Although James M. Williamson ran for Cambridge City Council in 2009, comparatively little information about him is available. Williamson has no printed campaign literature, a website coming soon, and no funds to spend on advertising.
He describes himself as an event organizer, a publicist, and a neighborhood activist. Williamson has been involved in activist movements since high school, when he joined the Students for a Democratic Society, a student movement prominent in the 1960s. He says he attended New York University but was expelled as a result of his protests against the Vietnam War.
“I was a victim of oppression around vigorous protests to war,” Williamson says.
After his expulsion, he moved to Cambridge, where he has lived for the past forty years. He says he has since taken courses at Boston University and later the Harvard Extension School. Williamson says he continues to audit classes.
Williamson says his chief motivation for running is the current Council’s lack of initiative in addressing the concerns of City residents. His criticisms of the City Council extend to its lack of familiarity with the areas in which people live. He thinks the city’s governing body is too removed from residents and their problems.
“The people who run the government are out of touch, and the people we elect, who should be the watchdogs, aren’t doing their jobs,” Williamson says. “They don’t get it. They’re not paying attention. I never see any of them around.”
Williamson says he is concerned with issues that directly affect the public and that the City Council can tackle with or without the city manager’s support.
In this election, Williamson is directing his attention at sidewalk safety, an issue he says is overlooked by the current City Council. Williamson has been frustrated that cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk in some areas and not in others and that those geographical areas change with little warning. Several serious injuries have resulted from a lack of enforcement of bicycle laws, Williamson says. In the fall of 2010, Ruth Daniloff, a 75 year-old woman, was hit by a bicycle in Cambridge, according to an op-ed she authored in The Boston Globe. In Williamson’s opinion, city councilors have not responded adequately to these incidents.
“If we are a city with handsomely paid people, with an enormous bureaucracy, and all this money, if we have this kind of negligence, we are in bad shape,” Williamson says. “This is what motivates me. Wake up, people.”
Williamson is also concerned with public transportation, specifically the temporary weekend disruption of Red Line service between Alewife and Harvard Square.
“I am very distressed with the way the MBTA is handling that situation. They only notified the public less than two weeks from when this massive dislocation will take place,” Williamson says. “We need to improve public transportation dramatically.”
As a public housing resident, Williamson views himself as a relatable candidate who is an active member of the community he seeks to represent. He participates in the Alliance of Cambridge Tenants, which is made up of public housing residents and voucher holders. For the past few months, he has devoted his full attention to his candidacy.
“We are losing more and more of what we care about because people aren’t doing their jobs. That’s my number one problem with the City Council,” Williamson says.
“It’s not enough to have a $70,000 job in Cambridge,” Williamson says, speaking about the city councilors’ annual salaries. “Several of them have other paid jobs—their ‘real’ jobs. I wouldn’t have a problem with it if they got things done.”
In addition to his focus on commuter safety, Williamson is concerned with developing more democratic structures. Were he elected to the City Council, Williamson says he would hold more meetings that would allow citizens to voice their concerns and participate in city budgeting.
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