A ‘Level-Headed’ Leader: A Look at Mayor Siddiqui’s First Term as Cambridge’s Mayor Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

When Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui ran for re-election to the Cambridge City Council last year, her platform focused on supporting small businesses, affordable housing initiatives, education reform, environmental sustainability, and improving civic engagement.

There was no way to expect that combatting the novel coronavirus pandemic would become her top priority as a first-term Cambridge mayor.

“I guess, maybe people are like, ‘Wow, you really didn’t sign up for this, huh?’ And, you know, I didn’t, and I’m so lucky that I get to be doing this,” Siddiqui said. “Being a mayor of a city that I grew up in and a city that is trying to help as many people as possible.”

“It’s just a very difficult time, but you know, as much as possible, we have to try to be in it together,” she added.

Siddiqui — a Pakistani immigrant raised in Cambridge — is serving her second term as a member of the Cambridge City Council. She was unanimously elected as mayor by her colleagues in January, making her Massachusetts’s first Muslim mayor.

While this may be an unprecedented first term as mayor, Siddiqui says the public health emergency has helped remind her why she chose to become a public servant.

“For me, this has been about bringing it back to why I did this, you know, why I ran for office in the first place, which was about public service and helping the most amount of people I can,” she said.

Entering Public Office

Prior to serving on city council, Siddiqui received a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Brown University and a law degree from Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law.

At a virtual IOP forum in late April, Siddiqui shared how these experiences contributed to her interest in public service.

“One of the things I also really cared about was helping people, and so that’s why I went to law school and became a legal aid attorney,” Siddiqui said at the forum. “I really wanted to merge my interest in policy and public service together, and for me, in elected office, I think I saw that opportunity.”

In addition to serving as Mayor, Siddiqui also chairs Cambridge’s school committee and hosts a podcast entitled “Women are Here” with Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon.

Mallon and Siddiqui first met on the campaign trail in 2017. The two instantly “hit it off” at an event for the Cambridge Community Foundation, according to Mallon.

“We hit it off, in terms of what it was like running for the first time, what it was like running as a woman, and we just started texting each other and supporting one another,” Mallon said in an interview Monday.

Mallon said she was “ecstatic” when they were both elected and that they have supported each other ever since.

“We were out there doing those tough campaign things like knocking on doors every night, having campaign events, fundraisers, debates,” Mallon said. “She was sort of always my thought partner in my first term and now again as mayor and vice mayor.”

When Siddiqui and Mallon began their second term, Mallon cast her vote for Siddiqui to become mayor because she said she believed Siddiqui — who grew up in Cambridge — was the perfect person to lead the city.

“As somebody who went to our Cambridge Public Schools, as an immigrant, as someone who lived in low-income housing, I thought she was the perfect person to really lead through example and with experience,” Mallon said.

A “Level-Headed” Leader