The Advent of PR in Cambridge - by David Goode
(from the Feb 12, 1998 issue of the Cambridge Civic Journal, Issue 5)
The proportional representation (PR) election system used in Cambridge was first proposed in 1938. More than fifty years later, Cambridge remains the last municipality in the country to elect a City Council using PR. During its heyday, PR was used in 22 municipalities in the United States, including seven cities in Massachusetts.
Yet even at its peak of popularity, PR was never fully accepted by the American electorate. In the eyes of rank and file Americans, PR remained largely a reformers experiment. A relatively intricate system almost always championed by upper class interests, PR was never allowed to be judged on its own merits.
PR in American municipal elections was usually presented as an alternative to elections dominated by political machines. In cities where PR was adopted, these political machines often exacerbated the lingering doubt surrounding PR and worked diligently for its repeal. When asked what he thought of PR, then Governor Al Smith of New York said “of all the wild-eyed crazy, non-sensical things that have ever afflicted the City of New York, I certainly think there is nothing that equals PR.”
Governor Smith’s sentiment rang through most of the political machines affected by the spread of PR. With the publication of Professor Hermens book “Democracy or Anarchy?” in 1941, PR opponents found a champion that asserted a link between the use of PR and the rise of fascism in Europe, including the rise of Hitler in Germany. While many of the PR systems examined by Professor Hermens resembled the systems used in American elections in name only, PR opponents began branding the fledgling election system as dangerously un-American.
In many cities, PR in the United States fell victim to the social ills that flared during the post World War II period. When a communist won a seat in a New York City PR election, the cold war mentality fostered arguments that PR represented a threat to democracy. When a second communist won a seat in New York the fate of PR was sealed. New York repealed PR in 1947.
The PR system in Cincinnati faced a similar fate due to racial intolerance. An informal tradition of PR elections in Cincinnati dictated that the City Council elect as Mayor the member receiving the largest number of first preference votes. When a black candidate named Ted Berry won the most first preference votes, growing concern over the increased representation of racial minorities peaked. Although Mr. Berry, an ardent supporter of PR, offered to accept the position of Vice Mayor in order to quell the growing opposition to PR, the city repealed its use in 1957. More than a decade later, Mr. Berry was elected Mayor under a plurality election. This hindsight shows PR did not “over-represent” minorities as many of its opponents argued. Rather, PR was used as a scapegoat for racial intolerance.
The City of Cambridge did not follow the path of other PR municipalities. Consequently, Cambridge provides the perfect case study to consider both the merits and failings of PR in the context it deserves. It is not necessary to repeat the almost universal conclusion that PR systems are better, fairer and more accurate than plurality systems. That point has been made repeatedly for more than a century and is presently being echoed in a contemporary resurgence of interest in PR.
The Advent of PR in Cambridge
Consider the strong feelings evidenced in Governor Al Smith’s statement about PR. Even to those unfamiliar with the operations of PR or any other kind of voting system, it is quite clear that this issue is one of emotional intensity. Like New York City, the City of Cambridge experienced these high stakes confrontations during the battle to make proportional representation the official voting system for electing municipal representatives. It was, according to one key player in the debate, “one of the most thrilling political melodramas ever staged in Cambridge - a cliffhanger, a classic.”
It is not necessary to understand the intricacies of voting systems to appreciate the climate that brought PR to Cambridge. Rather, it is important to understand the social dynamics of the Cambridge community in the years just prior to World War II. Although Cambridge has changed considerably in the past fifty years, the dynamics present at the beginning of PR’s tenure in Cambridge still affect its operation today.
The Right Plan:
In Massachusetts, municipal voting systems are inextricably linked to the type of administration used in government. The administration of government was an important factor in the Cambridge PR debate.
Prior to June 1st, 1938, Massachusetts law allowed only four types of municipal government operation. These were, and are still, known as plans A, B, C, and D. All of these plans included some type of majority system voting. However, they differed in the operational aspects of government. Plans A-C designate the mayor as the chief executive officer charged with the powers of administration as well as the responsibilities of representation. Plan D differed from these other options. Plan D allows a city council and ceremonial mayor to be elected while the operational aspects of the municipality are performed by an appointed city manager. Thus, the city manager is hired by the city council to act as chief executive officer.
