Politics as Unusual: Arroyo may be just what Boston needs

There’s a remarkable candidate for mayor who I’ve largely and unfairly ignored in more than two dozen columns I have filed on the race. I’ve mentioned him a few times—heck, I’ve even noted long-shot pro-life nutter David James Wyatt on a number of occasions—but the hopeful I’m referring to deserves close attention, if not downright approval for being a popular progressive who’s not posing or posturing.

There are feasible explanations for why I’ve considered City Councilor-At-Large Felix G. Arroyo somewhat of a side note and even busted his chops—I’ve been particularly brutal about his trusty autobiographical stump speech, which I grew sick of during his second council run two years ago. For one, I know Felix and his family relatively well; his brother Ernesto, a lauded local activist and hip-hop artist, is an old buddy from my days as a music journalist, and I’ve even been to the candidate’s Jamaica Plain home for a barbecue. Arroyo will understand this, since he’s coached youth baseball for years, but it’s kind of like managing a Little League team that a good friend’s son plays for. In order to avoid the appearance of favoritism, there’s a tendency to make the kid ride pine regardless of his talent level.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that I was semi-consciously testing him. When he first ran for office in 2009, Arroyo struck me as being strangely hypersensitive. Though he’s demonstrably matured in the time since, the councilor used to nurture unhealthy grudges against journalists and rivals—in some cases for swipes they’d taken years ago at his father, former City Councilor Felix Arroyo. The younger Felix also seemed arrogant about his political viability—a confidence that later proved to be warranted, as he showed impressively across the city in consecutive races.

I was recently thinking about how I came to know Arroyo so well, and why I’ve probably spent more time with him than any other Boston pol over the years. It’s because he stands for many of the same principles that I abide by. He’s against crippling the entire public education system to benefit a few select charter schools; he’s fought a long campaign to divest from abusive mega-banks that neglect Hub businesses and homeowners; he recognizes that Walmart is in a corporate category of its own, and that discussions about their entering the Boston market should begin by acknowledging the incomparable impact that America’s largest private employer could wreak on the city’s stable but fragile economic ecosystem. In addition to those positions, just two weeks ago I ran into the councilor at an eviction blockade in Roslindale. It wasn’t the first time we’ve rubbed elbows on the front lines of the foreclosure crisis.

As is the case with all of his opponents, some things trouble me about Arroyo, namely his reluctance to say that if elected he would fire Police Commissioner Ed Davis. The dramatic tone that he employs in some public appearances can also get annoying, plus I’ve had reservations about getting a mayor who is my exact age of 34. Those last two gripes, however, were squashed last week after I spotted Arroyo getting his hair cut at a barbershop on South Street in Jamaica Plain. I walked into the storefront, took a seat, and told the councilor that I was recently priced out of the neighborhood and was moving to a neighboring city in a few days. As we commiserated over my departure—me, of course, being one of those lower-middle-income creatives who mayoral candidates yammer endlessly about retaining—I realized that someone my age, someone like Arroyo, may be just what Boston needs. The councilor has close friends and even family members who are currently experiencing housing problems. As for his vocal tone—it turns out he’s not acting. Arroyo really is that passionate.

Though I’ll concede that I’ve been foolish to pay such sparse attention to him thus far, this column is not an endorsement of Arroyo. Rather, I stand by claims I’ve made for months that there are more brains, talent and bravery in this race than in the entire Massachusetts legislature, and that I honestly have no conclusion about which contestant will be the best mayor. While I’ll be covering the race to the final bell, fortunately, since I no longer live in Boston, I won’t have to make that decision.

A former Boston Phoenix staff writer, Chris Faraone is now contributing editor at DigBoston. His column on the mayoral race appears regularly in the Jamaica Plain Gazette.

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