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Coalition endorses council candidates

Groups advance progressive city agenda

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Coalition endorses council candidates
(left) Alejandra St. Guillen marches in the Puerto Rican parade. St. Guillen was one of three at-large council candidates endorsed by a coalition of progressive groups. (right) Veteran community organizer and at-large candidate Julia Mejia marches in the Puerto Rican parade. BANNER PHOTOs

Eight years ago, when Alejandra St. Guillen was executive director of the Latino Political group ¿Oiste?, the choices of which candidates to endorse were often limited to the four people of color on the white-male-dominated Boston City Council.

Now, with six women of color seated on the body and several more black and Latino candidates in contention for open district seats and the four at-large seats ¬— including St. Guillen — the endorsement process for progressive groups has become more complex.

So after filling out a 34-question form proffered by Right to The City Vote and a coalition of groups including Chinese Progressive Community Action, Progressive Massachusetts, Boston Electoral Circle and the immigrant rights group Mijente, St. Guillen said she was thrilled to receive an endorsement from the coalition, along with fellow at-large candidates Julia Mejia and David Halbert.

“They have an ambitious agenda,” St. Guillen said. “It’s great to see progressives working with people of color.”

The coalition’s questionnaire included 11 questions on housing, four on environmental justice, six on economic justice and others gauging candidates’ positions on issues including the city’s BuildBPS school building plans, the re-establishment of an elected school committee and the Boston Police Department’s collaboration with federal immigration officials.

“Part of this is to really see which candidates will take a stand for issues our communities care about,” said Karen Chen, staff for the Chinese Progressive Political Action and Right to The City Vote.

The final endorsement list includes the three at-large candidates as well as Kenzie Bok, who is running for the District 8 seat being vacated by Josh Zakim; Ricardo Arroyo, who is running for the District 5 seat being vacated by Tim McCarthy; and Liz Breadon, running for the District 9 seat being vacated by Mark Ciommo. Halbert is black. St. Guillen, Mejia and Arroyo are Latino. Bok and Breadon are white.

Growing progressive vote

The coalition that endorsed them represents what St. Guillen identifies as a key geographical feature in Boston’s electoral map.

“There’s a progressive corridor, from Roxbury to Jamaica Plain to Roslindale and even into West Roxbury where I live,” she says. “The city is changing.”

In past decades, white elected officials have relied on the neighborhoods along the city’s periphery — South Boston, the southern portion of Dorchester, West Roxbury, Charlestown and East Boston — for the votes necessary to dominate the city’s political scene. While the 2000 Census identified people of color as the city’s majority population, candidates of color still struggled to win citywide office during the following decade.

In last year’s electoral season, upset victories by Rachael Rollins in the Suffolk County District Attorney race and Ayanna Pressley in the race for the 7th Congressional District seat demonstrated the rising power voters of color and white progressives voting in neighborhoods at the center of the city.

St. Guillen credits last year’s victories by women of color to a coalition of supporters in the city’s communities of color and the white progressive communities in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale and, increasingly, West Roxbury.

Chen agrees.

“We learned from the district attorney race, when we were able to win through collaborative effort,” she said.

In that race, with several candidates of color facing off against former prosecutor Greg Henning, widely perceived to be the front-runner, Hennings’ victory seemed almost certain. But progressive white groups and groups led by people of color coalesced around Rachael Rollins’ campaign, Chen said, helping her to win by a more-than 15,000-vote margin in Boston.

Political consultant Calvin Feliciano said the organizations are more representative of the city’s majority people of color population and are putting their values front and center in the political conversation.

“They’re saying what a lot of people are feeling, that they want to see bold change and are willing to take action,” he said.

Right to the City Vote Chair Mimi Ramos notes that the group intentionally avoided endorsing incumbents, instead focusing on open seats and the at-large race.

“We’re really excited about the fresh perspectives people are bringing to the table,” she said. “We’re supporting Latino candidates and white progressive candidates willing to stand up for issues. They were the strongest candidates coming through the process.”

Key issue: housing cost

Right to The City Vote is the political arm of Right to The City Boston, the local chapter of a national group focused on housing issues. Several of the questions the group asked candidates were about rent control, an issue that in past years has divided councilors of color and white progressives from the white male majority on the council. While many incumbent councilors have in the past come out against rent control, all six endorsees expressed support for the measure.

“It’s an issue that residents really care about,” Ramos said. “It’s an issue impacting communities across the city.”

“Housing displacement and gentrification are issues people are facing nationally,” Chen said. “Boston is the third most expensive city to live in. Wages are not keeping up with housing costs. In order to adequately deal with these issues, we need people who understand them through a racial justice lens.”

Other issues highlighted in the group’s questionnaire include a $22 minimum wage for the city, the idea of community-elected boards with decision-making power over zoning and development in the city and the elimination of the Boston Police Department’s gang database.

An earlier version of this article stated that at-large City Councilor Michelle Wu had come out against rent control. While she did in 2013, she says her position as evolved over the last six years. She says she now is willing to support rent control in Boston.

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