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Candidates vie for support during Latino forum

Business, nonprofit leaders meet with City Council contenders

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Candidates vie for support during Latino forum
At-large City Council candidates Alejandra St. Guillen and Julia Mejia and District 5 City Council candidate Ricardo Arroyo field questions during a meeting with members of the city’s Latino community. BANNER PHOTO

More than 100 executives, nonprofit leaders, government workers and veteran political activists crowded into a meeting room at the law offices of Locke Lord in Boston Monday. At the front of the room were the three Latino candidates so far contending for City Council seats: at-large candidates Julia Mejia and Alejandra St. Guillen, and District 5 candidate Ricardo Arroyo.

While the at-large candidates are vying for the same pool of votes in November’s municipal election and all three are hitting up the same pool of donors, event organizers and the candidates themselves stressed the point that they’re not in competition with each other.

More than 100 people turned out for a forum with three Latino candidates for City Council. BANNER PHOTO

More than 100 people turned out for a forum with three Latino candidates for City Council. BANNER PHOTO

“As you look at the City Council at large, you have the opportunity to elect two Latinas, and one more in a district race,” St. Guillen said, when asked how best the candidates could be supported.

The event was organized by a group of activists from the business and nonprofit sectors who are concerned about the lack of Latino representation in city government. There are currently no Latino men or women serving on the 13-member City Council, yet nearly 1 in 5 Bostonians are Latino.

Amplify Latinx founder Betty Francisco said Monday’s meet-and-greet with the candidates was not just to support the candidates, but also to underscore the important role the community can play in the upcoming election.

“One of the things people keep talking about is the idea that Latinos are invisible,” she said. “This room is an amazing breadth of leaders and influencers, people who can bring others to decision-making tables and create new spaces and tables.”

The candidates answered three questions, speaking about their motivations for running and what their priorities would be, if elected.

St. Guillen spoke about growing up with a widowed mother in a tight-knit community in Mission Hill.

“It was a place where she could have an affordable apartment in a safe neighborhood,” she said. “One thing I can say about why we’re all running is that those neighborhoods are becoming fewer and fewer.”

St. Guillen went on to run the statewide Latino political organization ¿Oiste? and head the city’s Office of New Bostonians.

Mejia, who was born in the Dominican Republic, spoke about growing up with a single mother who was undocumented and spoke little English.

“At a very early age, I had to learn how to navigate systems that weren’t designed for us,” she said. “I learned what it’s like to be humiliated because you’re poor at age 9.”

Mejia also spoke about her work as founding director of the Collaborative Parent Action Network, a group that organized parents of charter and district schools. She said the group sought to bridge the divide between supporters and opponents of the 2016 ballot question to raise the cap on charter schools.

“There was this whole initiative to pit black and brown people against each other,” she said.

Arroyo spoke about growing up in the Boston Public Schools while attending school committee meetings with his father, Felix D. Arroyo who served on the committee.

“My after-school was going to School Committee meetings,” he said. “I got to see where the arguments were made, and I got to attend a school where we were either receiving the resources or not receiving the resources.”

Later, as a public defender, Arroyo says, he saw up-close the challenges facing many disadvantaged people in the state.

“Folks call public defense the emergency room of the law,” he said. “But I realized that it wasn’t solving the crises people were facing.”

Council agenda

Arroyo said that as a district councilor representing Hyde Park, Mattapan and Roslindale, he would focus on constituent services, but added that constituents’ needs go beyond the micro level.

“I see neighborhood displacement and education as constituent issues,” he said. “If you can’t afford your rent because you’re paying more than 50 percent of your income for rent, that’s a constituent issue.”

St. Guillen said she would fight for greater equity in the city’s schools, where Latinos and blacks make up 73 percent of the student population overall, but only 40 percent of the population in exam schools. She also said she would push for public funding for legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, noting that only 4 percent of those without representation prevail in their cases.

“Having an attorney provided for you has a huge impact,” she said.

Mejia said she would work on issues affecting the black and Latino communities.

“A lot of the issues Latinos are dealing with are the same issues African Americans are dealing with,” she said.

She also said she would work with diverse immigrant communities.

Arroyo, too, mentioned immigration as a key issue where city government can play a role.

“Are we a sanctuary city or are we not?” he said. “If we are, we need to start acting like one and disband the Boston Police Department’s ICE Task Force.”

Ivan Espinoza Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers For Civil Rights Boston and Sociedad Latina Executive Director Alexandra Oliver-Davila kicked off the meeting. Among those in attendance were Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey and former city councilors Tito Jackson and Felix G. Arroyo.

Tompkins said he was encouraged by the activism he saw in the room.

“This is just the beginning of a sea change in the politics of Boston,” he said.