Robert W. Healy
INTERVIEWER: Today is September 2, 2015. I'm Joe McMaster. And as part of the MIT Infinite History project, we're talking with Robert W. Healy. Mr. Healy was the city manager of Cambridge, Massachusetts from 1981 to 2013. Mr. Healy lived in North Cambridge as a child until his family moved to Billerica, Massachusetts when he was 10. He became the Cambridge Deputy City Manager in 1974 and City Manager seven years later.
During his tenure through a combination of expert fiscal management and promotion of Human Services, Cambridge became a city on the cutting edge of innovation. Mr. Healy retired as City Manager in 2013 after 32 years. He lives in Lowell, Massachusetts, and since his retirement has remained active in municipal government as a financial advisor and temporary City Auditor for the City of Lowell, among other appointments and academic teaching positions.
Mr. Healy has a bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and has a master's degree from Lowell State College, or now UMass Lowell. Thank you for speaking with us today, Mr. Healy.
HEALY: Thank you for inviting me.
INTERVIEWER: It's a pleasure. It's a pleasure. So you lead the city of Cambridge for 32 years. That's gotta be a record.
HEALY: I believe it is a record. It was quite an experience. I enjoyed almost all of it. And hopefully the city and the community are better off as a result of the service and the service delivery by the many great department heads and workers that we were able to assemble to do that work.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, absolutely. So you spent your first 10 years in Cambridge, as we just mentioned. What was it like growing up in Cambridge at that time?
HEALY: Well it was really-- time changes, I guess, in 62 years. It was different. It was a bit more parochial. The Irish and the French were up in North Cambridge. And the Italians and the Portuguese were in East Cambridge. And the African-American community was dispersed in between. But certainly, it did not have the diversity that Cambridge represents today. The transit system-- I actually lived on Mass Ave up in North Cambridge. And the median strip that's much discussed about Mass Ave in North Cambridge was actually streetcar tracks. And they were the metal tracks. And the streetcars went by the house every day.
In fact, my father was an MBTA streetcar operator. So it was an enjoyable-- I enjoyed the city. I lived within walking distance of a branch library, of Rindge Field. We'd be down there all day long playing baseball in the summer. Nicely called Jerry's Pond was actually available as a swimming area back then. I'm not sure it was ever healthy to swim in because it was called Jerry's Pit, but Jerry's Pond was a swimming area.
And I was at Saint John's Grammar School. And you'd walk to school. And I was sad leaving Cambridge. I, you know, got into real-- played on the first little league team that Cambridge ever had in the time when there were only four teams not four different teams through four different districts. So it was a good place in the '50s and it's even a better place now.
INTERVIEWER: So how did it come about that your family moved to Billerica as we just discussed?
HEALY: Well, it's interesting. The affordable housing was an issue in Cambridge in 1953, even, believe it or not. And we lived in a two-family house on Mass Ave, as I said. And the landlord lived upstairs, very nice gentleman. I'm the oldest of six children. And the landlord appeared on our doorstep one day and said, our daughter's getting married next September and I'm sorry, but you'll have to vacate the flat, is I guess the term was then.
And it really became interesting. Jefferson Park had just been completed, the housing development known as Jefferson Park. And actually because my father was working for the MBTA he was $100 over annual income for the family to be eligible to-- or I would have been raised in Jefferson Park and probably-- who knows what the career would have been had I stayed? So I guess I wasn't involved in the financial decision, but they bought a five room ranch up in Billerica. So that was the reason for the move. But again, people talk about the availability of affordable housing and the difficulty in it. It's not a new story.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Do you feel like that influenced your time in--
HEALY: I think maybe subconsciously. I was always a supporter of affordable housing and I chaired the affordable housing trust. And I'm quite proud of the number of units of housing, some 2,700 units, since the demise of rent control have been created or preserved. And the percentage of affordable units that are available, including those from the Cambridge Housing Authority, exceed 15%. So it's well over the state guidelines of 10%.
I think the desire to live in Cambridge is greater than the number of affordable units in many ways because it has become such a sort of destination city that people want to live in. And that's great. But it's not very large in geographical area. So the capacity to create additional units is very difficult unless you go dense and go high. And that's not the good model for affordable units, to stack everybody in that demographic background in these tall coffins. And so it's a challenge. And I think that Cambridge met the challenge very well and continues to work very hard at it.
And people's definition of what's affordable is different. Middle-class housing has become a term of art. It's a lot more difficult to achieve the financiability of, because admittedly, many of the programs for which there are subsidies for affordable come from federal or state programs that have income guidelines that are modest, and probably don't necessarily meet middle-class housing. So creating middle-class housing in Cambridge is-- really be a challenge.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah and I suppose it's-- has that challenge grown over time, do you think?
HEALY: Oh yes, absolutely. I think that the success of the city is also. Actually a throw-back. One of my educational stints with the MIT and the Sloan School in 1976, the Urban Executives Program. And that was a time when mayor then, Boston mayor John Collins, was a professor at MIT. And he did a course on Jay Forrester's book, Urban Dynamics. And kind of the brief summary is if you ever create the perfect city it will destroy itself because everybody will want to be in the perfect city.
Well, there is no such thing as a perfect city. And there's no claim that Cambridge is perfect. It's certainly become a desirable-- the return to urbanicity, the outflow to the suburbs that occurred in '50s, '60s, '70s, even '80s is now turned around. And people want the amenities, the culture, the opportunities, the proximity to the capital city of Boston. Cambridge is greatly located. And it's got a wonderful service delivery system and wonderful opportunities.
So there's a demand. And clearly, supply and demand creates rising prices, so. And that will continue to be the case. You're never going to be able to create all the units that are necessary.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Right. So what brought you back to Cambridge, then, after growing up and going to college and whatnot?
HEALY: Well, it's kind of a-- I think people's careers is somewhat serendipity. I was the assistant city manager in Lowell under a gentleman named Jim Sullivan. Jim Sullivan had been the city manager of Cambridge in 1968, got fired in June of 1970, and came up to Lowell in September of '70. I was then working in the Lowell mayor's office. Same form of government as Cambridge. The mayor is the ceremonial head of government. And Jim Sullivan asked if he could borrow me for a while to get the lay of the land in Lowell. And I apparently must have at least worked out reasonably well. He kept me on as the assistant.
In April of '74 Jim Sullivan returned to Lowell (Cambridge) as city manager. And I was the acting city manager of Lowell while he was gone. At the very end of April, on the 55th ballot, I did not get Lowell city manager's job on a five to four vote. Jim Sullivan had already asked me that if I don't get the Lowell job, will I come down to Cambridge as his right-hand person. And I said, glad for the opportunity, Jim. And the rest is kind of history. I served with Jim from May of '74 until he left the position in June of '81 to be the head of the greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
So that's how I got back here. And again, was here for 39 years before retirement. I guess I couldn't keep a job.
INTERVIEWER: So did you have ambitions to be in municipal government, or did it just sort of work out?
HEALY: No. It was serendipity piece. I had taught high school English for three a half years. And I loved to coach and I coach freshman football and some hockey. I never-- by that time I had my wife and then one child. And the teachers' salaries back then weren't going to be what I expected. And I became a probation officer in the Lowell District Court for a year. At the Lowell District Court there was an attorney who was also a Lowell city councillor.
I never knew him. Never worked in a campaign or anything like that, but he became familiar with my work. And in Lowell, the mayor has one staff person. And he became the mayor in January '70 and said, would I come and be his chief of staff? There is no staff, so the chief of staff is chief of yourself, I guess. But executive secretary, I think, was the title. So I got a good experience in municipal budget, both school committee and city council budgets at that time. I liked it.
And when Jim Sullivan came up and I was working for him, it just became a natural. We work very well together. And I love the financial pieces of putting budgets together and overseeing service delivery. So I did believe that I have found my career after wandering from the teacher to the probation officer, then toward municipal administration.
INTERVIEWER: Right. So what-- financially, what state was Cambridge in when you came back here?
HEALY: Well, it was a difficult time. It was a very difficult time. There had been a very severe downturn in the economy in the mid to late '70s. It was also the first day of the tax limitation measure adopted by the voters in Massachusetts, called Proposition 2 and 1/2. So in my first budget I had to reduce the budget by 12 and 1/2% over the prior year. And also, the rating agencies suspended the city's bond rating. We had a free cash deficit as opposed to the abundance of free cash that the city now has.
So it was a long climb upward to the mid '90s, I think, when Moody's, and Standard & Poor's, and Fitch granted the city the AAA bond rating, which is as high as you can go. So that working on the financial piece-- because it really is the cornerstone of operating a municipality. If you don't have the financial wherewithal, the service delivery system suffers. You can't deliver the level of services that are expected in a world class city if the government doesn't have the financial basis to deliver those services.
So I concentrated on that very hard. There were a lot of things that occurred, the Boston and Maine railroad owed us over $4 million in back taxes. It was a very complicated legal procedure but we did wind up getting a $4 million check. In 1982 $4 million was a lot of money. That influx came into the city treasury in back taxes. The city completed this process of complying with the requirement that all property be assessed at 100% of full and fair cash value.
And there were the development districts that were beginning to come along, whether it be the East Cambridge riverfront or University Park, which perhaps we'll talk about later, the Alewife area all were areas where commercial development and mixed use development were naturals. They were available land unlike now where there's almost no available land. So a combination of collecting back debts, properly valuing the real property in the city, and development occurring. And development occurs in Cambridge for, at least in the current time, certainly, because of the presence of world class institutions.
Bad, old joke I used to use, but I would often say that if it weren't for Harvard and MIT, Cambridge would just be another older, urban, Northeastern city on a river. It's clear that MIT and Harvard's presence have just enormous impacts on the city-- positive impacts. There are very few negative. Are there demands on the housing market by some of the graduate students? Yes, but that's going to happen in any college town. If you're going to be a college town and deal with that issue, let the colleges be Harvard and MIT.
INTERVIEWER: I wanted to ask you what the sort of influence of MIT was or is-- has been and is, financial but otherwise, too.
HEALY: Well, it's really been-- it's been a terrific relationship between the administration and MIT. MIT bashing is a sport among some elected officials for some reason or other, but I always had the recognition that it is the base. If you look at-- MIT is the city's single largest property tax payer. Oh no, they're tax exempt. Their academic property is tax exempt. MIT also chose through, now, MITIMCo, to invest in Cambridge real estate.
