Grande Dinero Set to Help Elect Latinos in Mass…and the Valley in Particular…?
UPDATED: 8/15/23 1:16PM: To include comments from Andrew Melendez.
Some six months after forming, a Springfield-based PAC with an aim to elect more Latinos, is entering the local political stage. Interminably syllabic, the Hispanic Latino Leaders Now Independent Expenditure Police Action Committee (HLLN) filed with the Office of Campaign & Political Finance in February. It had been spending before this weekend, but its filings this weekend signaled it was stepping up its game.
Flush with $100,000 from former Springfield School Committee member and Golden Years Home Care Services CEO Cesar Ruiz, the PAC dropped a fresh $8,000 on polling and a Washington consultancy of a Bernie Sanders advisor. While its intention of increasing the number of Latinos in public office are obvious, the races it will seek to influence remain unclear.
The PAC did not return a request for an interview sent to email address. After this post was originally published, one member of the PAC, Andrew Melendez, the Director of the Latino Economic Development Corporation in Springfield, said the aim includes “building a bond” among Latino electeds.
“After talking to Cesar and hearing his plans and I was happy to jump on board,” Melendez said. “I want to focus on connecting our statewide leaders.”
While he indicated interest in municipal races across the state this year and building in the next state cycle, Melendez did not say whom he expected the PAC to back. However, he added, “I know that Cesar has some ideas.”
Based on its classification under Massachusetts law, HLLN may be considered a “SuperPAC” in popular vernacular. Last month, the PAC began spending to the tune of $17,000. This included under $1000 for campaign treasurer training and expenses. Cristina Berrios, the office manager of Ruiz’s company is the PAC’s treasurer. About another $7,000 went to marketing at the Latino Marketing Agency in Springfield. The largest July expense was $9,435 for Public Strategy Group for web development, coding and advertising.
This report also listed Ruiz’s investment, though the PAC reported it as a loan at the time.
While Ruiz’s seed money was a clear sign the PAC was the real deal, the reports filed over the weekend sealed it. One was an amendment that remade Ruiz’s $100,000 into a contribution, not a loan. The new spending report showed the PAC $300 a printing company in Springfield and $2,650 on polling by an Iowa company called Niche Markets. Another $1,105 went to Winning Campaign Strategies, a campaign marketing company in eastern Massachusetts.
But the expenditure that might hurl eyebrows upward was $4,000 for Solidarity Strategies. The Latino-owned consulting firm’s founder is Chuck Rocha, who advised both of Senator Sanders’s presidential campaigns. Most significantly, Rocha has been credited with improving the senator’s share of the Latino vote between the 2016 and 2020 primaries.
As the statement HLLN’s website notes, Hispanics’ representation in Massachusetts elective office is not commensurate with their 13% share of the commonwealth’s population. The website states that among its missions is “to advance qualified candidates to better represent the electorate and population as a whole.”
The PAC identifies some somewhat opaque policy goals. These vague, but inoffensive aspirations include “a fair tax code, support of electronic signature legislation and equity and inclusion on statewide committees and appointments.”
Masslive reported, and the HLLN website confirms, that among the PAC’s leaders, besides Ruiz, and Melendez are Lidya Rivera-Early, Director of Community Engagement at Springfield Technical Community College and Berrios.
Melendez indicated that a major focus will be getting out the vote. He observed that Springfield has the largest raw number of Latinos registered to vote in the state. However, the PAC will be backing specific candidates.
“Over the next couple of weeks, you’ll see some candidate selected [in] Springfield, Worcester, Boston that we want to invest in,” he said. “We do have our eye on some leaders that we want to lift up.”
Melendez has worked for the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s largest business group. Thus, he probably has largest statewide network among the PAC’s principals. Though he did not name any candidates, he spoke with a subtle excitement about the number Hispanic candidates in Worcester and the likely showdown in Boston between prominent Latinos for Council District 5 .
While the PAC has statewide ambitions, its location and recent successes among Hispanic candidates suggests a major focus is the 413. Indeed, there is reason to believe the time is right. In 2021, Holyoke, one of the US’s most Puerto Rican cities outside the island itself, elected its first Latino mayor, Josh Garcia. Concurrently to Garcia’s win, the city elected two Latino at-large councilors.
In 2022, Shirley Arriaga won the open state rep seat in Chicopee. While it has been diversifying, Chicopee is still far whiter than either Holyoke or Springfield. Indeed, its growing Latino precincts are outside her district. Her victory suggested that Hispanics had opportunities well beyond neighborhoods where they were the majority.
Two of Springfield’s reps have been Latino since 2014. However, in 2020 then-Councilor Adam Gomez unseated a State Senator in a primary.
There is some precedent for this in Springfield. Former State Rep and City Council President Jose Tosado often placed first in the at-large race for Council. This was in part because of broad crossover appeal.
While Garcia is not up for reelection in 2023, two Hispanic candidates are running for mayor in the Valley. State Rep Orlando Ramos is part of a crowded field trying to dethrone Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. City Councilor Delmarina López is trying to oust Chicopee mayor John Vieau. Several credible Hispanic candidates are seeking one of Springfield’s two open at-large Council seats.
While the focus is on electing Latinos, Melenedez acknowledged it goes beyond that with implications for everyone.
“We believe that if Latinos are growing education-wise, safety-wise, everybody wins,” he said.
It is too early to tell whether the new PAC will have any ideological preferences. Even when Valley Latinos were overwhelmingly Puerto Rican—the nationality pool now includes Dominicans and beyond—they were never ideologically monolithic. In Springfield, for example, there were factions that split along institutions, economics and even religion.
The PAC’s mission statement is not terribly enlightening either. Yet, given the cast taking early roles with the PAC, it might seem prone to lean conservatively on economic issues if modestly.
Yet, hiring Rocha’s firm counters that assumption. His background is in organized labor. Indeed, one of the biggest feats of Sanders’s 2020 bid was winning the presidential caucuses in Nevada. The Silver State is also home to the Culinary Workers Union, an incredibly influential local. Incidentally—or perhaps not—its membership and turnout in the caucus are heavily Latino.