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Sloan student elected to Cambridge City Council

Cheung made history on Nov. 3 as first university student and first Asian American on council
Leland Cheung
Leland Cheung
Photo courtesy of Leland Cheung

Joint MIT/Harvard MBA student Leland Cheung made history on Nov. 3 by becoming the first university student and the first Asian American to be elected to the Cambridge City Council. He will join his new colleagues in January as the youngest member of the nine-member body.

Enrolled in a dual-degree program, Cheung is pursuing an MBA at Sloan and a Master’s of Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School. At Sloan, he is on the entrepreneurship and innovation track, which involves a group of about 60 students who focus on for-profit and not-for-profit entrepreneurship. Cheung expects to complete both programs in 2011.

Twenty-one people ran for City Council, including all incumbents, one of whom staged a successful write-in campaign after missing the city’s campaign filing deadline. Since 1941, Cambridge has used the unique proportional representation system of election, whereby a group of voters equaling more than one-tenth of the turnout on Election Day may elect one of the nine members of the City Council. Voters rank the candidates on their ballots, and all ballots are initially assigned to the first choice ranked on each ballot. If a candidate surpasses the one-tenth threshold, any excess is transferred to other candidates according to the next ranked choice. The next phase of the election is a series of runoffs in which the candidate at each stage with the fewest votes is defeated and that candidate’s ballots are transferred to other candidates. This continues until the field is reduced to the nine who are elected. It is in this manner that Cheung secured the ninth spot on the council.

Voter turnout in Cambridge was high for a municipal election, at just more than 16,000 ballots. Surprisingly, Cheung’s 754 #1 votes and subsequent transfer votes did not come exclusively from university students. Political observer Robert Winters, who hosts a web site dedicated to local politics called the Cambridge Civic Journal, tracked the voting results. “Newly elected Leland Cheung was not, in fact, carried into office by waves of MIT and Harvard students,” said Winters. “Though he did well among the relatively few students who voted, Leland's votes were spread uniformly across the city.”

Councillor-Elect Cheung has stated that his priorities for Cambridge are job creation, education, affordable housing, university/community relations, and transparent government. Cheung plans to spend the next several weeks meeting with City Council and School Committee colleagues to discuss how to advance mutual priorities. He will also be meeting with City administrators and department heads to learn about the operations of the City of Cambridge. Shortly after his election, Cheung posted the following message on his website:

“I want to express a heartfelt thanks again to all my supporters. I couldn’t have done it without you and I look forward to advocating on your behalf when I officially join Cambridge City Council in January.”

For more information about Leland Cheung, please see:

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