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Cambridge councilor also leads Chamber of Commerce. He sees no conflict. Watchdogs do.





CAMBRIDGE — David P. Maher has a good job. Two, actually.

He’s a $78,000-a-year Cambridge city councilor. And since December, he has also been president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

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It’s not rare for lawmakers to have other jobs. But Maher is unusual in that his new job so squarely intersects with his elected office. The Chamber of Commerce, the voice for 750 dues-paying members, has long worked to influence city policy.

His second salary — which Maher declines to disclose — is paid by developers, biotech firms, and other local businesses that can have keen interest in actions taken by the City Council.

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It is legal to hold both jobs — with restrictions — according to written guidance Maher received from the State Ethics Commission and provided to the Globe. But good-government watchdogs said it is problematic for a city councilor to run an organization that advocates for issues at City Hall.

Maher said he has a duty to remain on the City Council through the end of the year.

“I owe it to my constituencies to finish the term that I was elected to,” said Maher, who says he hasn’t received any complaints from Cambridge residents about his second job. “The only displeasure expressed to me is that I will be leaving the council. People have appreciated the voice and the role I have played.”

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But now Maher’s voice also speaks for the chamber’s members. Good-government advocates say an appearance of favoritism benefiting chamber businesses could surface on seemingly innocuous issues such a street repaving, or the revitalization of Central Square. Maher’s recent push on the council for more distance between medical marijuana dispensaries would have affected several chamber members, but Maher said that possible impact “didn’t even cross my mind.”

Pam Wilmot, executive director of the good-government advocacy group Common Cause Massachusetts
, said she was troubled by Maher’s two jobs.

“As voters, we are owed the full loyalty of our public officials,” Wilmot said. “There should be no question about who they represent. The public needs to be assured that our public officials are working for us and not working for their private employers.”

For Maher, the most fraught issue is Cambridge’s contentious bid to significantly increase affordable housing. The City Council has been aggressively lobbied on the proposal by the Chamber of Commerce, whose influential members include large developers.

At City Council hearings on the issue last year, Maher advocated positions that could save millions of dollars for developers who belong to the chamber, according to archival video. The hearings occurred after Maher said he was contacted about the chamber job but before he started as president. At one hearing Aug. 30, Maher wanted to know how the proposal would affect a planned development owned by a chamber member.

“I have tried not to sway or influence the proposal,” Maher told the Globe, adding that the chamber’s lobbying on all issues ceased once he started as the organization’s president.

Executives from another developer who belongs to the chamber donated $2,500 to Maher’s campaign on Dec. 31 after he announced he was not seeking reelection. Records show that Maher’s campaign account owed him money because he had made a loan to the campaign.

The Ethics Commission’s restrictions for Maher did not go far enough, according to Gregory W. Sullivan, the state’s former inspector general who is research director for the Pioneer Institute, a right-leaning think tank. The commission said Maher must not participate as a councilor in any matter in which the Chamber of Commerce has a financial interest. But it did not address whether Maher could vote on issues that impact chamber members.

“Member dues pay his salary,” Sullivan said. “That gives him a financial interest.”

Jesse Kanson-Benanav, a Cambridge civic activist, spoke highly of Maher and his commitment to affordable housing.

“It does not seem to me that his position on issues has changed in the time he’s had the dual roles,” said Kanson-Benanav, chairman of A Better Cambridge, a resident advocacy organization. Kanson-Benanav added, “My preference would be for us to have a full-time City Council where folks do not have multiple positions.”

Maher rejected the suggestion that his new job poses an inherent conflict.

“I can assure you that’s not true with me,” Maher said.

He described the Chamber of Commerce as primarily a networking organization for local businesses. But the chamber’s website also prominently advertises government relations services for members so they can maintain “strategic alliances that enhance the voice of the Cambridge business community.”

The chamber publicly lobbied the City Council as recently as Nov. 21, when the chamber’s government relations director, Sarah Kennedy, testified about the affordable housing proposal. Kennedy worked for Maher when he was mayor. Her testimony came several weeks after Maher accepted the chamber post but before his first day on the job.

Maher noted that some of his colleagues have other jobs and that he previously worked for a social services agency. Maher likened the City Council to a board of directors overseeing the city manager, who runs day-to-day operations.

“I think some of my colleagues won’t be happy I’m saying this, but quite honestly it was never meant to be a full-time job,” Maher said.

But city councilors receive full benefits: health, dental, vision, and life insurance, and more, according to the city.

For Maher, remaining on the council 13 more months will have another bonus: It will increase his lifetime pension payments by 4 percent. That could mean he collects roughly $49,000 to $64,000 a year, depending on when he begins getting the benefit, according to a Globe analysis of public pension data.

Maher said it was July 27 when he received an unsolicited e-mail gauging his interest in an unspecified “new opportunity.” He would not say when he learned the job was at the chamber.

In October, Maher said he met with the Ethics Commission’s general counsel and said he was told he could hold both jobs.

He interviewed with the chamber a week later, Maher said, and was formally offered the job Nov. 1.

Maher said he would not divulge his new salary because “that’s private.” As a nonprofit, the chamber will be required to disclose Maher’s compensation in federal filings. The previous chamber president was paid roughly $90,000, according to the most recent filing available.

Maher’s written guidance from the Ethics Commission reminded him to file public notices disclosing the appearance of any conflict between his two jobs. (Maher had not filed any conflict disclosures in 2016 or 2017 as of Monday, according to the city clerk.)

The commission also told Maher that if the chamber invites city employees to an event, he “may be better off staying away.” (The chamber invited city councilors to the March 7 opening of a Target and Maher attended, posing for a photograph with the store’s general manager, according to an image posted on Twitter.)

Several Cambridge politicians said they had faith in Maher to separate his two roles.

“I’ve worked with David Maher for many years, and I trust his integrity,” said state Representative Marjorie C. Decker, a Cambridge Democrat.

Not all Cambridge officials, however, are comfortable with Maher’s current arrangement.

State Representative Mike Connolly, seen as emblematic of the “new Cambridge” often at odds with the entrenched bureaucracy, won his seat after beating Timothy J. Toomey Jr. in a Democratic primary last year.

For years, Toomey served as both a state representative and a Cambridge city councilor. (Now, Toomey is just a councilor.)

Connolly said Maher holding the two roles “seems problematic. The chamber has to take positions before the City Council on various matters, so I think it creates the potential for conflict.”

Andrew Ryan can be reached at Andrew.Ryan@globe.com. Joshua Miller can be reached at Joshua.Miller@globe.com.


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