In 1938, Cambridge operated under Plan B. The city was governed by 15 city councillors, 4 of whom were elected at large. In addition, the mayor (CEO) was elected at large, bringing the total number of elected officials to 16.
On June 1st, 1938, Massachusetts Governor Charles Hurley signed a bill making a new form of government available to Massachusetts municipalities. This new form, known as Plan E, consisted of a city manager as chief executive officer with a city council elected at large by PR.
Shortly thereafter, the Cambridge Committee for Plan E was established. Headed by John Landis, Dean of the Harvard Law School, The Committee for Plan E received most of its support from the elite academic community that was, and remains, closely associated with Harvard University.
Opposition to the movement to change the city charter came from the city politicians and employees as well as the working class areas of the city. The roots of these communities reach back to the early and mid-19th century when Cambridge attracted immigrants and other working class families to the industrial boom of East Cambridge. They shared very little with the world class elite of Harvard University.
Feelings of resentment over the proposed charter change ran so strong that City Councillor John Toomey made national headlines when he introduced a proposal demanding that Harvard University be declared a separate city. His motion passed quickly through the City Council without opposition. With the lines clearly drawn, the showdown between the two opposing sides began in earnest. While the issue of Plan E also included a change to a city manager form of government, the initial battles centered entirely on the issue of proportional representation. Calling it the “fairest and most democratic form of voting known,” the Committee for Plan E began to collect petition signatures to have the charter change question put on the ballot for the November 1938 election.
The City Council turned up the heat on the issue when Council President Thomas McNamara initiated an investigation of the petition procedures used by the Committee for Plan E. Attorney George McLaughlin, a prominent Cambridge resident associated with Harvard University represented the Committee for Plan E and advised all committee members to refuse answers to questions posed by the City Council. Tempers flared when it was discovered that the Committee for Plan E had paid some people to collect petition signatures. In the end, George McLaughlin and the Committee for Plan E had the upper hand when McLaughlin proposed that the City Council had no power to investigate the issue. McLaughlin asserted that the authority to investigate was given solely to the State Ballot Law Commission, where protests against the Committee for Plan E’s practices were eventually filed.
Time, however, was running out for the Committee for Plan E. While the City Clerk had certified more than the required number of signatures, the City Council refused to forward the petition to the Secretary of State’s Office before the October 8th deadline since there were protests still pending at the Ballot Law Commission. However, the Committee for Plan E had not yet exercised the full influence of its formidable power base.
When the Ballot Law Commission dismissed the last protests against the petition process at 9:30am, October 8th, some impressive political maneuvering took place. Acting on the request of Committee for Plan E attorney McLaughlin, a State Supreme Court Justice ordered the Cambridge City Council to transmit the petition to the Secretary of State’s Office by day’s end or appear at a Supreme Court hearing at 3:00pm, October 8th. When the City Council refused to act on the petition, a summons was served and the Court again ordered the City Council to comply or face legal action. That evening the City Council voted to pass the petition to the Secretary of State without debate. Secretary of State Frederick W. Cook logged in the petition at 10:25pm, October 8th, only one and a half hours before the deadline. It was never clearly explained who had convinced the Secretary of State to keep his office open late. In any case, the Boston Globe front page headline of October 9th read “Cambridge to Vote on Plan E.”
For the month before election day, the battle focused entirely on the issue of PR. Interestingly, the only significant reference to the change to the city manager form that accompanied Plan E was made by the Communist Party of Massachusetts. While they emphatically supported proportional representation, they denounced Plan E as a whole due to the city manager stipulation. This was done much to the delight of the Committee for Plan E, which tried desperately to distance itself from association with the communists.
On Election Day 1938, the residents of Cambridge voted to oppose Plan E. 21,722 persons voted against it while 19,995 voted for its adoption, a margin of 1,767 votes.
Plan E – The Sequel:
Like many elite political organizations, the Committee for Plan E had no trouble retaining the resources needed to sustain its existence after defeat in 1938. Over the next two years, the Committee for Plan E continued to bring the issue to the people of Cambridge. However, by the time the 1940 election season approached, the tone of the campaign had changed dramatically compared to the turbulence and divisiveness of 1938.
