For the South End’s Dr. Jon Santiago, the path from Peace Corps activist to Army Reserve captain to Emergency Room doctor, and now, to candidate for state representative makes perfect sense.
All four are about doing whatever he can to help others, he said.
This week, Santiago – the former vice chair of the Ward 4 Democratic Committee, a community activist and an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center (BMC) – announced that he will take that fourth step in his unique path by running for state representative in the 9th Suffolk District – a seat now held by long-time State Rep. Byron Rushing.
“As a community organizer and a member of the Peace Corps I became a physician because I got sick and tired of being in board rooms and meetings and not being able to do anything with my hands to help,” he said. “So, I did become a physician and you can heal people with your hands. There’s a problem, though, when you have healed them and they come back the next day. I think we need progressive policies in this district to address the underlying issues.”
Santiago moved about his business quickly in getting on the ballot, having collected the signatures in less than a week on his Nomination Papers and having gotten them certified as of this week. He said it was a good indication of the grass-roots style his campaign will embrace.
“The focus now is getting out and talking to the people,” he said. “This is going to be the most grass-roots campaign the South End has ever seen. I promise you that. I’ve already been knocking on doors and we’ll be starting a major effort on that next week. The big part is to hear what the constituents say. It’s presumptive on my part to say we’ll do X, Y, and Z. I have some ideas of my own, but the community has to have the first seat at the table.”
Santiago was the first to qualify for the ballot this election season in the 9th Suffolk.
He said he had a very unique upbringing that makes him have a variety of perspectives on any type of issue. After being born in Puerto Rico, Santiago’s family moved to Roxbury where he attended the Mather School in Dorchester as a youngster. However, because of gun violence in the neighborhood, the family made a big move to rural Texas.
He graduated college from the University of Texas and served for five years in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. There, he worked with Haitian immigrants in a very remote area of the country that had no electricity or running water. After moving back to Boston and working for a while at the Boston Public Health Commission, he was able to make the jump to enter medical school, going to and graduating from Yale University Medical School.
He has been an emergency room doctor at BMC the past four years, also becoming very involved in the community and its neighborhood groups.
As a doctor at BMC and resident of the area at the nexus of the opiate epidemic, he said that would certainly figure into his platform.
“There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t see the effects of the opiate epidemic when I walk to work, and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t treat someone at work for the effects of the opiate epidemic,” he said. “As an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center, I see the devastating opioid crisis, the lack of the affordable housing, and the growing inequality in our community every day. Now more than ever, we need bold and engaged leadership. I’ve spent my life in service to others, and I believe my experiences and energy will help bring fresh and meaningful change to Beacon Hill and the community.”
Dr. Santiago currently lives on Tremont Street with his wife Alexandra Vaccaro. He serves on the boards of the South End Community Health Center, the Friends of the South End Library, the Friends of Titus Sparrow Park, and the South End Puerto Rican Veterans Park. Elected to the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee in 2012, he was the Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee Vice-Chair until moving to Ward 9 last year.
The 9th Suffolk District includes parts of the South End, Roxbury, Back Bay, and Fenway. Incumbent State Rep. Byron Rushing has held the seat since 1983.