Jon Santiago, an emergency room doctor and state representative who built his run for mayor of Boston on his unusual political profile, is dropping out of the race two months before the preliminary election, he said Tuesday.
An emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center, captain in the US Army Reserve, and a second-term state lawmaker, Santiago pitched himself as an experienced crisis manager well-suited to guide the city out of the pandemic as its first Latino mayor.
But the 39-year-old struggled to break through a historically diverse field and beyond the South End and Roxbury neighborhoods he represents on Beacon Hill. He is the first major candidate to leave the race ahead of the Sept. 14 preliminary election, departing a field that is currently led by four women of color.
“It’s become clear to me that the people of Boston are moving in the direction of supporting a woman of color,” Santiago said in a phone interview Tuesday, hours after he announced his decision in a video on Twitter and in an email to supporters. “I’m a pretty pragmatic individual. It was clear that the writing was on the wall.”
The South End Democrat said he’s spoken with the other candidates in the field Tuesday morning and intends to support one of the women in the field — Acting Mayor Kim Janey, City Councilor Michelle Wu, City Councilor Andrea Campbell, or City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, all of whom have run at the citywide or district level and have enjoyed higher name recognition in the months since Santiago launched his campaign in February.
Santiago, whose State House seat is on the ballot next fall, indicated he will not seek a job under whoever emerges from the mayoral field. “I don’t have any intention to go work in City Hall,” he said.
Santiago often polled toward the back of the race’s six major candidates in public surveys and despite jumping into the race in February, has not kept pace with others’ fund-raising. Santiago has raised about $724,000 this year, according to campaign finance reports — more than $275,000 behind several of the race’s top fund-raisers and about $150,000 less than Acting Mayor Kim Janey.
His exit leaves five other major candidates in the field, including John Barros, Boston’s former economic development chief and a 2013 mayoral candidate who similarly has struggled to gain traction in the field among polled voters.
Born in Puerto Rico and raised for a time in Boston, Santiago has moved quickly up the city’s political ladder. He won an upset victory in 2018, unseating a 36-year incumbent, state Representative Byron Rushing, then the Legislature’s highest-ranking lawmaker of color.
In that campaign — and in his bid for mayor — he pledged to address crises of public health, including the opioid epidemic.
While serving in the Legislature, Santiago has worked weekend overnight shifts in the emergency department at Boston Medical Center, the city’s safety-net hospital and New England’s busiest trauma center. The Yale University School of Medicine graduate has said the work has given him a ground-level view of the pandemic and the problems hurting the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Since last year, the dual roles of doctor and lawmaker also made him a regular voice on local TV stations about the state’s pandemic response, helping to elevate his profile.
Yet, as a lawmaker representing roughly 40,000 city residents in the Legislature, he faced the challenge of introducing himself to a wider audience of voters in a city of roughly 700,000.
He was the first in the field to roll out a television ad campaign, funding a 30-second spot that emphasized his night job as a doctor and the primary victory that helped to first launch him into elected office.
Santiago reported spending more than $95,000 on television advertising in early June. Later that month, more than 36 percent of likely voters surveyed in a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll said they had still never heard of him.
His campaign navigated other hiccups. In late May, Santiago gathered more than a dozen State House lawmakers from beyond Boston to help boost his mayoral bid, arguing that his support within legislative circles outside the city would still give Boston a leg up on Beacon Hill. But his attempt to brandish his support from legislative leaders became quickly overshadowed by a comment from Speaker Ronald Mariano, who joked he was “afraid my car’s gonna get stolen” during the South End event.
Mariano apologized later the same day, and Santiago, while calling the House speaker a friend, distanced himself from the comment, calling it disappointing and “emblematic of the kind of thinking we’re trying to move beyond.”
On Tuesday, Santiago nodded to his relatively green political career, saying the citywide run was “one heck of a learning experience.” And after temporarily stepping back from his hospital duties last month amid the campaign, he said he’s quickly returning to his medical work.
“I’m working tonight,” he said.