For example, when Cambridge Mayor John Lyons invited Professor F. A. Hermens of Notre Dame to speak in Cambridge, John Landis, still Chairman of the Committee for Plan E, did not respond. In reference to the strong Irish heritage of the Cambridge working class, one advisor to the Committee for Plan E reportedly told John Landis not to challenge Professor Hermens. “This is Cambridge,” he said, “and in Cambridge Notre Dame always beats Harvard 52 to nothing.” The decision of the Committee for Plan E not to make proportional representation the major issue during the 1940 campaign would prove decisive.
While Mayor Lyons may have been able to take the upper hand in the PR debate, he fell under attack for his budget policies. The Cambridge Taxpayers Association, an organization that found support in the well-to-do areas as well as some working class areas of Cambridge, worked to protest the budget Mayor Lyons proposed for 1940.
Several events contributed to the Mayor’s problem. First, the budget was the largest in the city’s history, resulting in an unprecedented increase in the tax rate. Second, the budget was submitted without detailed allocations for each department, only lump sums were recorded. Commenting on the Mayor’s budget, a Cambridge Chronicle-Sun editorial said that if the city officials could not hold the city tax rate down, they would have no one but themselves to blame if the city turned to Plan E as “the only way out.”
Fiscal problems intensified when the Cambridge Taxpayers Association began its “Call to Arms” campaign. By jamming City Hall with supporters, the Association forced the City Council to reject the mayor’s budget. In addition, State Senator Arthur Blanchard submitted a bill for a state commission to investigate Cambridge city affairs. Once again, the Cambridge Chronicle-Sun ran an editorial stating that the only way to fend off Plan E in the coming election was to hold down the city tax rate.
While public attention remained focused on the city’s budget problems, the Committee for Plan E unceremoniously collected petition signatures for the coming 1940 election. In June, City Council, at odds with the mayor about the budget and weakened by public dissatisfaction, passed the properly certified petition to the Secretary of State without incident.
While the issue of PR was debated as Election Day approached, the Committee for Plan E continued to emphasize that an experienced professional, not a politician, would be running the city under the Plan E. The new approach worked. On Election Day Plan E won by roughly 7,500 votes.
[This article is an excerpt of David Goode’s thesis “The Quota Question,” written as a masters thesis in the Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy program. David credits Eliot Spalding, Editor Emeritus of the Cambridge Chronicle, for much of the content. In particular, he refers to Spalding’s articles “Plan E Debate Split the City in 1938” which appeared in the Chronicle on October 15, 1987 and “How City’s Plan E System Came to Be” which appeared in the Chronicle on November 26, 1987.]
Note (8/16/03): David Goode, a Cambridge native and former chief of staff for Mayor Sheila Russell, is now the program manager for the USAID-financed program for the development of local self-government in Serbia.
Eliot Spalding, probably the greatest local Cambridge newspapermen of the 20th Century, died several years ago. He remains the standard against which all Chronicle reporters and editors are measured, though it is unlikely he’ll ever be matched.
Plan E debate split the city in 1938
By Eliot Spalding (Cambridge Chronicle, October 15, 1987)
Special to the Chronicle
The word that best describes it is “wow!”
It was one of the most thrilling political melodramas ever staged in Cambridge. A cliffhanger. A classic.
Highlights included a City Council vote asking that Harvard be set apart as a separate city, a Supreme Court justice sitting in an extraordinary Saturday afternoon session, and a race against time that resulted in a referendum petition reaching the State House only an hour and 35 minutes before a midnight deadline.
It all began on June 1, 1938 when Governor Charles F. Hurley signed a bill making a new form of charter, Plan E (city manager with proportional representation voting), available to Massachusetts cities.
Claiming that such a plan made Cincinnati the best governed city in America, Cambridge advocates of a charter change organized a Committee for Plan E, persuaded James M. Landis, dean of the Harvard Law School and prominent Roosevelt New Dealer, to be its chairman and launched a drive for signatures needed to put a Plan E referendum on the November ballot.
Opposition was immediate and strong. Most of the city’s politicians and a majority of city employees saw Plan E, with its strange P.R. voting system, as a veritable revolution, a drastic change in the rules of the game and a dangerous threat to their security.
