LOOK EAST: Gloribell Mota is knocking on doors. Will Hispanic voters answer at the polls?
In East Boston, where four candidates are vying in a special election for state representative, hopes have been high that Democratic candidate Gloribell Mota might draw the neighborhood’s Hispanic residents into the political process — and into the voting booths. Mota, born in the US to immigrant parents from El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, may yet win the September 25 primary, but it looks as if the blossoming of Hispanic political power in Eastie is still on hold.
Hispanics now account for 40 percent of East Boston’s population, but have traditionally contributed less than 10 percent of the votes there. And other recent candidates have tried to mobilize East Boston’s Hispanic residents with little success.
Observers of the current race see no evidence that Mota, former organizing director for at-large city councilor Felix Arroyo, will do much better. Even her campaign staff concedes they would now be happy to see more than 300 Hispanics in the expected total voter turnout of 3200 — a deficit in participation that has been attributed by some to lack of citizenship, and by others to elected officials’ lack of attention to Hispanic residents and their issues. Of course, that complaint works both ways: elected officials naturally tend to pay attention to people who vote.
“For some it’s been surprisingly refreshing,” says Mota, “when I knock on their door, that a candidate has actually come to talk to them.”
The participation of such marginalized voters could ultimately decide whether more minority candidates succeed in Boston politics. Most immediately, if Mota were to bring large numbers of East Boston Hispanics into the process, it would help Arroyo in his bid for re-election this November.
While that looks increasingly unlikely to occur, it doesn’t mean Mota’s hopes for election are dashed. A number of progressives have moved into East Boston, says Mota’s campaign manager, Samantha King. Plus, Mota has endorsements from the Boston Teachers Union, the National Association of Social Workers, Mass Alliance, Clean Water Action, Planned Parenthood, Oiste?, and the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.
What Mota could really use now is some money, having raised only $20,000, to which she has added $15,000 of her own. Jeff Drago, who works in Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, has raised $40,000, largely from Mayor Tom Menino’s supporters. Carlo Basile, a conservative Democrat who worked for former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, has reached into Republican circles to raise more than $75,000. A fourth candidate, Mary Berninger, has raised less than $7000.
Observers of the race say that neither Drago or Basile has wowed anyone yet, leaving the possibility that the two of them will split the Italian neighborhood vote, while Mota cobbles together 1400 from Latinos, progressives, and young voters to sneak away with the victory.
That would be much easier to do if she could count on 600 or 800 Hispanic votes instead of 300. Instead, she is knocking on doors of Latinos and Anglos alike, preaching a cross-cultural platform of public safety and improved schools. “At the end of the day, we’re going to have to work as a community,” says Mota — though for now, they don’t vote as one.