At the City Council Chambers in Cambridge on June 12, Dorchester Clerk of Court Amy Craig swore in Laurel Atkiss and Brian Roche as the new commissioners for Wards 1 and 5, respectively. This event was the result of the June 6 special election in which a total of 543 residents cast their ballots (388 voters in Ward 1 and 154 in Ward 5).
Atkiss earned 207 votes (53.35%) to Chad Malkus’s 181 votes (46.65%). Roche received 96 votes (61.94%) while former Mayor Cleveland Rippons garnered 50 votes (32.26%) and Robert Aaron got 9 votes (5.81%).
“I am honored to start work for the people of Ward 1 and all of Cambridge in the Council chambers and throughout the city!” Atkiss announced by text. “I celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of our beautiful city and I am eager to represent all of the citizens of Cambridge with a voice of fairness, equality, logic, and reason. I will push for citywide economic growth, community awareness and empowerment, and transparency and accountability throughout our government. I promise to work faithfully for a cleaner, brighter, stronger, and healthier future for Cambridge.”
Roche said by text that he was disappointed in the voter turnout (there were approximately 2,000 eligible voters in each ward), but he was pleased with the outcome. He mentioned his plan to continue taking small steps toward making Cambridge a better place to live.
“Specifically I want to focus on neighborhood revitalization and improved housing conditions,” he said. “Green infrastructure and environmental protection. Make our streets safer for all types of mobility and connect our parks via greenways. Rails to trails. Start the process to restore the old City Hall. The Hearn Building. Support CWDI in their ongoing efforts to develop Cambridge Harbor.”
The special election was held to fill the unexpired terms of the previous City Commissioners of Ward 1 (Roche) and Ward 5 (Malkus). In February 2022, Malkus announced he had moved from his ward “temporarily” because his landlord had sold the property he was renting at Cambridge Landing on Cambridge Creek. According to the city charter, commissioners are required to maintain their residence in the ward that elected them to the council. If forced to move and unable to relocate within that ward immediately, the commissioner must do so within 12 months. So, Malkus had until March 1 of this year to move back to Ward 5.
When the deadline arrived for Malkus to reestablish his residency, he had not done so, but he remained in his seat. Complaints were raised about the delay, and the commissioner blamed the tight real estate market for his inability to find a new home in Ward 5.
In the interim, Roche made it known that he was moving out of Ward 1 effective December 1, 2022. This was because he and his family “were afforded the opportunity to purchase a larger residence” in Ward 5. At the time of the move, he gave no indication he would ever again reside in Ward 1.
The Cambridge City Council held a special work session February 13 to discuss the issue of the two commissioners who were not allowed by the charter to finish their terms. City Manager Tom Carroll said that a special election was the only remedy for the situation, even though it would be a financial burden. But, citing Maryland case law, he recommended the commissioners retain their seats until replacements were chosen.
Four of the five commissioners stated their preference for postponing the election until after the budget was approved in June. Roche announced in an April 20 letter to the council his intention to run for the open Ward 5 seat. Malkus then decided to vie for Roche’s position in Ward 1.
After taking their oaths on June 12, Atkiss and Roche immediately took their seats and started on the business at hand. Both will serve until January 2025.