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Originally airing on WHCP 91.7fm on Monday 5/6/2024
By News Director Jim Brady

Listen to the interview:

Read the transcript:

WHCP: As Cambridge’s city manager departs and the city council takes on a number of challenges, Council President Lajan Cephas is in an increasingly pivotal position with the future of the city in the balance. I appreciate you being with us today.

Lajan Cephas: Thank you, Jim. Thank you for the invite. I greatly appreciate that.

WHCP: So during a brainstorming retreat with city leaders and departments earlier this year, I heard you come up with a catchy slogan for the city: “Cambridge works”. What kind of things about city government would you like the residents to be aware of that are working well?

Lajan Cephas: I would say basically every department, all of our departments are working really well. We have our engineering department, they have the schedule out as far as when our roads are scheduled to be repaved with our policing department. They have the greatest policing, community policing division that a lot of our neighboring policing agencies are reaching out to them saying, Hey, how are you doing this? Even down to our HR department trying to redevelop our handbook and trying to (correct) our different wages, trying to catch it up and trying to reverse where our rate wages have been compressed from, I guess some of the more entry level positions to more of our more experienced positions. So we’re really trying our best to show our taxpayers, trying to show investors and businesses that Cambridge is working. So it’s, it’s just along the lines of every department that you could think of.

WHCP: Well, so much energy lately has been focused on the city’s biggest development project, Cambridge Harbor. I should first ask, with the city’s new court case against Cambridge Waterfront Development Incorporated, what’s the strategy for bringing CWDI into alignment with the city as far as the city’s goals are concerned?

Lajan Cephas: Yeah, as far as that question, I would prefer not to answer it because it’s obvious the city has a current litigation against Cambridge Waterfront Development. So I would prefer to not answer any questions regarding that.

WHCP: Well, outside of the lawsuit, are there still efforts going to try to get a resolution on some of the conflict with CWDI?

Lajan Cephas: Yeah, I would say there’s this going to almost always try to be some sort of goal or try to get towards a resolution so we can move forward with the development. What my concern is, since this litigation was just put into play, I don’t know how willing the other parties of CWDI will be as far as having conversations with the city. And to be honest with you, that was one of my greatest fears because I really believed that we were going in the right direction, especially more specifically referring to Shay who’s a board of director and was appointed by the city to represent the city and the matters of CWDI, and she was working really hard trying to find us some common ground so that we can get the answers we need and also so we can try to rebuild that trust between the city and CWDI. So I really don’t know if she’s going to be able to, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to have those conversations outside of the courtroom. I think now it’s probably going to be at the hands of attorneys.

WHCP: And we’re talking about Shay Lewis, Cisco there?

Lajan Cephas: Yes, that’s correct.

WHCP: Mayor of Steve Rideout took the formal step on April 16th of taking up amendments to CWDI’s corporate charter stating that C WDI was not working in concert with the city. Are you hopeful CWDI will come around and accept some of the things the mayor said he wanted, access to documents and acknowledging that CWDI board members can be recalled?

Lajan Cephas: Well, I’m hopeful of that. I’m truly hopeful of it. I know they have a meeting coming soon, I think towards the end of this month towards the May 22nd CWDI. They will be having their next board meeting, and I actually, I more agree with the mayor’s strategy, which basically is, let’s give them some time. But I just believe it was little too premature to take this action. Now with regards to litigation, I understand the perspective of my fellow commissioners. I truly do, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens once they have their meeting on May 22nd.

WHCP: Now, I know you didn’t vote in favor of the legal action, but as leader of the council, will you be able to support that effort?

Lajan Cephas: Absolutely, absolutely. I truly believe in whatever the decision the body makes never going to be against it. I mean, that’s how we have the great democracy that we have, this government that we have. So as far as the majority is concerned, they believe that’s the best decision and I’m going to absolutely support that decision. But aside from that, I’ll give my own personal perspective and that’s my personal perspective. I just believe that we were, I just believe we were a little too premature. We’re definitely premature with pulling that trigger on that.

