A recent Chelsea Community Workshop on the Community Preservation Act (CPA) witnessed a vibrant community come out to speak about future investments they want to see in their respective neighborhoods, and the newly-established Community Preservation Committee (CPC) said they are there to help residents accomplish those goals.
Taking place in the main room of Chelsea’s senior center, residents poured in at on Sept. 27, and listen to local committee members present the growing potential of tax revenues collected as part of the CPA, which was passed in Nov. 2016 by Chelsea voters. To date, there has yet to be any projects designated for development by CPA funds.
Jennifer Goldson, founder and Managing Director for JM Goldson, presented the main purpose of the community workshop. Goldson presented the most viable options to the community and get them the most for their money’s worth, while also collecting their opinions on the matter to engage the community’s wants directly.
“We have to prioritize how we use that money and be smart about it,” Goldson said.
Goldson said an estimated $1.46 million has been collected from taxpayers for the CPA in 2017-18, and is available for future investment possibilities.
The CPA, which was passed with 66.5 percent of the vote, allows Chelsea to have direct control over tax revenue collected through residential and commercial properties at a rate of 1.5 percent, which is also matched by state government assistance. This new tax revenue requires a 10 percent commitment to three categories: historic preservation, community housing, along with open space and outdoor recreation programs.
Totaling 30 percent for these three mandatory categories, the CPC presented varying ideas to the community about how they’d best like to allot the remaining 70 percent.
“As time goes on the priorities of our communities change,” Jose Iraheta, chair of the CPC stated as he greeted the crowd in both English and Spanish, adding “We really need your help to pick between the three brackets.”
Iraheta addressed those in attendance coming in by asking them to tally a total of seven points into the three categories presented for allocating the appropriate tax funds for Chelsea to choose from. Residents walked up to tally their choices with the overwhelming majority of these votes going to community housing funding.
Voting for specific returns in the community proved popular amongst those in attendance, with Goldson conducting a series of small polls to gauge what the public felt was most necessary to invest in from each of the three categories. Additionally, Goldson also asked everyone in attendance to write down their ideas on the paper table covers in order to later collect them and determine which ideas were most eligible.
Presented in a matrix of potential possibilities Goldson displayed a few of the options residents could choose to focus on, including: new housing, home ownership programs, preferences for low-income families, stewardship of historic buildings, creating community gardens or waterfront access, improving existing parks, and preservation of natural resources.
Bea Cravatta, director of Chelsea’s Recreation and Cultural Affairs division, collected information about the demographics of the meeting through a 10 question poll.
“Great turnout today, a good mix of ages, profound interest, and collaboration has been the most exciting thing for me to see,” Cravatta said.
During the last half hour, residents were allowed to take the microphone to represent each table they were sitting at.
Some residents, like former City Councillor Matthew Frank, raised valid concerns.
“Instead of creating new open space, we need to clean up what we already have,” Frank stated in reference to existing open space problems the City already has on the Harbor Walk and other locations.
The CPC must present any and all ideas before City Council for approval after creating a Community Development Plan. The City Council retains the power to approve, deny or lower the allotted funds for project ideas.
The CPC will convene again in November at a date to be announced, and will present their viable future investment options in December.
Encore Boston Harbor and the Chelsea Collaborative started the first of many monthly job fairs last Thursday, Aug. 2, at the Collaborative’s Broadway headquarters.
The Collaborative’s Sylvia Ramirez said they want to make sure Chelsea residents can benefit from the 4,000 full-time casino jobs that are coming in June 2019, and time is of the essence.
She said Encore will begin coming to the Collaborative to discuss and assist potential applicants with the process. The first such meeting came last Thursday, and Ramirez said the next one will be Aug. 30.
“The Collaborative has a workforce development department and we are trying to forge partnerships for financial sustainability and better jobs,” she said. “We are collaborating with businesses around the community. It also has a lot to do with the casino. We want to teach career readiness so they can be prepared when the jobs come down the pipeline.”
Ramirez said the casino is going to affect Chelsea as much as it will Everett and Charlestown, and with that in mind, she said residents should be ready for the jobs that will be coming very soon. She also said Chelsea is falling behind, and now is the time to get ahold of the opportunities.
