Youthful zeal fuels Boston mayoral campaigns

Jalen Wiggins (left), 19, and Ariel Champagnie, 24, knocked on doors for their candidate Tuesday in Mattapan.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Jalen Wiggins (left), 19, and Ariel Champagnie, 24, knocked on doors for their candidate Tuesday in Mattapan.

Mayoral candidate Michael P. Ross met with a group of tattooed skateboarders, at the recommendation of a campaign intern in his 20s with a passion for the sport. Martin J. Walsh hired a 24-year-old communications aide who pushes the candidate to pepper his Twitter posts with more exclamation points and adjectives.

And one of Charlotte Golar Richie’s volunteers, a Northeastern University graduate student, has suggested holding a Zumba class on the campaign trail. “Charlotte loves Zumba,” said Ashley Brown, 25.

Aerobics is not yet on the schedule, but the idea reflects the passion and interests brought to the race by men and women in their late teens and 20s who grew up knowing only Thomas M. Menino as their mayor.


Energized by the wide-open field, they have joined campaigns usually dominated by union activists, city employees, and older voters.

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“People my age have never seen an election like this,” said Beata Coloyan, a Boston University senior who grew up in Hyde Park and is volunteering for Councilor at Large John R. Connolly’s campaign. “In general we’ve never even paid attention to this . . . because the thinking was always ‘Menino is going to win.’ Now the race is so open. For people my age, it feels as important as the presidential race.”

Many of the newcomers, fiercely devoted to their candidates, are working 40 to 70 hours a week for little or no money, doing the traditional campaign work of phone banking and neighborhood canvassing, but also nudging their candidates to embrace social media or find voters beyond the typical neighborhood block parties and kaffeeklatsches.

The freshness of the candidates and the tightness of the 12-person race, in which almost any of the candidates could move past the Sept. 24 preliminary election into the two-person runoff, make this race particularly exciting, said Ricardo A. Sanchez, a volunteer for Ross’s campaign who was in diapers when Menino began his 20-year tenure.

“I feel like every phone call I make, every voter I talk to, every hand that I shake at an event, I’m really making a difference,” said Sanchez, 21, who grew up in Brighton and East Boston.


But they have learned quickly that in the rough and tumble world of Boston politics, not every voter shares their wide-eyed enthusiasm.

Jalen Wiggins, who turns 20 on Election Day, recalled a Mattapan voter who refused to come to the door, then turned on the sprinklers as Wiggins walked away.

Wiggins, a graduate of TechBoston Academy and an organizer for Robert Consalvo, said he has persisted, fueled by his devotion to his candidate and the adrenaline rush that comes when a voter comes to the door, ready to listen.

“I thought all the walking would take all the energy out of me,” Wiggins said. “But, oddly, I come back every single day and I’m feeling like I want more.”

Fellow Consalvo organizer Ariel Champagnie, 24, said voters can be blunt, sometimes asking her if she is stumping for Consalvo only because she is getting paid.


She has a ready response: “I work more volunteer hours than I get paid.”

Champagnie and Wiggins, like many other campaign workers, declined to disclose their salary.

Some chose their candidates after researching them online. Others found their way onto campaigns through a teacher’s recommendation or by answering an ad on Craigslist.

For Jackie DiNatale, 23, who grew up in West Roxbury, joining Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s campaign was personal. She began volunteering in August, after Conley announced that investigators had definite proof that Albert DeSalvo killed the last of the Boston Strangler’s victims.

DiNatale, who is the granddaughter of Phil DiNatale, one of the lead detectives on the case in the 1960s who always insisted DeSalvo was the serial killer, said the announcement was gratifying.

“He vindicated my grandfather’s legacy,” said DiNatale, who tweets Conley’s remarks at events or stumps for him on Facebook, pointing out his jobs plan to her 561 “friends.”

The toughest task for the young workers can be persuading their peers to pay attention.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff
Sam Chambers tweeted Tuesday for his candidate, Martin Walsh (foreground), who visited Boston Latin Academy.

“I live with two roommates,” said Sam Chambers, Walsh’s 24-year-old communications assistant. “I have tried so hard to get them involved. They’ll go out and vote just because they know this race is really important to me, but if I wasn’t there I don’t think they’d really be interested.”

Wiggins, the Consalvo organizer, said he is constantly reminding his friends who attend college out of state to vote absentee.

“I call them; I text,” Wiggins said. “I’m a huge texter. I ask: ‘Are you paying attention to the mayoral race? You need to. Your future is going to be affected by this.’ ”

Danielson Tavares, field organizer for candidate John Barros, said he has dispatched young volunteers to the Boston College campus, Allston, and Brighton to target students.

During the summer, the volunteers registered people at their homes and are now getting back in touch to remind them of the preliminary race, Tavares said.

“We’re trying to get into ‘get out the vote’ mode,” he said. “We’re definitely going to need a lot of first-time voters.”

Andrea Schlageter, a 21-year-old field organizer for candidate Bill Walczak, said his campaign has focused on voters with a long history of coming to the polls. But she wishes that more of her friends shared her enthusiasm for the race.

“I think for young people outside of the political realm, they are busy doing other things and worrying about other things, like how to pay all their bills or rent for the first time,” she said. “Which is odd because they’re all huge issues in the mayor’s race.”

Still, the influence of younger voices on some of the campaigns has helped candidates recognize new constituencies.

Ross’s initial meeting with skateboarders led to a campaign event in a paved lot behind Laced, a South End shop that sells high-end sneakers, where Ross was able to talk up his platform to dozens of party promoters and artists as a DJ played rap hits.

“Not the people you usually see walking through the halls of City Hall or the State House,” Ross said. “This is a group that I think is a growth area.”

Maria Cramer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Globe