Vote No on 1' push in Fields Corner

By 
By
Oct. 15, 2008

Mimi Ramos, center, leads a team of ACORN volunteers and staff dedicated to defeating the ballot question 1, which would eliminate the state income tax. From left: Mattapan organizer Kesner Forestale of Dorchester, field organizer Ricky Nelson, Ramos, Mary Ann Jones of Boston, Becky Pierce of Dorchester, Loreliei Kluever, Ben Kuss and Chris Leonard, campaign director for ACORN. Photo by Bill Forry /p>

Karen Brown, like a third of people who are likely to vote Nov. 4 on the ballot question eliminating the state income tax, isn't sure of what she wants.

In a recent SurveyUSA poll done for WBZ-TV Boston, 31 percent of likely voters say they are certain to vote yes on the initiative, while 34 percent say they are certain to vote no. Thirty-five percent are uncertain which way they'll vote.

"I want my money back," Brown, a Medford nurse, said, when told that proponents say the measure can potentially put hundreds of dollars back in her pocket.

But when told that it could lead to massive cuts in government services, such as schools and health programs, as opponents of the initiative contend, Brown paused while on her way to the Fields Corner MBTA station.

"Maybe I'll vote for the other side," she said, before pausing again. "That's a hard thing to say," she said, after some thought. "As a working person, I worked hard for that money."

Brown is the type of person that Mimi Ramos, the director of Massachusetts ACORN, a network of community organizations, is looking to target in their campaign to defeat the ballot question. Not entirely clear on what the question exactly entails, and leaning either way on it.

"It's a scary fact that a lot of people don't know about this," Ramos says, sitting in ACORN's Adams Street offices.

Her group asked people about the ballot question at polling locations around Boston during the Sept. 16 primary elections, she said. Seventy-five percent of people asked didn't know about the question.

"It's been kind of a mixed bag," said Ricky Nelson, a Dorchester resident who moved here from California. "Vote No has really been spreading like wildfire."

"Our focus is door-to-door outreach," Ramos said, sitting with several staffers, including Nelson, in the front part of the office. They are also hitting shopping malls and train stations every Friday, and sending out a mailing about the initiative to 18,000 families in the next few weeks.

Backers of the measure include the Wayland-based Committee for Small Government, headed by Carla Howell, who made a run for governor in 2002 as a Libertarian candidate. They say the income tax's elimination will lead to state government cutting back on waste and corruption, and not essential services, while slicing up to $12 billion out of the state's $28.2 billion budget.

"A lot of people feel government doesn't work for them," Ramos acknowledged. "This will make it worse. You're talking about literally cutting everything in half."

The Dorchester House receives 80 percent of its funding from the state, she noted. The Codman Square Health Center also receives its fair share of state money.

ACORN has three offices statewide, with Brockton and Springfield as the other two locations, and 18 staffers.

Asked what plans they have if the ballot question passes, as it came close to doing in 2002 with 45 percent of the vote, Ramos said, "We haven't been thinking that far ahead."

"Our focus after Vote No is really to educate people on the flow of our money," she said.

The Vote No on Question 1 effort is funded largely by unions, and has far outstripped Question 1 backers in fundraising. ACORN isn't receiving money, Ramos says, but materials such as signs.

Ramos joined up with ACORN in 2004.

"I was plain old sick and tired of our neighborhoods getting the short end of the stick," said the 26-year-old.

"You can't complain about what's lacking in the community if you're not going to get involved," she added, stepping outside for a smoke.

Ramos was born in Dorchester, near Columbia Road and Fields Corner, and grew up in Weymouth, and saw the difference between their public school systems, she said. She had a daughter at age 16, and was the only woman in her family to go to college.

She eventually rose to her current position of director of ACORN Massachusetts. Many expect an older person, she said, before showing off her tattoos, one of which is of a fictional Egyptian prince who saved his community.

"I know what the struggle feels like," she said.