LAWRENCE, Mass. — Community and peace activist Martina Cruz handily won her race for a seat on this city’s School Committee with 65 percent of the vote in the municipal elections Nov. 8. Cruz is also known as an activist for working families and had the endorsement of the Merrimack Valley Central Labor Council.
Her opponent, local historian Phillip Laudani, obtained 518 votes to Cruz’s 962. Laudani pitched his campaign to “English speaking voters” and emphasized the issue of getting rid of school Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy, who has come under criticism.
Before the vote, Cruz said, “It is not enough just to get rid of Laboy. We have to look at all the issues that affect the education of our children. I will fight in Lawrence, Boston and Washington to get the tools our teachers need to educate our children, our future.”
Cruz campaigned on the issues of being an “independent parents’ voice,” keeping military recruiters out of the schools, and bringing “transparency and accountability” to the school administration. She pledged to hold regular meetings with her constituency in the different neighborhoods of her district.
Opposing right-wing attempts to blame teachers and their unions for the ills of society that are reflected in the schools, Cruz said, “We need to listen to the teachers’ concerns. They are the ones that are with our children in that setting daily.” She is an outspoken critic of high-stakes testing, and a staunch defender of the teaching of critical thinking skills and of bilingual education.
The municipal races in this, the only Latin American majority city in Massachusetts, drew national attention due to the possibility of having the first elected Latino mayor — City Councilman Marcos Devers — and the high percentage of voters declared “inactive.”
“Inactive” voters have to provide proof of where they live before they are allowed to vote. Because the overwhelming majority of the “lost” or inactive voters are in the northern part of the city, where most Hispanics live, two city councilors, the Massachusetts ACLU and ¡OISTE!, a group which helps Latinos get election training, filed suit in federal court to either postpone the elections or impound the results and provide another election day in the future so the lost, inactive voters could “activate” their voting status. The court ruled not to postpone Election Day, but ordered the city to let inactive voters vote and to impound the ballots until the issues are resolved. Federal and state officials monitored the elections.
While Devers did not win the mayoralty, at a post-election gathering at his campaign headquarters, he said, “We are still winners. We have elected a team that will work together.” He said the team was composed of the winning councilors Grisel Silva, Nilka Alvaren-Rodriguez, and Nunzio DiMarca and school committee member Martina Cruz.
Devers had previously endorsed Cruz, calling her “a woman who fights for the downtrodden, the poor and the working class.”