Who is Jon Santiago? The Massachusetts state rep out to be Boston’s first Latino mayor
Santiago announced his campaign on Feb. 23, and recently got an endorsement from Latino Victory Fund.
Latinos account for a growing share of the population across Massachusetts, especially in Boston.
One in five Boston residents now identify as Hispanic, according to recent U.S. Census data. However, Latinos remain underrepresented in state and local politics. With that in mind, State Rep. Jon Santiago wants to change that reality.
Now, he’s a rising candidate to be Boston’s first Latino mayor. Santiago announced his campaign on Feb. 23, 2021.
Along with the need to change the faces of representation in the city, Santiago is also grounded in his run for office by his previous service in the medical industry as an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center. The experience made him aware of the challenges faced by too many people in the city, particularly during the pandemic.
Santiago is also deeply concerned with healthcare for all Boston residents, whether it be mental health and substance use treatment, medical care for survivors of gun violence, or care for those who have been evicted and may be facing homelessness.
Through his work at Boston Medical Center, Santiago has witnessed his fair share of trauma, much of it stemming from problems that could have been prevented.
Boston is at a turning point— the pandemic has held a mirror up to the inequities we see every day and laid bare our vulnerabilities.
This moment requires a leader who can lead us through a recovery rooted in equity to a better future. That’s why I’m running for mayor of Boston. pic.twitter.com/vUmtVajbSw
— Jon Santiago (@IamJonSantiago) February 23, 2021
“As much as I love the emergency room and taking care of people, I want to get to the root causes,” he told WBUR.
Just as it did all over the country, Santiago said that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the inequities in Boston and exacerbated them.
“Part of this run for mayor is to make sure that those issues and that urgency remains long after...everyone is vaccinated," he said. "To make sure that we are addressing things like housing inequity and transportation inequity."
On a recent Sunday morning in East Boston, Santiago held a small event outside on the patio of the Pueblo Viejo restaurant. A few dozen people gathered around the mayoral hopeful to listen to music, eat chicken and rice, and talk politics.
"My life has been about public service," Santiago told the crowd. "The only reason I got involved in politics was because my community deserved more."
Sandra Aleman-Nijjar, founder of Stand Up for Eastie, a community soup kitchen, was present at the event and told WBUR that she was impressed with Santiago’s resume as an Army reserve captain, a doctor and a state representative, and she would like to see him become the city’s first Latino Mayor.
Sandra Lorena Nijjar, founder of the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen, continues to help feed those in need. pic.twitter.com/KFiAaUXut3
— Jo Ann Fitzgerald (@JoAFitzgerald) March 26, 2020
“As a Latina woman, I would be very proud of him — very proud of him [for] accomplishing that," she said.
Adrian Velasquez, an East Boston real estate attorney, also attended the event, and said that he supports Santiago not just because of his Latin heritage, but because he understands the needs of people in communities like his.
Velasquez also mentioned to WBUR that his impressive resume makes him a great candidate to represent the community, pointing out that he also served in the Peace Corps.
“If you look at the impact that COVID-19 had in [communities of color], what better person to understand that than someone who has been on the front lines,” Velasquez said.
Santiago is certainly building a solid rapport with the Latino community members in his district, but not enough Latino residents are voting in these local elections.
We are grateful to be joined by many Latinx Bostonians—from Puerto Ricans to Dominicans, Salvadorians to Colombians, the Latinx community is expansive & diverse, not monolithic.
I will continue to work hard for every vote from every Bostonian! https://t.co/CbrcNSXx57
— Jon Santiago (@IamJonSantiago) May 24, 2021
Velasquez said that one reason for the lack of civic engagement among Latinos in Boston is because many recent immigrants just don’t have the time.
"It's difficult to engage when you have two jobs, when you are spending [so much time commuting], when you have to provide not only for your family here but also for your family back in your country of origin," he said.
According to Phillip Granberry, a demographer at UMass Boston, there are other reasons why Latinos aren’t voting.
He explained that the Latino population includes a lot of non-citizens as well as people under 18 who are not yet eligible to vote. Granberry said that nearly half the Latino residents in East Boston are undocumented.
This could make it more difficult for Santiago to defeat the other five major candidates, but he knows how crucial it is for Latinos to have representation in City Hall, and that keeps him going.
"It's important that our leadership, that our representation, that our government reflect the citizens it serves," he said. "And to be the first Latino mayor of Boston would be an honor. But I'm here to be everyone's mayor."
A recent WBUR poll showed that Santiago and City Councilor Michelle Wu were the favorites for mayor among Latino voters. But the poll also hinted towards a big challenge for Santiago: more than 50% of poll participants have not yet heard of him.
Despite this, Santiago is gaining support where it matters, and still has time to make Boston residents aware of his relevant professional history, his campaign, and his readiness to be a public servant.
On March 31, Santiago gained endorsement from Latino Victory Fund, the organization committed to building political power in the Latino community.
On his way to making history and becoming the first Latino mayor of Boston, @IAmJonSantiago is affirming our theory of change by intentionally engaging and mobilizing Boston's burgeoning Latino community.
— Latino Victory (@latinovictoryus) May 24, 2021
Nathalie Rayes, President and CEO of the organization, released a statement in support of Santiago’s campaign.
“Dr. Jon Santiago is an effective legislator who has dedicated his career to improving the quality of life for all Bostonians,” she said.
“At a time when more Latinos are breaking ground in elected positions, Jon’s historic race is a testament to the fight for representation in diverse cities across the country. Latino Victory is thrilled to support Jon’s candidacy for mayor of Boston.”