Since Boston was founded by Puritan settlers in 1630, there has never been a Hispanic candidate for mayor – until now.
Almost 400 years later, on Tuesday, city councilor-at-large Felix G. Arroyo launched his mayoral bid for one of America’s most historic cities in the downtown headquarters of the Service Employer’s International Union (SEIU) Local 615.
“I have a decade of experience as an organizer and as a public servant right here in the city of Boston and I am happy to announce today that I will be a candidate for mayor,” Arroyo told a group of about 50 campaign staff, family, friends, and supporters to chants of “Sí Se Puede” or “Yes We Can.”
Arroyo, 33, is a Democrat of Puerto Rican descent with politics in his blood. He is the son of Felix D. Arroyo, the first Latino member of the Boston City Council, and Elsa Montano, a Boston Public School teacher. Arroyo's wife, Jasmine Acevedo, also happens to be the daughter of Hector Luis Acevedo, the former mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“I am a son of Boston. I love our city. Together, we will move Boston forward,” he said to The Boston Globe Tuesday.
But to move Boston forward, Arroyo will have to use his clout as a former political director at SEIU to form a grassroots campaign organizing janitors, service workers, bellmen and more to combat the big money campaigns. Arroyo believes he can increase the cash in his campaign coffers through small donations. He said to the Boston Globe he approximately has $100,000 dollars in campaign funds.
Not only is money a factor, but mayoral hopefuls have to follow Boston’s longest serving mayor, Thomas M. Menino, and his six term legacy. Menino has decided not to run for re-election in November. His approval rating is 74 percent.
Arroyo was born in the South End of Boston, raised in Hyde Park, and attended Boston Public schools, as did his three brothers and one sister.
“There were definitely murders when I was growing up — one of my best friends when I was in eighth grade was murdered — but I feel that young people today are looking over their shoulder a little more than I did,” Arroyo said in an interview in 2011.
Arroyo Sr. was raised in a public housing project by his father, Felicito Arroyo, who was a World War II veteran and police detective. Arroyo Sr. has retired to Uruguay but is expected to return to help his son.
Boston's demographic shifts over the last two decades mirror those in the United States and show the growing political clout for Hispanics in Boston. The Latino population there has grown by about 21 percent since 2000, from 85,000 to 109,000 in 2010. Immigrants from the Caribbean make up the largest share of Boston's immigrant population, totaling 46,444.
Immigrants from the Dominican Republic have especially made an impact in Boston, making up 23.3 percent of all immigrants from Latin America.
Perhaps a more telling statistic of the future of Latino influence in Boston politics is that Hispanics students make up 40 percent of the city's public schools.
“It’s not hope, I expect to see more Latino candidates,” said Max Sevillia, a director for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO).
“Their heritage and demographics are changing… and with that growth I would expect more Latino voters and also more Latino candidates.”
Ultimately, Sevillia said, Arroyo is already a point of pride for the Latino community, but more importantly, it’s a symbol of the growing diversity among the nation’s candidates for mayoral and elected offices.
“In order for him to succeed, he needs to convince not only Hispanics, but others. It’s exciting and it adds a new dimension,” he said.
Latino voting power will also be tested in April when Hispanic businessman and former U.S. Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez runs in a Republican primary for a shot at Secretary of State John Kerry's U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts.