Cambridge Councilor Siddiqui becomes state’s first Muslim mayor
In a unanimous vote, two-term Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui, a first-generation immigrant from Pakistan, has been named mayor of Cambridge. Siddiqui, who grew up in Cambridge, is the first Muslim mayor in the state.
She will be joined by two-term Councilor Alanna Mallon, who will serve as vice mayor.
Siddiqui was elected by her fellow councilors after the nine-member council was sworn in Monday morning, Jan. 6, in Sullivan Chamber at City Hall. Siddiqui is the 77th mayor of Cambridge, but only the sixth woman to take that post. Barbara Ackermann was the first woman to serve as mayor after she was elected in 1972.
During her acceptance speech, Siddiqui said she learned to be resilient and hard working while growing up in affordable housing in Cambridge.
“To me, [my parents’] effort is heroic and there are countless stories like it here in Cambridge,” Siddiqui said. “I saw the same resiliency and struggle everyday at the Rindge and Roosevelt towers where I grew up, where I learned early that neighbors are an extension of family, looking out for each other, protecting each other. Our lives, safety and success interconnected.”
“It’s with this foundation that I’ll approach this great honor of being your mayor,” she added.
Activism at a young age
Siddiqui and her family immigrated to Cambridge from Karachi, Pakistan, when she was two years old. After winning a lottery to enter the city’s affordable housing system, the family was able to move into Rindge Towers in North Cambridge and then Roosevelt Towers in East Cambridge.
She later attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where she co-founded the Cambridge Youth Involvement Subcommittee, which is now in its 15th year. During her time at Rindge, she was also awarded the Cambridge Peace and Justice Award for her activism.
She then went to Brown University and Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.
Siddiqui was first elected to the council in 2017. During her first term she served on a number of committees, including as chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, co-chair of the Human Services and Veterans Committee, and co-chair of the Housing Committee.
She is an advocate for increasing affordable housing and for tenant protections.
In September, Siddiqui was the key vote in the council’s decision to lease parking spaces in the city-owned First Street Garage to Sullivan Courthouse developer Leggat McCall. After she negotiated an 11th hour deal for more affordable housing with less lost parking, the proposal to redevelop the long-vacant courthouse moved forward.
Two women, two friends
Siddiqui and Mallon have been friends since the campaign trail in 2017. After winning seats on the council, they quickly started a weekly podcast, “Women Are Here,” which is rooted in their friendship. Now in its second year, the podcast focuses not only on subjects that affect women, but the city at large. The two use humor and honesty to engage with the community on a consistent basis about timely subjects. [Read more about the podcast: “Cambridge councilors showcase women, city issues in new podcast.”
“For me, the very definition of service is putting in the effort to meet people where they are — at their door, at a market or the park, volunteering for a local service provider, or by hitting the play button on their phone or computer to hear their mayor and vice mayor talk about issues closest to home,” said Mallon during the inaugural meeting. “And that, I’d say, is another Cambridge first.”
Mallon said in an email that Siddiqui will make a tremendous mayor.
“It is a true testament to Mayor Siddiqui’s collaborative nature that she was unanimously elected by the City Council this morning,” Mallon said. “Her dedication to public service, which she spoke of during her speech, drives her each and every day. She will make a tremendous mayor and I look forward to what she will do over the next two years.”
She add it is fitting Cambridge elected the state’s first Muslim mayor.
“Over the past two years, I have seen the pride of our Muslim community when Mayor Siddiqui has spoken at the annual Iftar during Ramadan, when she has joined them in mourning after the attack in New Zealand, and in the many celebrations at our local mosque,” Mallon said. “She always says, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’ but for the last two years as a councilor and now for the next two years as mayor, our community has seen, and will see, her. And I bet there will be many future elected leaders because of her representation.”
Councilor Quinton Zonervan said he is “super excited” about Siddiqui being named mayor.
“I’m really optimistic,” Zondervan said. “I think she has the potential to unite the city and to lead us on these important priorities.
As a fellow immigrant, Zondervan said he is hoping Siddiqui will help lead the city forward on issues of race and equity.
Zondervan said he’s also happy about Mallon being chosen as vice mayor.
“Having two women in that position I think is pretty exciting as well,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a good term.”
City Manager Louis DePasquale said in a statement that he is looking forward to working with Siddiqui.
“Over the last two years, I have had the opportunity to witness first hand Mayor Siddiqui’s passion for public service and her devotion to ensuring all residents have a voice,” DePasquale said. “Mayor Siddiqui’s leadership and commitment to bringing people together will serve the city well. I have found her to be thoughtful, caring, and dedicated to the residents of the city, and I look forward to working with her as mayor.”
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