“This is the beginning of the conversation,” she said. “I don’t want to be behind on this. I think Everett is so far ahead of us with the Everett United organization. We need a coalition as well. We don’t know what it’s called, but we need to set goals and metrics to advocate for our Chelsea residents. Everett doesn’t have 4,500 people available to hire.”
By bringing in representatives from Encore once a month, Ramirez said it ensures that the company will commit to Chelsea. The city does have preference in line with Boston and Cambridge. Only Everett and Malden come ahead of Chelsea.
“We want to make sure they really commit to us and give some opportunities to our people. Just because some of our people in Chelsea have limited language, it doesn’t mean they can’t do a job there.”
Representatives from Encore will be able to help residents one-on-one in English and Spanish. They will be able to define the jobs that are available and what one needs to do to qualify for those jobs. Likewise, they will be discussing the new “dealer school” that is about to start at Cambridge College in Charlestown. The six-week course will begin in the fall, with applications coming soon.
Meanwhile, Ramirez said the casino jobs Ð whether in the gaming area or in non-gaming functions Ð can provide a better income to help solve the rising housing costs in the city.
“Anyone who lives in Chelsea, they pay $1,500 in rent now and they’ll likely be paying $2,500 in the next few years,” she said. “ How can they keep up? They need to stay in the city and have jobs like these that pay well.”
If Bellingham Square is going to be fully returned to the community, then let that return be led by dominoes.
Roberto ‘Tito’ Rodriguez checks his dominoes during Game Night on Tuesday, July 31, in Bellingham Square. Game Night is slowly gaining popularity, and the City initiative takes place every Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.
It was slow going at first for the introduction of an outdoor Game Night on Bellingham Square – which is sponsored by the City’s Chelsea Prospers initiative. A few would trickle in and out, but the hard-scrabble Square had gained a reputation that many Chelsea residents hadn’t yet forgotten.
But now with about a month under the belt, momentum for the simple fun in the Square has begun to form with about 10 or so regulars – and that momentum has everything to do with something as simple as a domino.
“For me, this is the most popular game in Puerto Rico,” said Roberto ‘Tito’ Rodriguez, who moved to Chelsea from Puerto Rico seven years ago. “It makes me feel great because I feel like I’m right at home in my hometown. I’m meeting people in Chelsea and talking to people I don’t know. It makes me feel welcome.”
As the group enjoys their game, salsa music plays in the background and many observers pass by – seemingly wanting to join in, but not entirely certain why people are playing games in Bellingham Square.
“It’s very comfortable here now and that’s surprising,” said Sheila Rohena. “I grew up here, so begin able to come out of my house and sit here in the Square is great. I used to be scared to come out of my house because of all the things that happen here. Now, I’m sitting here and enjoying myself in the Square. That’s pretty amazing because there was a lot of bad stuff happening here. Did I think this would happen? Not for the life of me.”
But certainly it was, and Rohena and others who participate in Game Night found a peacefulness in the Square on a sunny, warm summer night that hasn’t existed there for a long time.
“I really like that it’s right here in this spot,” said Tina Rivera. “I like it being here at City Hall because it’s had a very bad reputation for so long. There used to be game tables here permanently, but they had to take them down. A lot of people were hesitant to bring them back, but we did it in a very low-cost, low-key way. It’s going well. There are now problems. You see from this that we can have nice things. You have to just trust people sometimes.”
Rodriguez has even brought in some converts like Jen Matheson, who is new to downtown Chelsea and was taught how to play dominoes. Now she’s a regular.
“I live right here and it’s so great to be able to come out here and meet new people,” she said. “They taught me how to play dominoes. I didn’t even know, and now I’m winning a lot of the time.”
Rivera said she has hoped for community building events like a Game Night for a long time because it promotes stability and familiarity. Without that, there is no community, she said, and that makes the people vulnerable.
“If we don’t get back to being a community, it makes it even easier for another community to replace us without us knowing,” she said.
There is no end date in sight for the Game Night, and organizer Mimi Graney said they will likely go until it gets too cold.
For now, the goal is not to get the ‘Chiva’ – which is Spanish for ‘female goat’ and is slang for getting no points in a game of dominoes.
But for the future, the goal is to have several more tables full of people from the community functioning normally and having fun together.
Certainly in Chelsea, if anything, a domino game is good first step.
Roberto ‘Tito’ Rodriguez checks his dominoes during Game Night on Tuesday, July 31, in Bellingham Square. Game Night is slowly gaining popularity, and the City initiative takes place every Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.
