^ Ramon Soto : from co-ordinator to candidate.

—- —- —-

We met RAMON SOTO yesterday, in the North End, as the celebration of St. Anthony’s day was winding down. Even at 5 P.M. the day was hot and sunny and the crowds lively as Soto talked to us in one of the many new bar-terrasses that offer a touch of Europe to those who live or visit Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood. Soto is making his first run for elective office, seeking one of Boston’s four city-wide Council seats. He’s had events in Jamaica Plain, South Boston, and among the city’s Latino communities, and he is pumped.

No sooner has our talk begun than he makes a headline.

“I live in Mission Hill,’ he says. “at 16 Parker Hill Avenue.”

“But that is the street that Donna Summer grew up on!” we exclaim.

To which Soto responds, “Yes ! She lived in the exact same house that I live in now ! The owner often talks to me of her. On the anniversary of her death he had the house all decked out in pink.”

“So tragic, her death vat age 63,” we say.

“Yes, and I can never forget her, can I ?”

Immediately we like Ramon Soto a lot.

Beyond being a Donna Summer fan, Soto enjoys a long resume of Boston-area political work at the center of power. “My first time (in politics), I worked for Michael Morrissey, who was running for state senator in Quincy – Braintree. In Braintree, he finished third, but in the part that I was in charge of, he was first. (He won the race and) brought me aboard.

“From there, i joined the communications staff of Mayor Menino. Job title ; “constituent service co-ordinator.” Which meant that I worked on his e-mails. There were hundreds of e-mails on every issue, so he said to me, ‘if i have to sign them, I want the answers to be what I am saying.’ And together we worked out the right answer for him, for each issue. These weren’t boiler plate answers. I rewrote them all. it taught me all about the broader issues and gave me a knowledge of the people to go to if the Mayor wanted an issue dealt with.

“That was only my day job, though,’ Soto notes. “I wasn’t making much just doing his e-mails, so at night I bartended. I learned a lot about (city) life doing that.”

Soto rose even higher in the political backstage. He took a leave to work on the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign. As a Clinton delegate, he attended the Democratic national convention and, after Clinton released her delegates, he became known to the Obama people and was hired to work much of Eastern Massachusetts — “in reality, New Hampshire,” Soto notes — in the Fall campaign.

After Obama’s victory, Soto was back in City Hall, now as co-ordinator for resources going to the Boston School system. “Our goal was to gather all these resources into one arena, so that parents can do one-stop help at their kids’ schools.”

Yet for this tireless man being a schools co-ordinator was not enough. “I also was the City;s co-ordinator to the 2010 census process,” he says. “(My mission was) to go into the nail salons, bodegas, barber shops, and churches an d make sure the people knew that 400 million in federal dollars would come to the City if we counted everybody; those were the stakes. They got the message. We had the highest city census participation in thirty years.”

Such is the life of Ramon Soto, who can justly claim a nuts-and-bolts, working connection to every corner of Boston.

Because this bio fully answers our usual first question to candidates, “what qualities single you out as a potential Councillor,’ our interview moved directly to the other six questions. The questions and Soto’s answers follow.

Here and Sphere (HnS) : What are your two top priorities to work on if you’re elected ?

Soto : First, continue and expand the ‘circle of promise’ program. Second, youth violence. If we can get the guns off our streets — advocacy groups need to come together on this — maybe a gun buy back — we can end this scourge. Background checks for all gun sales, including between family members, which is how many youths obtain their guns.”

HnS : Casino vote — citywide or East Boston only ?

Soto : “East Boston only. It’s their neighborhood, it’s their autonomy.”

HnS : School reform — longer school day, yes or no ? Do you favor any of the other reforms in Connolly’s agenda ?

Soto : “Stronger Court Street structure. Everybody there is doing a great job, but it’s too centralized. more voices need to be heard. Bi-lingual education is a mistake — it delays a kid’s mastering English. Dual-language schools, that’s more like it, indeed vitally important.

“We need at least a five year plan to assess the state of our schools. A full scale, flexible but comprehensive analysis of where we are now. Today the assignment process puts school quality against assignment rules. We need to assure that kids have better options, closer to home. And (when we do this analysis) we need to engage the parents !

“Longer school day make sense. Bring the school day in line with the work day. But until we totally assess the schools we can’t decide what to do with the longer school day. (Also,) I’m a realist about the funds available. (Perhaps) we can get after-school programs (from outside the teachers’ time constraints.”

5. HnS : Charter schools — lift cap ? {Partial lift ?

Soto : “(I’m) against lifting the charter cap. If we want to get the public schools right, then we have to focus on the schools we already have.”

6. HnS : BRA — re[place reform (and, if so, in what ways) ? Should there be a separate board for planning ?

Soto : “the Council does not have the final word (here). The mayor has to sign off. But as far a i am involved, I do not want to increase the red tape. Developers fund the BRA. Just let’s have more transparency and a more comprehensive process that involves the neighborhood.

“Economic development plan ? (Maybe just) more red tape. Better to just open up more communication with the community.”

7. Hns : Marty Walsh says ‘There’s a heroin epidemic in the city now.’ Do you agree ?

Soto : “Yes there is a heroin epidemic. I had my wallet stolen the other day !

“Yes we can do something about it. talk to the kids out there — but it’s really about the family. Families in trouble tend to make bad decisions.

“Government has ways of encouraging families; there’s a billion dollars in the cit available to help families. (Much of it is) plugged into the schools. And it’s about treatment and therapy. You can’t (simply arrest your way out of it. The drug unit at the BPD does a great job, but it’s really about stopping (the drugs). (And) it’s not just Boston. it’;s everywhere.”

You can find out more about Ramon Soto and his agenda by visiting his website at http://www.Ramon4Boston.com

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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