Opinions, Column

Race To Replace Speaker DeLeo Is An Opportunity: Bring About Change Or Entrench The Boys’ Club

Immediately after Robert DeLeo, the longest-serving speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, announced on Dec. 28 of last year that he was planning to resign, a number of candidates jumped at the unique opportunity to fill the seat for Revere and Winthrop. 

Only two of the four Democrats on the ballot for the March 2 primary of the special election—Valentino Capobianco and Juan Jaramillo—have received endorsements from national political figures. These endorsements, coupled with the candidates’ personal politics and histories, illuminate exactly how much of an opportunity this election is: either bring material change to the State House or further entrench the misogynistic boys’ club that has long existed there.

Capobianco, a former member of the Winthrop School Committee, shows decidedly little interest in progressive policy and is more lukewarm than his competitors when it comes to prioritizing the working-class communities of Revere and Winthrop. If elected, he would ensure the persistence of the boys’ club in the House, which routinely upholds the interests of the wealthy, white, and male elite in Massachusetts state politics. Capobianco’s Revere Journal op-ed explaining his motivations for running is chock-full of meaningless platitudes and devoid of concrete policy proposals. He instead opted to spend the majority of the piece discussing vague niceties such as his commitment to the values of “honesty,” “service,” “listening,” and “opportunity.” 

Lack of policy prowess aside, fitness for the job is a far more important question in this local race. Capobianco has a history of misogynistic and disrespectful remarks on his personal Twitter account, as well as a slew of allegations of sexual misconduct. Capobianco was endorsed by big names including former U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, but on Feb. 23, Kennedy and Healey formally rescinded their endorsements of Capobianco after a series of accusations dating back to 2006 surfaced. According to GBH News, these incidents involving Capobianco have included “aggressively pursuing younger women, attempting sexual acts with non-consenting inebriated women, repeatedly asking to perform sexual acts in exchange for money after being told to stop, and unwanted and repeated sexual advances.” In one of the detailed incidents, Capobianco followed a young woman home after a party, prompting her to hide in a bush and call her mother for help. 

Capobianco claims that these allegations are false and politically motivated. News of Capobianco’s disrespect for women and nonchalant attitude toward sexual misconduct does not come completely out of left field, however. Immediately after he announced his candidacy, Twitter users compiled a series of tweets by Capobianco in which he admitted to harassing female strangers and objectified female celebrities, commenting on their appearances. He also advocated his desire to have an “Italian Heritage Day” in addition to Indigenous Peoples’ Day and refers to undocumented immigrants as “illegals.” The warning signs of Capobianco’s poor judgment and skewed worldview have been there since the beginning—his endorsers just didn’t look close enough.

Jaramillo, on the other hand, can be described as a progressive with an extensive history of doing hard work in the Revere community. In sharp contrast to Capobianco, Jaramillo could be a force for progressive change. Jaramillo grew up in a working class background as the son of immigrants escaping violence in Colombia, and his experience in the political realm has been oriented toward empowering and assisting his community. When he served as budget director for State Senator Joe Boncore, Jaramillo prioritized access to housing, public transportation, and health care. Jaramillo recognizes the urgency of tackling climate change to protect his coastal community, the impact of good after-school programs for public school students, and the necessity of criminal justice reform. In his current position as the political coordinator for the local branch of the Service Employees International Union, he demonstrates solidarity with working people and a willingness to put in the work in his community, especially with regard to advocating for frontline workers who have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Revere is one of the top five towns in Massachusetts that has been hardest hit by the virus, and the community deserves a representative who has demonstrated resolve to tackle both the virus and the social inequalities that it has exposed. 

Based on Jaramillo’s track record and progressive policy bent, it comes as no surprise that he has received endorsements from Vermont Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley. These key endorsements from progressive national figures such as Sanders and Pressley speak volumes about Jaramillo’s outstanding dedication to fighting for the working class and delivering for his community. His progressive voice is a much needed addition to the more moderate and restrained boys’ club on Beacon Hill.

A comparative look at the candidates reveals that this special election presents a unique opportunity. While Jaramillo has a high-profile endorsement from Sanders, Capobianco has secured dozens of endorsements from elected officials and labor unions, and also has $25,000 more in his war chest than his opponent. It remains to be seen what will come of the allegations against Capobianco, but one thing is exceedingly clear: if the people of Winthrop and Revere choose to elect Jaramillo, they can expect to gain a competent policy wonk and fierce advocate for the community at the State House. But, if Capobianco comes out on top on March 2, his election will signal a continuation of the same insulated, unaccountable, and disappointing nature of the Massachusetts State House that has persisted for decades.  

Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau/ Heights Editor

February 28, 2021