^ a victory for the community : Evandro Carvalho with John Barros

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Last night the Special Election to choose a new State Representative for a District badly needing a strong one was won by Evandro C. Carvalho. He defeated three other candidates, drawing almost 50 % of the total vote. it was impressive win for the young, former assistant District attorney in his first ever run for elected office.

The numbers (courtesy of local activist Jed Hresko) were: Evandro Carvalho, 960 votes; Karen Charles-Peterson, 521 votes; Barry O. Lawton, 190 votes; Jennifer Johnson, 151 votes; Roy Owens, 89 votes; 46 write-ins and one blank. total ballots cast : 1,957.

The turnout wasn’t as small as my informants had surmised, nor quite as large as my guesstimate. It was barely one-quarter a large as the District’s vote total in last year’s mayor campaign. That said, Carvalho’s numbers, in this context, look even stronger than the raw total. They tell the story of this race : it was, as John Barros said at the victory celebration, “a victory for the community.”

By which he meant, first of all, Boston’s Cape Verdean community. It was he, John Barros, who in last year’s Mayor election, energized and focused Boston’s Cape Verdeans into a serious voting bloc. A community, however, already existed and has grown ever stronger in time — much of that strength drawn from the response by area mothers to the tragic feud that has seen several shooting deaths, among them three members of Isaura Mendes’s family.


^ “we won !” : Isaura Mendes with Carvalho’s grand-dad, who voted yesterday for the first time as a citizen

On Tuesday, Isaura Mendes, who heads the Bobby Mendes Peace Legacy — named for her son — was a precinct leader, door-knocking in Ward 7 Precinct 10, which Carvalho won by 109, to 25 for Charles-Peterson and 11 for Jen Johnson. It was beautiful to see her face, trouble-lined, smiling fiercely as she announced her precinct “We won ! We won !”

Mendes wasn’t the only person happy at Carvalho headquarters. Hugs abounded, cheers, smiles, tears. It had the feel of a sports victory, a win for Team Carvalho. And beyond that.

Carvalho won the Cape Verdean precincts overwhelmingly. I took the count at the strongest of them, Ward 8 Precinct 5 — Dudley Street from St Patrick’s Chiurch toward Harrison Avenue. There, a steady stream of voters showed up and gave Carvalho 156 votes to Charles-Peterson’s 19 and Jen Johnson’s 2.

The defeated candidates conceded; two of them came to the celebration and embraced the winner. Register of Probate candidates Felix Arroyo and Marty Keogh both chipped in. District Councillor Frank Baker was there. So was State representative Dan Cullinane. And John Barros, at whose Cesaria restaurant the victory was toasted to.

For me, the Carvalho victory was a win for John Barros too — without the 2,071 votes that he gathered, from the District’ 19 precincts in last year’s Mayor campaign, and the effort needed to win them, last night’s result would surely have been different. I told him so. But Barros was having none of it. “it was a victory for the community,” he told me — and said it again in his speech.


^ The Community at Cesaria

He was right.

For the first time, Boston’s Cape Verdean community has an elected voice — much needed.

And what of the people of the 5th District who are not Cape Verdean ? I saw few of these at Carvalho’s gathering or in his headquarters. Before this campaign began, his name was surely almost unknown to people not of Cape Verdean ancestry. That’s no longer true at all — victory cures all obscure-ness — but there is much talk that Carlo Henriquez, whose expulsion from the House occasioned this election, will seek his old seat back, and soon.

Can he win it ? If the answer lay primarily with the District’s non-Cape Verdean voters, it would be very doable. But my own feeling is that Carvalho’s win is the worst case scenario for a Henriquez comeback. Carvalho’s vote really was a community one. The community is his now, and it will not be denied or broken — and the vote turnout will only increase now that Cape Verdeans know they have something to hold on to. The future of the 5th District is his to lose.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ 4 visions 4 : from Left : Evandro C. Carvalho; Karen Charles-Peterson; Jennifer Johnson; Barry Lawton. (a fifth candidate, Roy Owens, did not participate in the Forum)

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Yesterday afternoon voters of the 5th District had this campaign’s only opportunity to see, on one platform answering questions, four of the five candidates who seek to represent them. About 100 of the District’s residents showed up. There was plenty of enthusiasm among them — which was a good thing, because every one of the four needs to up his or her speaking craft.