William Molino celebrates a win in a game of dominoes during the Chelsea Prospers Game Night on Tuesday. Watching him enviously are Raul Melendez, Alex Garcia and Mike Vega.
The City of Chelsea will begin a downtown façade and signage improvement program in a kick-off meeting on July 12.
Business and property owners in the downtown, as well as other interested parties, are invited to this meeting to learn about the rollout of the program and to meet Nathalia Hermida.
Hermida will be available throughout the summer to provide free design services for signage and façade improvements of downtown properties. During this meeting, Hermida will detail the design process, what assistance she’ll be able to provide and how to engage her services.
Along with responding to inquiries solicited through this meeting, Hermida will also be approaching specific identified properties. Those interested in the program who cannot attend this meeting should contact Mimi Graney, Downtown Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Design consultation with Hermida will be available both in English and in Spanish.
The City of Chelsea Façade and Signage Program meeting will take place on Thursday, July 12, at 8:30 a.m. at Chelsea City Hall, third-floor Committee Room.
On Dec. 22, at 5:20 p.m., officers responded to 165 Walnut St. for a report of a past armed robbery. Upon officers’ arrival, they made contact with the victim and alleged robbery suspect, standing out front of the building. The victim claims the suspect took $200 from him after he left the ATM at the Chelsea Bank on Broadway. The suspect claims the money was used to buy drugs from him and that the victim complained about the quality of the drugs purchased.
Jose Rivera, 32, of 11 Congress Ave., was charged with unarmed robbery.
REFUSED SERVICE AT BAR
On Dec. 22, at 10:49 p.m., officers were dispatched to the Spanish Falcon Club located at 158 Broadway on the report of a fight outside.
Officers observed security outside speaking to a group of men, two of which appeared intoxicated. As Officers spoke to security, they were informed that the two intoxicated males had been causing a disturbance because security refused them entry due to their state of intoxication.
They were asked to leave several times, but were becoming aggressive towards employees. As officers engaged the men in conversation, it was apparent that the men were upset at having been refused entry and wanted to continue their night of drinking. The two men refused the officers’ orders to leave the area and became loud and boisterous, causing a disturbance. The first male was placed into custody after violently resisting officers in their attempt to place him under arrest. The second male, and brother of the male taken into custody, refused orders to leave, and he also became aggressive and was taken into custody after a struggle.
David Garcia, 24, of 141 Marlborough St., was charged with disorderly conduct.
Kevin Garcia, 21, of Lynn, was charged with disorderly conduct, assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest.
City officials and consultants for the Re-Imagining Broadway effort will take one of their most controversial suggestions to the business community on Broadway today, Aug. 31, prompting a discussion about making Broadway a two-way street.
The six-month planning effort has come up with numerous suggestions about how to improve the corridor, but at the top of those suggestions is the idea about taking Broadway from a one-way to a two-way.
The street has been in its current configuration for more than a generation, and few remember the last time it was moving differently.
However, count City Manager Tom Ambrosino as a convert to the idea.
“I think it will be transformative and make a large difference for the downtown’s flavor,” he said. “I think we can do it. Put me down as a huge proponent. It could dramatically improve the safety of the corridor by slowing down traffic considerably. I think it would look a lot prettier. The drawings have a very interesting iteration of a two-way Broadway.”
Ambrosino said this month that after the meeting with the downtown stakeholders, including the businesses, they would come up with a decision on the matter.
All downtown business owners and employees are invited to attend the meeting, which takes place at 9 a.m. at the Greenhouse Apartments Community Room, 154 Pearl St.
Elsy Sanchez, 17, is one of 11 Chelsea High students to be awarded the new Seal of Bi-Literacy this year during graduation.
Eleven new Chelsea High School (CHS) graduates will carry at least one more award with them this year than did other classes at CHS, and that award is the newly piloted Seal of Bi-Literacy that Chelsea and several other districts are implementing.
Sarah Warren of Chelsea Public Schools said Supt. Mary Bourque and the administration was looking for a way to recognize students who had strong bi-literacy skills. In Chelsea, because so many students are fluent in Spanish and English, the designation was meaning and was a way to market this unique skill to colleges and employers.
The Awards were given out at the annual Chelsea High Awards Night on Monday, June 5.
“We have just started this,” said Warren. “Dr. Bourque wanted us to see how we could get a meaningful designation in place that would recognize students that achieve bi-literacy,” said Warren. “As a district, we want to recognize students that become proficient in more than one language. We believe that is a very valuable skill for college and in the workplace. In Chelsea, we have a great amount of people who are proficient in more than just English. We’re very excited to be able to introduce this award when students achieve full proficiency in two languages.”
Bourque said she was very excited to be able to premiere the new award to 11 students in the class. She said they will move forward with it in the future as well.
“The Seal is a recognition of the fact that Chelsea Public Schools values students’ language skills and heritage as a huge asset,” said Bourque. “This credential will travel with our graduates as they move on to higher education and future employment. There is increasing demand – both in Massachusetts and nationally – for employees who are literate in two or more languages. By encouraging students to earn the Seal, we are sending the message that the ability to communicate in more than one language and to bridge different cultures is part of being a well-rounded global citizen in the 21st Century. It takes a lot of hard work to become fully proficient in two or more languages, and I couldn’t be more proud of these young people for their high level of achievement.”
Warren said there are three levels for the Chelsea seal.
Platinum winners achieve a 5 on their Advanced Placement Spanish Test and an advanced on their MCAS English Language Arts (ELA) test.
A gold winner scores a proficient on their MCAS test and a 5 on their AP Spanish.
A silver winner scores a proficient on their MCAS test and a 3 or 4 on their AP Spanish.
Elsy Sanchez, 17, was one of the first Gold Seal winners, and came to that point after starting out her high school experience in the English Language Learner (ELL) program.
Sanchez was born in Chelsea and attended the Sokolowski School and the Clark Avenue Middle School. However, after fifth grade, tired of going back and forth to Honduras where her parents had moved – having left Chelsea behind – she decided to stay in Honduras. However, after being in Honduras for some time, Sanchez realized that she had some pretty big goals for her future. She decided that getting to an American university from Honduras was going to be very tough, but getting there from Chelsea was more likely a successful path.
“My father asked me if I wanted a Quincenaera party or to go back to Chelsea,” said Sanchez. “I decided to come back here. So I came and quickly realized my English wasn’t as good as when I left for Honduras in 5th grade. One thing I wanted to do was go to college here. When I came back to Chelsea, I understood what people were saying, but i couldn’t express myself…Sometimes I would start a sentence and not be able to finish it because I couldn’t think of the right word.”
Sanchez entered the ELL program, known as the Bridge Academy at CHS. There, her teachers saw she was talented and had big goals and just needed a push.
“The teachers always pushed me to challenge myself,” she said. “They are always there to support you. They work to make connections with you. If they see someone who they thinks needs a push, they will push you to do better.”
With that support upon moving back, Sanchez was able to move to the regular Chelsea High program by her sophomore year, regaining her English fluency again.
In her senior year, Sanchez has put her English headaches behind her and took six Advanced Placement classes, including Physics, Stats and Language.
She said she plans to go to Salem State in the fall to study biology and Spanish, with the goal of becoming a pediatrician.
“I really like kids,” she said. “I always thought that because I also like science, I could become a doctor and help kids and people feel better. That is the perfect combination for me.”
As for the seal, she said it has the potential to open doors not only for school, but also in the workplace.
“I think it will help me in many different ways,” she said. “We live in a country with many different languages and being able to be fluent in multiple languages will open doors for me along the way. This helps me to market that and it goes on my transcript and on my resume.”
As the cast and crew started rehearsing for ‘Hamlet’ in the PORT Park last week, the mildly sunny day soon gave way to a heavy, thick fog that rolled in off the Chelsea Creek and covered the park and the s
Actor Brooks Reeves (center) will play ‘Hamlet’ in Apollinaire’s Theatre in the Park production this month, which kicked off last night, July 13, at the PORT Park. The unique production has Hamlet giving his famous speech on top of one of the salt piles.
ets put in place for the production.
Brooks Reeves, 33, who is playing Hamlet, looked around at the surreal surroundings, heard a fog horn in the distance and said, “This is going to be very interesting,” he recalled.
“Sometimes you get thunderstorms and sometimes you get happy accidents,” he said this week. “Being outside is challenging and extremely rewarding. It’s especially rewarding when the weather is just right. The other day we were rehearsing and fog just started drifting heavy into the park. It was so beautiful and the sound travels so well in the fog. You could talk regularly on the set and be heard at the other end of the park.”