An all-out war began, a bitter conflict that split the city, divided some families, and, as the “Chronicle-Sun” stated, made the “War between the States and other internecine struggles temporarily take a back seat.”
Here is a rundown of some of the features of what was rightly called “the great controversy over Plan E:”
City of Harvard
Opponents were quick to charge that Plan E was a “Harvard plot” to take over the city, and City Councillor John J. Toomey made headlines nation-wide with a bombshell motion asking that Harvard be severed from Cambridge and set up as a separate city. His motion passed without opposition, the “Chronicle-Sun” noting that even the two Harvard alumni in the Council failed to raise their voices in protest.
National news magazines picked up the story, and locally the “Harvard Crimson” ran a picture of the university’s Littauer Center on its front page with a caption under it reading: “City Hall?” Harvard students, calling themselves an “oppressed minority” demanded a plebiscite.
Perhaps the hottest issue of the campaign though was the P.R. method of voting which Plan E backers hailed as “the fairest and most democratic form of voting now known,” but which City Solicitor Richard C. Evarts called “a crap game.” City Council President Thomas M. McNamara added a different thought saying “P.R. means nothing except Republicans Preferred.”
The battle over P.R. was vigorously waged in the advertising columns of newspapers with Catholic scholars and Democratic leaders being quoted on both sides of the issue. The anti-Plan E forces ran one advertisement in which a scholar was quoted as saying that Hitler’s victory in Germany was even more clearly due to P.R. than the triumph of Mussolini. Plan E backers replied with an advertisement headed by the word “SHAME!” in large, black capital letters.
Although the Communist Party of Massachusetts favored P.R., it, much to the delight of the Plan E forces, opposed the plan as a whole, saying “the evils of the Plan far outweigh its one progressive feature – Proportional Representation.”
One of the liveliest confrontations of the campaign came when Plan E Committee officers appeared before a special City Council committee named to investigate the validity and manner of obtaining signatures on the petition for a Plan E referendum.
Atty. George A. McLaughlin, representing Dean Landis who was in Washington, and other Plan E officers, was denied permission to speak by Council President McNamara. Complaining of “gag rule,” McLaughlin repeatedly interrupted the hearing, remaining quiet only after McNamara ordered a police officer to remove him from the room.
Except for Henry Wise, vice president of the Plan E Committee and member of the Cambridge Housing Authority, all Plan E officers, citing advice of counsel, refused to testify. Wise said some of the signatures were obtained by volunteers and others by paid workers.
The hearing lasted about an hour. Afterward McLaughlin told the press that the Council, as an interested party, had no authority to investigate the signatures, that the authority being vested in the State Ballot Law Commission.
Race Against Clock
The petition for the Plan E referendum with 11,300 signatures, more than twice the required number, was filed with City Clerk on August 23, and 8,904 of the signatures were certified by the city election commission.
So far, so good for the Plan E forces, but as an Oct. 8 deadline neared for sending the petition to the State House to be put on the ballot, a time squeeze and exciting race against the clock began.
The City Council took no action to transmit the petition to the State House, and on a Friday night before the Saturday deadline adjourned without doing so. They based their refusal to act on a city solicitor’s opinion that because the last-minute protests against the petition signatures were pending before the State Ballot Law Commission, the council lacked the power to act.
Adjournment was on a 12 to 2 vote, and Council President McNamara said that another meeting could not be called without 24-hour notice. A Boston Globe headline Saturday morning read: “Plan E Referendum Killed in Cambridge,” and Dean Landis, reached in Washington, was quoted by the “Boston Herald” as saying he would devote his time to beating “that cheap gang of politicians that run the city.”
Council foes of Plan E angrily demanded that Landis apologize. His reply was that it was they who should apologize to the people of Cambridge.
A Fighting Chance
Amazingly and almost miraculously, despite newspaper stories that it was dead, the Plan E referendum still had a fighting chance for life.
By 9:30 Saturday morning, the Ballot law Commission had dismissed the last-minute protests against petition signatures. Then, as a result of careful preparation and legal maneuvers by Attys. George McLaughlin and Robert F. Bradford, Republican candidate for District Attorney, a justice of the Supreme Court was contacted and said that if the city councillors didn’t transmit the petition to the State House by noon, they would be summonsed to a Court hearing at 3 p.m. that day.
