“I will never forget the day that somebody called me from the roof of the Green Street garage on a Sunday afternoon, about to jump,” Cambridge City Council candidate Dan Totten told a crowd of residents at a forum last week.
“They thought I would pick up and they called me and we got them down,” he said, explaining that he had been working to help them find housing every day that week. “And they’re now living in an apartment. And I check in with them almost every day.”
As an aide to Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan for the past six years, Totten has performed the duties of a caseworker for 15 to 20 unhoused people at a time — “with no qualifications other than I cared,” he added.
Totten is now vying for the seat of his former boss as one of 24 candidates in the race for Council.
With Zondervan and two other councilors stepping down, a third of the body’s seats will be open, leaving a progressive gap for challengers to fill.
In an interview, Totten said he hopes to further Zondervan’s “legacy of progress” with a platform prioritizing affordable housing, climate justice, police divestment, and bike lanes. He also hopes to continue his current advocacy for unhoused residents if elected.
“Unhoused people should have access to case management and emergency housing, full stop,” he said. “We need to spend local tax dollars on expanding shelter capacity, on expanding case management, on expanding supportive services.”
Totten also supports the 100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay and controversial proposed amendments that would raise the height limit for affordable housing developments — including up to 15 stories in parts of the city.
Like most candidates in the race, Totten supports bringing back rent stabilization. The regulation, which protects tenants from steep rent hikes, was banned across Massachusetts in 1994.
A self-described “queer renter from Central Square,” Totten said he also aims to support marginalized LGBTQ+ subgroups. Specifically, he is advocating to make the shelter system safer for transgender people and to establish affordable LGBTQ+ senior housing.
Climate justice is central to Totten’s platform, and he hailed the recent passage of an amendment that requires large buildings to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2035 or pay a compliance fee.
“This law will be attacked,” he said, noting that the ordinance’s enforcement deadlines do not begin for several years and specific policies for accepting carbon credits are still undecided.
“If the next Council — if the next generation of students — decides that these policies aren’t worth fighting for, we could lose ground,” he said.
Totten, who has won endorsements from Run on Climate and the Boston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, also expressed concern about the future of bike lanes in Cambridge.
“There’s so much at stake in this election around the bike lanes,” he said, referring to other candidates who he said want to “literally rip out the bike lanes.”
Totten is also prioritizing creating a free on-demand shuttle system, raising Cambridge’s residential parking permit fee, and resuming Saturday closures of Memorial Drive.
“I see it as an issue of environmental justice if we get to restore weekend closures,” he said.
As Cambridge undergoes a charter review, Totten said he hopes that the process will result in a ballot question asking voters if the city should move away from a strong city manager system.
“The city manager has way too much power,” he said, adding that he believes the unelected office is “fundamentally broken.”
“I do believe that we should have a democratically elected executive branch,” Totten said.
His platform also includes calls to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $25 an hour and to pass an ordinance to achieve universal after-school programs.
In the aftermath of the police killing of Bangladeshi American college student Sayed Faisal in January, Totten also said he supports “making the police review and advisory board a democratically elected body” and decreasing the Cambridge Police Department’s budget.
“Policing is also a very broken institution,” he said, adding that he would like the city to further its investment in the Cambridge Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team — known as HEART — as a police alternative. Ultimately, he said, “abolition is the way forward.”
Totten — whose view of police abolition includes campus police forces — said he was “really frustrated” by Harvard’s response to a “swatting” attack against four Black undergraduates in April.
“What I’m seeing is that Black and African American leaders and community groups on campus are calling for just basic accountability from the administration,” he said. “And they’re getting ignored.”
Totten called on Harvard students to vote for candidates who make “a systemic argument” and have a “lens of racial and economic justice” in the Nov. 7 Cambridge municipal elections.
“Think of the impact that we can have if an additional 200 Harvard undergraduates vote,” he said. “The students of Harvard have a chance to take a stance in November. Have your voices be heard, and really swing this election towards justice.”