RS: My name is Ramon Soto and I am running for City Council At-Large because I believe in the strength of Boston. I have 10 years of experience working for both the city and the state, and during that time I have learned that there is great potential in what we can do if we work together. I believe this is an historic time in our city’s history. We have a new mayor; a new city councilor, with a new superintendent for our schools; and we need City Councilors At-Large who will be able to advocate for everyone in our city. I believe I have the experience, the skills, and the personality to do that.
Prince: What are your issues that you are advocating for as City Councilor At-Large?
RS: Number one is Education, specifically the access to resources for our families from Boston Public Schools. Currently there is a broken network of resources that needs to be addressed. I coordinated a program called the “Circle of Promise” and for the last 3 years this program has striven to align resources [directly around a school] and connect them with a person within the school. This has granted access to parents who need those resources–It can be anything from ESL to job training or self sufficiency programs. If we have stronger resources for our families then we will have better outcomes for our students in school.
Number two would be public safety–I think we can do a lot more for our communities. It starts with prevention–we need to make sure that kids have opportunities and jobs. And the second part to that is getting the guns off our streets. I will be a strong advocate for that and I won’t rest until we get every illegal gun off our streets.
The third would be advocacy and communication from the city council. The councilors can do a better a job of communicating the issues before the council (and before the mayor) and getting an input from the community in any way that is beneficial for everyone.
Prince: What makes you qualified to be City Councilor At Large?
RS: Like I mentioned before, I have 10 years of experience working in government. Six of the last 10 years have been spent in the Mayors Office of intergovernmental relations–I was a coordinator for a special projects. That work has really taught me a lot about the entire city. One of the main projects I worked on was the 2010 Federal Census. That really was a primer for the work that I want to achieve as City Councilor At-Large. The reason why I say that is because the census is an effort that is in every corner of the city. It is an effort that demands that you communicate a vision, that you follow through with it, and you get the job done. We were able to do that by utilizing what we call “the voices of influence”: The hairstylists, the barbershop owners, the folks who work at the laundromats, etc. We went directly to them and asked for their support to get the message out about the Census. And because of that we ended up with the highest population count in over 30 years–that translates to $400 million that comes back to our city in Federal funds. That work was a good way to understand some of the issues in every community: how people feel about their government and what kind of resources they need in order to become more engaged in their community.
After that I coordinated the “Circle of Promise” initiative, which again aligns resources around our under performing schools. And so, my background as an effective communicator and as someone who understands education–not only from the school department point of view but from my father who has been a teacher in the Boston Public Schools for the last 20 years. I understand what it is like to be in a family where education matters most and I have the “know how” to communicate the vision for our city and follow through to get it done.
Prince: Tell me a personal story that has inspired you to run for office?
RS: As part of the “Circle of Promise” initiative we found that, in the 10 turn around schools of Boston, we had 100 homeless families–and that number was staggering. We knew that we had to do something right away. In that effort, we were able to strike an agreement with the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Housing Authority: to share information with respect to homeless families at their approval–the first of its kind. So we would ask homeless families to sign an authorization form allowing BHA and BPS to share information (to be sure that the homeless students are BPS students) so that they can be accounted for. We would run their names on the BHA roll to see where they were in the process [homeless families and students get their cases expedited because their education cannot be disrupted] and within that effort we found that they were 6 families that were “supposed” to be housed. The reason why they were never housed was because they never received a letter from BHA. These families had no homes so they were moving around a lot.We discovered this issue and we discussed how to address it: we were going to go directly to the schools, talk with the family engagement staff, and then work out a way to process this information the quickest way possible.
So in one case, we had this family that went to school and they were literally homeless–they were living on couches and in their car. We got the call, which was a desperate situation, and we processed the paperwork. I spoke directly to the director of occupancy from the Boston Housing Authority, she made a few calls, and within 48 hours we were able to house that family. That wouldn’t be possible if we had not done the work in advance–to get these permissions, to get this process in place which took us 6 months to do. So when we had that family in distress, we were able to address it and get them housed immediately.
Prince: What promises do you hope to keep as City Councilor At-Large?
RA: Number one, The promise that I made to families in Boston specifically to Boston Public School students and their families is that we are going to get it right on education. We are going to stop throwing money at a problem, see it get better, then take that money away and throw it at another problem. I will be the strongest advocate for our families, and to have stability in our school department. Once we have stability, we will know where every dollar is going–with some flexibility on a year to year basis. We need to have a long term plan that takes everything into account including the facilities and how it is utilized–I’m talking after school, before, and during school. We need a thorough assessment of what is needed in our school department and in our schools. I will not rest until that is done. Because I am tired of playing the shell game of moving money around to address whatever ill of the day. We are going to have a long term plan that addresses the needs of every family, ESL student, special needs, across the board. We have to do this, if we want to have a good quality school in every neighborhood of our city.
Prince: As City Councilor At-Large, what will you do to attract people from all over the world to come to Boston and invest in their American dream?
Diversity in a city is what makes the city thrive. I have had the opportunity to travel to every neighborhood of our city and what I see over and over again is the liveliness and pride that people have in their cultures, their communities and in their neighborhoods–what I will strive to do is promote that. It is not just about the downtown neighborhood activities, events, or venues; it’s about every neighborhood. On Friday Nights, we should go to Dorchester because Dorchester is happening. We should want to go to East Boston on Saturday Nights because there is a multi-cultural festival; East Boston is so diverse. We should want to go to every single one of our neighborhoods and participate in that “urban life.” And it is because of this that I strongly believe that folks from around the world will appreciate our city’s diversity; and the city will appreciate their diversity too. I think that is the glue that holds our city together.
Prince: Tell me an embarrassing story that you have done–on or off the campaign–that has reminded you that you’re still human?
RS: (Laughing) How about slamming the car door on my finger? Because I was trying to rush from one event to the next, changing shirts, I slammed the car door on my index finger. I had a morning event which I was wearing a shirt and tie, but in the afternoon I was going to a church basement to welcome a choir that was visiting from Puerto Rico to participate in the Puerto Rican Day festival. So I was running from my car to go inside to change my shirt and the car door was a little squeaky (which my Dad should have sprayed some WD-40). With the door being loose, I went to close it and I slammed it on my index finger. And so that was probably the most embarrassing thing that has happened to me thus far.
Prince: Lastly in your own words, What makes Ramon Soto so interesting?
RS: I think where I come from is what makes me interesting. I am Puerto Rican and I’m actually the only Latino in the City Council At-Large race with 19 candidates–and that is very important to me. It is something that I am very proud of because of my culture: the way we enjoy each other, the way we respect each other and other cultures, and right down to the rice and beans (laughing). I think that it is a huge factor in who I am today. I am a former president of a Latino nonprofit organization and I am somebody who can walk into any room with humility, with respect; and I believe in being accepted in every culture and every neighborhood. All these things is what makes me interesting.
If you wish to follow Ramon Soto and his platforms go to: www.ramon4boston.com