Discusses Campaign Finance Reform, Use of Tear Gas in Cambridge

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During a meeting on Monday night, the City Council discussed motions to reduce or limit campaign donations from donors seeking money from the city and to ban the use of tear gas in Cambridge.

The City Council voted to refer two policy orders to the Ordinance Committee to cap campaign donations from donors seeking financial reward from the city. This proposed ordinance would include potential donors who are trying to enter into a contract with the city, seeking approval for a special permit or up-zoning, seeking to acquire real estate from the city, or seeking financial assistance from the city.

The motions aim to combat the “perceived influence of money in politics” and “to put the onus of campaign contribution accountability on potential donors and not target individual elected officials.”

The City Council also discussed the history of tear gas use in the city, voting on an official policy order to prohibit its use in Cambridge.

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While the initial amendment to ban tear gas included language which stated it had not been used in Cambridge for more than 30 years, Councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler voiced concerns during the meeting about passing the motion as originally worded because of the potential for “glossing over” the historic use of tear gas in the city.

“There are Cambridge residents living here today that were tear-gassed,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said.

As a result, the Council voted to adopt a follow-up amendment proposed by Sobrinho-Wheeler which added clarifying language acknowledging the previous use of tear gas by the Cambridge Police Department on city residents protesting for racial justice.

City Manager Louis A. DePasquale and Chief Public Health Officer Claude Jacob also provided updates on measures taken by the city to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, with Jacob stating that he believes Cambridge is “as well-positioned as any city to adjust to the next era of COVID.”

But Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan warned Cambridge needs to be “careful about how well we’re doing when in fact our case load is increasing,” when examined in the context of the Commonwealth writ large.

“I also think we need to be careful not to victim blame,” Zondervan said. “It seems to be more because a lot of people, including black and brown communities, are facing difficult living and working conditions, that they are facing increased risk of getting COVID.”

Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon added she believes the city should encourage residents to get tested, whether or not they are symptomatic, now that the city has increased testing capabilities.

“We have plenty of testing,” Mallon said. “I think even just communicating that to the residents so they don’t continue to wonder ‘if I get a test, am I taking an appointment away from someone who really needs it,’ because I think that has been where we have been, right? There have been a limited amount of tests, so people haven’t wanted to go.”

The City Council meeting — which was conducted through Zoom — grappled with its fair share of technical issues, including concerns about audio quality during the proposal of amendments and temporary lost connections from the meeting.

Another topic of discussion was a motion to increase the fee for a resident parking permit from $25 to $40. The motion ultimately failed 4-5.

“I have a saying I have often used where I say that we should applaud our accomplishments and critique our shortcomings, and this is one of the times I am going to critique,” Councillor Marc C. McGovern said. “I would rather that we had means testing and exempted low-income people and you made people like me pay $50 instead of $40, if that made up the money.”

“When we talked about this two years ago, we talked about increasing the amount as a way of discouraging people from owning cars; $40 is not going to do that. I think this is strictly about revenue,” McGovern added.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

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