City Limits: Meet Boston’s 2013 Mayoral Candidates
It was 90 degrees outside as the United Neighbors Association began its meeting in the basement of Greenwood Memorial United Methodist Church, in Dorchester. There was no air conditioning, and a few of the 20 members of the concerned citizens’ group fanned themselves as a police officer finished giving them a report about a recent shooting. Then they turned to their next guest, John Barros.
“I’ve been sitting in meetings like this since I was 14 years old,” he told the group. “I’m around, I’m your neighbor.”
The 39-year-old son of Cape Verdean immigrants, Barros grew up in Roxbury, attended BC High and Dartmouth College (class of ’96), and then began a career in the insurance industry in New York. He returned in 2000 to serve as executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a highly regarded nonprofit that’s helped revitalize Roxbury. Along with his family, he’s the cofounder of the Cape Verdean Restaurante Cesaria—a spot he’s worked to turn into a safe neighborhood hub. In 2010 Menino appointed him as the first Cape Verdean member of the BPS School Committee.
Speaking to the group, he acknowledged that Menino had done admirable work for Boston’s race relations, but also pointed out that there are limits to how much an Italian-American guy can connect. “Someone’s got to step in and be out here,” he said, “and look at these brothers and say, ‘I am you, and you are mine.’”
On the trail, of course, Barros is talking about more than just race. He says his work experience allows him to relate to the business community and to young professionals. Then there’s his time on the school committee, which appeals to parents. He thinks the votes are there for him.
In reality, he faces long odds. He’s never run for office before, and his name recognition is low. At a J.P. farmers’ market, a woman said to him, “John Barros? I thought there was another Barros.” When I mentioned the name John Barros to my father, he asked if I was talking about a former Celtics player. (No, Dad, that was Dana Barros.)
Barros is way behind in fundraising, too. I asked him what he made of the fact that, for all the change in Boston, the leading fundraisers in the race were basically the firm of Conley, Connolly, and Walsh. “If you look at the top money earners,” he said, “that’s old Boston. Old Boston is still alive and kicking. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the voters of Boston.”
At the church meeting, Barros told the group that it didn’t even matter if they voted for him, as long as they voted. In the history of politics, zero candidates have uttered this line honestly. But when Barros said it, I sort of believed him. “There are certain communities in Boston,” he said later, “that are still invisible in the political conversation, that are not at the table for making certain decisions. And I mean geographic, but I also mean ethnic. I also mean in terms of agenda. I also mean in terms of age.
“There are a number of communities that should see this as an opportunity to engage and claim Boston.”