When the councillors failed to act by noontime, they were served with summonses – two were on their way to a Harvard-Cornell game and one was in his store – to appear at 3 p.m. At that hour, another Supreme Court justice, Arthur Dolan, after hearing the parties, ordered the council to transmit the petition to the State House “forthwith and by day’s end.”
The Council met that night, complied with the court order and voted to send the petition to the State House where Secretary of State Frederick W. Cook had arranged to keep his office open until midnight instead of closing it at noon.
The petition arrived there one hour and 35 minutes before midnight, and Sunday morning’s Boston Globe, reversing its headline obituary notice of the day before, had a bigger and bolder front page headline reading: “Cambridge to Vote on Plan E.”
Alas for Plan E, when the November vote was taken, it lost by 1,767 votes. A total of 19,995 persons voted for it, but 21,722 voted no.
It was dead for a time, but not for long. Two years later Cambridge adopted a Plan E charter and has had a city manager and P.R. elections ever since.
Eliot Spalding, a former editor of the “Chronicle,” was publicity director of the 1938 Campaign for Plan E.
Plan E campaign sidelights
(also published in the Cambridge Chronicle, October 15, 1987)
Officers of the Committee for Plan E, in addition to Chairman Landis and Vice Chairman Wise, were: Jeremiah F. Downey, treasurer; Mary Heard (now Mrs. Alexander Preston), secretary; and Chandler W. Johnson, executive director.
An important key role in the campaign was played by members of the Cambridge League of Women Voters including Amelia Fisk, Ruth Romer, and Louise Parker. Men playing key roles included Herman C. Loeffler, director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, Atty. Chas. S. McLaughlin, Dr. W. Alexander Cox, T. Richard Hurley, Atty. Anthony O. Shallna.
The organization meeting of the Committee was called by Chandler Johnson who, like his father Prof. Lewis Jerome Johnson, had long been an ardent advocate of the “Cincinnati Plan.”
Harvard Square real estate owner George L. Dow donated free office space to the Committee until it had raised the funds to rent a space elsewhere. Dean Landis and Treasurer Jerry Downey borrowed money over their own signatures to finance the Committee until other funds could be raised.
Opposed to Plan E was the Peoples’ Committee for the Preservation of Democracy in Cambridge in which former City Solicitor Edmund Twomey played a prominent role and of which William C. Conway was secretary. Others active in opposing the Plan included the Cambridge Central Labor Union, Leo Moran and Funeral Director Daniel F. O’Brien who was president of the Jefferson Club.
Twain Shall Meet
At one Council hearing, its president, Thomas McNamara prdicted that Harvard and MIT would ultimately meet in Central Square. This 49-year old statement is still occasionally heard in Cambridge.
One reporter for a Boston newspaper irked Plan E leaders by always, when referring to Plan E foe Evarts, adding that his father was the Rev. Prescott Evarts, former rector of Christ Church.
At one polling place opponents of Plan E, dressed like members of the Harvard Band with white trousers and red sweaters, carried signs reading: Harvard wants you to vote for Plan E.
The unpopularity of Harvard with many voters was recognized by some members of the Plan E Committee and was one of the reasons they questioned the wisdom of naming a Harvard dean as their chairman. A counter argument was that his national prominence would guarantee coverage of the Plan E campaign in the Boston newspapers.
When the time squeeze for getting the Plan E referendum on the ballot became acute, some lawyers advised the Plan E Committee that there were so many obstacles in the way that they should give up the struggle and try again in two years. However, George McLaughlin argued that, with good planning and good luck, they had a fighting chance to succeed, and Dean Landis settled the issue by saying, “I’m with George.”
– Eliot Spalding
How city’s Plan E system came to be
(Cambridge Chronicle, November 26, 1987)
Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, the “Chronicle” published an article by its former long-time editor, Eliot Spalding, about the first time an attempt to win voter approval of the city’s Plan E form of government was attempted in 1938. Below, as Paul Harvey would say, is “the rest of the story,” how Plan E was approved in 1940.
To Be Plan “E”
Or Not to Be
That is the ?
This front page headline in the “Chronicle-Sun” the week before the 1940 election correctly stated what would be foremost in the minds of the voters. The issue was simple: would Cambridge adopt a new city charter, Plan E, which would provide city manager government and elections by Proportional Representation?
Two years before, a Plan E referendum had been defeated by 1,767 votes after a red hot campaign with melodramatic features. The City Council had voted to set Harvard apart as a separate city, and had refused to forward the referendum petition to the State House to be put on the ballot until forced to do so by a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court sitting in an extraordinary Saturday afternoon session.
In 1939 and 1940, however, things had been different. The campaign was quieter and more educational, less divisive and less bitter. What’s more, a budget mistake by the mayor probably had more to do with the result than campaign efforts either pro or con.
“Gown vs. Gown”
There were some lively incidents though:
In March of 1939 there was a “gown vs. gown” match-up before a legislative committee on a bill filed by Edna Lawrence Spencer of Cambridge to repeal Plan E as an optional city charter. It was Harvard vs. Harvard as James M. Landis, dean of Harvard Law School and chairman of the Committee for Plan E, was pitted against a prestigious Harvard historian, the magnificently bearded Albert Bushnell Hart.
Landis described Plan E as a simple, democratic form of government where the majority would rule and the minority have a voice. Hart said he would rather have a form of government that would permit hum to vote between one man or another, one cause or another, and then go home to dinner secure in the knowledge that a majority would decide the outcome.
A high spot of the 1940 campaign came when Mayor John W. Lyons persuaded Prof. F. A. Hermens of Notre Dame to come here and speak against P. R. voting. Dean Landis declined the mayor’s invitation to debate the professor, but when he beard what Hermens had said, be wanted to issue a statement in reply.
“Don’t do it,” said an advisor. “This is Cambridge and in Cambridge Notre Dame will always beat Harvard 52 to nothing.” The dean took the advice and stood mute.
Mayor’s Luck Changes
These events, however, were merely sideshows with more important action taking place on the financial front.
Mayor Lyons had a happy November in 1939, carrying nine wards and winning reelection over former mayor Richard M. Russell by 6467 votes.
But in 1940, his luck began to change. He submitted a short, typewritten city budget which was not itemized as usual, but merely listed a lump sum appropriation for each department. Moreover it was the biggest budget in the city’s history. It totaled over seven million dollars, up over a million dollars from the previous year and causing talk about a $7 jump in the tax rate.
The budget spelled trouble for the mayor for two reasons: the size of its increase and its lack of detail. A “Chronicle-Sun” editorial said that if city officials couldn’t hold the tax rate down, they would have only themselves to blame if more and more voters turned to government by a state commission or Plan E “as the only way out.”
“A Call to Arms”
In April, answering a postcard “Call to Arms sent out by the Cambridge Taxpayers Association, a throng of taxpayers which jammed the City Council Chamber and spilled out into the corridors, demanded substantial budget cuts.
Echoes of Depression days were heard when Stoughton Bell, chairman of the Taxpayers Association, asked that city employees contribute 10 percent of their pay from May I to Jan. 31, and that many new jobs and 266 pay raises be cut from the budget.
Meanwhile, on another front, Republican State Senator Arthur F. Blanchard of Cambridge filed a bill to have a state commission investigate Cambridge city affairs. And a “Chronicle-Sun” editorial with the Biblical heading “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” cited taxpayer alarm and city employee uneasiness, adding that the only way to stave off Plan E or a state commission would be to cut the tax rate and give the public better service at less cost.
Next to swing into action on the budget front was the City Council which, on an 8 to 6 vote, rejected the mayor’s budget in toto, claiming that the previous year’s budget (1939) must now be used.
At a police Communion breakfast, Mayor Lyons compared the Council’s budget labors to that of Egyptian slaves working 20 years to build a Pharaoh’s tomb. “For 60 days,” he said, “our City Council has labored over the city budget ... They have builded a monument, a tablet of abject cowardice.”
Test Case In High Court
However, the city council’s labors, cowardly or not, did not decide the fate of the mayor’s 1940 budget. That was decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in a suit brought by 10 taxpayers on behalf of the Cambridge Taxpayers Association.
Robert H. Davison, counsel for the taxpayers, argued that the budget was illegal because not submitted on time nor sufficiently itemized. City Solicitor Richard Evarts countered that it was both timely and adequately itemized, and that the Council’s failure to act on it meant that it should automatically go into effect.
