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Local Politics 101

The Harbus presents a primer on the key issues in our community, the leaders who represent us, and how to get involved.

In Boston, local issues are student issues. 46 percent of the population of Allston – home to HBS – is enrolled in college or graduate school. To help us engage with local issues, this article summarizes top-of-mind community concerns, introduces our representation structure and elected leadership, and shares a brief guide to ensuring your voice is heard.

What are people talking about?

First, shelter. In an August 8 letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey declared a State of Emergency to address “rapid and unabated increases in the number of families with children and pregnant people – many of them newly arriving migrants and refugees – living within the commonwealth but without the means to secure safe shelter.” There are 5,500 families in the state shelter system, up 80 percent year-over-year, as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration experiences months-long delays processing work permit applications. Massachusetts is the only state with “right to shelter” laws, guaranteeing temporary housing and subsistence for qualifying unhoused families. The Healey administration is exploring modified pandemic-era eviction restrictions to ease the strain on the system. Welcome centers – including a flagship location at Allston’s Brazilian Worker Center – have solicited support. On August 18, FEMA awarded Boston and the commonwealth $1.9 million to expand transportation and shelter services for newly-arrived migrant families. Currently spending $45 million per month on shelter services, the commonwealth’s capacity to meet rapidly increasing demand is limited.

Second, housing equity. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu (BA ’07, JD ’21) issued an executive order on January 30 to “achieve a more affordable, resilient, and equitable city” through reforms to the City Planning and Design Department. Notably, Boston City Council is reviewing Wu’s proposal to increase the percentage of new units set aside for affordable housing from 13 to 17 percent, with an incremental 3 percent reserved for Section 8 vouchers. Across the Charles in Cambridge, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui is an outspoken advocate for affordable housing, having preserved 500 affordable housing units in the Fresh Pond Apartments and expanded funding for the HomeBridge first-time home buying assistance program. At the commonwealth level, Rep. Mike Connolly is leading a coalition petitioning for rent control measures to be included on the 2024 ballot. As Allston’s largest property owner (350 acres), Harvard is intimately connected with urban planning discussions. In June, Harvard and developer Tishman Seyer broke ground on the 900,000 square foot Enterprise Research Campus. 25 percent of the 343 apartments to be built in phase one of the project will be designated as affordable units.

Third, the economy. On August 9, Healey signed a $56 billion commonwealth budget for Fiscal Year 2024. The budget includes meaningful funding for progressive policy in education, workforce development, child care, and climate resiliency. MassReconnect will fund free community college for students over age 25, Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) will enhance child care and early education services, and the budget earmarks one percent of funding for “energy and the environment.” In June, Boston launched a participatory budgeting initiative – long a hallmark of the Cambridge budgeting process, Boston will now let citizens vote directly on the allocation of several million dollars.

In 2022, Massachusetts introduced a four percent incremental tax on income over $1 million. The 2024 budget leverages $1 billion of these “Fair Share” income surtax proceeds. Despite this boon, the commonwealth experienced a $600 million tax shortfall in the 2023 Fiscal Year, driven by lower-than-projected capital gains taxes and lingering Covid-19 aftereffects. In Downtown Boston, University of Toronto researchers found foot traffic remains at just 47.8 percent of pre-pandemic levels. To stimulate commercial rejuvenation, Wu has proposed tax breaks of up to 75 percent for downtown office conversions.

Fourth and finally, City Council. Boston’s current slate of councilors has been accused of in-fighting, questionable ethics, and limited productivity. Progressive leaders Richard Arroyo (Dist. 5), Tania Fernandes Anderson (Dist. 7), and Kendra Lara (Dist. 6) all face multiple challengers in this autumn’s municipal elections, necessitating a primary on September 12 ahead of general elections on November 7. Arroyo and Anderson were both recently fined by the State Ethics Commission – Arroyo $3,000 for representing his brother in a lawsuit while also being a co-defendant with the city on the same case, and Fernandes Anderson $5,000 for hiring her son and sister to City Council staff. In June, Lara was arraigned for a car crash in Jamaica Plains, with charges including driving at more than double the speed limit with a revoked license in an unregistered car. Lara’s lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss. Liz Breadon (Dist. 9), whose district includes HBS, recently led the Council’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process. During the contentious process, Frank Baker (Dist. 3) was accused of making religiously discriminatory remarks against Breadon. The process culminated in a re-drawn map that was rejected by a federal judge in May for potentially violating the 14th amendment, delaying the start of election processes.

Other priority issues for local leaders include police reform, climate resiliency, public schools, and unhoused communities (particularly the “Mass and Cass” area).

Who’s talking?

Allston – where HBS is based – typically has different representatives than Cambridge, where many students live. We cover both below.

At the municipal level, Boston’s 13-member City Council includes nine District representatives and four At-Large representatives, all with two-year terms. Breadon, Allston’s District 9 representative, is a physical therapist by occupation and a long-term advocate of historical preservation, affordable housing, and public education. The mayor is a four-year position elected directly by the public. Wu, first elected to City Council at age 28, assumed office in November 2021 after securing 64% of the vote, becoming the city’s first female and first Asian-American mayor. In Cambridge, all nine City Council positions are At-Large and elected by the proportional representation system, through which voters rank their top choices for office. The Council then elects the mayor. Siddiqui is currently serving her second term as mayor and third on Council; she is Massachusetts’s first Muslim mayor and has played an active role driving recovery from the pandemic.

Municipal elections in Boston and Cambridge will be held on November 7 (preceded by Boston primaries on September 12). Both elections are officially non-partisan. Breadon will progress directly to the general election because she faces only one challenger. There are currently 24 candidates slated to compete for Cambridge’s nine seats.

At the commonwealth level, Massachusetts is led by Governor Maura Healey (BA ’92), who served as Massachusetts Attorney General (2015-2023) prior to assuming office this year as the commonwealth’s first female and first openly LGBTQ governor. In the commonwealth Senate, William Brownsberger (BA ’78, JD ’85; President Pro Tempore) represents Allston’s Suffolk and Middlesex district, and Sal Domenico (Assistant Majority Leader) represents Cambridge’s Middlesex and Suffolk district. In the commonwealth House, Michael Moran (Majority Leader) represents Allston’s 18th Suffolk district, and Marjorie Decker (MA ’07) represents Cambridge’s 25th Middlesex district.

Federally, Elizabeth Warren (Democratic Vice Chair of Conference) and Edward Markey represent Massachusetts in the Senate. In the House, Ayanna Pressley represents Allston and Katherine Clark (Democratic Whip) represents Cambridge. Massachusetts commonwealth and federal offices are up for election in 2024, except for Healey, whose term ends January 2027.

How can I contribute?

Register no later than September 7 to vote in Boston’s primary municipal election on September 12, and no later than October 28 to vote in Boston or Cambridge’s general municipal election on November 7. Visit TurboVote for full guidance on how to register and cast your vote, or leverage the Harvard Votes Challenge (visit or email Boston City Council’s weekly Wednesday meetings are open to the public and can be viewed online, and Cambridge City Council meetings are accessible via its Open Meeting Portal.

Tim Ford (MBA ’25) is originally from New Jersey. He graduated from the University of Virginia with degrees in Commerce and Spanish in 2018, and completed an M.Phil. in Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge in 2019. Prior to the HBS MBA, Tim worked in growth equity in San Francisco. He’s proud of his NYT crossword streak, but not as proud as he was of his Covid mustache…

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