CONTRIBUTED RAUL FERNANDEZ
For the past two terms, Tommy Vitolo has represented the Massachusetts House of Representatives Norfolk 15th District, including Northern Brookline. 2022 will be different for Vitolo as he is facing a challenge for his seat.
Raul Fernandez, Boston University professor and the first Latino member of the Brookline Select Board, is running against Vitolo for the Norfolk 15th district seat.
Fernandez said he credits part of his run to dissatisfaction with Vitolo’s office.
“I have certainly been unhappy with my representation. I think running against an incumbent is a sign that you’re unhappy with your current representation and that there’s something you can bring to the seat that would be different,” Fernandez said. “It isn’t just about representation for representation’s sake. Representation matters. It impacts policy.”
Fernandez said he will bring light to issues targeting the less fortunate in Massachusetts if he wins the election.
“There are a wide range of social issues that are either being unaddressed or improperly addressed at the State House right now. For me, key issues include housing, social services, public safety issues, education and a range of justice issues, including climate justice,” Fernandez said.
On the education front, Fernandez said he hopes to bring programs similar to that of the high school’s Alternative Choices in Education (ACE) program to other schools across the Commonwealth.
“This is a program that has produced amazing outcomes for students who in other districts might be forgotten or left behind. The kind of approach these programs have, the way that they work directly with students and their families and the way they get people to graduation and to college is phenomenal,” Fernandez said.
Vitolo stressed major achievements over his past two terms for his reelection campaign.
“We’ve delivered real progress over the four years on areas like public education, police reform and climate change,” Vitolo said. “I’ve been an effective leader in Brookline and in the State House and want to keep doing important work. I played a role in passing the Student Opportunity Act, which dramatically increased funding for public K-12 schools, particularly schools in communities that are suffering from structural burdens.”
Vitolo said there are still various societal issues, mainly social and economic inequities, that he sees across the state and hopes to tackle if reelected.
“We still have residents of our Commonwealth and our community who are afraid of being the target of violence because of the color of their skin, their religion or who they love. We’ve got to make our communities safe for them,” Vitolo said. “We still have children with unlimited potential who lack the resources they need to succeed.”
Maeve Duggan, Research Director at MASSInc polling group, said she sees this electoral race as part of a broader political theme in recent Massachusetts politics.
“This race really follows an emerging trend in Massachusetts politics of these primary challenges. We’ve seen it in some higher profile races like Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy. There’s simply just too much democratic political talent in the state that we’re now seeing these primary challenges trickle down to these more local seats,” Duggan said.
Those high profile primary challenges, such as incumbent Markey vs Kennedy, mostly ended in failure for the challenger, with Markey beating out Kennedy. Duggan also emphasized the lack of correct predictions for elections like this.
“Anything can happen. On the one hand, we are seeing that these primary challenges are becoming more common. It’s a year where the governor’s seat is open,” said Duggan. “On the other hand, incumbents always have the advantage, especially in Massachusetts, where their names are listed first on the ballot. It could really go either way.”
If elected, Fernandez would be the first person of color to represent the 15th Norfolk District in the MA state legislature. After his historic election to the Select Board, Fernandez said he is confident about his chances.
“The entire town of Brookline elected me to the Select Board. This election covers a smaller subset of Brookline residents and precincts where I did quite well,” said Fernandez. “Brookline’s ready for a person of color to be their representative.”