It turned out to be a very good investment and a positive one for MITIMCo. So the capacity and the faith that MIT has in the city to do in partnership with the developer at the time, University Park and Forest Cities, or what's going to take place in Kendall Square, and maybe we'll get into that a little later. That Kendall Square development is just spectacular for the city. It is a gateway to the city but it's also the gateway to MIT.
The one interesting piece about MIT is, where's the front door? Where's the address? Now I know it's 77 Mass Ave and that's it, but 77 Mass Ave sits on a major artery and it just doesn't look necessarily like-- this presents the opportunity to blend the campus and the river and the community and the gateway to the community. So the new MIT Kendall Square initiative is just spectacular for the city. It completes the Kendall Square project in addition with whatever will happen with the Volpe Transportation Center. This clearly is-- it makes, I believe, Kendall Square the biotech capital of the nation.
There are others who will claim that, whether it be Fan Pier on the South Boston waterfront or the Golden Triangle or even Silicon Valley. And that-- just look at Biogen. Professor Phillip Sharp was instrumental in the beginnings of Biogen. Nanotechnology is a wave of the future and it's hosted here. So the spin-off industries that can come as a result of the presence of MIT and the desire to be close.
I've learned over the time dealing with the large biotech companies that smart people like to be around other smart people. It's an old term, now. They called it the bump factor. Well, at any given coffee shop or maybe even a place to have a drink after work or whatever, you're going to bump into somebody who's of a similar mindset and exchange ideas and concepts. So MIT, Kendall Square, biotech, life sciences it's just-- it makes Cambridge.
And that's not to mention the economic impact of the student population and their purchase powers, the parents who visit and come and stay in hotel rooms for which the city gets a hotel-motel tax, the meals that they buy for which city takes a piece of the meals tax. But they're an asset all around. I mean, the Cambridge Science Festival is the brainchild out of MIT. It's the MIT Cambridge Science Festival. It's one of the greatest weeks in the city, and it's developed a national-- they're a good corporate citizen. They really are.
The government and community affairs people back in the beginnings of Walter Milne, and later Ron Suduiko and now Sarah Gallop, they're terrific. They always kept me appraised. Better let you know, Bob. Metropolitan Warehouse is going to become something new. Even though I'm not here to worry about that development, they were smart enough to keep me informed and work with me. And I believe I was helpful. I supported the Kendall Square initiative from its early days, participated in some charrettes on urban architecture with the provost at the time.
So they are just a whole valued piece. Anybody who's the first largest taxpayer and the second largest employer-- and I would always say to any of the rating agencies, so one thing with our two largest taxpayers, they're not going to move South. They're not going to leave and outsource. They're here and they're your employer base, as is the MIT investment in the real property that they have as part of their investment portfolio.
And that's not to mention the academic value. I mean, the academic value that it presents to the nation and the world is well known and it happens to happen in Cambridge.
INTERVIEWER: It is extraordinary. Have you seen that, or did you see in your time in office in Cambridge, or offices in Cambridge I should say, a change or evolution in that sort of relationship between the universities and the city?
HEALY: I think there's got to be a-- become a greater recognition of the value of the institutions by the elected officials. Now on a project by project basis, they're going to be degree of difficulties because it's very complicated building anything in Cambridge because no matter where you try and site it, is near something that somebody doesn't want something built. So there's this built-in opposition. I really would say that the president's from Paul Gray to Chuck Vest to Susan Hockfield and the current president, who I didn't get to serve that long with, have been class people who understood when they should intercede and inject themselves into the discussion.
I never saw a town gown clash. Were there difficulties? Of course there's difficulties, but they're created by the very importance of the Institute. I know President Clinton was going to-- helicopter was going to land on, I'm going to forget the name of the athletic field, and speak. So you're going to have demonstrations and public safety issues you have to deal with. I will remember, because I was right across from it, the old armory and the old police headquarters, Vice President George Bush, Sr. once came and it was Halloween. And whatever the protesters were protesting-- because you know could protest anything -- the city had kind of established a line of where the protesters could be and it was behind the barricades on this side of-- they were hurling pumpkins at the president's motor-- so I got splattered with a pumpkin.
There was the Free Tibet with the visitor-- the visit of the Premier of China where-- sometimes I disagreed with decisions, but they weren't my decisions. Right at the student center, the Kresge, the student center, there, with that green area. And they were allowing both groups to protest on the same area. I advised that was a mistake, but they did. So, naturally, the two groups-- they had the right to protest. This was set up as the protest area, here you are, but they were then too close together. It became a-- those are detail things, and the security demands.
When a president comes to Cambridge-- presidents come to Cambridge more frequently than they go to most places. So they do create stresses on the public safety system, both the MIT police, campus police, and the local police. And the Secret Service and the State Department don't have real cares about that. The president's coming. You do whatever is needed. Well, we obviously were able to work out sharing not only the responsibilities, but also the costs with MIT.
So as it evolved, you know, I think in my time here, the 39 years, the relationship between in the MIT administration and the city administration was always good. And would we always like a bigger payment in lieu of taxes? Of course. But did we have a reasonable and secure and predictable in lieu of tax payments? Yes. And it was a little bit groundbreaking.
Sometimes incidents create a groundbreaking issue. President Vest was president at the time. And I got the news that MIT had purchased Technology Square. That caused me immediate concern, because if you looked at the commercial value of Technology Square, it was 10% of all the commercial property of the city at the time.
