A New Kind of Legislator

Once elected, Nadeem immediately made good on his first campaign promise: to give ⅓ of his salary to a dedicated community organizer. For the last two years, Jake and Amyko have worked in the community, connecting families and students with Out of School Time opportunities. This model for outreach has proven successful and clearly demonstrates the value and potential of an organized ground game. Even in a tech-savvy city like Cambridge, poor coordination and the digital divide prevent many from connecting with the city and its resources—and prevent many from participating in daily civic life. Nadeem believes it is incumbent upon our elected leaders to meet people where they are, instead of expecting everyone to participate the way seasoned political insiders do.
As a freshman councillor, Nadeem jumped at the opportunity to engage with fellow elected officials locally and nationally. He believes that while his primary responsibility is to Cambridge’s residents, it is necessary to build broader coalitions to help solve our greater community’s most pressing issues.

He has been invited to the White House four times to discuss his unique approach to community-organizing, the future of makerspaces and hands-on STEAM programming, and successful ways for developing more young, progressive leaders at home.

Every week, Nadeem brings you the discourse and decisions happening inside City Hall via write-ups, videos, and explanations. They’re quick, easy to understand, and engaging.

Byte Sized Politics addresses the difficulty many residents experience when engaging with the city: long, inconveniently scheduled meetings, and onerous, seemingly one-sided follow-up documents. Simply put, the burden of participation is too great for the average Cantabridgian, and it is affecting the course of our city. In his second term, Nadeem seeks to use his decade-long love affair with digital storytelling to create recipe lists? for different types of civic engagement and community impact, as seen from an insider perspective.

Examples of Nadeem’s issue-based write-ups and summaries include: [links and topics]. Let’s make sure our council is producing information that is easy (and dare we hope, fun?) to interact with—with actionable opportunities for personal and community engagement.

Educational Equity

Prior to serving as a councillor, Nadeem was faculty at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he taught entrepreneurship skills to artists seeking to make a living doing what they love. He brings a similar approach to his work with students in Cambridge. Instead of assuming a one-size-fits-all solution, he is working to make a comprehensive database of programs, internships, mentorships, and jobs accessible to students and families.

Rethinking student success also involves tapping into the incredible resources in Cambridge: academic institutions, the thriving tech sector, and local business economy whose industry knowledge is invaluable to our students. Our tech community is willing to help develop students’ professional skills, portfolios, and hands-on experiences, all of which make them competitive in the job market. But we’ve got to create these connections—and this type of coordination is missing in afterschool. Nadeem has tapped into his personal networks in the local business community and at MIT to increase the breadth of participation in these community discussions.

Nadeem successfully led the initiative to fund a new Out of School Time Coordination Office to address many of the issues seen above. Cambridge has an embarrassment of riches, yet more than 45% of public school kids are living at or near the poverty line. Many of our programs have an “if you build it, they will come” attitude to reaching our underserved youth—and it’s not working. This year, the city pledged $1 million over three years to staff internship coordination, educational equity planning, neighborhood outreach, and more.

In addition to Nadeem’s work coordinating city-wide stakeholders in this effort, Jake Crutchfield, Nadeem’s dedicated community organizer, worked overtime to ensure the success of the project.

The Out of School Time coordination effort includes steps to inventory and track internship opportunities. Nadeem brings experience in software and educational design and a common-sense approach to coordination. Cataloguing the city’s educational resources and making sure they are accessible to those in the greatest need may seem like an obvious move, but it took Nadeem’s leadership to get this issue to the foreground on council, after decades of missed opportunities.


Government Accountability and Accessibility

Nadeem is one of only two councillors to fully support campaign finance reform in Cambridge, both as a way to increase government transparency and to allow fresh candidates equal footing in the election process. He personally does not accept special interest dollars, despite being regularly approached by the city’s largest developers.

