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Pride and politics at Haitian parade

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Pride and politics at Haitian parade
Grand Marshall Rodelaire Octavius and Mayor Martin Walsh cut the ribbon on the Haitian American Unity Parade. BANNER PHOTO

Wearing the red, white and blue colors of their native country’s flag, members of the city’s Haitian community turned out in the thousands for this year’s Haitian American Unity Parade, which kicked off in Mattapan Square Sunday.

Among the revelers who turned out for the annual event were more than a few office-seekers. With 25 city council candidates running for the four at-large seats on the body, another 25 running for the three district seats being vacated this year, and eight more challenging incumbent district councilors, the political season in Boston is in full swing.

“It’s going to be a very robust political season,” said state Rep. Russell Holmes. “Candidates are going to have to listen to people in every corner of the city because there are candidates from every corner of the city.”

Banner photo

In Mattapan and Hyde Park, home to the largest concentration of the 47,000 Haitian Americans living the Greater Boston area, 10 candidates are vying for the District 5 council seat being vacated by Councilor Tim McCarthy.

McCarthy announced his re-election bid in December, only to drop out of the race in January after challenger Ricardo Arroyo entered the race. At Sunday’s parade, McCarthy did not make an appearance, but contenders Jean Claude Sanon, Arroyo, Maria Esdale Farrell and Mimi Turchinetz were among the contenders with contingents of volunteers handing out palm cards and greeting potential voters.

Among the at-large candidates, political newcomer Herb Lozano, who moved to Mattapan from Dorchester, said he is looking to ensure the neighborhood gets its share of city resources.

“Mattapan is probably one of the most underserved neighborhoods in Boston,” he said. “But I like how people here are organizing. It’s good to see people organizing and coming together.”

The increased organization Lozano has noticed includes a newly-formed Mattapan Neighborhood Council and the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce, which earlier this year hosted a candidate forum that drew contenders in the at-large and District 5 races.

Business owner Rodelaire Octavius, the grand marshal of Sunday’s parade, said Haitian Americans in Boston are waking up to their political power.

“There’s a huge movement going on in the Haitian community,” he said. “We know that we’re a force.”

State Rep. Dan Cullinane agrees.

“My advice to everyone running: reach out to the Haitian community,” said Cullinane, who last year narrowly fended off a challenge to the 12th Suffolk District seat he represents from Haitian American attorney Javon Lacet.

“The Haitian community is significant not just in terms of the size of the population, but also because of the issues in the public discourse,” Cullinane said.

Jean Claude Sanon
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Haitians are currently fighting President Trump’s efforts to end the Temporary Protected Status designation under which many in the community are legally living in the U.S. Although local elections have little to do with federal immigration policy, the Trump administration has pushed U.S. policy far enough to the right to trigger a left-wing backlash that helped energize formerly disengaged voters in the last election cycle.

That surge from the left saw many long-term candidates including former U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, swept from office as voters opted for change at the ballot box. It’s an open question whether that same activism will carry forward to the November municipal election. To the extent that it does, Boston’s city council could end up with a female majority and a majority of people of color.


Nuts and bolts

Among the 10 candidates vying for District 5, Arroyo has raised $62,125; Turchinetz, $18,429; Farrell, $12,216; and Sanon, $2,200. The vast spread between the candidates’ funds underscores the challenges of multiple candidates competing for a limited pool of contributions, volunteers and experienced staff.

The at-large race contains a similar spread with some candidates who have raised no funds, including incumbent Althea Garrison, others such as Priscilla Flint-Banks, who has raised $13,846 — far short of the $50,000-or-so candidates typically need just to cover mailings and palm cards — and seasoned candidates such as Michael Flaherty who currently reports $355,343 in his campaign war chest.

The field of 65 will likely be whittled down between now and June 25, the city’s deadline for certifying that signatures on candidates’ nomination papers are registered voters.

The preliminary municipal election will be held Sept. 24. That election will narrow the field for the Nov. 5 election to eight contenders for the four at-large seats and two contenders for each of the contested district seats.

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