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A wave of diversity changes the look of local councils

The first Latina Stephanie Martins (left) and first black woman Gerly Adrien joined the Everett City Council.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

In the 127 years that Everett has been a city, its residents had elected four councilors who were not white.

This week alone, they added three more people of color.

Monday marked the inauguration of the city’s first black female councilor (Gerly Adrien), the first Latina (Stephanie Martins), and the first Asian-American (Jimmy Tri Le). Everett, which previously had an all-white council governing a very diverse city, was not unique in breaking new ground in this season of newly seated municipal governments.

Newton inaugurated the state’s first transgender city councilor, Holly Ryan. Cambridge installed City Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui as mayor, making her the first Muslim woman in the state to hold the title. And the Boston City Council welcomed its first gay woman, Liz Breadon, and first Afro-Latina immigrant, Julia Mejia.


The excitement was palpable at the inauguration in Faneuil Hall, where supporters whooped and cheered and offered a standing ovation for Mejia when Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke of her election’s significance. The 13-member City Council will be the most diverse in Boston’s history and, for the first time, majority female, Walsh noted.

The wave of firsts sworn in to municipal governments across Massachusetts this week won’t necessarily bring a change of course in terms of public policy. And all these new officeholders come with their own individual agendas. But for those hoping to see governments that look a lot more like the communities they serve, it is a significant milestone.

Jimmy Tri Le is the first Asian councilor for Everett.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

State Representative Nika C. Elugardo, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who seldom sees people of color represented in statues and portraits in historic Boston, noted how remarkable the Boston inauguration in Faneuil Hall was.

“Often at the State House, I’ve looked at the reliefs that we have and I’ve imagined all the people of our Commonwealth present in those pictures,” said Elugardo. “But there was like a spiritual space created for us — in the words of the documents and in the ethos of what was going on — and now we’re seeing it come to pass.”


The newcomers are not tired of all the winning.

In Waltham, Jonathan Paz, 26, the son of Bolivian immigrants, unseated a 30-year incumbent to become one of the youngest city councilors in the state. Northampton elected its first African-American to the City Council, John Thorpe.

Seven years ago, Shannon Hume became the first woman to serve on Braintree’s Town Council. This week, she was elected president, joined by three other women. The nine-member council now includes five first-time officeholders.

Quincy City Councilor Nina Liang — one of two Asian-Americans first elected to the City Council a few years back — was elected the body’s first Asian-American president this week. She’s also the executive director of Emerge Massachusetts, a candidate training program for Democratic women that has fueled many of the successful female candidates.

“So many women across the Commonwealth have made history in local elections,” Liang said, contrasting the efficacy of local government with the frustration and intransigence often felt on the national political landscape. “That’s really inspiring when you hear what’s going on with Iran.”

Everett’s first black female councilor, Adrien, is a 30-year-old Haitian-American who was unusually concerned with the local news and politics by age 10. When her mother mentioned constituent services one day, it hit her: “I was like, ‘Mom that’s what I want to do. I want to help every-one.’ ”


After Bentley University and stints in New York and Philadelphia, she returned home and set to work. She trained with Emerge, and attempted but lost two campaigns for state representative before prevailing in her council campaign. (Her husband, who ran at the same time, narrowly lost a bid for school committee.)

Adrien is a wave-maker, she realizes, who is “not the favorite” among her new colleagues. But she was gratified by the reception she got both in the election and in the listening tour she held afterward (setting a trend that other local pols followed).

“I honestly think what helped me was there was some people from the traditional Everett that voted for me that wanted change, as well as new people,” Adrien said.

By the night of her inauguration, Everett’s council chambers were packed and 65 people wanted pictures with her.

“The best thing about last night was seeing the room filled to capacity with people who have never gone to a city council meeting or an event,” she said Tuesday. “That was the most inspiring.”

At Marlborough’s inauguration, the crowd supporting new City Councilor Samantha Perlman included her AP government teacher. Perlman only graduated from high school in 2013.

At 24, she’s the youngest woman ever to be sworn in to the council. She returned to her hometown after college to work in organizations promoting civics education and engagement. But when people began to ask about her own plans, Perlman had a hard time explaining why she wasn’t running herself.


“Why am I not doing the same thing in my own community?” she asked herself.

The first-time candidate topped the ticket of at-large councilors in November. On Monday, she wore a white pants suit in tribute to the suffragists and tweeted out a picture referring to herself using the plural: “We are the youngest woman ever elected to the Marlborough City Council on the 100 year anniversary of women securing the right to vote.”

The plural was intentional.

“I’m symbolic for everyone in this community,” she said. “This is not about me. It never was. The real change comes from the community and from the people.“

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert