We sat down with three candidates of color from Boston’s recent elections, John Barros and Felix G. Arroyo, who ran for mayor, and Michelle Wu, who ran for and won an at-large City Council seat, to hear what they learned from their campaigns — and what their hopes are for the city’s future under Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as you campaigned earlier this year?
John Barros: The biggest challenge I faced was probably raising money. I had to get out there and as a candidate who did not hold an office, present myself as a viable candidate, and then make the case for why I was going to actually win, and get people to invest in that.
Michelle Wu: For me it was name recognition. As a first-time candidate running citywide, Boston becomes much, much larger, and everybody expects to see you and have a conversation with you face to face. It’s a lot of ground to cover. And the focus the whole time was on the mayor’s race. So as a council candidate, there was the extra challenge of really needing to get out there and have a strong ground game.
Felix G. Arroyo: My circle of friends aren’t people with a lot of disposable income, and so we would high-five each other if I got a $100 check. So for me it was fund-raising, and trying to figure out how do we build a campaign that’s grass roots in nature without the funds to be able to feed it.
What was the most hopeful sign you saw on the campaign trail?
Arroyo: I went to the Latino senior day center. It’s in Hyde Park, hundreds of Latinos there. And I could tell they were looking at me, but didn’t really see me. They saw their own kid. They saw why they moved to this country. They saw that we have real opportunities here. It’s really a classic American story of someone who looks like me, whose parents moved here speaking no English, could now say I’m running for mayor.
Wu: I was surprised every day by where support was coming from. When I first started, way back in December, as a young Asian-American woman, your base is going to be [Asian-American] neighborhoods. That was the expectation. And even campaigning outside those neighborhoods, I was surprised by how many people wanted to see more diversity on the City Council. This year, I think largely because of the mayor’s race and the sheer number of candidates on the ballot, there was a sense of excitement. But there is still a long way to go in really making everyone feel like they are part of Boston — even if they came here for school and haven’t quite figured out how to connect in yet. There needs to be a better way of reaching out to everybody and pulling them into the strong networks that are here in the neighborhoods.
Barros: During the campaign, I spent some time with students at different schools. The Mather School has a diverse group of students they call ambassadors. These are students that welcome you, take you around the school, tell you what’s going on, take you from class to class. And to these kids, I was their hero. They were excited. They probably all think I’m mayor, and I don’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t win. My nephew found out the other day. He was devastated. But he told me, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll win next time.” But yeah, that’s inspiring. Changing the realm of what’s possible, changing how they identify who they are. Boston is far more progressive than the narrative around Boston. In general, the Boston voters want to see diversity. They want to talk policy. They want to talk about a new Boston that is more engaging, that’s more inclusive, that creates more opportunity for more people.
Boston is a majority-minority community; why has that not translated into more people of color in political office here — and for that matter, more women?
Wu: I think the first thing to note is Boston’s diversity itself is very diverse. So it’s not a monolithic community in any one of the sub communities — in the Asian-American community there are multiple languages and economic situations, multiple groups backing different candidates. Obviously the city is changing, and the demographics are there, but whoever is in leadership, it’s undeniable that communities of color play a strong role in what the issues are and defining what the needs of the city are. I think in the mayoral election, communities of color played a huge role in setting the agenda, and defining the terms.
Arroyo: You know, we know two people of color in the final eight in the city councilor at-large race. They finished one and two. Right? And both happen to be women. There’s a statement. While we didn’t make the finals, myself, Charlotte Golar Richie, and John, we had really strong showings in the primary. These things take time. There are also some realities when we say Boston is a city that’s majority people of color. You’ve got to dig deeper into those numbers. A lot of people of color are under the age of 18, and have different statuses. We have a lot of people of color who are not eligible to vote yet. It will happen over time, you know, when you see more immigration reform, when you see citizens more engaged. And I think there’s work we have to do as leaders in our community around the importance of voting in both elections and not just the finals.Continued...