‘Hamlet’ by Apollinaire premeired for this summer’s run in the PORT Park on Marginal Street Wednesday night, July 13, and will continue until July 31 from Wednesdays to Sundays at 8 p.m. and is free thanks to generous donors and supporters of Apollinaire. Those interested in taking in the interactive, moving production are invited to bring a blanket and walking shoes – as there are 10 different locations within the Park that the audience will have to travel to.
“There are probably around 10 locations we’ll have sets on, and that means that the lighting and setup has been very challenging,” said Director Danielle Fauteaux Jacques. “This year is going to be very interesting because Eastern Salt has been working with us to create sets on top of the salt. We just did that on Monday. It’s going to be really fun and adds something very unique. It’s also an industrial landscape and so you have things going on around you. Even at Mary O’Malley Park we were also in a shipping lane. Sometimes having a massive boat passing in the background just adds to the atmosphere. It can be an exciting to have the things like that happen that aren’t expected.”
Jacques said it is notable because for the first time in more than a decade, they’ll be presenting a Shakespearean play – and on the Bard’s 300th birthday to boot.
“It is the first Shakespeare play we’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s different than a lot of plays because its something you’ve been familiar with all your life. We thought a lot about it before we decided to do it, but as you get further and further into it and deeper into it, you see the story and things jump out at you that you never really caught before.”
Reeves, who is now in his fifth show with Apollinaire and his 21st show in Greater Boston since moving here from Wyoming, said the moving sets are quite interesting in the outdoor setting.
“We’re pretty much using every part of the park except the jungle gym,” he said. “The ‘To Be or Not to Be’ speech I give is on a large salt pile that I have to climb up. The graveyard scene has also been transformed into this moving salt structure. The show is really fun. Don’t expect to just sit down and be there. Expect to move around and be part of the action. Expect expert sword fighting and a great cast and crew.”
Jacques said that those watching will have to move, and that’s part of the program with many Apollinaire productions and has been a hallmark of their outdoor shows the last 13 years. Even so, she said anyone who needs a wheelchair or walker will be able to get one from the crew. Those items will be on hand to borrow.
“There’s a lot of movement in the play and we go back and forth from the amphitheater,” she said. “When we leave the amphitheater, we go to numerous locations in the park and then move back to the amphitheater. It’s going to be a fun production run.”
This is Apollinaire Theatre Company’s 13th year of offering free bilingual productions in English and Spanish. In anticipation of the fall opening of its new youth theater, this summer our Chelsea Youth Theatre students will present the Spanish production on July 30 and 31 at 6 p.m.
Audience members are encouraged to bring blankets and beach chairs, and a picnic to enjoy along with the harbor views.
The Chelsea City Council voted 6-3 on Monday night to look into irregularities in the voting process on the Nov. 3 City Election – an outstanding issue that embraced everything from non-profit conduct to racial identity to campaign etiquette.
Those voting in favor of Councillor Clifford Cunningham’s order were Cunningham, Paul Murphy, Joe Perlatonda, Leo Robinson, Paula Barton and Dan Cortell.
Those voting against were Councillors Brian Hatleberg, Matt Frank and Calvin Brown.
The order calls for the City Manager through City Clerk, to file a formal request with the Secretary of State to investigate numerous allegations of irregularities surrounding the municipal election.
After the order passed, Cunningham withdrew a second order calling for the Secretary of State to monitor future elections in Chelsea.
The orders and the related activities behind them, mostly activities performed by the Chelsea Collaborative or its employees on personal time, have set the political world in Chelsea on fire and distracted a great deal from the actual results of the election.
That said, there is enough of an issue that Councillors felt some action had to be taken.
At issue is everything from race to non-profit regulations to voter registration efforts.
“The conversation about race is a part of the overall issue that was the catalyst for the order,” said Cunningham. “The letter that went out to some voters said to vote solely for Latino candidates…I personally find that racist, reprehensible and disgusting. The order isn’t about that, though. It’s about voting irregularities on Election Day…If we have come so far since receivership, how will we as a community let a taxpayer-funded non-profit shirk the voting laws in order to amass a political machine to serve their own agenda – which is not the agenda of the entire city?”