So perhaps one of my harshest letters I've ever sent off to any of the university presidents to President Vest saying, we need assurances in our lieu of tax agreement that we can deal with this if it were to be converted, and the president was perfectly willing to sit down. And what we were able to do, because the MIT in lieu of tax agreement was always a handshake agreement. Was never reduced to writing.
President Vest agreed to put in writing, and also have what was called a revenue protection plan. So in the unlikely event that Technology Square would be converted to academic use and tax exempt, that MIT would agree to pay 80% of the taxes in year one, declining to 60, 40, 20, so that the city would have four-year period, five-year period to adapt to the loss of the revenue of that.
And so the willingness to be helpful to the operations of the city, besides the other taxes they pay, has been important. And clearly being the number one taxpayer is also very important. So I can't really think, over time-- I mean, if you look at the University Park is a spectacular development. I was nervous because I never knew of Forest City. I knew they were from Cleveland. I didn't know how they understood dealing in Massachusetts.
Turns out now, Forest City is one of the biggest developers of biotechnology complexes in the nation. And University Park became a model. And that was kind of a precursor of the early affordable housing days, because the zoning package that was developed included a commitment to create affordable housing units on the borders of the property.
There were some funny memories about it. It was the old Simplex Wire and Cable property that was vacant for years and years. And MIT in their wisdom acquired ownership. So it was called the Simplex Property on the Simplex zoning proposal. I said, "this isn't Simplex, this is complex". And Forest City had an attorney named Joe Haley, and I could almost tell when it was Friday at 4:55. I'd get a phone call from Joe Haley, and there was some issue that had to be resolved on Monday.
But it all went very well with MIT and Forest City and the city council working out something that was beneficial. It was an early precursor of the traffic mitigation plan with a vehicle count over which if they exceeded they would have to cease building any additional square footage. Very smart planning, I would have to say. The traffic generation never came close to exceeding the number that was agreed upon, so I think it was--
But Cambridge is rife with activists. So there was an incident just as the development was to commence. It was a tent city thing, where many of the activists erected tents on the closest parcel to Massachusetts Avenue so they could be visible. Now one thing I've found about university legal departments. They're very reluctant to declare trespass. The Cambridge police cannot intercede in an action on private property unless trespass was declared.
Well, this occupation, I guess, took place for about a week to 10 days. It was starting to become a public health hazard, and I kind of indicated, folks, you gotta do something about it. So at sunrise one morning I was in the Lafayette Square fire station watching as the tent city kind of dissipated. And one of MIT's own favorite anti-MIT activists was running faster than I ever saw him run to escape the clutches of the Cambridge Police.
But look what it produced. The city did urban design plans in the '70s and '80s for these development areas, you know, they were plans. If you look at the urban design plan that was done for the Simplex area, what was built almost mirrors what was in the plan. And that's a success story. And that, the success of the buildings-- success breeds success, I believe, and the Kendall Square process has just been spectacular.
INTERVIEWER: Right. So I know there was also another project that presented some, I guess, difficulties, which was the siting of the CASPAR Homeless Shelter. Just for anyone who's watching who doesn't know what that is, it's--
HEALY: CASPAR was the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol Recovery, I believe, or addiction recovery. And that's the acronym. This is an example of no good deed shall go unpunished for MIT and the relationship with the city. In the late '60s, early '70s, I guess-- before I arrived-- the issue was identified. And what was needed was a facility where these people, unfortunate people in need of shelter, could be sheltered. And MIT donated, made available, some of their own property on Albany Street for what were viewed as temporary trailers.
It was a difficult one because it's a wet shelter, so-called. In other words, one of the requirements for entry is you do not have to be sober. And you are available to have a bed for the night, and off in the morning. It does create a traffic flow in the morning into Central Square, so some of the Central Square merchants were unhappy. But it's one of those social needs that exist in urban areas. In any urban area, there are or will become an accumulation of disadvantaged or dual diagnosed or unfortunate people in need of treatment. And you can't necessarily force people into treatment.
But long story short, it was better to have these people safe and off the streets in the evening hours than left to the streets. So MIT made available the site. And the reality became the temporary trailers were pretty well beaten up after 20 years and needed to be replaced. MIT, at the time, took the position that, you know, I think we've done our fair share for clean air here.
You've got a social issue that is not solely our responsibility. And I commenced the process of trying to identify an alternative site. Very difficult. I did have one who was proximate to the main central business district in Central Square. And God rest Carl Barron's soul, but Carl Barron and I got along for years and still did up until his passing. But boy, was he mad at me when I identified that. "That's way too close to Central Square!"
And again, serendipity was the change of administrations. President Vest was coming in and someone must have whispered in his ear, Chuck, you want to come in on a white horse? Solve the CASPAR problem. And he did. He offered the site and the wherewithal to create the building. And it's been relatively peaceful circumstance ever since.
So MIT steps to the plate when the city has needs of issues where they can be helpful. This was a particularly difficult one, and perhaps not everybody loved the idea that President Vest came to the rescue, because a lot of people would have been just as happy if that site never existed. But I think we all know that that problem doesn't go way, and the people will gravitate to some other location, and probably less secure and safe for the citizens than the shelter at 240 Albany Street. It was an interesting process.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I can imagine. So how do you balance all these competing concerns? You've got the universities and the social needs and then the fiscal responsibility falls on your shoulders as well, or fell on your shoulders, I should say.
