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Early to rise

Yawu Miller | 4/15/2009, 5:31 a.m.
With a familiar name and a citywide organization, Felix G. Arroyo’s at-large City Council campaign is off to a fast...
Felix G. Arroyo, one candidate in the crowded field of contenders vying for an at-large seat on the City Council (second from right), talks to supporters, including Kalila Barnett (right), executive director of Alternatives for Community and Environment, before canvassing Jamaica Plain on Saturday, April 11, 2009. Yawu Miller

With a familiar name and a citywide organization, Felix G. Arroyo’s at-large City Council campaign is off to a fast start

When Boston voters head to the polls for preliminary citywide balloting in September, they will likely be faced with 12 candidates for the four at-large seats on the City Council.

To avoid becoming lost in such a packed field, council hopeful Felix G. Arroyo is banking on an early start, a large team of volunteers and a collaborative approach to politics for a competitive advantage in the race.

“Our theme is, ‘Let’s build a better Boston,’” he said, nursing a coffee while waiting for volunteers to show up for a canvassing of Jamaica Plain last Saturday morning. “We chose it because it’s inclusive. It’s about all of us.”

Arroyo, 29, traces his interest in collaborative models of governing to his training in politics from veteran organizer and District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner. Arroyo began working as director of constituent services for Turner 10 years ago.

In that job, Arroyo learned the intricacies of city politics while also learning about the needs of the people who live in District 7, which covers Roxbury and parts of the South End, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester.

“It was as basic as making sure that constituents in the district got basic city services to helping a single mother fight an eviction,” he said. “The way we solved problems was working together with the community to find solutions.”

After two terms with Turner, Arroyo moved over to the Service Employees International Union Local 615. There, he served as political director, brokering deals with the state Legislature on behalf of the union’s members, most of whom work as janitors and security guards.

Arroyo says he was inspired to run for office by the ascension of former community organizer Barack Obama to the White House, and wants to bring a similarly fresh approach to Boston’s City Council.

“I think it’s time for a new politics in Boston,” he said. “Our campaign is based on collaborative politics — bringing people together so we can all have a voice in government.”

Arroyo’s team includes campaign manager Patrick Keaney — who ran successful at-large campaigns for his father, former City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo — as well as a team of advisors, including former state Sen. Jarrett Barrios, former state Rep. Mel King, former City Councilor Bruce Bolling and the Rev. Gregory Groover, pastor of the Charles Street A.M.E. Church and chairman of the Boston School Committee.

While Obama’s election set a benchmark for Arroyo’s political ambitions, he says the 2007 election, in which his father lost his at-large seat, was a new low point. Specifically, Arroyo points to the extremely low citywide turnout, noting that just 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots in that year’s September preliminary.

“We should be ashamed,” he said. “That means that voters in Boston spoke with their feet. They said, ‘We don’t see ourselves in government.’”

In this year’s race, Arroyo is taking nothing for granted. He’s raised nearly $40,000, according to campaign-finance records, and says he hopes to raise $200,000 before the Nov. 3 general election.