Sixteen Years in the Making, Gonzalez Adjusts to Return to Public Life…
This post is the fifth in a series of posts on the new 189th Massachusetts General Court sworn January 7.
SPRINGFIELD—Although not Carlos Gonzalez’s first bid for elected office, 2014 was the first time his name appeared on a ballot. In an earlier life as a political aide he worked in front line politics. But as is almost clichéd now, there is nothing quite like being the candidate yourself.
“I will have the utmost respect for anybody who puts their name out there to run for political office,” Gonzalez said, “It is an extensive and remarkable experience.”
Having secured a post he once sought sixteen years ago, Boston political circles have embraced Gonzalez, who has left even skeptics pleasantly surprised by the abandon he has shown for the job.
Last September, Gonzalez emerged from a crowded primary to succeed Cheryl Coakley-Rivera in the 10th Hampden district which runs from Springfield’s North End to Forest Park hugging the Connecticut River. She had resigned earlier last year for a Clerk of Courts position, but gave Gonzalez her endorsement on her way out the door.
The move by Coakley-Rivera raised an eyebrow or two. She and Gonzalez jockeyed for the Democratic nomination for the district in 1998 following Anthony Scibelli’s post-primary death that year. Coakley-Rivera would prevail and Gonzalez turned toward the private sector, ultimately founding the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce.
That path also differed from his fellow freshman Springfield colleague Jose Tosado, who had a lengthy career as a social worker. “We are going to see issues through different lenses,” Tosado said noting their contrasting backgrounds. He cited Gonzalez’s business career, which included founding a Latino radio station.
In the 2014 primary, which also featured Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards and labor activist Ivette Hernandez as candidates, Gonzalez was pegged as the most conservative. Since January, Gonzalez has attended (or held) countless events and struck progressive tones on criminal justice reform, pregnant workers and poverty.
That frenetic pace matches Gonzalez’s dramatic, lively delivery in public. But discussing his new role over breakfast at Friendly’s near Forest Park, Gonzalez spoke in a more measured, subdued tone.
“I think it has been somewhat of an easy transition,” to elected office he said. “During the campaign I was listening & learning. My swearing-in ceremony was a great experience, but the next day I was listening and learning again.”
Following his election, Gonzalez said he reached out to Coakley-Rivera’s former staff to get up to speed on what had been on her legislative and constituent services agenda. Echoing campaign trail promises, Gonzalez sponsored legislation to support youth employment programs and a bill that sets community investment goals for lending institutions.
Gonzalez said he and supporters hope to get a vote in the House for the youth program bill soon, “We are building more bridges and awareness of the situation with our colleagues to hopefully step it up on the priority list.”
Gonzalez’s business ties, rather than raising suspicion in a heavily impoverish district like the 10th Hampden, could be leveraged to benefit the poor instead.
Greater Springfield chamber of commerce executive director Jeffrey Ciuffreda observed, Gonzalez “understands that business creates jobs that take people out of poverty.”
Other matters like sentencing and Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform take more time and engagement with colleagues, whose experience is not one that sees the damage current law has wrought, Gonzalez remarked. “If somebody has grown up, raised where everything is orange, it takes a while to see it blue.”
Rep Aaron Vega of Holyoke, talking about both of Springfield’s new reps, commented, “The more you’re present, the more you show your face, the more other reps and staff see you, the more respect you gain.”
“They’re taking that drive back and forth from Western Mass,” Vega continued, “[they’re] both taking the job really seriously.”
Tosado also sounded a positive note about Gonzalez, “I’m optimistic that he’s going to do a good job for his district.”
Such efforts reflect Gonzalez’s apparent desire to “build bridges,” whether with colleagues, one-time opponents and disparate interests within Springfield itself. “I hope we can engage more people from different walks of life…to be part of what we call democracy,” to solve intractable problems like poverty.
“We can’t do it by picking sides, in silos or pointing the finger,” he said.