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Early to rise

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Early to rise
Felix G. Arroyo, one candidate in the crowded field of contenders vying for an at-large seat on the City Council (second from right), talks to supporters, including Kalila Barnett (right), executive director of Alternatives for Community and Environment, before canvassing Jamaica Plain on Saturday, April 11, 2009. (Photo: Yawu Miller)

With a familiar name and a citywide organization, Felix G. Arroyo’s at-large City Council campaign is off to a fast start

When Boston voters head to the polls for preliminary citywide balloting in September, they will likely be faced with 12 candidates for the four at-large seats on the City Council.

To avoid becoming lost in such a packed field, council hopeful Felix G. Arroyo is banking on an early start, a large team of volunteers and a collaborative approach to politics for a competitive advantage in the race.

“Our theme is, ‘Let’s build a better Boston,’” he said, nursing a coffee while waiting for volunteers to show up for a canvassing of Jamaica Plain last Saturday morning. “We chose it because it’s inclusive. It’s about all of us.”

Arroyo, 29, traces his interest in collaborative models of governing to his training in politics from veteran organizer and District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner. Arroyo began working as director of constituent services for Turner 10 years ago.

In that job, Arroyo learned the intricacies of city politics while also learning about the needs of the people who live in District 7, which covers Roxbury and parts of the South End, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester.

“It was as basic as making sure that constituents in the district got basic city services to helping a single mother fight an eviction,” he said. “The way we solved problems was working together with the community to find solutions.”

After two terms with Turner, Arroyo moved over to the Service Employees International Union Local 615. There, he served as political director, brokering deals with the state Legislature on behalf of the union’s members, most of whom work as janitors and security guards.

Arroyo says he was inspired to run for office by the ascension of former community organizer Barack Obama to the White House, and wants to bring a similarly fresh approach to Boston’s City Council.

“I think it’s time for a new politics in Boston,” he said. “Our campaign is based on collaborative politics — bringing people together so we can all have a voice in government.”

Arroyo’s team includes campaign manager Patrick Keaney — who ran successful at-large campaigns for his father, former City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo — as well as a team of advisors, including former state Sen. Jarrett Barrios, former state Rep. Mel King, former City Councilor Bruce Bolling and the Rev. Gregory Groover, pastor of the Charles Street A.M.E. Church and chairman of the Boston School Committee.

While Obama’s election set a benchmark for Arroyo’s political ambitions, he says the 2007 election, in which his father lost his at-large seat, was a new low point. Specifically, Arroyo points to the extremely low citywide turnout, noting that just 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots in that year’s September preliminary.

“We should be ashamed,” he said. “That means that voters in Boston spoke with their feet. They said, ‘We don’t see ourselves in government.’”

In this year’s race, Arroyo is taking nothing for granted. He’s raised nearly $40,000, according to campaign-finance records, and says he hopes to raise $200,000 before the Nov. 3 general election.

His team is also getting a jumpstart, canvassing all of Jamaica Plain before many of his competitors in the council race have fully launched their campaigns. The field of at-large candidates includes Egobudike Ezedi, executive director of the Roxbury YMCA; Tomas Gonzalez, a former aide to Mayor Thomas M. Menino; and Andrew Kenneally, a former aide to City Councilor-at-Large Michael Flaherty.

Others vying for at-large seats include Haitian American activist Jean Claude Sanon, Roxbury business consultant Scotland Willis, information technology professional Marty Hogan, former Nantucket selectman Doug Bennett, MBTA executive Robert Fortes and accountant Hiep Nguyen. Ayanna Pressley, a former aide to U.S. Sen. John Kerry, is rumored to be considering a run, as is Tito Jackson, the information technology director for the Massachusetts Office of Business Development.

After the September preliminary balloting, the field will be whittled down to eight candidates vying against at-large incumbents Stephen Murphy and John Connolly for the four at-large seats. The other two current at-large councilors, Flaherty and Sam Yoon, have launched bids to unseat Menino as mayor.

Arroyo will likely rely on the same base of black, Latino, Asian and progressive white voters that propelled his father into office. Whether or not Arroyo can count on that voting bloc will depend heavily on whether voters in the city’s black, Latino and Asian communities turn out for the preliminary, as well as on Arroyo’s ability to stand out in a field that will include a number of other candidates of color.

In 2005, the last year in which there was a mayoral race, fourth-place at-large finisher Sam Yoon won his seat with 41,891 votes. Top vote-getter Flaherty came in with 49,220.

A competitive, four-way mayoral race between Menino, Flaherty, Yoon and Kevin McCrea may drive up turnout in the preliminary. Campaigning by the handful of other black and Latino candidates could also lead to increased turnout in communities that have historically voted in low numbers during preliminaries.

What could give Arroyo an edge is his track record of community activism and work on electoral campaigns. He is vice chairman of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council and coaches two youth baseball teams, one in the Jamaica Plain Regan Youth League and another in the Red Sox Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) League.

Ultimately, Arroyo’s prospects in the race will hinge on his team and his ability to get his message out to the more than 100,000 likely voters in the city. That will require scores of volunteers, hard work and money.

While the challenges of running in a citywide election are daunting, Arroyo seems confident. As he directs volunteers to canvas in Jamaica Plain precincts, he demonstrates the savior-faire of a veteran campaigner, drawing on the experience he gleaned from working his father’s campaigns.

“Politics is temporary,” he said. “I watched my father win campaigns and I watched him lose. What is important is not only winning, but the principles and values that guide how you campaign and govern.”