WHCP: Now both the city and CWDI say they want the best for Cambridge and want to work cooperatively, but when it comes to the details and especially who’s in charge, that’s where things break down. What do you think a practical solution would look like?

Lajan Cephas: I think transparency. Transparency. I think basically adhering to the terms of the agreement, and the agreement is very specific. The city was under the impression that CWDI would be engaging a master developer. We were not under the impression that there would become a word scramble, and now CWDI considers themselves to be the master developer. So I think it’s very simple: stay true to the word that was put on paper. And then the other thing is it, it was the expectation that there would be an RFP, a request for proposals, but that wasn’t completed. Instead, there was an ROEI, which is a request of interest, so that’s the main thing. Just keep it simple. Just stay true to the words that were on the land transfer agreement.

WHCP: I think it was October when city manager Tom Carroll asked CWDI, whether it was still planning to be its own master developer, whether CWDI was changing its plan, so it wasn’t reliant on public subsidies and whether it was going to change its governance. You’re still waiting for those answers, right?

Lajan Cephas: From my knowledge, the answer is yes. It could be a possibility – Maybe that information was provided in a meeting that I wasn’t able to attend, but from my knowledge, those answers, they have not been provided yet.

WHCP: Now, earlier this year, the city requested that Richard Zeidman, who was a city appointee and former president of CWDI, resign, but he refused. Then the city prepared an ordinance that would find any appointee who refused to step aside when the city recalled them. Most recently mayor Rideout asserted that the city, county, and state all have the authority to remove any of the appointees. Is it still an imperative that Zeidman must step down?

Lajan Cephas: I truly believe that Zeidman, he got us to where we are on this journey, and I truly believe that that time has expired and I think it’s the right thing for Mr. Zeidman to actually take a step down so that the city can move forward with another appointee.

WHCP: City elections are coming up and there’s talk that a slate of candidates favorable to CWDI will try to win. A majority of the council are storm clouds brewing. What are you hearing?

Lajan Cephas: I really haven’t been hearing too much. I’ve just been hearing just a little side conversation that obviously there are some who may be directly affiliated with CWDI or indirectly affiliated with CWDI, who they’re having meetings and they’re trying to find candidates to run against particular commissioners. And I even heard a conversation of there’s someone that they’re considering or trying to hand pick to run for mayor. But the only thing really that I need to say for that is, the city has many layers to it, yet the waterfront project is probably the most important project the city needs to execute at the highest level. However, there are other communities in other neighborhoods in Cambridge and whoever decides to take this run and whoever wins, it needs to be someone that’s going to keep Cambridge in mind. Not only Cambridge Harbor, and I can assure that if anyone is running, only because if Cambridge Harbor, it’s not going to work well for them if this person is elected into office because they’re going to always be reminded that we matter too. The folks on the West End, they matter too. The folks at Cattail Crossing, they matter. The small business owners that we have in our Maple District, they matter. The Historic Pine Street District, they matter. So it’s not just Cambridge Harbor. I think it’s extremely important that whoever runs for these seats, they need to make sure that they have
Cambridge in mind.

WHCP: Well, before we end, let me ask what else needs to be said do you think?

Lajan Cephas: I think what needs to be said is, although I voted nay with regards to this litigation, I know my fellow commissioners, I know they made their decision off the best intent. I truly believe that we don’t have the result we needed at the conclusion of CWDI’s meeting litigation is something we weren’t going to be able to avoid anyway. So I just want to say that I’m in total supportive of their votes, but my approach is more like the mayor’s approach. I just wanted just to try to give them just a little more time just to see what they can do so at least we could try to salvage some type of relationship and we can continue to try to build some trust and move the project forward.

WHCP: That’s Lejan Cephas, President of the Cambridge City Council. Thanks for being with us today.

Lajan Cephas: Thank you.