City Council Candidate Chat: Jean-Claude Sanon
David S. Bernstein: You initially announced you were running for an at-large council seat, well before Tom Menino announced he wasn’t running for re-election. Why have you ended up running in District 5?
Jean-Claude Sanon: After Mr. [Rob] Consalvo decided to run for mayor, it made much more sense for me to run for the district. This district has the fourth-largest minority population, so it was an advantage for me to take and run for it instead of going at-large.
I remember you running at-large a few years ago. Had you been thinking about running again since then—that your campaign had laid the groundwork for another campaign for city council?
Definitely. I always promised that I was coming back, that this was not going to be my last draw on this field. I have continued the groundwork by remaining on committees and becoming more effective in regard to all my participation within the community. The focus has been always there, and this is why I have decided to do it in 2013.
That district, like you said, has a lot of minorities, but it’s very diverse. Tell me how you see the district, and how you can represent it well.
The district consists of Mattapan, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Readville; I have lived in three of these vicinities. I lived in Mattapan as a young man and also as a grandparent now. I have also lived and raised a family in Roslindale and in Hyde Park. The district has very large populations of Haitian-Americans, and a large population of Hispanics, and other diverse ethnic groups with whom I have worked in the past, that I can surely give real representation.
The Haitian community has grown considerably in the Boston area, including your district, as a result of people leaving Haiti after the tragedy there, the earthquake. How has that growing community been accepted by others in the district? Has it been a warm reception?
I would say it is. I have noticed the work of the establishments within the area, of really allowing or accepting the people to settle. They have run to their rescue and have really supported them. There is such a mixed job that is taking place between the Haitian non-profit organizations, together with other organizations. People are very supportive of the Haitian community. It has grown a lot. It has demonstrated itself—it has participated in the past, it has recently turned out for Linda Forry in her election [for state senator], and my path will be even bigger because of my 37 years of experience. But this is not simply a Haitian campaign because Haitians have a lot of friends within the district, so we are going to merge Haitian-Americans together with all the different diverse groups for this campaign for District 5. That is the representation the district deserves, and we are going to deliver that for them.
Linda Forry, like you said, showed that she could transcend any particular niche and appeal to a lot of people. She’s younger than you, but do you think you and she are similar? Do you stand for a lot of the same issues, and can you have the same appeal?
The only difference is I have 37 years of experience. We have a very close relationship, we have a lot of similar ideas in terms of the issues, but I had been a community organizer way, way before Linda had even talked about politics. I can organize the community in terms of taking civic matters into my own hands. I can remember the days back in the ’80s when I would be educating the community as far as becoming citizens. It was a very big issue. For the past 20 years, I have been delivering constituent services by helping other officials to be elected. I have uplifted so many of them, whether it’s President, whether it’s Senator, whether it’s mayor, and they all have taken advantage of the work that we have done. So right now I think it’s time for us to take it ourselves, and really get somebody who has done the work to prove his mettle. Marie [St. Fleur] is also helping out with this campaign, and so is Linda.
In terms of economic issues and helping people get jobs in that area, what are some of the solutions you can bring to the city?
Number one, I will try to work to improve access to capital for small businesses because there are lots of mom-and-pop stores within the district that need the help. Number two, not only bring in the funds, but bring in the education so they can sustain themselves for long-lasting success. We have seen some very short success within this community, but would love to see some long-lasting establishments as well. So I will definitely be a fighter and advocate on their behalf, and make sure that they do get what they deserve.
On education—and I understand you have at least one grandchild now, in addition to the five children you have, is that correct?
Yes, you are correct.
Did your children go through the Boston Public Schools?
Unfortunately, no, but I am a product of the Boston public schools myself. No, they did not have a chance to, and my grandchild has moved to New York. However, I have been an ally of Haitian students for a long, long time—and not only Haitian students, because I have participated in very heavy discussions on the issue of education. I am very concerned about it, and will definitely be a good advocate for this issue, because to me, education is the key element of survival for this district. I really want to be there with them, and find out what the parents are really in need of, and make sure they have an advocate who is a player around the table that will fight for them. We will take education to another level.
Working with the next mayor will be important for the next district councilor; do you have good relationships with many of the candidates who are running for mayor?
I have good relationships with them, and I have supported and worked with all of them in the past. If you were to mention my name to any one of them, they will certainly give you descriptions of what I have done together with them, in their campaigns and issues of concern. And the current mayor we have right now, going back for at least 20 years I have worked with and supported his campaigns.
Are there any issues that you are talking about in your campaign that you think make you stand out?
I want to establish coalitions with other council members. I want to be a player that is going to be very important and key as far as outreach to everyone in the community, no exceptions whatsoever. I want to be very reliable, effective, and committed. And I pledge to be the people’s elected official and servant, and don’t plan on being anything else but that. I am a true community organizer. I will continue to be that. Folks will be able to get hold of me, and talk with me, and I will be committed to do everything, and find solutions with them —not just by myself but with them.
I remember also from your last campaign that you registered a lot of new people to vote, will you be doing that this time too?
We are, on a daily basis. When I go out and knock at somebody’s door, I always question, is there anybody there who is not yet registered? I have done it, and I am doing it on a daily basis, and we are going to shock people out there by demonstrating that there will be quite a few new additional constituents participating in the election.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.