Cape Verdean pol charts GOP course
If the pictures on a legislator’s walls tell a story, the story portrayed in the office of 1st Plymouth District Rep. Vinny deMacedo is unlike any other in the Statehouse.
Along with photos of his wife, son and daughter are a wood cut-out map of the Cape Verde islands and a map of Plymouth. He has a framed photograph of Ronald Reagan, another of himself and national GOP strategist Andrew Card, and a black-and-white grip-and-grin shot with former Cleveland Browns running back and blaxploitation film hero Jim Brown.
“Being a big football fan, I thought it was pretty exciting,” deMacedo says of the souvenir from Brown’s Statehouse visit.
Reagan and Card’s photos speak to a set of conservative values forged by the Republican legislator’s experience as the child of hard-working immigrants and his years of experience working with and owning small businesses in Massachusetts.
The map of Cape Verde speaks to a lifelong love affair with the place of his birth, kept alive through stories and photographs his parents shared with him.
The eclecticism on his walls is reflected in his work on a wide range of issues at the Statehouse.
As the highest-ranking Cape Verdean elected official in the state, he often serves as a liaison between government officials from the West African island nation and local officials.
“You will not see the Prime Minister of Cape Verde come here and not have the ability to meet with the governor and the speaker of the House,” he says. “My goal is to continue to keep that relationship open, regardless of which party is in control.”
As one of 33 Republicans in the 160-member House, deMacedo has carved out a unique niche in an elected body where going along with the Democratic leadership is widely seen as the only way to get anything done. He’s the ranking minority member on the House Ways and Means Committee, a position that gives him influence in the state’s budgeting process.
His experience as a small business owner and his GOP small government convictions have prompted him to vote against the Legislature’s budget frequently, but not always.
“I think we put together a good, conservative budget this year and I voted for it,” he says.
On the House’s vote to approve gambling in Massachusetts, deMacedo bucked both the Democratic leadership and the Republicans, arguing that any jobs created by casinos would take jobs and away from local businesses.
“Ultimately they would be at the expense of jobs at restaurants, hotels and cinemas in our communities,” he says. “There’s a limited amount of disposable income in the state.”
DeMacedo sees the casinos as a threat to the economy in his hometown of Plymouth, which relies heavily on tourism, the third largest industry in Massachusetts.
“If you’re going on vacation to Plymouth and you look on Expedia, you’ll see the Plymouth Sands Hotel and you’ll see a four-star hotel that’s subsidized by a casino,” he says. “When you wake up in the hotel, you’re not going to eat at the Water Street Café, you’re eating a free buffet subsidized by the casino.”
The youngest of seven children, Viriato deMacedo was born on the island of Brava in Cape Verde. His parents moved to Dorchester when he was 6 months old, then relocated to Kingston after he turned 3. He was raised in a tight-knit family where Cape Verdean criolo was spoken at home.
After graduating from Silver Lake High School, in 1983, he went on to The King’s College in New York, where he graduated with B.A. in business administration in 1987.
There is a wide range of political viewpoints among the deMacedo siblings. On the far left, his brother Donaldo is graduate program director of the Applied Linguistics Master of Arts Program at UMass Boston and has co-authored books with MIT professor and leftist critical theorist Noam Chomsky and the late Paulo Freire, a radical Brazilian educator and theorist.
Vinny speaks of Donaldo with admiration.
“I’m certainly proud of what he has accomplished,” he says. “As a brother, I’m proud of his success. And I think he feels similarly about me.”
DeMacedo says growing up amid divergent viewpoints gave him the ability to work well across party lines.
“You can work with people even if they disagree with you,” he says. You don’t hold them as your enemy. You don’t get things done that way.”
After graduating from college, deMacedo bought a gas station in Kingston, a business he still owns and operates. It was experience dealing with state government that cemented his resolve to enter electoral politics.
In 1992, the state began charging filling stations a fee of $200 per year for each underground gas storage tank they own. When deMacedo bought the station in 1992, the Commonwealth continued sending the bills for the station’s three tanks to the previous owner. It wasn’t until 1996, when the state was conducting an annual test on his tanks, that he learned of the fee.
“I said, ‘oh great, now I owe $2,400,’ ” he recalls. “They said no, it’s five percent a month, compound interest. I ended up with a huge bill.
“I called the agency. They said don’t blame us. It was the Legislature that passed this. There was no relationship or compassion with the people who are building businesses and creating jobs.”
In 1997, deMacedo was elected town meeting member in Plymouth. In 1999, he was elected to the Legislature, unseating a Democratic incumbent by a slim, 189-vote margin.
While his work on the budget may go largely unseen, some of deMacedo’s legislative initiatives have made a splash. In 2004, he was able to secure passage of Nicole’s Law, a bill he named after a girl who died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The law mandates carbon monoxide detectors in all Massachusetts homes.
DeMacedo is now seeking passage of a law that would create a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for anyone who fires a gun at a police officer, a measure he filed in response to an incident where a man who shot at Brockton Police officers was given a four-year sentence.
“All of us benefit and are made secure by the safety of our police officers,” he says. “They’re our first line of defense. We need to make a strong statement that we respect that.”
While his legislative victories garnered media attention and are highlighted on his web page, one of the more memorable experiences deMacedo has had in public life was his first return trip to Cape Verde in 2008, a trip he made with a delegation of Massachusetts legislators.
There, he made his way back to Brava, the island his family left when he was 6 months old.
“I recognized the Cape Verde that I used to see through the eyes of my parents,” he says. “Through their stories and their pictures. In many ways, it hasn’t changed a lot. So it was an opportunity for me to step back in time.”