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District 5 council race reflects altered ethnic landscape

Timothy McCarthy (left) and Jean-Claude Sanon.

Wendy Maeda/Globe staff

Timothy McCarthy (left) and Jean-Claude Sanon.

Along the southern tip of Boston, City Council District 5 straddles two different worlds — and both are radically changing.

Haitian and Caribbean residents are a booming population in Hyde Park and Mattapan, where residents are itching for better representation in political office.

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And Roslindale, rooted in Polish-, Italian-, and Irish-American families, is experiencing a surge of young professionals, many of them priced out of neighboring Jamaica Plain.

Amid the shadow of the historic mayoral election, two men from these two worlds are fighting to replace outgoing Councilor Rob Consalvo, who is leaving the post after 10 years after an unsuccessful bid for mayor.

Timothy McCarthy, who is of Irish descent and who has spent his whole life in Hyde Park, is up against Jean-Claude Sanon, a native of Haiti who has built a home in Mattapan. McCarthy beat Sanon by nearly 700 votes in the Sept. 24 preliminary election.

As he crisscrosses the district knocking on doors, McCarthy is delivering a message to voters: He knows how to get things done.

“I’ve lived in Hyde Park for 43 years, so I’ve seen it change,’’ said McCarthy, a Boston Public Works manager. “I want to have everyone move in the same direction. And I think District 5 can do that.”

Sanon, a community advocate, said he knows he is within striking distance of McCarthy. In his pitch to voters, he stresses his lengthy background as an activist, adding that his track record is proof that he can unify residents in a diverse district.

“This is a majority-minority district,’’ said Sanon. “Many Hispanics, Haitians, and a large number of people from the Caribbean are moving to Hyde Park and Roslindale. I am the candidate who can blend this district together.”

The district is experiencing huge demographic shifts. Its population increased from 64,300 in 2000 to a little more than 83,000 in 2010 — and most of its residents are people of color, according to census data.

District 5 spans three neighborhoods: the sprawling parklands and bustling business hub of Roslindale; the leafy backyards of Hyde Park, which also boasts a golf course and views of the Neponset River; and Mattapan, with both serene stretches and violent hot spots, and a main square that offers a mishmash of mom-and-pop shops struggling to be known. Recently, a new cafe opened next to a gleaming health center, offering a glimmer of hope in the neighborhood, which serves as a gateway into the city from the south.

Sanon said if he is elected, he would press for more funding for a safer, more educated neighborhood. He wants more improvements in Mattapan, which he said has gotten a bad rap: The neighborhood is moving forward, he said, with renewed efforts to help residents prevent foreclosures, get jobs, and become civically engaged. A new tone is taking root there, he said.

“People are getting a lot better at this,’’ Sanon said. “Mattapan is waking up to the fact that they need participation in their city government.”

Sanon came to Boston in 1975 at age 16. A graduate of Newbury College, he was a community advocate and political activist, who has spent years registering people to vote in municipal elections.

He has been a strong link to the Haitian community, serving as interpreter for mayoral candidates like Bill Walczak. And he was a voice of reason during the school bus strike this month that stranded thousands of Boston students. He came out on Haitian radio to urge drivers back to work and management to meet with the bus drivers to address their grievances.

Sanon has operated several businesses, including Avant-garde, which provides interpretation and translation of immigration, legal, and other documents to mostly Haitian residents. He and his wife Michelle, have five children and one grandchild.

McCarthy is a fixture in the Readville section of Hyde Park, where his wife, Maureen, also grew up and his parents settled. He got his start at City Hall 23 years ago as a neighborhood coordinator, and later became director of Boston Youth Build, which got jobs for youths all year round.

As top manager to the public works commissioner since 2005, McCarthy’s chief job is to address residents’ concerns about zoning, safety, and basic city services. McCarthy said he is taking to heart advice that Mayor Thomas M. Menino gave him years ago about his work on behalf of the city.

“He said, ‘What people see out their front doors is what is most important,’ ’’ McCarthy recalled.

“That planted a bug in my head. People want to see they are in a safe environment. They want to the street lights on. They want to know the potholes are going to be filled and the streets are going be plowed,” he said.

He said all residents in the district will be looking for someone who is like the mayor and Consalvo — someone who puts them first.

“They want response. They want quick action,’’ McCarthy said. “I think that transcends skin color. At least I hope it does.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at MeghanIrons.
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