Wu-backed candidate for Boston City Council admits he’s never voted
Henry Santana, a highly touted challenger for city councilor-at-large who snagged an endorsement from Boston’s mayor, addressed his blank voting record, saying that his immigration status prevented him from casting a ballot in prior elections.
Santana, 27, emigrated from the Dominican Republic as a child, and became a U.S. citizen at the age of 17, but lacked the documentation to prove his citizenship until this past year, he told the Herald on Monday.
He registered to vote this year in Massachusetts, and said he plans to cast his first ballot in the Sept. 12 preliminary election for City Council.
“Like so many immigrants, I had challenges getting the right to vote,” Santana said. “My paperwork was lost in the Dominican Republic, and I had to use an attorney to get the situation resolved.
“It was a complicated and expensive process, but it will be worth it to finally have the opportunity to vote in this year’s important city elections.”
Santana is one of eight candidates vying for four at-large seats on the City Council. Three incumbents are running for re-election, but a seat opened up this month when longtime Councilor Michael Flaherty chose to withdraw from the race.
Flaherty’s decision also eliminated the need for a preliminary election in the at-large race. All eight candidates will appear on the November ballot.
Questions about Santana’s voting record come amid the strong showing of support he’s received from local and state politicians.
His list of endorsements includes three state senators, two state representatives, and three city councilors, including Ruthzee Louijeune, an incumbent and one of his opponents in this year’s at-large race for City Council.
Last week, Mayor Michelle Wu formally endorsed Santana, who worked as her director of civic organizing for more than a year.
In a Monday statement to the Herald, Wu said she was aware of Santana’s voting record when she chose to endorse him. The mayor added that she was “proud to be supporting” Santana in his bid for City Council.
“Henry’s story is one that is familiar to so many Bostonians,” Wu said. “He grew up in an immigrant family living in public housing in Mission Hill, and worked hard to navigate complex systems to support his family, all while getting involved with politics and public service even before he was personally eligible to vote.”
Wu said Santana kept her updated “about the many complex steps for him to get his citizenship documentation, and I know that gave him even more dedication and determination in his role as civic engagement director for the whole city.”
“I’m so excited that he’ll finally get to be able to vote in this fall’s elections,” Wu said. “Growing up, I watched my own immigrant parents become naturalized citizens through that intensive, multi-year process, and still see the reverence and pride they have for the right to vote in this country.”
Santana said he automatically became a U.S. citizen at 17, due to a federal law that states children can acquire citizenship if at least one of their parents becomes naturalized before they reach the age of 18.
He said he was unable to attain the proper documentation until this past year, and was not registered to vote for a majority of the time he was working as the civic organizing director for the City of Boston — a role that typically focuses on getting people engaged in the community by voting.
His voter registration status is now active, per state records. He is listed as a Democrat who lives in Dorchester.
“It was always a barrier, knowing that I wasn’t able to vote,” Santana said. “I was able to really find different ways for me to get involved and civically engaged without actually being able to cast a vote.”
He added, “That’s something that I really want to make sure that people, regardless of immigration status here in the city of Boston — you can still get involved. You can still have an impact on your community.”