HEALY: That's a very good question. Your day is very hard to plan. I will say that. You try and think about what it is you got to do during the day, and something comes in to disrupt it.
But first of all, I was extremely fortunate in being able to hire and attract and retain very, very competent staff in community planning and community development, in human services, in finance, in the key service delivery areas. So I had a lot of smart people around me. I had no problem admitting that somebody is smarter than I am, and I want to use their skills to do that. So it was a collaborative, cooperative, communicative effort all along with all parties. Bring the city folks together.
I can remember one very good example was, how did Novartis wind up here? Very difficult. They were contemplating a relocation of their research facility and they were looking at sites. But they had one requirement, that the site be available for occupancy within 13 months. And they had identified the old Necco candy manufacturing facility as a potential site because of the built-in floor to ceiling heights that are necessary for all of the ventilation and the computer flooring and laboratory work in a high-tech facility.
I brought every permitting agency into the room with the Novartis officials and I said, as long as they meet the code, we are going to do everything we can to have them occupy in 13 months. And that was the key, being able to convince the officials of the company that Cambridge has got its act together. I never saw a place where all the agencies were sitting in the room together and agreeing with each other and understanding each other's roles. So communication was hard.
Balancing-- what was hard balancing, more than anything else, I think, was the political pieces. That's the part I like the least. Cambridge politics has evolved so everybody is a progressive, some more liberal than others, but they're all progressive. There was a time when the city was kind of divided on a fight for makeup between the good government folks and the ethnic Democrats folks, or whatever, and they clashed. Being a city manager working for a clashing group is difficult.
So I think it takes time. It takes time to build trust. I built trust with the financial circumstance. And then if you give city councils enough information in advance, and the rule of no surprises, and they know about project and they know the merits, then they can make the decisions on their own. That was hard.
The internal piece, because of being able to have good people-- the human services director-- there were only two of them in my 39 years. That's longevity to go with-- some people say, well, you get stale after a while. No. Institutional knowledge is a very valuable thing, especially about competent people. And they were very, very competent people. Same with the finance director. I think there have been only three finance directors in the whole term.
So there's stability in the government, and that's important for both the university and the business community to see. I don't know, in some ways I wonder myself, how the heck did I ever do that? It worked. You're committed. You just-- you kind of get the, oh, you live in Lowell, you don't care. My answer was, I sleep in Lowell. I live all my waking hours in Cambridge. It's demanding. But I think the product, and the end result, there's a level of satisfaction to see it works. The human services delivery system is, certainly in Massachusetts, beyond any system.
And the survival of the Cambridge Hospital. That was a whole complicated process on its own. It still remains as a safety net public hospital. There are almost none of them left in Massachusetts. I hope with the changes in the medical payment system, we can continue to provide the care necessary for people who need medical care who otherwise don't have access to it. And I think if you just take a look at the Cambridge Hospital waiting rooms, you will see that we are caring for all who need care and otherwise would not have that care. So that's a success story.
The child care program the city operates, the adult basic education program that the city operates. And having the finances, again, you can't do it if we didn't kind of shore up the revenue and the development, the commercial development, which pays 65% of the taxes. The residential taxpayer pays 35% of the taxes. These services wouldn't be possible-- you know, there are people who said there's too much development.
Well, certain areas of cities are made for development. Kendall Square that was made to be a development area. It was when it was old industrial area before all of the demolition for the proposed NASA complex that never came to be. And I guess thinking through, and having a city council who's interested in providing services to the citizens, it's worked. And having folks in the community willing to work with you.
As I said, I always had the availability to speak directly with president, director of community affairs, government of community affairs at MIT. And if I told them I really need to talk to the president or I really need a meeting with the president, I'd be at a meeting with the president.
And so we got things done. And you establish that relationship throughout the business community. And maybe if you've been here long enough, people say, geez, the guy must be doing something right. Let's listen to him.
It was a good run. I never thought I'd last 32 years. it is a record.
INTERVIEWER: No, it's extraordinary. There's so many notable developments and changes and things that happened while you were in office. And I'm wondering if you can sort of talk about some of these. I mean, gay marriage became legal during your tenure, and that was a first in the country, right?
HEALY: Yeah, that was another one of my great experiences, I think. I anticipated that Cambridge would be a huge participant in the process. I didn't know we were going to open City Hall at midnight to obtain the licenses and first eligible day for licenses would be 12:01 on I don't remember the exact date.
I always was present. As I joked about only sleeping in Lowell. I was always in Cambridge whenever there was a significant event. So I was in the city probably about 10 o'clock that morning, and there was already people on beach chairs sitting on the steps of City Hall to be in line. And as the night wore on, the crowd just got immense. Central Square was just-- Mass Ave across-- we had to shut down Mass Ave just because of the crowd.
It became obvious to me that this was going to be a logistical nightmare when everybody tried to get into City Hall, and not only the applications for licenses, but their friends and their acquaintances. So I remember about 10 o'clock at night, I stood up on a ladder on the plaza, the top step of City Hall with a bullhorn, having to make the announcement that because of the crowd, in order to allow the expeditious and orderly processing of each person's application, only the participants were going to be allowed into the building, and we had it funneled in a Disneyland kind of way.
