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Newcomer launches bid for council seat

Raised in Mission Hill, Santana says he benefited from city services

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Newcomer launches bid for council seat
Wu administration official Henry Santana launched his bid for an at-large seat on the Council, holding a press conference in the Alice Taylor public housing development. COURTESY PHOTO

When Henry Santana returned to Boston after graduating from Lasell University, he jumped right into the political arena, tapped to serve as field director for Kenzie Bok’s campaign for the District 8 City Council seat.

It was his first time working on a political campaign. He had his doubts. But Bok gave him confidence.

“I said, ‘I’m not experienced with this,’” he recalled. “She said, ‘Everything you need to learn, I can teach you. The things I can’t teach you, you already know.’”

Bok’s victory, with 70% of the vote in the district, which includes Mission Hill, Back Bay and Beacon Hill, led to Santana’s first full-time job out of college.

After serving as Bok’s director of operations and liaison to Mission Hill and the Fenway, Santana migrated over to the Mayor’s Office, where he served as director of the Office of Civic Organizing for the administration of Michelle Wu.

Last week, Santana put his name in contention for another city job: at-large councilor.

“I think there’s a lack of fresh voices on the council,” he said. “There hasn’t been a Black man representing the whole city in years. There’s definitely room for me, given my background in civic engagement and growing up in public housing.”

Santana’s contention that there’s room for him is true. Somewhat. In order to secure one of the four at-large spots on the body, he’ll have to knock someone off, unless a councilor decides not to run again.

In the 2021 election cycle, Councilor Michael Flaherty emerged at the top of the results, with 62,602 votes. Julia Mejia trailed right behind by fewer than 600 votes. Newcomer Ruthzee Louijeune secured the third slot with 54,898 votes, followed by Murphy with 43,076. That was in a mayoral election year, when turnout is typically higher.

This November, with only councilors on the ballot, the cutoff for a seat on the council will likely be closer to the 22,482 votes Mejia secured for a fourth-place finish in 2019. Santana will also contend with Roxbury political activist Clifton Braithwaite, who is also challenging the four incumbents.

While the number is significantly lower than during a mayoral year, the task is no less daunting.

“A big part of running at-large is trying to introduce yourself to the whole city,” said political consultant Doug Chavez. “Mailers aren’t cheap. It doesn’t matter how grassroots you are. You have to raise at least $100,000.”

Santana has set for himself a higher goal.

“I’m going up against four incumbents in a competitive field,” he said. “I’m aiming for $200,000 to effectively run this campaign.”

For now, he says he’s meeting with voters to hear their concerns.

“I’m really trying to rely on the residents of Boston to determine what issues I’ll be running on,” he said.

His approach to the office will be informed by his life experiences growing up in Mission Hill, where he said he benefited greatly from city services.

“Although things were rough, my parents struggled to make sure their kids were set up for success,” he said. “Having access to public housing really changed our lives. My parents were able to stay in Boston. We had access to free after-school and summer programs. We had access to the Johnson Community Center and the Tobin Community Center. I’m the product of what happens when the city really invests in its youth.”

To secure a slot on the ballot, Santana will need to submit to the Election Department signatures from 1,500 registered voters by May 16. The nomination papers will be available April 19. Early voting for the Sept. 12 preliminary begins on Sept. 2. However, if there are eight or fewer candidates for at-large seat, there will be no preliminary balloting in that race. Early voting begins Oct. 28 for the Nov. 7 election.

boston city council, Henry Santana