Cheung Becomes Youngest Council Member and First Asian-American

Leland Cheung, a graduate student in the Sloan School of Business, will become the first Asian-American and the youngest member ever of the Cambridge City Council, preliminary results from the city show.

Cheung, who is a student at both Harvard and MIT, ran a bare-bones campaign that emphasized responsiveness and building relationships between the city and its universities. In a field of 21 candidates, Cheung just barely won the last seat on the 9-person council.

In January he will be sworn in and serve for two years, until 2012. He graduates from MIT in 2011. For now, Cheung said he will meet with various city departments and learn their ways.

Cheung promised during his campaign to make meeting with his constituents a priority. He said yesterday that he would try to hold “office hours” every week and will allow people to sign up on his website to talk to him.

He also said that he wanted to increase student involvement in Cambridge government. On his campaign website, some of his ideas are expanding volunteer programs and creating internship programs with the city government.

A delayed count

The race was thrown a out of whack this year by incumbent Marjorie Decker, who mounted an aggressive write-in campaign after she missed the deadline to register. Decker spent the most out of all the candidates, $57,000, and got 1285 #1 votes. Cheung spent less than a tenth of that, about $4,500, but still got 754 #1 votes.

Decker’s campaign resulted in a flood of write-in ballots, which must be read by hand, slowing down the counting. Counting continues, but preliminary results show Cheung winning.

“It was angsty,” Cheung said of the counting process, which was drawn out from Tuesday until Thursday due to all the write-in ballots.

Decker, who has been on the Cambridge City Council for years, has “deep roots” in the community, Cheung said.

Cheung raised a total of $5,000 for his campaign. He said he was pleased with the fact that in today’s world of “big money politics” it is still possible to be a politician “without spending a lot of money.”

On Election Day, Cheung rose at 4:30 a.m. for some last-minute campaigning. He and his staff spent the entire day calling, e-mailing, and reminding people to vote. It was a “constant rush” Cheung said.

After the polls closed at 8 p.m., Cheung returned home with his staff. To commemorate their hard work, they all threw back a celebratory shot, Cheung said. “We just took time to relax and unwind” Cheung said, before heading to the election commission at the Senior Center in Central Square to watch the counting.

Ballots were brought to the center around 9 p.m. on Tuesday where they were run through voting machines. By 11 p.m., a preliminary vote was released — but those numbers didn’t include the 20 percent of ballots that were write-ins.

Cheung came in 9th in the Tuesday night count. “We were really pleased” with the result, Cheung said.

Hand counting of the ballots resumed the following morning. Cheung attended on Wednesday, but tried to go to class on Thursday. “I couldn’t pay attention at all,” he said.

Thursday night, preliminary winners were finally announced. Cheung, who came in 9th place, had his name announced last. When it was finally called, he and his staff “exploded into a roar of cheering,” Cheung said.