By Seth Daniel
There was a time not long ago that the Ward 4 Democratic Committee had lost momentum and was sputtering to keep itself together, but now new energy from new and longtime residents has elevated the status of the “Ward 4 Dems” and put them back into the lexicon of the neighborhood.
That has been no closer in view than with their involvement this summer in sponsoring candidate forums for the two vacant city council seats in the ward – that of District 7 last month and the hotly contested District 2 seat last night.
“This is a really good way to form relationships with the candidates and the residents of the ward,” said Vice Chair Jon Santiago, who is a South-End resident, an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and a Democratic State Committeeman. “We’ll be developing these relationships with the candidates and we’ll continue to be in touch with them after the election to hold them accountable…I’m happy with the way things are headed for us. When I see e-mails talking about Ward 4 doing things, that’s very important because a few years ago Ward 4 really wasn’t in the minds or most of the people and groups around here…People in Boston are interested in politics. They are smart and educated and want to know and be involved. Ward 4 is definitely an outlet for that.”
Ward 4 stretches to the Back Bay along Boylston Street to Clarendon Street and down to Tent City and St. Botolph Street. It cuts off basically at Massachusetts Avenue and goes north on Tremont Street. It also has a large part of Fenway, Northeastern University and the Colleges of the Fenway.
Treasurer Jonathan Cohen, who is a Fenway resident, said there is a real effort by the committee to get more voter participation in this municipal election, especially in District 2. That, he said, is part of the reason they continued with the idea of holding forum for local politics – continuing an effort that began in the Fenway state-representative race last year, a race won by State Rep. Chynah Tyler.
Santiago said the strategy turned to a local focus after President Donald Trump won the election. The Ward 4 Dems had been a strong presence when Council President Michelle Wu and her husband lived on Brookline Street and organized the committee. However, when they moved to Roslindale, a lot of the energy and institutional memory left with them.
With many attending marches and rallies after the presidential election, that energy was fizzling out and not finding an outlet.
“A lot of people wanted to march in the Women’s March and other rallies, and they were wondering what the next step would be,” he said. “They had no idea how to channel that energy…Many were directed to the ward committee structure, but they all were asking ‘What is a ward committee?’…The election definitely spurred people to want to get involved at the local level.”
Cohen recalled a meeting shortly after the election where the Ward 4 Dems felt that their area had a lot of energy looking for a place to use it, and they all decided to try to make a case for getting involved in the committee.
“With all that energy, we decided to up the ante on our education and get involved in the community,” he said. “With our decision to get more involved locally, it ended up that we had two vacant city council seats come up during this election. The way the Ward and the South End representation has been divided by so many state representatives and Council districts, many felt the councilors in the past hadn’t paid a lot of attention to Ward 4 because it is so split up…Many people in the South End felt that the District 2 seat, especially, was a chance to get better representation for the Ward.”
That has equaled a lot of participation so far, as the District 7 forum last month brought out around 150 eager voters and 10 of the 13 candidates on the ballot.
Last night’s forum for District 2 – sponsored in conjunction with the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association – was expected to be even better attended.
The fun continues on Aug. 20 when they hold an ice cream social at Titus Sparrow Park.
And at the July meeting, they plan to make endorsements for council.
“This is the first year our endorsement might really mean something in terms of it really helping a candidate in the election,” Cohen said.
Whatever the outcome in District 2 and District 7, Santiago said the overarching goal is to make sure the South End and Ward 4 are represented well.
“District 2 should not be a Southie seat,” he said. “It should be a District 2 seat. One of our goals and objectives as a Ward Committee is to make sure the person elected represents the South End, as well as every other part of the district.”