The Politics of Fear

When it comes to Cambridge city politics, I’m just your average uninformed citizen. I’m new to the area and just not incredibly interested in the local political scene. And so I’m the sort of person that people like me decry in national elections for making bad choices based solely on misleading campaign ads and biased press coverage.

But sometimes things hit a little too close to home, and you find yourself becoming That Guy.

There have been reports in recent months of increased crime in the seedier part of North Cambridge near Alewife station. Armed robberies, assault, even gun shots. And then two weeks ago at around midnight we heard five shots across the tracks at the Peabody School. A couple minutes later police cars were combing the area, zooming back and forth on Pemberton St., just 500 feet from the kitchen window.

When there are gunshots in your neighborhood, when violence and crime is increasing, you want immediate and decisive action. You start to ask questions like, would more CCTV cameras around Alewife cut down on crime there? Do we need more police patrols? How about random ID checks? Stricter gun control laws? Some sort of a buffer zone around the school? A curfew?

I’m not really wondering those things, not seriously. Well, except perhaps the first one. But if things got worse, don’t you think people would? Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you demand action? Some sort of change? When people feel powerless to control their own fates, they need something, even if it is a placebo, in which they can take comfort and feel safe. Some sort of action must be taken, some concrete step, some forward momentum. If we’re lucky, the action chosen might even make things better.

In my little laughably partisan local newspaper today is an ad by one Gregg Moree, candidate for Cambridge City Council. He writes that:

Most of us are tired of meetings and excuses. On the City Council, I will demand action. We need more police patrols and more police cooperation with the residents to solve crimes and enforce the law.

I don’t know anything about Gregg, except that he has a three-“g” first name. I don’t know anything about his opponents or about the current councilor. I don’t know what steps have been taken to prevent and contain street crime, and I don’t know what steps are in the works. All I know is that Gregg, who lives down the street, who has a picture in the paper with him standing in the underpass I walked through yesterday, the underpass by the gun fire, says he will take this issue seriously and he will make change.

We always have imperfect information. My choice at the poll next month is between Gregg and anyone else. I don’t know anything about anyone except that Gregg says he’s going to do something about the street crime. So really, armed with that information, why wouldn’t I vote for Gregg?

5 replies on “The Politics of Fear”

  1. Danny,

    I am not ashamed of being a small newspaper. But, why would you think that our paper is laugingly partisian? What party? The paper does tend to overweight Progressive Democrats, but they are very active here. In fact, next week we are co-sponsoring another forum with them. I don’t think we are really favoring them.

    The paper is fair and and open to all sides. Our reporters are not allowed to make first person analysis, observation or narrative. Everything is fully attributed with full given name and the relationship of the speaker to the story.

    We have columns, endorsements and opinion pieces, but they are clearly labeled and part of a larger conversation. Last December, we ran rebuttals from our own contributors over our endorsements on page 2.


  2. Hey Neil, thanks for visiting and replying.

    The Alewife is the only print newspaper I read, and I read every issue, and have been doing so since I moved here about a year ago. It’s a lot of fun because I have a history as managing editor of a college paper with about 1/4 your circulation. I get most of my news online, so it is nice having something physical to leaf through over breakfast.

    That said, I have no knowledge of Cambridge politics outside of what is presented in your paper, and based on my admittedly faulty memory, I can’t recall hearing about any other candidate for local office besides the aforementioned Gregg Moree, and Alewife columnist Sam Seidel. There was a front-page profile of Moree him one or two issues back, and then when I unfolded the paper out fell an expensive insert for the very same candidate. I don’t know what your rates are, but if I multiply our rates by four, I get $1200 plus the cost of printing and stuffing, which is not insignificant for a small paper. Now in a perfect world, of course, your ad department is completely divorced from your news coverage, so I can’t draw my entire opinion from just that one circumstance. But then I see that Gregg Moree’s web site is hosted on, and the connection can’t be made more obvious.

    I do recall your “editorial board’s” endorsement of candidates during the last election cycle (I use quotation marks around the words because it is not clear to me whether the board is larger than one member), and I appreciated that you gave columnists a change to respond to your picks. My criticism of The Alewife in this piece was an aside, and I hope you don’t ascribe more meaning to it than was intended. That said, I would certainly welcome more depth and breadth of coverage of the no doubt rich Cambridge political landscape in your fine pages.

  3. … Because it’s really quite easy to find out more information about the other candidates? I’m not a Cantabridgian so I’m just operating on the fly, but for starters there are questionnaires at the Progressive Democrats of Cambridge site (which lets you know not only how candidates responded, but who bothered to seek a progressive endorsement, to be assessed however that information is meaningful or not to you)(Their questionnaire is sadly not as comprehensive or illuminating as the one we gave out in Somerville). Also potentially relevant: and and that’s all from less than a minute of googling.

    … Because anyone can say they’re against crime without talking about how, and mean any of a number of things you might applaud or deplore?

    Most people underestimate the importance of local elections. Local elections, though, are in some ways the most relevant to our actual quality of life. Having a local councilor who takes you seriously when you call with an issue even if you were not a major campaign contributor or a relative of someone with establishment power. Dealing with policies that have very immediate effects on neighborhoods and communities, like affordable housing and condo conversion and new development. It’s also the local party organizations that make decisions like which leaders to support toward higher office candidacy, which determines that kind of choices we have down the road for state legislators, congressional candidates, governors, and even presidents.

    It’d probably take you about 15 minutes to get a basic sense of the Cambridge council candidates, at least enough to rule out a few folks you know you’d dislike. Since you’ve got proportional voting, you want to make sure you only give rank numbers to people you’d actually be ok with voting for, tho the odds are high your vote will end up going to your #1.

    I do know some of the candidates in Cambridge, though of course I have my own biases. I share many mutual friends with Sam Seidel, and whenever I’ve met him or discussed local issues with him been quite deeply impressed, so I can say that I’d be voting for him if I lived in Cambridge. Your mileage of course may vary.

  4. Neil,

    Thanks for the link! Not surprisingly I’m in agreement with Sam’s column. While he doesn’t explicitly say it, I also think he highlights yet another reason why local politics is so important: it has a way of helping connect people who live near each other into a community.

    I’m not sure how the feel in Cambridge is different, since in Somerville we have both at-large and Ward-specific aldermen, and the Ward-specific politics contribute to many local, Ward-based neighborly political organizations and gatherings. But I do think an engagement in local political issues – including the issues facing folks in populations traditionally at higher risk of criminal activity – can be an important part of the building community that’s necessary for crime prevention.

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