Barrios Walks, Works Way Into City's Center
Jarret T. Barrios '90 may be one of the fresh faces in the Massachusetts House of Representatives when his term begins in January, but his face is familiar on the streets of Cambridge.
Since June 1997, the 30-year old lawyer has been walking door-to-door chatting with Cantabrigians, sometimes six or seven days per week, as he says, out-working the competition.
"We had a voter list. We went door to door. We got involved," Barrios says. "I think the voters realized that we were actually going to work on the issues. We were doing more than saying."
Barrios, an openly gay Latino Democrat, beat his Republican rival Ronald W. Potvin in a landslide on Nov. 3 with 88 percent of the vote. He won the September primary with 48.7 percent of the vote, more than 20 percentage points higher than his closest rival and almost 30 points higher than incumbent Alvin E. Thompson.
The fall election was Barrios' first as a candidate, but his travels on foot through the city have given him a crash course in local politics.
A social studies concentrator at Harvard, Barrios went on to graduate from Georgetown Law School in 1995. He has since worked as a housing attorney for the Boston law firm Hill & Barlow, and was named 1997 Pro Bono Attorney of the Year for his work representing immigrants.
Barrios, who is originally from Tampa, Fla., said he first become interested in civil service through his involvement in community service and "issues politics" while at Harvard, including serving as chair of the bisexual, gay, lesbian student association and as a night supervisor of a Harvard Square homeless shelter.
During the summer of 1990, Barrios worked on the campaign of David Scondras for City Council because of their shared interests in progressive issues. He says his work on the campaign gave him the idea that he himself might like to run as well.
"He's the perfect man for the job--he's energetic and he knows how to convince people," says Ari M. Lipman '00, a resident of Mather House who worked on Barrios' campaign from May through the election season.
Lipman says Barrios' work as an attorney in the area of housing is the ideal qualification for a representative whose district faces a severe housing crisis, as he says Barrios' does.
Lipman says he was drawn to work for Barrios' campaign because of similarities in their political beliefs, especially the importance of minority representation in the House.
Barrios says he plans to continue working part-time at Hill & Barlow during his term, but that he is eager to make an impact on his community.
"My hope is to treat [being a representative] as a full-time job," he says, adding that he continues to walk door-to-door from time to time to keep a pulse on what his constituency is interested in.
"I want to be the voice for our neighborhood at the state level," he says. "If you can't have a progressive voice advocating effectively on the issues, then it's a real loss."
Affordable housing, quality child care and quality education are a few of the many issues to which Barrios says he will devoted his time.
The former Adams House resident says he also plans to focus on issues that are of specific concern to Cambridge residents. He says he is committed to maintaining Metropolitian District Commission parks along the Charles River and to making Memorial Drive safer for pedestrians by adding crosswalks.
Barrios says the most important of all legislative concerns is his duty to his constituents.
"Fixing potholes and fire hydrants are a major part of my job, too," he says.
In short, he says, "My goal is to be the most effective representative for the district."
Barrios says he is the first openly gay man elected to the House as a non-incumbent and one of three first-term Latinos this year. Before this election, only one Latino had ever served in the House, and his last term ended in 1992.
Barrios credits the activism of the gay community, which he estimates makes up about 15 to 20 percent of the voters in the district, for much of his support.
"[My homosexuality] informs my agenda," he says.
"It is important that we recognize the obligations of society to allow all citizens to participate fully in the political process," he says.
In addition, Barrios says he hopes to be "a strong voice for people of color."
The significance of his race in the election, Barrios says, does not reflect a change in demographics--only about 5 percent of Cantabrigians are Hispanic.
"The change, if any, is not from demographics but shows the ability of Hispanics to run a viable campaign," he says.
Barrios, whose district covers South and East Cambridge, along with several River Houses, says he will certainly encounter issues that concern Harvard.
Despite the fact that Harvard has not contacted him yet (as MIT has) about discussing various concerns and issues of interest, Barrios says he is eager to cultivate more ties between the University and state government.
"I view Harvard as an opportunity for Cambridge and the state for resources. I have been involved with [Harvard] unions and students, and I can see that this is an opportunity to build a strong relationship with the community," he says.
As for his long-term plans, Barrios says he is not sure how long he will serve as representative.
"I may hate the State House and be there for only two years, or I may love it and stay there for the rest of my life," he says.
He declined to comment as to whether he had ambitions that might lead him to Washington, D.C.