But it became a very joyous celebration. Nobody was upset. They understood there wouldn't have been enough room in City Hall, and it would have impeded the issuance of the license. So everybody had their photo opportunities, and we had made the council chamber available. But we controlled the line to only the participants and applicants. And it worked. It was a milestone day. I mean, Cambridge is known for milestones. I was happy to be able to be a part of such a significant day in the Commonwealth and in the city.
And it was tiring. I think it was 4 o'clock in the morning and I said, anybody left in that line? Just a few. I said, I think I'm going home. But it was fun. It was fun.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. And it seems like in there have been a number of sustainability initiatives, too. And I was wondering if you could sort of speak to some of those. And there's this Cambridge Compact, I guess.
HEALY: Yeah. Clearly Cambridge is-- we recognize all our expertise is not in-house, and there's expertise right down in this place. MIT's a leader, and Harvard's a leader in environmental programs. And recognizing that, we have partnered with people who are good at this. And Cambridge is good at it, but the expertise and forward thinking and implementation of environmental energy efficiency models is something that the city participates in.
We began-- one of the things about leaving, I guess-- there are some things that you have in the works that you're not going to see what the product is, is a vulnerability study. Folks have seen the pictures of, okay, what happens when the sea level rises over the next 50 to 100 years, and how many feet, because the assumption and probability mean.
Well, the Kendall Square Red Line station was underwater, as is a good portion of Kendall Square. So the city embarked on a vulnerability study, and what do you do? Great asset of public transportation, having a subsurface subway transit system. Presents us issues. And this is an issue that's going to have to be-- what do you do if the Kendall Square station is underwater? How do you plan to adapt to that?
I always worried-- especially after 9/11, I worried about the subway system as a potential for a biochemical attack. And we even were able to retrofit our radio communication system. Fire Chief Gerry Reardon is an outstanding radio person. So you now can actually communicate from within the subway system to above ground to the appropriate parties.
And we ran tests of, actually, inert gas being dispersed as if there were a chemical display, and tried to get-- that was another controversial one, because the activist says, how can you convince us the gas here being dispersed is inert, or truly inert? But it worked, and I think preparedness is important.
But understanding progressive activities that can take place in energy conservation and energy efficiency, and the inventions that improve that, are going to come from here. They're going to come from MIT. And so partnering with them-- the Compact just made so much sense. And it was just another example, I think, of how the institutions do collaborate, do get along.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. You mentioned the transportation system, and of course that presents a whole 'nother set of challenges, especially with this Kendall Square development, I expect, right?
HEALY: Yeah. Transportation demands-- sometimes, again, you're a victim of your own success. The Red Line extension certainly made Porter Square a viable commercial district. Alewife is a viable development area. Davis Square in Somerville has greatly benefited by a subway stop there. The success is such that it did reduce the number of vehicles that otherwise would be traveling in the Cambridge streets, commuting into Boston to go to work.
But the Alewife 1,500-car parking garage is now full. There needs to be a new garage. The demands on the system and frequency in use, it's one of those inevitable infrastructure conflicts where you recognize the infrastructure needs, and the trick is figuring out how to pay for them. And the MBTA, as we know, went through a very difficult winter. They're looking at models to see how the system can be improved. But it can't be improved-- nobody wants a gas tax increase. Nobody wants to raise fares. Nobody who wants to raise taxes, but they want to complain about the Red Line.
Well, okay. Are there, were there, will there always be some inefficiencies in a major operation? Yes. But curing the inefficiencies won't add up to the sum of money that's needed to fix the infrastructure. So I'm hopeful that the MBTA and Governor Baker's concept of dealing with the MBTA is a positive and forward step.
Cambridge made great strides in reducing single occupancy vehicles. It's another one of these great, long, drawn out conflicts I was drawn into, which was called the parking freeze. Believe it or not, in 1972, I guess, the city volunteered itself, city wide, into a parking freeze under the Clean Air Act, the Federal Clean Air Act. Well, it turns out the Federal Clean Air Act had a provision for parking freezes and it had one for Boston. But it only had certain portions of Boston, not the entire city of Boston.
And the greatest example of the relatively short thinking of that was, Genzyme was thinking of expanding to a modest and small-scale manufacturing plant. And it was right in the middle of the city being notified by the state environmental people and the federal environment people, you're in violation of the parking freeze. You've granted too many parking spaces for the development.
I met with Henri Termeer, then the president of Genzyme, to convince him I was working through a process to have an alternative to an outright parking freeze. And the timing I couldn't guarantee, and he had his own timing.
So as a result, you can probably see from some of the MIT buildings, the Genzyme building across the river in Allston is that small scale manufacturing plant. The reality is there is no public transportation that goes to that building. But there's no limit on the number of parking spaces in Boston.
So I finally was able to work with the federal and state officials that said, you know, parking spaces don't cause congestion and pollution. It's people looking for parking spaces that cause congestion and pollution. And I said, if we can develop what's called a vehicle trip reduction ordinance, and it required developers to submit a parking and transportation demand management program with each of the applicants, you reduced the requirement for parking spaces. You mandate van pool spaces. You mandate bicycle available areas.
And the end result is, if you look at the 2010 census, less than 50% of the Cambridge residents take a vehicle to work. The plan has worked. The number of parking spaces-- now is there traffic congestion? Yes, there's traffic congestion. But that's a function of living next to Boston. And living on a river. The river is a wonderful amenity. It can only have so many bridges, and bridges become a clog on traffic. And then the repair of bridges. Look at the Longfellow one that's been under repair for all this time.
