BROOKLINE — US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat who famously vanquished a 10-term incumbent with a grass-roots campaign that left holes in her shoes, brought her political star power to Brookline on Saturday to support a Select Board candidate.
Speaking at a rally for Raul Fernandez, 41, in the sanctuary of First Parish in Brookline, Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd she is endorsing candidates for local offices in an effort to remake US politics from the ground up.
“Are we ready to canvass for Select Board?” Ocasio-Cortez asked after joining Fernandez on the altar. “It’s really these races that give me the most energy because this is what it’s all about: the true American spirit of self-governance, where, all the way down from our block to our president, we are in charge of our own destiny.”
Fernandez, a Town Meeting member, is in a three-way race for a single slot on the five-member Select Board. His rivals are Richard Nangle, a journalist, and Isaac Silberberg, a consultant. The election is Tuesday.
Fernandez, an associate dean at Boston University, said he met Ocasio-Cortez, 29, while he was working at the school’s Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground. Ocasio-Cortez, then an undergraduate, was a student ambassador at the center. She graduated from BU in 2011.
Both born in the Bronx, Fernandez and Ocasio-Cortez remained friends after her graduation. Fernandez held a fund-raiser for her in Brookline last April, about two months before her stunning primary win against longtime New York Congressman Joseph Crowley.
Last month, Ocasio-Cortez announced her plans to visit Brookline to campaign for Fernandez during a Facebook Live event with him.
“The congresswoman knows when she calls, I come. I’m glad that you were able to do the same for me,” said Fernandez, wearing a black T-shirt reading, “I AM MY ANCESTORS’ WILDEST DREAMS.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance began with a sold-out gathering for guests who paid $100 to support Fernandez’s campaign. The rally held afterward was free and open to the public. Volunteers left the event with campaign materials that they planned to distribute in town.
Fernandez told the crowd that Brookline’s reputation as a progressive enclave is tied to the town’s embrace of environmental issues and the LGBTQ community. In the area of racial justice, he said Brookline has more work to do.
“I’m placing a bet that Brookline wants to be pushed. I’m placing a bet that Brookline is ready to be pushed. I’m placing a bet that we can talk about racial justice and win an election in a predominantly white community,” he said, drawing cheers from the audience.
During the private gathering at the church, Fernandez said the town needs to encourage businesses owned by people of color to set up shop in Brookline. The town’s commercial districts are experiencing a lot of turnover, he said, and could benefit from an influx of businesses owned by minorities.
“We have this segregation issue that’s going on. We need to actually invite more of these vendors and also more of these businesses to come to our town, to add a little more flavor to our community,” Fernandez said.
Hector Cabrera, a children’s book author who lives in Brookline, brought his 17-year-old son to watch Ocasio-Cortez and Fernandez speak.
He said having a Latino on the municipal ballot is a notable development for Brookline.
“I feel like there’s not a really big Latino community in Brookline,” Cabrera said.
His son, Hector Cabrera III, said Ocasio-Cortez is an inspiration.
“Seeing a big leader like her is eye-opening,” he said.
Shalini Kasida brought her 13-year-old daughter, Elina, an eighth-grader and a fan of Ocasio-Cortez.
“I think it was refreshing. We don’t have enough minority representation in this town,” she said. “It’s great to see new blood coming in.”
Elina Kasida said she has followed Ocasio-Cortez’s improbable rise to Congress.
“She saw that there needed to be change and she decided to take that on,” she said. “That’s really inspiring.”
The chance to see Ocasio-Cortez drew people from outside Brookline such as Amely Sok, 22, who is volunteering for the campaign of Lynn City Council candidate Cinda Danh.
“It was so nice to see a congressperson. They don’t really come to our neighborhoods — only when it’s time for reelection,” she said.
Fernandez’s rivals said they spent the day campaigning.
Nangle, 58, said he campaigned Saturday in Coolidge Corner, where opponents of a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion measure were holding signs. Nangle said he is the only Select Board candidate to oppose the debt exclusion ballot question, which is being considered to raise money for school building projects.
“I think the town has a good history of passing school overrides and that’s all to the good, but this is a bad override question,” he said.
Silberberg, 25, said he spent Saturday knocking on doors. He spoke to voters about overcrowding in the public schools, affordable housing, and helping small businesses.
“Washington definitely has an impact on the work that we do, but our voters have a lot of important choices to make about Brookline on Tuesday,” he said in a phone interview.