On a chilly May morning outside a Dunkin’ Donuts in Fields Corner, Felix G. Arroyo was pouring on the charm.
“I want to know how you look so good at your age,” Arroyo said, recognizing the 80-year-old man approaching him. “Eat good food,” the old man said. “I already messed that up today,” Arroyo said as the man signed the nomination papers needed to get Arroyo onto the mayoral ballot.
So it went, for about an hour – he complimented one man in a loose-fitting shirt for looking flaco (skinny), and chatted amiably with a young woman who works, like Arroyo’s wife, as a schoolteacher– until he and a campaign staffer had filled up a page full of signatures.
Nearly a month later, in a small plaza in the South End where a crowd of 300 had gathered, Arroyo stood in the hot sun and kicked off his campaign. On one side of him was an 18-story building run by the Boston Housing Authority, and on the other, Villa Victoria, the seven-story apartment building he grew up in.
The two towers, filled with moderate to low-income families, had green-and-yellow “Forward with Felix” signs in their windows, some positioned next to Puerto Rican flags. A block away, the other half of the South End offered brownstones, a Starbucks Coffee, and a trendy restaurant where a grass-fed half-pound burger costs $13.50.
Miguel Diaz, 75, who has lived in the Villa Victoria building for 34 years, walked through the lobby. He said he remembers Felix as a “smart” child who in many ways took after his father. Through a translator, Diaz said, “He identifies with Spanish people.”
Felix D. Arroyo, the father, took to the stage. The elder Arroyo had lost his City Council At-Large seat in 2007, because, according to the Jamaica Plain Gazette, he didn’t campaign enough and “raised only $1,000.” He had lost interest in the job. Two years later, his son, Felix G., would win one of the at-large slots, and the council had an Arroyo again. The father exhorted the crowd to enjoy the mayoral campaign. “But we have to work it, too,” he said. “Nothing good comes without work.”
Felix D. had come in from Uruguay that morning for the rally and Father’s Day, and father and son went straight to Villa Victoria from Logan International Airport.
“Doesn’t everybody like to come back home?” the younger Arroyo asked reporters after the kick-off. “This is where our dreams began,” Arroyo added. “We’ve had great opportunities in this city, my family. And we’re just so grateful for them and this campaign’s about making sure everybody has those very same opportunities.”
Saturday’s gathering in Villa Victoria’s plaza, which carried the feel of a neighborhood block party, drew other politicians on the campaign trail – and a food truck specializing in pan-Asian cuisine. Michael Flaherty, a former city councillor at-large from South Boston who is looking to get back on the 13-member body, moved through the crowd, as did Jack Kelly, another candidate for at-large who once worked as Mayor Thomas Menino’s Charlestown neighborhood liaison. A top official from SEIU 1199, which has not yet endorsed anybody in the mayoral race, stood in back. Members of Northwind Strategies, the political consulting firm that signed onto Arroyo’s campaign, were scattered throughout the crowd, their ranks including Sydney Asbury, Gov. Deval Patrick’s former deputy chief of staff, and Alex Goldstein, who worked with the governor on his political action committee.
And a few feet away was longtime Beacon Hill lobbyist Judy Meredith, who remembered SEIU 615, which represents janitors, security guards and service workers, hiring her 11 years ago to find them a bilingual lobbyist. She called Felix D. Arroyo, who said he would ask around. She put the phone down, and seconds later, it rang again: “How about my son?”
Meredith, who once chaired Dorchester’s Ward 15 Democratic Committee, recalled Felix G. as a “trifle unorganized himself,” but as the union’s political director, he learned how to mobilize people. “It’s not easy to empower people who could not speak English well,” she said. “But he did it. He had all the instincts.”
Now she’s organizing for him, she said, focusing specifically on two precincts in Ward 15. “I’ve got 400 votes to get,” she said, in an area where 73 people voted in a recent special election to fill a state Senate seat. “They’re worn out” from the tidal wave of elections, she said.
In his speech, which was highlighted by his campaign staff, Felix G. noted that his parents had moved to Villa Victoria looking for better opportunities and ended up buying a house in Hyde Park. “I was raised in Hyde Park,” he said,” and attended the Boston Public Schools, and I stand here today as your city councilor and as a candidate for mayor of a city that I love.”
He didn’t go back to his old apartment on the seventh floor, he later told reporters. “Maybe I will,” he said. “I haven’t done it yet today. But I’m in this neighborhood enough, a lot. But I’m in all of Boston’s neighborhoods.”
After taking a few more questions, he turned back to the crowd, and resumed hugging, shaking hands, and lifting babies into the air. Clearly, he didn’t want to leave.