All politics is local
Did Bernie kill hopes for more affordable housing in Cambridge?
Though he made his biggest mark in Washington as speaker of the House, famous son of Cambridge Tip O’Neill’s most quoted aphorism was his claim that “all politics is local.”
It’s fitting, then, that a fascinating new story in Mother Jones on Bernie Sanders’s views on housing and his political impact opens with a tale of how the rabble-rousing presidential hopeful may have tipped a battle in Tip’s hometown over zoning — often the mother of all local political disputes.
The story argues that while the Vermont democratic socialist has released an ambitious national plan to boost housing production, he has backed candidates in local races who work to do just the opposite.
In Cambridge, that meant endorsing a slate of five candidates in the 2017 City Council election. Four of them won, including one who local observers claim was little known and would never have won without Sanders’s high-profile endorsement.
“I’m convinced that if Bernie hadn’t gotten involved two years ago, we would have had the six votes. So it’s a really awful thing he did,” said David Sullivan, a former Cambridge city councilor active with the group A Better Cambridge, which is part of a national “YIMBY” movement pushing for more housing development as a solution to the affordability crisis.
Sullivan told the magazine he was shocked that Sanders waded into the local race “because I didn’t know Bernie knew anything about local politics. And it turned out, he didn’t know anything about local politics.”
The battle over affordable housing has created a huge fault line within progressive circles between those who favor greater regulation of the market and are wary of the private developers and those who say robust private development has to be part of the solution.
Though Sanders has called for a huge federal commitment to housing, Aaron Weiner, author of the Mother Jones piece, says he has “expressed skepticism of private housing development.” He quoted Sanders railing against developers at a recent presidential forum sponsored by the NAACP.
“The unfortunate effect of endorsing the people that Bernie Sanders endorsed,” Eugenia Schraa, who heads the political action committee affiliated with A Better Cambridge, tells Mother Jones, “is that it helped people who claimed to be progressive but who—whether purposefully or not—end up allying with the most conservative faction of people in Cambridge, who tend to be wealthier, whiter homeowners, and enact policies that keep people out, including immigrants, young people, and newcomers of any kind.”
The article says Sanders has also weighed in on local races on the West Coast, backing anti-development candidates in the Bay Area who YIMBY advocates say are thwarting efforts to address the housing shortage.
Sullivan, the former Cambridge city councilor, is no toady for big-money developers. He was a member of Our Revolution, the group Sanders formed in 2016, and Democratic Socialists of America, which endorsed Sanders for president in 2016 and has done so again in the 2020 race. Though Sullivan backed Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the 2016 primary, the article says most members of the board of A Better Cambridge at the time of Sanders’s 2017 Cambridge city council endorsements had backed him in 2016.
Never mind her views on impeachment, federal tax rates, or foreign policy, the burning question now in Tip O’Neill’s backyard ought to be, who did Warren vote for in the 2017 Cambridge city council race?