That’s OK; I don’t expect candidates for State Representative, in a special election hurriedly called after the February 5th expulsion of Carlos Henriquez following his domestic violence conviction, to be silver tongued orators or think tank masters. This was a neighborhood event, and its candidates sounded like neighbors.

Moderated diligently by Boston Neighborhood News’s Chris Lovett, all four candidates — Evandro C. Carvalho, Karen Charles-Peterson, Jennifer Johnson, and Barry Lawton — managed to give Forum attendees a pretty fair impression of who they are, why they are running, and what they are likely to work on as the District’s State House representative. Still, all had some difficulty focusing on State legislation matters rather than concerns more appropriate for a City Councillor.

This was true even of Barry Lawton, who in his opening remarks said “i am the only candidate on this stage who has written legislation” — which he likely did as a staffer to former State Representative Royal Bolling, Jr. — but then proceeded not to mention even one piece of legislation that he would sponsor if elected. Lawton did have plenty to say, however, about vacant city lots, jobs, and his long experience as an activist.

Evandro C. Carvalho did make at least one potential legislative point — to include expansion of vocational education in state school reform bills — but, curiously, given his history as a Suffolk County prosecutor of gun crimes, failed to mention the very detailed gun control legislation now before the legislature’s Public safety committee.

In fairness to Carvalho, neither did any of the other three candidates mention, much less discuss, this legislation. it was a curious omission considering the urgency, in neighborhoods of the 5th District, of curbing gun violence.

Karen Charles-Peterson at first spoke in the quiet voiced generalities that anyone who heard her chief political backer, Charlotte Golar-Richie, during lat year’s mayor election is quite familiar with. But half way through the Forum she suddenly became a different Peterson. She had sat; now she stood up. as Barry Lawton spoke loudly, with hand gestures like a preacher, so now did  Charles-Peterson. She ended strongly, announcing that “I will take all 40,000 residents of this District with me to the State House” and “I will give everyone my personal cell phone number, call me any time.” Charles-Peterson also discussed aid for the small businesses that string the length of Bowdoin and Hancock Streets, in the center of the District. that said, neither she nor any of the four, except Jennifer Johnson, uttered the place name “Uphams Corner” — despite its being the major crossroads of the District.

And now I come to Jennifer Johnson. Ostensibly she’s an unlikely candidate ; Caucasian in a District largely of color and an authentic issues voice among candidates unclear about which issues matter, and in what way, to a legislator. Johnson’s far from  being the polished, focused speaker she will need to be if she’s to make issues heard and understood; but she spoke in some detail about the formal, even bureaucratic, task that small businesses face as they seek loans; about how and why business development matters to a District among the lowest income of all; about how to frame affordable housing agreements with developers; about raising the minimum wage (strangely, this initiative, so vital to the District, was hardly mentioned by the other three candidates)and, most fascinating of all, about technology : connecting technology enterprises to the District and to schools, and the District to technology jobs.

Johnson could easily have delivered her remarks to the chamber of commerce or a Business round table. Odd it felt to hear a 5th District candidate talking enterprise and cutting edge innovation. But why not ? She called herself a  “Kennedy liberal,” a phrase as attuned to business success as to social justice. Would it be too much a reach to say that the two reinforce each other ? (It was shrewd of Johnson to talk so much about business. Business development was John Barros’s signature, and by talking it, Johnson sought to take up the banner of a man who was given 2,071 votes — first place — from the District in last year’s mayor race.)

There was plenty of applause for Johnson, and for Charles-Peterson; but the day’s noise prize was won by Carvalho, who, with John Barros unavailable, has picked up the banner of Boston’s Cape Verdean community. It dominates the 5th District, and if Carvalho spoke softly, seemed to be thinking out loud, and often rambled, he could afford to do so; his vote is energized and likely will be the largest bloc on the April 1st Primary day. Alone of the four, his vision seems to be : who i am. Or to phrase it another way, If I win, all Cape Verdeans win.