The situation began when ‘Dear Friend’ letters, mentioned above, went out to several districts in the city. They were funded mostly by the campaign of Councillor Roy Avellaneda. Most were innocuous, but one letter in Spanish targeted Spanish-speaking voters and gave a list of preferred candidates endorsed by Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega.
The letters endorsed mostly Latino candidates – except for one African-American – but some also contained the Spanish phrase, “Vote for the Latino candidates on Nov. 3.”
That has been a dividing wedge in the community since the letters came out and since they became a major public issue over the last two weeks.
Councillor Dan Cortell said his problem with the actions of the Collaborative fell around the issue that they toed the line or crossed the line between endorsing candidates – which the organization is not allowed to do legally.
Members of the Collaborative have said they did their political activities on their own time, but Cortell said it could be hard for a normal resident to figure out what hat a Collaborative employee is wearing – given that they also perform local voter initiative work and Get Out the Vote work as well.
“My problem is it’s very, very hard to figure out what hat any individual is wearing at any given moment on any given day up until Election Day,” he said. “When member of the Collaborative knocks on your door one day for Get Out the Vote, another day for the voter initiative and another day for a political candidate, does the person who answered the door understand what hat they’re wearing any of those times. I don’t want to offend anyone, but probably not. It concerns me. There is not a sufficient enough delineation between what hat the individual is wearing…The Chelsea Collaborative does excellent work, but my request would be to stay away from that line and let people who put their name on the ballot fight the fight and whoever wins, wins.”
Councillor Paula Barton agreed with both councillors, saying she witnessed things at the voting polls that she questioned, and she also questioned the letters that went out.
Councillor Calvin Brown did not vote for the order, but said there were significant problems regarding race and the Collaborative campaigning. He gave much credit to the candidates who won, but said a conversation needs to be had to heal the community.
“They say they did this all the time and that it wasn’t new,” he said. “Not true. There was never a staff or group being used like an army out there…You can’t do that or should not be able to do that in a city like Chelsea. If we were candidates for the All American City now, we wouldn’t win. A lot of folks who made this an All American City were part of this. It’s eating at us. Now we’re hostile. This is dividing us. I don’t want to tarnish anyone’s victory or squash my colleague’s order, but we have to put an end here…We still need to have a conversation. It’s easy to get caught up in something. People got caught up in this.”
He specifically pointed out Avellaneda, who was in the audience, as his name had been attached to the matter of the letter.
Councillor Matt Frank said he wanted everyone to take a deep breath.
“As a City, I think we all need to take a collective breath,” he said. “I’m not saying they should be investigated or not, I’m saying as a biased board I’m not sure if this is the right place…If you step into a political fight, you should be expecting to get a push back, but this isn’t in my opinion the best venue for it.”
Whether or not the City Manager does forward the request is purely up to him, and the Council cannot compel him to do anything. Nor can they compel the City Clerk to act either.
Cunningham said the orders were largely symbolic, but he believed they made a statement.
Political activist and human services leader Gladys Vega said this week that the ‘Dear Friend’ political endorsement letters she sent out during the recent City Election were being misrepresented as an identity politics gesture and did not endorse Latino candidates over white or black candidates simply because of race or ethnicity.
“In certain districts where there were all Latino candidates I endorsed, I did ask Latino voters to vote for Latinos, but that wasn’t the case in every district with every letter,” she said. “In those certain districts I wanted them to vote for Latino candidates. There’s a large population of Latino residents in those areas and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the districts where I endorsed only Latinos, I did ask Latino voters to vote for Latinos. That wasn’t the case in every district. In District 5, if you see all the letters, you’ll see we endorsed Henry Wilson (an African American), and we didn’t endorse in the School Committee race with Bobby Pereira and Kizzie Reyes. I didn’t put that sentence in that letter. We said there are two great candidates and to come out and vote for who you want. Other places, I didn’t feel like the other non-Latino candidates were worth my endorsement. I said in those letters I wanted Latino voters to vote for those Latino candidates in those districts…I have no regret asking Latino voters to vote for Latino candidates in those districts.”
Vega added also that many of the candidates in those districts where the phrases appeared were her friends or family members, such as in District 8 where Yessinia Alfaro-Alvarez – a long-time friend and co-worker – appeared on the ballot. Another example is in District 7 where she endorsed Luis Tejada, who she said she has known for 30 years and wanted to support and endorse.
