Thirty-eight floors above the Financial District, inside the Harvard Club at One Federal Street, there was the air of a family reunion recently as former state Rep. Willie Mae Allen smiled and mingled among the three dozen guests while her cousin, James E. Clyburn, a top Democrat in the US House of Representatives, greeted the fundraiser crowd. And next to the two of them was someone they hoped would pick up the political torch: 25-year-old Ava Callender, Allen’s granddaughter.
“Ava has always been interested in public service,” Allen, who retired from her State House post in 2010, said as the fog rolled in and buried the skyscrapers behind her. “She always went to community meetings. It was not a surprise to me when she told me she wanted to run for District 5.”
Seven other candidates have piled into the race, part of the domino effect of Mayor Thomas Menino saying he would not run for a sixth term and District 5 Councillor Rob Consalvo quickly announcing he was giving up his seat to run for City Hall’s top job.
Before he became mayor in 1993, Menino held the district’s seat for 10 years. “A district councillor’s job is really to pay attention to the neighborhoods, be out there, be visible, and be helpful,” Menino said Tuesday, when asked if he had any advice for the candidates.
The diversity of the field reflects the diversity of the district, geographically and demographically: four men and four women; two candidates from Mattapan, four from Hyde Park, and two from Roslindale.
Political observers have identified four candidates as having the best chance of making it through the Sept. 24 preliminary: Tim McCarthy and Mimi Turchinetz of Hyde Park, and Jean-Claude Sanon and Callender of Mattapan. The others in the running are Margherita Ciampa-Coyne and Patrice Gattozzi of Hyde Park, and Andrew Cousino and Michael Wells III of Roslindale.
If the two candidates from Mattapan don’t clear the preliminary, the voter-rich neighborhood will likely play the kingmaker role in the final election, given how much of the district it now makes up after the City Council’s redrawing of the district maps last year.
State Rep. Russell Holmes, who replaced Allen in the House in 2011, has endorsed Sanon, a Haitian-American activist who is making his second bid for public office. Sanon ran for City Council At-Large in 2009 and worked on Holmes’s campaign.
“I know he cares about our neighborhood,” Holmes said. But Holmes also had warm words for McCarthy, Turchinetz, and Callender. “I like them all, frankly,” he said.
McCarthy, 43, grew up in Hyde Park and bought a house with his wife, a fellow Hyde Park native, in 1996. He has worked in the Menino administration for as long as there has been a Menino administration with jobs in neighborhood services and running the summer jobs program, getting 4,500 youth hired. He is currently the principal assistant to the public works commissioner. “I know how the city works,” he said. “This is not a time to have a District 5 city councillor who has to learn on the job.”
Turchinetz, 53, whose grandparents are from Ukraine, said she has been in public and community service for 25 years, working under Ralph Martin when he was Suffolk County district attorney, spending time on Beacon Hill as a committee aide, and later working inside City Hall’s Living Wage Division. “I’m the only lawyer in the race,” she told the Reporter this week. “I have had experience in municipal government, in the State House, and in the criminal justice system.”
Sanon, 54, has lived in Roslindale, Mattapan, and Hyde Park after moving north from Haiti in 1975. “I am the only candidate who is not connected with the status quo,” he said, stressing that he has not worked for any government agency while acknowledging that he has worked to get other candidates elected. Sanon, who picked up just under 3 percent of the vote in a 15-candidate field in 2009, claimed he has the strong support of the district’s Haitian community. “I have a whole entire community backing me up,” he said.
Like the others, Patrice Gottozzi is also touting her resume. She has lived in Hyde Park with her husband and two children for 20 years, and she has been a substitute teacher in various schools, including in Dorchester and Roslindale. In the last five years, she has served as director of the Hyde Park Main Streets program, which provides technical assistance to local businesses.
If she gets onto the 13-member City Council, Gottozzi plans to work with small businesses to streamline the permitting process, which can hamper progress as owners pour their life’s savings into their efforts. “We’ve just come through a huge recession and I’m not sure the businesses have come through it yet,” she said.
Gattozzi, who said she is in her fifties, said she is trying to “introduce myself to as many people as I can.” During her frequent door-knocking she is encountering voter fatigue and confusion due to the high number of special elections in recent months and to the fact that there are 12 candidates running for mayor, and 19 candidates running for at-large. “Many people do ask me if I’m running for mayor,” Gattozzi said. “And I laugh, and say no.”