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Cambridge, Mass., 'peace director' sets priorities amid criticism over his post

Only in Cambridge. Only in this melting pot along the now semifrozen Charles River, where peace groups proliferate and a nuclear-free initiative failed last fall, does Peace Director Jeb Brugmann seem run-of-the-mill.

But as the nation's first local government official charged with the task of ''protecting citizens and lessening the danger of nuclear destruction to the city,'' Mr. Brugmann, appointed Jan. 23, is unique.

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Brugmann, an economist and peace activist, will be paid $16,000 a year to carry out the work of the Cambridge Commission on Nuclear Disarmament and Peace Education - a 20-member committee established by city ordinance in the summer of 1982. The members of the commission, appointed by the city manager, cover a wide range of professions such as aerospace engineer, Russian specialist, schoolteacher, and public works official.

Brugmann's duties will include:

* Further developing nuclear disarmament curricula introduced in 1981 for public, parochial, and private schools in Cambridge.

* Working with public agencies and private groups in other cities.

* Promoting a ''sister city'' relationship with a city in the Soviet Union.

* Fund raising.

* Enacting legislation promoting nuclear disarmament at city, state, and federal levels, and determining the extent of nuclear weapons-related activities , including the retraining of workers employed in those industries in Cambridge.

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On an upper floor in the red-brick City Hall Annex, in the large multipurpose room that now includes the peace director's desk, Brugmann talks about his first priority.

''I'd like to address the issue of racism in Boston. Locally that's the big one. Otherwise, we're missing what every other peace group in Boston is missing. The peace movement is all white, middle-class concerned citizens. It's clear there's a lot of racism in the peace movement. And it isolates people.''

He explains that many people are concerned ''generally, but they are floundering'' on how to make connections with different ethnic communities. ''We want to facilitate making those connections. But we're still hashing out the details.''

At the same time, he says he is not daunted by his other tasks.

Brugmann describes his work in western Massachusetts with G.Randall Kehler (now national Nuclear Freeze coordinator) in the 1980-81 campaigns for a nuclear weapons freeze. ''That has had a great influence on the potential in this job,'' he says. ''There was a core of 20 people at most at the beginning organizing the referendum. People thought we were crazy. But it passed. Then people thought it was a fluke. But it also passed in towns that had voted (President) Reagan in. So in two years to see how it is blossoming, is very inspiring.

''I felt the same thing in this community of 95,000: How can we have an affect on an international issue?'' In the long run, and if Cambridge can become a model for other cities, he suggests, the commission's municipal peace work can make a difference. ''This means trying to change institutions and make them responsible for the issue.''

However, critics argue that the city's involvement in the peace movement - specifically the plan to study nuclear weapons-related industry in Cambridge - is just a rehash of the unsuccessful nuclear-free campaign waged last fall by various local peace groups.

The nuclear-free Cambridge initiative on the November ballot proposed prohibiting any new research, development, testing, or production of nuclear weapons in the City of Cambridge. It appeared to be aimed specifically at the C.S. Draper Laboratories Inc., a manufacturer of missile guidance systems.

''The amount of money spent on both sides brought Cambridge politics to a new level - from cottage industry into the big time,'' says one Cantabrigian lawyer who opposed the initiative. He says he feels the City Council is just preparing for a second round in 1985. Given the business community's reaction last November, the attorney questions Brugmann's chances of raising money from local industries. He also suggests that City Council members may be standing on thin political ice if they continue to take such direct action in the divisive antinuclear campaign.

''It's more the idea they (the City Council) think they're so unique they can accomplish everything internationally in their own community rather than keeping their own backyard clean,'' he says.

''What licked them (the peace movement) with the nuclear-free zone initiative were the blue-collar wards in the city which voted against it. Cambridge is not all eggheads and intellectuals. There are also Portuguese, Italian, and second- and third-generation immigrants. The only places that carried were the liberal wards.''

Brugmann admits he has his job cut out for him. Besides targeting blue-collar areas for peace ''outreach,'' Brugmann says he will try to bring the divided community back together. ''I think maybe one of the first things I should do is make a peace mission to Draper (Labs).''

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