Evandro Carvalho Carries the City’s Cape Verdean Hopes

Evandro Carvalho will be the next state representative for the 5th Suffolk district in Roxbury and Dorchester; the eclectic, voting-averse community has now, over the past 30 years, elected representatives with Italian-American, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Panamanian, and now Cape Verdean heritage.

On the one hand, it’s a potential sign that, spurred by John Barros’s mayoral campaign, Boston’s large, vibrant Cape Verdean community might be finding its political muscle. On the other hand, he won Tuesday’s Democratic primary (there is no Republican candidate) with just 960 of a meager 1,957 total votes cast. That should further embolden Carlos Henriquez—currently in jail and expelled from the seat by the House members—to follow through with his vow to run this fall to regain his seat.

This is a woeful district; number crunchers tell me it has the worst turnout of any House district in the Commonwealth. Very little money gets raised or spent on the campaigns, and the same few perennial candidates constantly threaten to walk into office (and once did) by virtue of low turnout and distrust of outsiders.

But the district has also provided some genuine reason for pride and hope. In 1988, the district made Nelson Merced the first Hispanic elected to the Massachusetts state legislature. Charlotte Golar Richie used the seat to vault to political prominence and a major role in the Menino administration. Marie St. Fleur held the seat for more than a decade, much to the joy of Boston’s Haitian-American community, and was practically vice-mayor by the end of Menino’s last term.

Henriquez seemed to be moving in that direction until his conviction for assault. And when House Democrats decided to oust him and force a quick special election—with the winner likely to face Henriquez months later—there seemed a real possibility that Barry Lawton (runner-up to Merced, St. Fleur, and Henriquez) would win and set up a rematch of the close and bitterly contentious 2010 Lawton-Henriquez race.

Fortunately, two good first-time candidates emerged: Carvalho, an immigrant who used education to make himself into an attorney, and who came out of Barros’s political operation; and Karen Charles, a smart, well-connected political aide. Charles, in my view, would likely be an excellent representative, but you could already picture how she’d be portrayed by Henriquez’s supporters as the community outsider—the downtown candidate. (As Henriquez himself was labelled not so long ago.)

Carvalho might be the right candidate for the moment. His biography and the strength of the Cape Verdean community will make it hard to paint him as a tool of the outsiders. Henriquez will have to run against him, as he should, in a fair argument over who can best serve the district.

Whatever happens in that showdown, Carvalho’s win at least momentarily provides a prideful moment for Boston’s wonderful, vibrant Cape Verdean community too often marred by the behavior of its worst members—many of them men Carvalho’s age. His positive trajectory is a welcome rejoinder to their poor choices, and we should all celebrate it.