There’s a lot of talk about data these days—what it means, why cities collect it, and what to do with it. In Cambridge, we are just scraping the surface of what is possible with millions of data points about licenses, potholes, social services, you name it. Nadeem helped write and champion the Open Data Ordinance, which essentially opens the city’s books to the public. Nadeem is not satisfied with the City’s take on his work and wants to spend the next council term working with stakeholders like Code for Boston to give this ordinance even more teeth. Why is this issue so important? Cambridge needs to make data-driven decisions, in the same way you have to ‘show your math’ in elementary school. The more information we have about use and need of city services, the better we can support the programs working and those that need a boost. Sharing data about the city also empowers those in the community with analytical and creative skills to participate in the problem-solving. Consider the many mass transit apps available today. The Commonwealth recently made transit data and real-time tracking available, and most of the apps people use today popped up overnight, for free! What real-time data, services apps, and convenience are we missing in Cambridge by keeping our data closed? Nadeem is working hard with city administrators to bring government into the 21st century. The Open Data Ordinance also reflects Nadeem’s interest in making all city happenings transparent and trackable for residents. You should know things from, “How much longer will Cambridge Common be under construction?” and “In what stage is the superintendent search?” to “Who put in bids to run the citywide master plan?”—all in a way that’s easy for the average resident to search and understand.

For the last two years, Nadeem has maintained an open-door policy for all community members. Instead of scheduling office hours to limit constituent meetings, he has embraced the hundreds of meetings and stakeholders looking to connect with government. These experts and concerned residents have in turn empowered Nadeem to coordinate and collaborate now, in his first term—making him an effective and consensus-oriented freshman councillor. He has hosted weekly civics meetings to proactively involve the community in decision-making and policy-writing and to provide a space for the next generation of Cambridge leaders to find their voices.

By opening his door, he has fielded opinions and ideas from outside of Cambridge, too. Citizen concern about Boston’s 2024 Olympics is one example.

Municipal Broadband

Municipal fiber is high speed internet service and infrastructure built and maintained by the city. “Fiber”, in this instance, refers to the fiber optic wiring necessary for high-speed, high capacity internet access, such as the “1 gigabit” service popularized by Google Fiber – up to 50-100 times faster than our Comcast connections in Cambridge today. Once installed, the fiber network would create a platform for internet services (also referred to as a community broadband network) that the city could then competitively lease to ISPs (internet service providers). Leasing in this way to bring in new ISPs actually nets a profit for the city, while eliminating a great deal of the unreasonable pricing, subpar infrastructure, and poor customer service associated with big telecom companies operating without competition today.

Today, high-speed internet access in the home is as essential as having electricity. Even the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted this ideology when applying more stringent regulations to the telecoms that provide internet services. In fact, studies show that access to high-speed broadband access at home correlates with future educational and professional success. The lack of high-speed broadband access at home is an enormous burden for many residents—limiting certain types of civic engagement, job discovery, job readiness, and economic mobility. But with prohibitively high costs and poor customer service as the norm amongst cable providers, the communities in the most need of a quality internet provider are also the worst off. Nadeem has investigated some of the programs Comcast runs, which purport to serve these communities directly, and has found them to be so poorly and disingenuously run that– instead of merely accomplishing nothing– programs like Internet Essentials actually harm the communities they intend to serve.

At this point, ensuring access to internet access is a matter of economic equity.

Earlier this year, Cambridge appointed the Municipal Broadband Task Force, which has the important job of evaluating Municipal Broadband options. The Take Force includes members of the Cambridge community working in areas of IT infrastructure, community television, education, and more. For a recap of the work the group has done thus far, visit the group’s page and join us for the October 14th community forum, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at City Hall.


Environment and Sustainability

Environmental protection and climate change are two of the most critical issues facing our world today. Cambridge is in a unique position, surrounded by global thought leaders. We must create policy and implementation towards a sustainable future—for ourselves and future generations. For Nadeem, common sense measures like Net Zero emissions are a no brainer. Nadeem’s work campaigning in 2013 brought the Net Zero issue front and center for Cambridge. The Net Zero task force and their incredible work was one result. For those just reading up on the issue, Net Zero refers to a building that has a net-zero carbon footprint, creating enough energy or securing enough offsets to sustain itself.
these systems, we reduce traffic congestion, parking nightmares, and unsafe road conditions that affect everyone. Nadeem has partnered with multiple environmental groups in and around Cambridge, to ensure we’re taking action on the environment, not just paying lip service. Nadeem rides a bike just about everywhere—but his love of Zipcar puts him behind the wheel often enough. Cambridge needs education, infrastructure, and enforcement to make streets that are safe for everyone: people who bike, people who walk, and people who drive.

Arts and Culture

Our locally-owned stores and their staff are what give our squares their unique character. The Council must continue to take measures to subsidize ground floor retail, streamline application processes, and share opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation with all socioeconomic strata. Without city-led buy-local campaigns and without a concrete plan for placemaking in our squares, Cambridge’s most beloved businesses will soon be replaced with cookie-cutter chains, the only businesses able to afford premium rents and long-term leases.

