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Derek Kopon

Derek Kopon, an astrophysicist and engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is running for Cambridge City Council.
Derek Kopon, an astrophysicist and engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is running for Cambridge City Council. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Stephanie H. Ashkar, Contributing Writer

Harvard astrophysicist and engineer Derek A. Kopon is combining his science career with politics by running in the Cambridge City Council elections.

Kopon — who works for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics — is running on a platform of campaign finance reform and environmental policy. A first-time candidate, Kopon said he became interested in this election cycle because he wanted to enact change from within the City Council.

“I entered politics because I watched what was going on in City Hall, and I was so disappointed with what was going on in City Hall. It didn’t seem to me like a process that would lead to good solutions,” Kopon said. “It seemed to me that our local politics should be functioning very differently than it is right now.”

Kopon said he has worked to be a transparent candidate in the race by directly emailing his supporters with any important information from City Council meetings. He also said he has worked with Cambridge residents in the past to research the source of donations in City Council elections. He said he is concerned about outside money from out-of-state corporate developers.

“I have been working with other concerned residents of Cambridge to do some research — to investigate where some of the money is coming from, why it is being given, what is behind some of the interests,” Kopon said.

Another aspect of Kopon’s campaign is sustainability and the environment, centered around environmental policy and tree protection.

Kopon said he believes that all new developments should have mandatory solar panels, noting that clean energy like solar panels can be both environmentally friendly and profitable.

“We are not putting anyone at a financial disadvantage by mandating that they put solar on developments,” Kopon said. “We’re simply saying that when you build new developments, that comes with an environmental cost.”

“As long as you’re building in the city, you should put solar panels on the roof, and its profitable for you to do that, so you should do that.” he added.

Kopon graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in engineering physics. During his career, he worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Kopon first moved to Cambridge in the summer of 2002 to pursue an internship with MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. After leaving the city in 2007 to pursue his doctorate, he returned in 2015 to raise his family.

Another issue Kopon has weighed in on is recreational marijuana use in Cambridge, which he said he would treat as a “public health issue.” He said he believes that proper education and precautions must be put into place.

“I’d like the city to treat it as a public health issue, and if that means that there needs to be fewer cannabis stores right near schools or residential neighborhoods, then I think that should be the priority,” Kopon said.

Last month, the City Council passed legislation that opened the door for recreational marijuana businesses to open in Cambridge. Massachusetts legalized the use of marijuana in 2016.

Kopon said his main campaign goal is to ensure city leaders are representing the interests of Cambridge residents and are not motivated by profit.

“I would say that my biggest goal in this campaign is to try and get our civic leaders to make sure they’re representing the residents of the city,” Kopon said. “I think when there is so much outside money coming in that’s motivated by profit, I think that distorts the democracy, and that is what I’m trying to work against.”

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