As the only person in the Boston mayoral race who has previously run for the office, former Walsh Administration Economic Development Chief John Barros announced on March 4 that he intended to make a run for mayor this year.
Barros is described as a community development leader, small business owner, and Boston’s first Chief of Economic Development under Mayor Martin Walsh – a post he recently left to run for mayor full-time. A former community organizer and executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), which is only a stone’s throw from the Mass/Cass area of the South End, Barros made the announcement at Restaurante Cesaria, the neighborhood restaurant in Dorchester he has owned and operated for the past two decades.
Barros ran for mayor in 2013, but lost out in the Preliminary Election, and then supported Walsh – later joining the administration as the Chief of Economic Development. He has been there the last seven years, but said he is ready to take what he learne
“I learned a lot in 2013,” he said. “It was a great race and a fun race. Not all candidates enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed talking to people and being in living rooms and kitchens. As you know now we’re going to have to start this race with less kitchens and less living rooms. The conversations on Zoom are already vibrant. The conversations on phones and we have been able to meet with people in rooms where we can socially-distance and be safe. I have a good understanding of where I have some traction in the city. I have a good understanding of how to have good conversations with Bostonians, and I have had the pleasure to serve after 2013 as a City official…in City government. I’m ready to start this campaign, and more importantly I’m ready to lead the City of Boston.”
Barros appeared with his family that included four children – John Jr., Jeremiah, Casey and Olivia – and his wife, Tchiintcia. He was flanked by many supporters from the community and his family members, including his mother who is known as ‘Thaca.’
“As a father of four young children, the future of Boston means everything to me,” Barros said. “I’ve lived my entire life deeply rooted in our community as an activist, as a small business owner, and as a government official. As Boston’s Chief of Economic Development, I changed the way that City Hall plans for growth and development. We’ve made a lot of progress, and now is the time to take our work further.”
Focusing on his experience with development at DSNI and his role as Economic Development Chief of Boston, Barros seemed to begin to differentiate himself as the candidate who would best know how to bring the City back to life economically, equitably and socially.
“The next four years will be critical,” he said. “I have a plan to bring our city back to life in a safe way – in a more equitable way. We will confront racial injustice with honesty, courage, and compassion. We will make bold investments in community health, environmental justice, affordable housing and our children’s education and well-being. I’m ready to meet this moment, and I know Boston is ready to meet this moment too.”
He did address a question from the media about policing, and said he had already had discussions with long-time police officers – particularly officers of color – who understood there needed to be change. However, he also added that his campaign will not be antagonistic to police.
“It’s been clear in my conversations that the police understand there needs to be transformation,” he said. “In fact, we can and will work with police to continue to move. I’m excited to have worked with Mayor Walsh on the new changes instituted in government now…I’m excited about the recommendations that recently came out of the Task Force and look forward to implementing them as mayor. I am in fact ready to talk to police about how we shift duties and roles that will move the budget around…I look forward to that conversation with police and not because I’m going to create a campaign to fight police. It’s because I’m going to work with the police officers and leadership that get it and is ready to have hard conversations about the transformations we’re ready to do.”
As yet another person of color in the race, and the only Black man so far in the race, Barros said he believed the City was ready for that kind of change – that being electing the first person of color to be mayor.
“Boston is ready for diversity and Boston is ready for a candidate of color,” he said. “Boston is ready for a Black man like me to be mayor. You can feel it talking to people. People have called me and asked me questions about how to unite the city, how we raise our diversity…When I went around the City (the last seven years), people didn’t say to me that I wasn’t welcome here. People embraced me and they didn’t embrace me in an anonymous way. They embraced my diversity. We talked about race, my background, about me being an immigrant, and they wanted to talk about that. We have been talking race in Boston awhile.”
A lifelong resident of Boston, Barros’ parents emigrated from Cabo Verde to Boston, where he attended both public and Catholic schools. At age 14, he became a community organizer with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), the Roxbury and Dorchester-based community land trust. In 1991, he was the first youth elected to the DSNI Board of Directors.
John later served as executive director of DSNI/DNI, the largest urban community land trust in the country. He held that post for 13 years, during which time the organization made tremendous strides toward neighborhood revitalization and community wealth creation. Working with community partners, DSNI developed new community centers and created open spaces and parks. It opened schools, commercial property, and built permanently affordable housing.
In 2014, he was appointed as Boston’s first Chief of Economic Development, where he oversaw programs to help businesses grow while fostering economic inclusion and equity. Prior to that, John had served on the Boston School Committee for three years.
John earned a Master of Public Policy from Tufts University and a B.A. in African/African-American Studies from Dartmouth College. He lives with his wife and their four children in Dorchester.