So the transportation is one of those infrastructure issues that you have to work constantly at. But the concept of getting people out of single occupancy vehicles to commute to work was not rocket science. It's modifying human behavior is the rocket science. I think Cambridge has been successful in that. And it stopped the specter hanging over developers' heads that they were so, oh, we better stay away from Cambridge now. We're not going to be able to get any parking spaces with our development.
That's gone away. Development has succeeded. And one of the things about the life sciences industry and the, I guess, brain-driven industry is the work hours are not your traditional work hours. I mean, it's not like it's a factory and everybody's got to work 7 to 3, and the next shift comes in 3 to 11, and oh the 3 o'clock people are coming in and the 7 o'clock people are gone. People work and pretty much look and set are different. You don't have the peak demand as it once was.
So transportation is always-- you know, you look at the effort to try and stop Scheme Z. Well, it's a little late in the game. The Big Dig, for all its good and all it's worth, was going to get built.
INTERVIEWER: Sorry, what is Scheme Z?
HEALY: Scheme Z was the title of the design for what is now the Leonard Zakim Bridge that goes into the O'Neill Tunnel. And it was the crossing of a river and a crossing of a rail yard, and it was a complicated engineering feat. And it was wide. It was big. And there was this effort to stop Scheme Z. And Scheme Z actually became Scheme Z because it was the 26th design scheme or plan that had been-- and supposedly the final approved design was called Scheme Z.
Cambridge wide, a lot of groups were advocating stopping that plan. Well, you couldn't stop the plan. You're going to impact and improve the design. And that's what happened. The Zakim Bridge is an attractive bridge, and it provides a transportation vehicle that was necessary. The Green Line extension that's been much awaited, as you see, I'm sure, in the recent headlines, has run into the financial projection issues already.
Well, the North Point development in Cambridge has always been envisioned to have a relocated Green Line station. That will happen. Whether the Green Line gets extended or not is a whole other issue. You know, it's a federal and state and local combination of dealing and funding transportation.
I don't think the Red Line capacity is-- excuse me-- is an identifiable issue. You plan on it. You can extend the station platforms to accommodate longer trains, so you may not have more trains that deal with the timing and scheduling issue, but you have a longer train, and you have a station that accommodates it. So there's ways of dealing with it, I hope. I guess I can't solve all the problems any longer.
INTERVIEWER: One of the more recent and very notable events affecting Cambridge and MIT, of course, was the marathon bombing, and then the killing of Officer Sean Collier. And I was wondering if you could talk about how that affected Cambridge and how that affected both communities, and I suppose brought them together, I believe.
HEALY: Yeah. Well, certainly the night of the murder of Sean Collier was probably one of the saddest nights in my entire career. In fact, driving in today, I went by the memorial to remember Sean. And it especially hit home because I remember getting the call at a little after 10:00 from the police commissioner saying a campus police officer had been shot. And my heart dropped because my son is a police detective at Harvard.
And I immediately get in my car, and he said it was MIT. And on the way in I got the message that Officer Collier had died. And it was just an incredible sequence of events that entire week. But I had this awful premonition that, when I got the call, that it was associated with the bombing, and that the photos had been released that evening, and that the perpetrators, now that their pictures were all over the media, were about to do something, flee or whatever the case may be.
I got to the Stata Center where the command post was established, and I thought, all right, Officer Collier's cruiser was still there as part of the crime scene. And they had a terrible, difficult time for Chief DiFava and the MIT force, the District Attorney, state police, FBI, Cambridge police all together. And one of the interesting things-- and I give credit to police commissioner Bob Haas -- he said to me, do you think it would be okay if we have the Cambridge officers drive the MIT cruisers tonight so the MIT folks can go home and the general student body's not going to know that it's a Cambridge cop driving an MIT cruiser, especially the middle of the shift. So we talked with Chief DiFava, and he was able to dismiss those officers who felt that they were so concerned about it.
And the whole-- while we were at the Stata Center, which was an organized and controlled command post. The concept of incident command and unified command is very, very important. But when the radio broadcast hit about the carjacking and the car chase and the radios are going everywhere and everybody's fleeing in their cruiser off to Watertown. All hell broke loose. It really was. It was a difficult situation over at the Watertown Mall and the parking lot. It was self-responders, all meaning well, but it was dangerous.
And I spent the evening there until I guess-- communication was difficult because you didn't really have a command post. So I had word that a lockdown was going to take place, and that service on the MBTA, which begins at 5:00 AM, it was announced at quarter of six it was going to be-- people were still waiting for their buses.
And I said, how is this being communicated to the general populace? And it was hard to get answers, because there was a Boston trailer that was the command post. It was only one. So I did see Commissioner Davis, who I'd known and respect and work with. And I said, Commissioner, this lockdown. Does Tom Menino know they're going to shut down the city of Boston? And off the record, at that time he said, actually they're only going to shut down Allston and Brighton because that's what's contiguous to Watertown.
Turned out that decision got changed, and all of Boston was-- so the lockdown itself was an incredible complexity to deal with, and it becomes coupled with the FBI is now going to execute a search warrant on the residence on Norfolk Street, where the brothers resided. It was determined, well, you're worried about explosives being present, you gotta evacuate the street.
