Cambridge City Councillor Runs for State Senate

Cambridge City Councillor Leland Cheung plans to seek higher office in the Massachusetts Senate, the upper body of the Commonwealth’s legislature.

Cheung, a Harvard Kennedy School graduate, collected the 500 signatures needed to get his name on the ballot for September’s Democratic primary to represent the Second Middlesex District in the Senate. He will campaign against incumbent Democrat Patricia D. Jehlen, a long-term state legislator who has represented the district, which includes Cambridge, Somerville, and other towns, since 2005.

{shortcode-00eb93eb06329cecc063e45f399c5733d45e0e5a} After several terms on the City Council, Cheung, who announced his campaign last week, said he began to see a divide between the local and state levels of government.

“I realized that a lot of the work that I’ve been doing on the council, you really need to take action with state leadership to make significant change and really improve the lives of residents,” Cheung said.

The councillor said his priorities for this year’s campaign include “investment in education, in transportation, in infrastructure and in each other.”


No stranger to campaigning, Cheung successfully ran for several different offices since the start of his political career in 2009. Most recently, Cheung won reelection to the Council as part of the “Unity Slate” of seven incumbents.

“I first ran in office in 2009, while I was still in the Kennedy school. But now, I’ve ran five times. Five or six, I’ve lost count,” Cheung said.

From his time at the Kennedy School, Cheung said he learned campaigning techniques, using a lot of data that is uncommon for local races. He continues to use his contacts at HKS, like lecturer Linda Bilmes, who advises him on policy for the Cambridge City Council.

Henry S. U. Shah ’17, a former Crimson magazine editor, said he was attracted to Cheung’s “21st century campaigning techniques” when he volunteered on Cheung’s 2013 City Council campaign during his freshman year.

“What first excited me and still excites me is his ability to run a local campaign and run a really local form of governance where he walks door by door,” Shah said. “But he also connects with everything that the web, Facebook, and Twitter [have] to offer with transparency and accountability.”

In 2013, Shah penned a Crimson op-ed showing his support for Cheung as the “students’ voice” on the Council. Today, Shah works for the Entrepreneurship Walk of Fame, a Kendall Square organization that Cheung runs.

Cheung’s most ambitious campaign yet was his 2014 run for Lieutenant Governor. He entered the race late, hoping to bridge the divide between state and local legislators, Cheung said. Cheung’s hopes ended when he finished second in the Democratic primary that year.

“It was really heartening to get all the support I got from across the state. We got in the race late to try and raise awareness of the importance of cities and towns’ needs,” Cheung said. “I don’t think I would do it again though, too much time away from home.”

Cheung hopes to bring lasting reforms in the State Senate and then eventually leave electoral politics for good.

“I don’t have any plans to become a career politician. At some point I’d like to go back to having a job that allows me to go home at five o’clock at night,” Cheung said.

—Staff writer Daniel P. Wood can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @DanWood145.


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