At the Forum, it worked. And though I think that the District’s Cape Verdeans could as well as any other District residents use the technology advocacy that Johnson would surely put in play, getting to that may well take much more time than the one week that remains for voters to consider who best can be their political clout — to the City or at the State House. Nor will there be another Forum to help them. Yesterday was it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





On Tuesday I had the opportunity to interview Jen Johnson, one of the four candidates seeking to hold the State Representative seat from which Carlos Henriquez was ousted by vote of the House.

Johnson and I met at an eatery in Uphams Corner, which for me is the central crossroads of a district that grab-bags several neighborhoods of Boston that don’t get much attention from the powers that be or from the media — including stretches of Blue Hill Avenue, the north side of Dudley Street, the Stanwood Street area along Columbia Road, and Bowdoin-Geneva. Johnson sees the district in pretty much those terms and vows that she will be a voice for a district that needs just about everything.

One thing, the district already has : diversity. This, Johnson likes. “The diversity, I find wonderful,” she says. “we have to find a way to maintain it.” First priority ? “Public safety,” she says. “So many people living in poverty. 40 percent of the district’s families.”

And how to change that, as a State Representative ? “I look to bring my   training programs and entrepreneurship,” Johnson says. “More training programs; it supports jobs. We n  a liveable wage. So many people in the 5th hold three and four jobs right now just to make ends meet. And no, no separate wage for teenagers. Many teenagers in my district are already hears of families.”

Johnson supports the minimum wage increase legislation — to $ 11.00 an hour by 2016 — that now awaits House action. She also wants it to apply to tipped workers — waiters and waitresses and such — whose minimum wage is now $ 2.63 an hour (and who often have to bring a Labor Board complaint to get paid even that.) She also supports senator Elizabeth warren’s legislation to bar employers from accessing job applicants’ credit histories and using it as an employment criterion. “we need to do something similar here on the State level,” she says.

CORI reform and sentencing reform are also high on her list of things to voice at the State House. “Too many kids in my district have a couple of years in a gang and then end up in jail and now have a CORI,’ she says. “Yes, sociopaths need to be off the street, but most kids who pass in and out of a gang aren’t that. Prison should be the last resort.”

Johnson is no stranger to prisoner issues. “rom 2002 to 2005 I helped co-ordinate a Pen New England program for prisoners. It was eye opening to see how many of these (foster home) young men ended up in prison. One young man i knew was in 55 foster homes between ages 9 and 15.”

On public school funding, Johnson supports a policy that’s been pushed for at least three decades but has never been fully implemented : school pupil spending equity. “We spend 16,000 per pupil here in Boston, but in places like Wellesley and Needham it’s 23,000. So of course their schools do better. we should be treating all children the same.”

But school funding in Massachusetts has a long, long history of total local control. So how would Johnson reach her pupil spending equity goal ? “Take the money we save by sentencing reform and use it for schools,” she says. I point out to her that the State budget can’t be flexed that simply. She admits that it’;s a difficult problem but insists that a way must be found. “Teachers tell me all the time about the money they have to pay out of their own pocket for necessary supplies like books,” says Johnson. “We just HAVE to figure out a way to get prison money over to the school system !”

Johnson grew up in Saint Tammany Parish, Louisiana, on the north bank of lake Pontchartrain. She came to Massachusetts 25 years ago and almost immediately became an activist. She worked for Mass PIRG, then Share Group. More recently she’s done sales for venerable medical book publisher John Wiley and Sons but is campaigning full time now.

Johnson supported Felix G. Arroyo in last year’s mayor election and has the support, this time, of ward 15’s Judy Meredith, a key and longtime social justice and labor issues activist who also supported Arroyo. Johnson also has a full time campaign manager and a full campaign schedule.

If elected, Johnson would like to be assigned to the Committee on business and economic Development, also Judiciary and the committee that oversees Public health and welfare. Climate change also engages her time. After all, her District, albeit hilly, is part of Boston, a city in which much of the Downtown core will be under water if predictions come true. “There is going to be tremendous dislocation,” Johnson says. “How are we going to be prepared when 25 to 30 percent of Boston will be under water ; will we make Boston like Venice ?”

Johnson is making the rounds of community meetings and plans to take part in the First Parish candidates’ Forum to be held on Sunday, March 23d. The Primary takes place just nine days later.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere