Calling himself “a son of Boston,” Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo officially launched his campaign for mayor of Boston on Saturday at the South End housing development where his family lived when he was born.
Around 250 supporters gathered outdoors at the Villa Victoria housing development to hear Arroyo’s speech, in which he vowed to substantially increase resources for education, and named economic development, municipal services, and neighborhood safety as being among his top priorities.
“It’s hard to dream if you can’t pay the bills,” Arroyo told the crowd. “Boston is a prosperous city, and we must make sure that all neighborhoods share in that prosperity.”
Arroyo, a former union political director who was elected city councilor at large in 2009, floated two specific proposals: one to establish a number of “little city halls” that would provide constituent services in each neighborhood, and a second that would prohibit the city from doing business with banks that do not lend to local businesses and homeowners.
The choice of venue was significant to Arroyo: His parents moved into the Villa Victoria after emigrating from Puerto Rico. His mother worked as a teacher in the public school system, while his father was elected to the Boston School Committee and eventually became a prominent city councilor.
“This is where my family’s journey began in Boston. When they moved to Boston looking for a better life for themselves and their family, they came right here to the Villa Victoria, and when I was born, they brought me back here to Villa Victoria,” Arroyo told reporters after the event. “We’ve had great opportunities in this city, my family. We’re just so grateful for them, and this campaign is about making sure everybody has those same opportunities.”
Arroyo’s wife, Jasmine Acevedo, is also a teacher in Boston, and Arroyo said that has informed his views on education. The couple bought supplies for her classroom out of their own pockets, he said.
“The state of our schools is personal to me, because for most of the 57,000 students who attend our public schools, that was not one of the options, that was the option,” Arroyo said, calling for more investment in early childhood education, special education, and dual-language education. “They deserve a first-class education because each and every one of them is a first-class child.”
Arroyo downplayed his status as the first-ever Hispanic candidate to qualify for the city’s mayoral ballot, saying he works with Bostonians of all colors as a city councilor and that his campaign will reach out to a broad set of voters in every neighborhood.
“I’m very proud of who I am and where I come from. I wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t for the way I was brought up,” he said. “But also, I am running to be the mayor for the entire city of Boston.”
The campaign kickoff attracted a diverse audience that included equal numbers of veteran political operatives, enthusiastic young campaigners, and neighborhood activists and residents of all ages and ethnicities. Many said they had dealt with Arroyo personally, and praised his unpretentious manner.
“He’s down to earth and laid back. He doesn’t look down on the people, he blends in” said Shateara Battle, a 26-year-old Dorchester resident. “He has immigrant parents, so he knows the full struggle people are facing today.”
Battle said Arroyo’s knowledge of the inner workings of Boston’s school system was a key factor in winning her vote; her son Tylize is a student in the public schools.
Deb Nam-Krane, a 40-year-old Jamaica Plain resident and the mother of four children, said she became an Arroyo supporter after he helped move a bus stop closer to her house.
“I thought it was a shot in the dark, but he came through,” said Nam-Krane, who was also impressed by Arroyo’s pledge to bring economic development to all of Boston’s neighborhoods. “He’s got a really generous, easygoing manner. Some politicians sound extremely scripted . . . but [Arroyo] actually has a sense of humor.”
The mayoral hopeful faces a crowded field of 11 other candidates, some of whom have far more cash to spend,.
“Frankly, I haven’t put a lot of thought [into] what the field looks like,” he told reporters. “I’m focused on our campaign. Growing a grass-roots campaign, going door to door . . . that’s how we’re going to stand out.”