The video starts on Harrison Avenue and Albany Street and it appears to be late at night, with only the urban-orange streetlights providing the lighting for State Rep. Jon Santiago to walk from his hospital job to his South End home.
“My name is Jon Santiago, and this is my story,” says the popular state representative in a voice over on the video.
It was the beginning of his announcement that he would be running for mayor, and the opening scene highlighted something about Santiago that’s very real – his walk home. It’s a walk he’s made hundreds of times before he was in politics and now still makes as a state representative and candidate for mayor – which he announced on Tuesday morning in that video.
“That walk home in the South End is an important part of my life,” he said. “I’m a neighborhood guy. I live a block from Mass Ave and for me that walk represents so much of what is good and bad.”
Bringing a wealth of experiences to the table from the State House, the Boston Medical Center (BMC) emergency room and overseas deployments in the military, South End State Rep. Jon Santiago announced on Tuesday his intentions to run for mayor.
Santiago has been considering run since January, and has said as much in the media, but had not made an official announcement until now. He has been surveying resident groups in the South End and Back Bay on Zoom and in other forums privately for the last month to gauge support from long-time supporters and residents.
He made the announcement in that two-minute video available in English and Spanish, which showed him prominently walking around the Worcester Square and Tremont Street areas.
He comes into the race as the only major male candidate in a field of three women from the Boston City Council, including Councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu. He is also one of the few folks from the South End to have made a serious run for the mayoral seat in many years.
“As a candidate representing the South End, I’m particularly proud of that,” he said. “Many in the South End feel that because of our size and district being split up at the State House or City Council, we often feel our voice isn’t as loud in City Hall. If the mayor of Boston is living a block from Mass Ave and Tremont Street, they will have a seat at the table and especially in important decisions…I’m looking forward to being that voice at City Hall, but this is also about the entire city and making sure everyone is heard, respected and engaged in every aspect.”
Santiago said he comes into the race ready to listen and engage. As a doctor in the emergency room at BMC, a physician in the Army Reserves and a state representative, he said his approach has always been to engage and listen to people first. That, he said, will be more important than ever in what he said was an historic, open-seat election for mayor.
“I think this mayor’s race will be the most consequential mayor’s race in our City’s history,” he told the paper, noting issues of COVID-19, health care, good schools and a revived economy.
“We are a City of neighborhoods and many are different, but I’m hearing from everyone that they want to come back building a better and stronger Boston,” he said. “That message is resonating all over the city. I feel comfortable going to Southie and West Roxbury and having conversations because they are about the same things as in Roxbury and Dorchester. People all want good schools, housing options, good transit, access to vaccines and they really want to be heard. My goal is to reach out to each and every area of this city…The people of Boston need someone ready to serve…That’s the way I’ve always done medicine and politics. My first state rep race I knocked on 9,000 doors…I think right now people want someone who will bring them together and engage and listen and be respectful.”
That approach – which he hinted would be different than many polarizing forces nationally – has been honed at the State House, where after beating long-time former Rep. Byron Rushing a few years back, he has been trusted early with key positions advising on COVID-19 and other subjects. Also, that approach has been learned in the emergency room as he has embraced solutions to the recovery and opioid epidemics he sees at the hospital daily. With the Mass/Cass area in his district, and seeing its effect on people every day at work, Santiago said there is no other candidate that is as equipped to understand the opioid epidemic and to forge real solutions to combat it.
“I live a block from Mass Ave and walk to work every day and I understand what it’s like to find needles in your front garden, people passed out on your stoop or someone overdosing and needing help,” he said, noting that he has already secured more than $1 million in state funds to address the epidemic in last year’s State Budget. “I’m proud of those victories, but we have a lot more work to do. I’m the best candidate to understand the situation and to live the situation.”
That, he said, fed his decision to run for office – having often seen the results of crisis situations turn into medical emergencies. In the ER, he said one can save lives, but cannot change whole communities.
“These things are a reflection on our community,” he said, noting the people that show up at the ER who lack housing, who were victims of street violence or couldn’t afford their medications. “Often these people that don’t have access to education and economic opportunities and it manifests into a medical emergency. I love the excitement of the ER and the camaraderie and the life or death decisions. But you can only save one life at a time. This is an opportunity to transform whole communities. That’s why I got into politics and why I ran for state representative before.”
Santiago also credits his military service in the Army Reserves, where he is a captain, as forming how he would lead as mayor. In fact, after working on the COVID front lines at the Boston Hope Hospital in the South Boston Convention Center, Santiago was deployed to the Middle East as a physician treating soldiers and allies in Kuwait. He returned from that deployment in December.
“Many Puerto Ricans joined the military as a way to do something with their life and to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” he said, noting his uncle and grandfather were also in the military. “I joined seven or eight years ago…It taught me about leadership and bringing folks together…I’m very proud of that. The military will teach you how to get things done.”
In his announcement for mayor, Santiago stressed that the next mayor will write a “new chapter” for all of Boston. He said that new chapter would include a more equitable City for everyone.
“We are living through an unprecedented crisis, the impact of which will last far beyond today,” said Santiago. “It’s a turning point for our city, but in it I also see great possibilities. I see and hear it in the voices of my neighbors, patients, and constituents. I’ve spent my life in service to others and now I’m running for mayor to lead us through this moment and to a recovery rooted in equity and opportunity. I will bring our city back, stronger than ever.”
Santiago added, “Today, we set out to bring neighbors together to write the next chapter of our Boston story.”
Santiago is currently serving his second term as the State Representative for the 9th Suffolk District representing the South End, Roxbury, Back Bay, and Fenway neighborhoods of Boston. He is an emergency room physician employed at Boston Medical Center, the city’s safety net hospital. He serves as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve and has deployed overseas. Prior to these experiences, Santiago served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. He lives in the South End with his wife, Alexandra.