1.The City of Cambridge received $65M+ in fiscal recovery funds through the American Rescue Plan Act. Although the Treasury Department provided some guidelines, the City has significant discretion in how to use the funding. If elected, what will you do to ensure that the residents most harmed by the pandemic, and the nonprofit organizations that work to support and empower them, will be prioritized to receive these funds and be an authentic part of the decision making process?
As co-Chair of the City Council's Finance Committee, I have actually started the process of having the Council and the community hold discussions around this, we've held one committee hearing on this already and are looking to schedule additional public hearings with City staff so that we can all learn more about how these funds can and cannot be used, and to spread word to the public of how these funds may be utilized. I have also been working with our City Manager and our Finance Director to conduct outreach to various interest groups (such a members of the interfaith community) to raise awareness of this funding and to solicit their feedback. I very much plan to continue in these efforts, which is the most deliberate, intentional way we can work to ensure people are having a true say in how these funds will be spent.
2. The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies recently reported that nationally nonprofits lost 1.6M jobs between March-May 2020. What policies would you advocate for to hasten the recovery of Cambridge nonprofits and increase their capacity to serve Cambridge?
To begin with, the critical first step would be to reach out to the local CBOs and invite them in for conversations, to share their experiences with the City and better inform us of just how they've been impacted by the pandemic, how many jobs were lost, how much functioning capacity was lost, and so forth. The second step would be to work with the City Manager and our governing partners at the state and federal level to determine whether there are funding resources that can be tapped into to help build these non-profits back up; in Cambridge, we did get creative in the past year in working with some of our local CBOs, for example in establishing contracts with local restaurants to provide meals to local homeless shelters, thereby helping both the local restaurant industry and our local shelters in carrying out a portion of their mission. Such creativity is going to be needed as we move forward, and it can only happen if we are all in steady, regular communication with one another. Lastly - and again, this is where communication is critical - the City must take a "First, do no harm" approach to policy-making. We must be deliberate in any policies that we enact and if we learn that the City is considering taking an action - for example, a major infrastructure project that could significantly disrupt a portion of the city - that may have a devastating impact upon our nonprofits and their ability to function, then we may need to recalibrate our plans.
3. The Anti-Aid Amendment of the Massachusetts State Constitution prohibits municipalities from directly distributing funds raised through taxation to nonprofits, with the exception of contracts for specific goods or services. This creates many challenges including but not limited to: use of cost reimbursement contracts, that can increase the administrative burden and in some cases cause cash-flow issues for organizations, limiting the amount of funds available to support individual organizations, constraining creativity in funding models, and creating an incentive for the City of Cambridge to implement its own programs rather than more significantly investing in nonprofits already running well established programs in the community. Although the City of Cambridge does not have the authority to abolish the Anti-Aid Amendment, it has some discretion in how broadly to apply it. If elected, what would you do to limit the negative impacts of the anti-aid amendment in order to maximize the resources that Cambridge nonprofits represent?
Once again, this comes down to effective communication with the leaders of our nonprofits, and in ensuring there is regular, steady communication with the City leadership. As Co-Chair of the Finance Committee and as Chair of the Government Operations Committee (which is overseeing the process to choose our next City Manager), I am mindful of the fact that we cannot take for granted that these conversations will automatically happen, or that the City's Finance Department will automatically know that this is something that must be explored. I would be in favor of establishing regular meetings - either in formal committee hearings, or in less formal, off-the-record discussions - with our nonprofit administrators of the City Manager's team to ensure that the City fully understands the burdens being placed on you, and the need to be as creative in possible in working to get our nonprofits the resources they need in order to function.
4. The recent Cambridge Community Foundation Equity and Innovation Cities report paints a stark picture of a Cambridge that has experienced both significant prosperity during the last decade, as well as deep and fast growing income inequality along racial lines. What do you believe would need to change for the City of Cambridge to become the anti-racist community it aspires to be?
I will sound like a broken record, but it comes down to communication -- all across the board. Unfortunately, race and inequity are such charged issues that it has been very difficult to hold these discussions in such a way where people are actually LISTENING to one another, rather than talking (in some cases shouting) at or over one another. I heartily believe that we all need to take a time out from social media, we all need to come into this conversation with a bit of grace and humility, and we need to engage thoughtfully and respectfully with one another, and try to learn where we are each coming from. It is terribly difficult and it is the same issue being played out in communities across the country. But that doesn't mean we stop, it just means we need to be very mindful of the Golden Rule in holding these conversations. Only once we treat one another as we'd wish to be treated can we truly begin to having the meaningful, and necessary, conversations to allow us to become the anti-racist community we hope to become.
5. How do you propose creating a more inclusive approach to current community engagement strategies that research has shown overwhelmingly favor the wealthy? What ideas do you have to both increase the diversity of participants on City of Cambridge boards and committees, and make those governing bodies more inclusive and welcoming to all?
In some ways, the pandemic did open up a new avenue for civic engagement by allowing people to participate remotely. That has created new opportunities for people with young children at home, or people who otherwise might be tethered to their jobs, or to caretaking, to be more involved in the discussions that shape our community. But there are still too many people locked out of our public discussions, too many voices going unheard and viewpoints not being taken into consideration. I've been working with civic engagement specialists who have new ideas of the City essentially creating a "civic engagement czar" to more methodically meet the people where they are, to cultivate neighborhood ambassadors to both spread and solicit information, and to bring more people into the conversation. I would like to push for this to become a reality in the coming term.
6. How would you describe the role of Cambridge nonprofits in meeting the needs of Cambridge residents and advancing equity in our City? What do you believe is the ideal way for City councilors to engage with local nonprofits in service of achieving these goals?
Quite simply, our nonprofits are critical partners in all aspects of providing necessary services to our residents. From helping to educate our children, to helping to feed our families, to providing shelter to those in need, to connecting our immigrant population with necessary legal and social services - our nonprofits are part of the connective tissue that keeps this community together. And as the nonprofits are on the ground, doing the work, they are also in a position to point out the areas where the City may need to be stepping up and doing a better job, or pointing out blindspots, or pointing out gaps in service. I believe that producing needs assessment reports in collaboration with the City on a regular basis is an important exercise, as are regular meetings with City officials and the relationship-building that allows us all to work more collaboratively and effectively with one another.
7. Is there anything that we haven’t asked that you would like to share with the Cambridge nonprofit community?
All I can add is that I am thankful to live in and serve in public office in a community that has such a rich tapestry of nonprofits, staffed by truly committed, dedicated folks who want nothing more than to improve the lives of those they serve. That is what I seek to do from my position on the City Council, it's work that is only enriched by the work of our nonprofits, and I am honored to work alongside the constellation of nonprofits that operate in Cambridge.