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Cambridge Bartender Joe McGuirk Ready for Second Round, Focusing on Affordable Housing in Council Race

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For the last 30 years, Joe McGuirk has tended bar in Cambridge. Now, he wants to tend to the city’s affordability crisis.

Born in Cambridge, McGuirk grew up in a working class family in a nearby neighborhood before moving back to Cambridge in the early 1990s.

After announcing his campaign for Cambridge City Council in June, McGuirk has laid out a platform prioritizing affordable housing as the city’s housing prices continue to rise.

In an interview, McGuirk said his background as a renter has been “one of the difference makers” in his life, adding that his “lived experience is one that’s shared by many people in Cambridge.”

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“I’m a renter, I face displacement on a daily level, and that’s some experience that many Cambridge folks have,” he said. “They don’t often get to sit at the table of the Council.”

McGuirk’s proposals on housing include increasing funding for the affordable housing trust, creating a local voucher program, and allowing multifamily housing, such as fourplexes, on every residential lot in Cambridge.

McGuirk, who was endorsed by affordable housing group A Better Cambridge last week, also supports comprehensive zoning reform.

“We often imagine that we’re an inclusive city, but we know that we are building through our restrictive zoning, we are building a wall of our own,” he said. “It’s a wall made out of bricks of money.”

McGuirk said he feels the Council would benefit from having councilors who can identify with the experiences of lower- and middle-income individuals — whom he called “essential” — and renters, who make up more than 60 percent of Cambridge residents.

“The number one crisis is the fact that lower- and middle-income residents who are essential to the well-being of this city are no longer able to live,” he said.

“This is an important issue — not just for those folks who can’t afford housing — but also for the residents who can afford to because the lower, middle-income residents often perform the jobs that are necessary to function,” McGuirk added.

In addition to backing affordable housing policies, McGuirk is prioritizing action on climate change. He described Cambridge’s climate goals as “admirable” but not “pragmatic.”

“We have to be holistic and really do pragmatic, actionable things rather than performative stuff that makes us feel good about being in Cambridge, but might not make a difference on the scale of the issue,” he said.

McGuirk is also advocating for greater support for small business owners and local artists.

“Cambridge and Boston have a great supply of musicians — local, we are incredibly rich in music,” he said. “They create some of the best memories we have.”

McGuirk first ran for City Council in 2021. He said he felt “really invigorated by engaging with my friends and neighbors in a different way than just serving them” and that the “campaign was a great experience.” But after he lost, he wasn’t sure if he “had the energy to do it again.”

As the 2023 election cycle approached, McGuirk said he “realized that we hadn’t done enough.”

“It would be much easier not to run, but I feel compelled for a sense of justice,” he said. “A voice like mine, people who have lived experience like mine really do need to be able to be on a council and try to make a difference with folks like us.”

McGuirk also said he is sometimes “disappointed about what we’re handing off to the generations that will come after us.”

“I think that my generation has to do a better job. We didn’t do a great job on the stewardship of our environment, and I think we didn’t do a great job on the stewardship for our society,” he said. “It’s all on us to try to do all we can to fix what we can.”

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at jina.choe@thecrimson.com.

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