So I'm back now, okay, you're doing evacuation of a residential street, and the contiguous cities are locked down. Where are you gong to take them? Where are they going to evacuate to? How are they going to eat? You try and plan. We had MBTA buses available, and we would bring them to the community center at the Cambridge police headquarters, and make provisions that we could find a restaurant somewhere outside the city that would deliver.
But people-- sometimes the government thinks they have to do everything for all people. At the end of that time, and with all that planning, there were two people that wanted to be sheltered. And it wasn't like we were taking them to jail cells. We were taking them to a community room. People make do. People adapt. The search went inconsequentially in terms of an explosion.
But the whole-- talk about Boston Strong and Cambridge Strong and MIT Strong. That was real. I mean, the camaraderie that was developed amongst the law enforcement groups, and then the willingness of the community to understand this is a terrible time. And the wonderful job that MIT did with the memorial, the outdoor memorial I was at, and the funeral that was at Stoneham It certainly was a great tribute to Officer Collier.
And the monument itself, today, is a beautiful structure. Doesn't bring back a potential-- it's one of those tragedies. It's the example of, you never know what your day is going to bring. When you hear news of the explosions themselves-- it actually was a holiday, so I didn't have to be in Cambridge. Well, I immediately came in and stayed until you had some concept. And you stay informed with information. And as the city manager you're actually the chief law enforcement officer in the city, so you're entitled to information. And everybody wants information. But there's information you can't actually give out until it's cleared.
So the city council's desire to want to know what I knew, or what I could tell them I knew. And you try and communicate with them and keep them informed. But it had to be the most horrendous event that I had. There was an incident that was a kidnapping and murder of an eight-year-old boy named Jeffrey Curley that happened many, many years before. So I guess if I look at the most horrific events I had to experience as the city manager would be those two.
But the community gathers together. And MIT was just-- that was such a spectacular memorial that was done that day. But everybody worked together. I mean, the Cambridge police and the MIT police and the Harvard police and the state police. We drill together, we plan together, we have mock shooter in the office building or explosion at the rail yards. So when you plan together for these disasters, people get to know each other. They know who they can rely on, who to talk to. Geez, I've got a problem in Cambridge. Can you help me?
So the planning process was good. Cambridge had EMTs over in the medical tent at the side of the explosion, Cambridge firefighters. The Cambridge bomb squad served with Boston in the debris search. But it's not a memory I-- it's always a memory I'll have of just the phone call I wish I never had to take.
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. Absolutely. And speaking of the various police departments, there's a new public safety building named in your honor, I gather. Maybe you can tell me about that, which is the police headquarters for Cambridge now, is that right?
HEALY: Yeah. Well, it truly was an unexpected honor. And I guess, speaking at the dedication, I realized why it is that probably buildings shouldn't be named for people until after they're gone, because it was a little emotional, I think, with my family and my grandchildren there.
The building of a new police station was an infrastructure need that was long identified, and it was kind of timing it with a need for other capital buildings, including a library and including some school buildings and water treatment plant. Anyhow, the old building was in Central Square. It was, in the federal jargon, WPA Work Project Administration building, I believe. And it had outlived its useful days. The heating system was completely dysfunctional in modern technology and whatever. Upgrading it would have been very difficult.
And so we started-- again, as I said once before, siting of anything is difficult in Cambridge. But the current facility was originally built to be a dot com hotel before dot com went bust, dot com hotels, that particular splurge of the high-tech industry, went bust.
And it just was a thought, can we look at this building, and is it able to be retrofitted? Because it was completely vacant, just the shell. The elevators were in, and the structural members and the windows or whatever. But hadn't been designed. The floors were vacant.
So had an architect look at it, and could we make it into a public safety facility, and bring the emergency communications center, the 911 call takers, into the building? They were just crammed into space at fire headquarters. And could we make that the police headquarters at a reasonable and affordable price, both from the acquisition, as it was privately held, and then how much would it be in construction costs?
And it turned out the answer was yes. The community process was interesting, because people were saying, I don't want a police station in my neighborhood. They'll be noisy, the sirens. Well, if you think about it, maybe what you don't want in your neighborhood is a fire station, because fire trucks depart with their sirens going. Police cruisers are out and about, and they generally-- you don't respond from the Cambridge police headquarters with your siren going.
And there was adequate parking in the structure, so we didn't impact. And a long story short, it became a solution to an infrastructure need that was affordable. It was an opportunity and a great honor that the city council chose to name it for me. I didn't solve the problem intending for that to be the case, but it is a tribute, and I appreciate it.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. I mean, maybe I can just sort of ask, as a way to wrap up, you know, what you feel is sort of your greatest accomplishment, or your legacy? And that'd be a good place to wrap this up.
HEALY: Well, I think we've touched on pieces of all of them. The financial strength, bringing back financial strength that then allows a governmental service delivery system for the community and its residents and its visitors and its students and its businesses and its institutions, has been achieved. We haven't solved all the problems, and they never will be solved.
But I think the cooperation and collaboration between the businesses and the institutions and the city is one that's recognized, and I think that's something I tried to instill in the good people that worked for me. So I guess if you last 32 years, you had to do something right.
I don't focus on a legacy. I focus on, I really believe that the city of Cambridge is a better city government than it was 39 years ago.
INTERVIEWER: Wonderful. Well, Mr. Healy, thank you very much for speaking with us. It's been a pleasure.
HEALY: Thank you very much. It's been very enjoyable.