The Court ruled that the budget was illegal and that the aggregate figures for 1939 should be used to make up the 1940 tax rate. After discussions with the state tax commissioner, the assessors used the 1939 figures plus preliminary 1940 appropriations and set the 1940 rate at $43 up $2.50 from the 1939 rate.
The Court decision obviously helped Plan E by shaking the confidence of city employees in the ability of the existing government to manage the money on which their pay scale and their security depended.
Next came another jolt on the financial front. For what was believed to be the first time in history, every bank in the city, citing the large amount of foreclosed real estate they held, warned of the danger of higher taxes and appealed to the mayor and Council to hold them down.
Express to Beacon Hill
Meanwhile Dean Landis, wearing a battered gray hat, had filed with the city clerk a petition for a Plan E Referendum bearing 9078 signatures, taking time out, while in the clerk’s office, to pay $2 for a dog license. Shortly afterward, the petition with 7,622 certified signatures was sent to the City Council which in June, swiftly and without comment, sent it to the State House to go on the ballot. This, of course, was a far cry from the dilatory tactics adopted by the Council in 1938.
Meanwhile Edna Lawrence Spencer, chairman of the Citizens’ Committee for the Repeal of Plan E and P. R., announced plans to work for the repeal of Plan E on Beacon Hill, and to oppose its adoption by any city where it would be on the ballot.
Later, Plan E foes formed a People’s Committee for the Preservation of Democracy in Cambridge with Daniel A. Lynch as chairman; Andrew L. Moore, treasurer; and Mrs. J. Ostle Sears, secretary.
The Plan E forces had opened an office on Boylston (now JFK) street, and announced they would wage an educational campaign, and provide volunteer speakers for any group requesting them.
National events were, to some extent, a distraction from the campaign. Draft boards were appointed and Cambridge men from 21 to 36 years of age were being urged to register for the draft. Wendell Wilkie, Republican candidate for President, was due to speak here, and it was pointed out as proof of the Plan E Committee’s broad scope, that its chairman Dean Landis was an ardent Roosevelt New Dealer, while its executive director Chandler Johnson was a Wilkie enthusiast.
Indictments growing out of the mayor’s building program, which was partly financed with federal funds, were not handed down until after the Plan E election results were known.
The week before the election the “Chronicle-Sun” had a large front page ad quoting Al Smith as saying, “Of all the wild-eyed, crazy, nonsensical things that have ever afflicted the City of New York, I certainly think there is nothing that equals P.R.”
Plan E advertising emphasized that an experienced city manager, not a politician, would run the city. and cited U.S. Senator David L Walsh; Msgr. Frank Thill, of Cincinnati; Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, of New York; and Speaker Christian Herter of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, as favoring Plan E with P.R.
The pre-election issue of the “Chronicle-Sun” gave a report on Prof Hermens’ speech at the CHLS auditorium. He had left Germany because he was a foe of Hitler, and blamed P.R. for helping to destabilize Germany and Italy and bring about the rise of Fascists to power.
Chandler Johnson, however, possessed statements from Heinrich Bruning, former Chancellor of Germany, and Gaetano Salvemini, anti-Fascist author and former member of the Italian Chamber, saying that the P.R. system used in Europe was different from and had no bearing on the type of P.R. used in Cambridge.
And the Winner
In the November 5 election, Plan E won by roughly 7,500 votes, carrying eight of the eleven wards and losing in only wards one, three and eleven.
On the same day New York City voted against the repeal of P.R. by 782,768 votes to 565,879.
At a victory party in his home, Dean Landis said his committee would endorse candidates at the 1941 city election, and would ask the School Committee to set up a course on Plan E and have the senior elections at CHLS conducted under P.R.
Later still, Atty. Andrew L. Moore, a conscientious objector to Plan E and P.R. brought a test case in court to determine their constitutionality. Atty. George A. McLaughlin represented Plan E and Atty. Joseph A. DeGuglielmo, later a mayor and city manager, represented Moore. The Court ruled for Plan E.
That is how city manager government and P.R. voting came to Cambridge. Many sincere persons campaigned for and against it, but several years later, the then former Mayor Lyons summed it up by saying, “When the city budget was thrown out, Plan E was in.”