Hispanic Latino Leaders Now SuperPAC Gave Haverhill Candidates a Thrill, Too…
As the 2023 municipal cycle closed, the Springfield-based SuperPAC that played a big—or at least pricy—role in its home city’s election made another move out east. Adult care mogul Cesar Ruiz founded the Hispanic Latino Leaders Now independent expenditure political action committee (HLLN) to elect Latinos in Massachusetts. Much of HLLN’s spending was in Springfield, but a new filing added Haverhill races to the list.
HLLN had already broadened its geographic reach to include spending in two races in Boston’s September 19 preliminary. However, a pair of reports filed on November 14 show the group spent significant, if not princely sums on three Haverhill Council races and a School Committee race. It came at a time of change for the municipal bodies there.
Haverhill, an Essex County city of 67,787 as of 2020, sits on the Merrimack River, downstream of Lawrence and Lowell. It has grown over recent decades, compared to many Gateway Cities, and it is wealthier than Holyoke or Springfield.
By contrast, nearly half of Springfield identifies as Hispanic/Latino according to the Census Bureau. That—and Ruiz’s roots in Springfield—almost undoubtedly contributed to HLLN’s decision to spend about $75,000 to boost Springfield State Rep Orlando Ramos’ unsuccessful bid for mayor. That figure is nearly 40% of what Ruiz put into HLLN.
However, something was afoot in Haverhill. Following a vote in 2021, the city reorganized its elected bodies, not unlike how Springfield did 14 years ago. Instead of 9 at-large councilors as it had for years, last month Haverhill elected four councilors at-large and seven by ward. The School Committee is largely the same, except the mayor of Haverhill is automatically one of the four at-large members of that body.
In Haverhill’s Council race, HLLN backed Ward 2 candidate Katrina Hobbs-Everett, Ward 5 Candidate Michael Morales and Ward 6 Candidate Oliver Aguilo. Only Hobbs-Everett won. HLLN also backed Ward 2 School Committee candidate Yonnie Collins, who was successful.
Not all candidates necessarily identify as Latino. Although, HLLN has defended its spending on behalf of non-Hispanic candidates, such as Springfield City Councilor-elect Brian Santaniello, who works for Ruiz’s business, as supporters of issues important to Latinos.
Collins told WMP&I she did not know that HLLN had spent money on her behalf. Nor had she or campaign been in contact with it. The SuperPAC’s filing with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance states its spending on Haverhill candidates was at Connolly Printing, likely all for mailers. This is consistent with what Collins observed while campaigning.
In an email, Collins said her campaign had sent its own mailers and organizations that supported her did the same. However, voters had told her about others.
“I had heard from some voters that they received mailers that my campaign did not send, but they did not mention this particular organization,” she said.
According to HLLN’s filing, it spent $2,128 on November 6 to support Collins. The 27 year-old Liberian immigrant did not know whether the spending made a difference in the race, but credited her victory to her organization first and foremost.
“I know that my volunteers and I worked very hard to connect with voters through door knocking, phonebanking, candidate forums, events, mailers, and endorsements,” Collins emailed.
Elsewhere in Haverhill, HLLN spent $2,379 on Morales, $2,127 on Aguilo and $1,300 on Councilor-elect Hobbs-Everett. These expenditures are have a November 6 date.
In an email, Morales, who ran for Ward 5 councilor, provided WMP&I with mailer voters in his ward received. He said he had no indication HLLN would be spending in his race.
“The information provided on that mailer was taken directly from my campaign website,” Morales explained.
Like Collins, Morales had no contact with HLLN and he had not heard of the group. Still, he said he was “flattered” and “humbled” by their support.
Morales said he could not be sure why a group based in Western Mass would have taken an interest in his race, other than that he was among the few Latinos seeking office in Haverhill this year. While he was not successful in his race, he said he performed better than other candidates who did not win.
“As a first-time public office candidate and a non-Haverhill native competing in a more conservative Ward against a well-known incumbent, I can only hope that the organization’s spending helped promote my message to a broader voter base,” Morales continued.
As of posting time, Hobbs-Everett and Aguilo had not responded to a request for comment.
HLLN also spent $632 in support of the Billerica Democratic Town Committee. However, this may have been meant for another candidate. The entry mentions Ward 1 and Billerica does not have a council. The chair of the Billerica DTC did not respond to a request for comment.
The Haverhill Council candidates—and the inexplicable Billerica expenditure—were on the same report. However, Collins was on the other November 14 filing. That record reports texting services from Robocent, a Virginia Beach company, on Election Day. The texts ostensibly plugged candidates in the 413, including many who had previously benefited from HLLN’s largesse.
HLLN spent $975 each on texts backing Springfield Councilors-elect Santaniello and Jose Delgado. The group also spent $611 on Chicopee mayoral hopeful Delmarina López and $470 on West Springfield Council candidate Elisa Olivo. Unlike Delgado and Santaniello, they did not win.