For Gomez, Rising to Number 1 Was Only the First Step…
SPRINGFIELD— Ever since former Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna won the seat in the city’s first ward elections since 1959, the Latino establishment in the North End had tried to dislodge her. She had faced opposition in some form each election, but Luna’s own campaign style and social worker-inspired constituent services kept her in office. Another old guard candidate was unlikely to do much better.
Adam Gomez was different, embodying one of the city’s demographics most in need of attention. Assembling a coalition that included establishment Latinos and grassroots community organizations, two groups often in conflict with each other, the 32 year-old won, perhaps prompting a much-needed tidal shift and changing of the guard in Springfield politics.
“It’s going to be a learning experience,” Gomez said during an interview last month after he voted in the Council’s informal caucus to select the body’s President. “The upcoming month is going to be very, very important.”
Monday Gomez was sworn in as the city councilor for Ward 1 alongside 11 reelected incumbents and Ward 5’s Marcus Williams. Both represent subsets of the city in need of more attention from city leaders and policymakers. Their election doubled the number of Millennials serving on the council, joining Michael Fenton and Orlando Ramos.
Although growing in population, Springfield’s Hispanics have remained distinctly disconnected from the city’s body politic. Only a small cadre of influential Latinos, who dominate groups like the New North Citizens Council (NNCC), and a few others have had access to the city’s political apparatus. Observers believe, despite earning support from insiders and outsiders alike, Gomez will not be controlled by anyone.
“He’s his own person,” Ernesto Cruz, a 2013 at-large city council candidate said.
Like the black community, those most at risk among Latinos are young men and Gomez may be well-positioned to reach out to his cohorts and bring issues affecting them to the fore.
“He will be more influential when it comes to reaching out to young people,” State Rep Carlos Gonzalez, whose district includes Ward 1, said of Gomez.
Gomez, who owns his owning printing business, has been active in his community for years from park rehabilitation projects to youth programs. He secured a position on the NNCC’s board in 2014, but he was not interested in merely being a seat warmer.
“I want to know where all these funds are going,” he told WMassP&I discussing the NNCC, which also doubles as a social services agency. Gomez promised to bring that same oversight to the City Council and follow how funds are spent regardless of the beneficiary.
Gomez also wants to represent his entire ward, not just its Latino components. On the trail he had criticized Luna for not building relationships with the Armoury-Quadrangle Civic Association or being more involved with major projects like MGM and Union Station.
“We are the ward that has the most economic development going on right now,” he noted.
Still, his local advocacy is what earned him support from Neighbor 2 Neighbor, a coalition of immigrants and working class working on social justice issues in the community. Though close to organized labor, which largely backed Luna, N2N’s members were perhaps frustrated with the slow pace of change and continued neglect from City Hall.
“Once he decided to run, it was all grassroots organizing that made it happen,” said Ivette Hernandez a labor activist and member of N2N.
Hernandez had run for state representative in 2014 in part because she, too, was frustrated by the lack of progress on and attention to issues facing her community. She said she met Gomez while advocating for the SAFE Justice Reinvestment Act and was impressed. Though she respected Luna’s service, she threw her support behind Gomez.
“At the doors, voters were expressing the need for change,” Hernandez emailed and, “hence saw Adam Gomez being aggressive and outspoken as well as able to take a stand on important issues affecting the quality of life of Ward 1.” She indicated his pitch even encouraged more people to get out and vote.
Gomez was probably better positioned to run for office than most. His father, Gumersindo Gomez, a well-known veterans’ advocate in Springfield, exposed him to politics and policy early on.
— Elizabeth Roman (@Lizro27) November 4, 2015
“I feel that all my work for the last 30 years has paid off,” the elder Gomez said celebrating his son’s swearing in. However, he suggested Adam’s rise was driven not by connections, but his upbringing. “He’s gotten a lift, at home, what he’s been taught.”
The younger Gomez has also said in interviews he did not trade on his father’s name to get elected and get ahead. Former School Committee member Norman Roldan was slated to run, but when Gomez got into the race shortly before signatures were due last spring, Roldan withdrew.
During the first months in office, Gomez and his fellow freshman Williams will be learning the Council ropes, such as how to respond to constituent concerns. Already Gomez has transformed his campaign Facebook page into a forum for constituents to get information about the goings-on at City Hall and in the community.
Gomez said he wants to build “sustainable” bridges with the mayor’s office, though he is willing to rock the boat on behalf of his ward. Soon enough the budget will be coming together, perhaps becoming the first major opportunity for Gomez to scrutinize municipal expenditures.
Cruz, whose 2013 campaign Gomez had supported, said the newly elected councilor is “eager to work and learn” about his new position and responsibilities. “Since his election day, he’s had profound personal grow that have me hope.”
“We’re excited and looking forward to working with him,” Rep Gonzalez said.
Many different stakeholders in Ward 1 and across Springfield have the same enthusiasm. However, Gomez has been quite clear he intends to be as independent as possible.
“I believe that I am owned by no one,” Gomez said last month. “Every vote that I do take will be from the heart.”