“Some of them happen to be my friends and my family members and they happened to be the Latino candidates in that district and I would do that again,” she said.
The ‘Dear Friend’ letters sent out by Vega were in Spanish and were mostly non-controversial, simply indicating her endorsement as a community leader and asking people to remember to vote. Such letters are nothing new to politics in Chelsea or elsewhere. However, one key phrase has grabbed the attention of some in the community and especially residents and candidates who are non-Latino.
That phrase stated, “No Se Olvide, Vote! Por los candidatos Latinos este Martes, 3 de Noviembre.”
Loosely translated, it means, “Don’t forget, vote for the Latino candidates this Tuesday, November 3.”
Some have taken issue with that direct phrase, such as District 7 Councillor Clifford Cunningham, who lost to Yamir Rodriguez on Nov. 3 – a first-time candidate who was endorsed by Vega. Cunningham has called for the Secretary of the Commonwealth to review the election activities and to monitor all future Chelsea local elections. Those two Council orders will be discussed next week at the Council meeting.
Vega said the phrase – which again, does not appear on every letter – should not be construed as a discriminatory remark. She clarified once again that it was only called for in the areas where all the candidates she endorsed were Latino.
“It wasn’t meant to sound good or bad,” she said. “I didn’t care for any of the candidates who were not Latino in certain districts. That wasn’t the case in every district…Those were the people I endorsed and I have no regrets.”
The ‘Dear Friend’ letters were paid for by the Roy Avellaneda campaign and Vega’s letter was just one of several strategic letters that Avellaneda put out during the campaign. Another letter, he said, came from former councillor Roseann Bongiovanni – a co-worker of Vega’s – and it endorsed him and another candidate. It was strategically sent to the areas where Bongiovanni had garnered the most support during her tenure, that being in Prattville and Admiral’s Hill – two areas that are known as mostly white or more racially-mixed. Vega’s letter was another piece of that and went out to the areas that were predominately Latino.
“That letter focused on Spanish voters and obviously Gladys Vega is very well known in the Latino community and focused on people who would recognize her as she is in the community, on Spanish-language television and radio,” said Avellaneda. “She is a known commodity there. Her letter went to Latino voters in Latino areas…Nationally you see senators and the president go to fundraisers or to a party to help raise money or support. In this effort, I paid for a letter. There’s nothing nefarious about it. It’s big boy tactics used on a local level.”
Avellaneda stressed it was a tactic he borrowed from the national campaigns in order to help district candidates that he preferred. As a former district councillor, he said he knows it is hard to rally people or fund-raise representing such a small area.
He said he could not speak for the contents of Vega’s letter, including the controversial phrase, but said he doesn’t shy away from it and doesn’t see it as a problem. He said it’s ridiculous to believe that ethnicity or race doesn’t play a part in political campaigns.
“A Latino was asking Latino voters to vote for a Latino in a city where we had no Latino representation and make up 70 percent of the population,” he said. “If they have a problem with that, I’m sorry. Record numbers of black voters came out for President Obama in huge numbers in neighborhoods that don’t typically vote in elections. Come on. Let’s be fair and right here. In the past I’ve worked with candidates of all colors and creeds and I don’t want this to turn into something racist. Let’s call it a rally call and it came in a district where there’s a large population of Latinos. We made that call in 3 of the 4 district races – and did so because the candidate was the best candidate on paper for that seat. Does ethnicity play a role to voters? Absolutely. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we can also say the best candidates in those races were the Latino candidates.
“No one said anything when we said to vote for Paul Nowicki (a white candidate who ran for state senate some years back), but now it’s divisive to say vote for the Latino so you can have one of your own up there?” he asked, in continuing. “It’s not divisive; it’s pride. Aren’t we proud of John Ruiz for being the first Latino heavyweight champion? Yes. We shouldn’t be ashamed of being a certain ethnicity and being proud of and supporting that ethnicity. Shame on those who make it that way.”
In the end, Vega said she felt that the situation was being blown out of proportion and she was being penalized for being politically active on her free time and in that time being a strong Latina voice.
“We did old fashioned politics – knocking on doors, talking to voters and identifying the vote,” she said. “Irish people voted for Irish people back then. It happens…I feel in the end I’m being picked on for my actions in my own free time.”