Nadeem owns two arts-focused businesses in Central Square. Nimblebot is a creative animation studio and danger!awesome is a community makerspace equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters, and other high-tech tools aimed at serving and training everyone and not just the educational elite. Both businesses are dedicated to making creative services accessible and affordable to those who normally wouldn’t be able to afford them. He understands the ins and outs of owning and operating a business in Cambridge, and sees much room for improvement. Like a small business facilitator who can help new businesses navigate the mess of permits, regulations, and terms that keep all but the wealthiest and well-connected entrepreneurs out of our squares.

Four years ago, Alexandria Real Estate gifted the city of Cambridge the deed for the Foundry, a 52,000 square foot industrial building located on Rogers Street in East Cambridge. As a city, Cambridge is starved for owned property. Nadeem recognized the potential for the Foundry to become a dedicated arts space—and after much last-minute organizing and advocacy it become an issue for all candidates during campaign season two years ago. Since, Nadeem ensured that the city pledged the millions of dollars necessary to bring the building back up to code.

He has continued to keep interested parties up-to-date on the status of community planning meetings, tours, and the RFP timeline. Along the way, he has helped to maximize community benefit; amazingly, planners were set to earmark half or more of the building for more commercial space. Nadeem is committed to minimizing for-profit space in this special building, prioritizing the people and non-profits who make our city vibrant. In the years to come, Cambridge will build on this type of work to create affordable venues for residents to live and work in Cambridge.

Prioritizing the art requires coordination and commitment. When the city engages with developers, we should be thinking about our housing and our all-arts spaces as necessary targets for community benefit. This kind of thinking requires a paradigm shift that Nadeem wholeheartedly believes in. We should be thinking about studio and community spaces instead of parking allowances; subsidizing ground floor retail and galleries, etc. Nadeem is the only councillor thinking in this way today.


Housing AND Development

Cambridge faces a serious housing crisis. Longtime residents are forced out and young people are hard pressed to put down roots in the city they love. The predominant policy in Cambridge is “build luxury housing” and hope that paltry amounts (11.5%) of Affordable Housing will somehow save the day. Legislators are touting as a success this plan of tying vanishingly small amounts of Affordable housing to luxury projects. In reality, all we are doing is lining the pockets of wealthy special interests while our families are left to fend for themselves on a 5-8 year waiting list for Affordable housing. Our problem solving, our zoning, our discussions must all center around the problem of Affordable and moderate income housing until we have a way forward that is not tied to 90%-luxury projects. Priority must be on the families and people of Cambridge, who are being priced out by rising rents and escalating buying prices.
Nadeem is one of only two councillors who voted to maximize the Affordable Housing linkage fee. This is the fee tied to big commercial developments—special interests who can afford to pay this mitigation fee in service of Affordable housing. When big business comes knocking, most councillors listen—keeping the fund for Affordable housing artificially lower than studies show it needs to be, to keep pace with the city’s housing needs.
Nadeem believes that development should be seen as an opportunity to maximize community benefit. Currently, special interests make deals with each councillor to define community benefit in tiny chunks, piecemeal. When it’s time to vote, special interests almost always get a “yes” vote, but the community misses out on the benefit of a real council negotiation.

Nadeem promises to make this an issue on the floor this coming term. It’s not appropriate for Council to come to the chamber with a yes vote lined up and the negotiations completed, even before the public can discuss the full range of community expectations and community benefits real estate developers may be able to bring.

Workers’ Rights
And Civil Liberties

Nadeem believes in a $15/hour minimum wage. If Seattle and San Francisco can lead on this without too much turmoil, Cambridge owes it to families, young people, and workers in general to look out for a living wage. Nadeem was one of two councillors willing to turn a $15/hour minimum wage into a reality, on the spot. Join Nadeem in making $15/hour minimum wage an election issue this cycle, to assure a breakthrough next council term.
Cambridge is home to people from all over the world. We are a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, a home to longtime residents working and studying on visas, and a global destination for people seeking refuge / asylum and a certain standard of civil liberties and tolerance. Nadeem believes that regardless of origin story, all Cambridge residents deserve the fundamental right to vote. Integrating and addressing issues and experiences of Cambridge residents is the essential duty of an elected official, and Nadeem will continue to champion this cause.
Nadeem is the only councillor to vote against the police budget this year, as it allotted money for increased surveillance programs and more heavy-armored vehicles.