The larger legacy left by Gov. Deval Patrick will be debated for years to come — but one accomplishment is undeniably historic: becoming the first black governor of Massachusetts. Has that milestone has opened the door for other candidates of color?
On the night Patrick was first elected governor in 2006, he knew he was making history.
"You are every black man, woman and child in Massachusetts and America, and every other striver of every race and kind, who is reminded tonight that the American Dream is for you, too," he said.
Patrick’s friend, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, had yet to win the presidency, but already people were wondering if the door was finally open to more politicians of color.
"There’s more of us now," said Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson. "And there’s more people running. And there’s more people paying attention to what’s going on in government."
Up on the fifth floor of Boston’s City Hall, Jackson credits Patrick with giving him the inspiration to run.
"You can take a skinny black kid from Roxbury and really allow him to dream enough to be able to be a city councilor in the neighborhood that he grew up in," Jackson said. "That’s a good legacy."
But Jackson may be one of the exceptions. On Beacon Hill, only six state legislators are black — the same number as in 2006. And this November, no candidates of color will appear on the statewide ballot. But former Boston mayoral candidate Charlotte Golar Richie says Patrick’s footprint extends well beyond elective office.
"Having Roderick Ireland as the chief justice and then appointing Geraldine Hines, the first black woman to serve on the SJC; the head of the MBTA; the head of the Registry of Motor Vehicles," she said. "You know, there are a lot of people on that list."
A list that now includes Golar Richie herself and two fellow commissioners on the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. She says diversity in state government will have an effect long after she and others leave office.
"They will have had experience," she said. "They will have made connections. They will have built constituencies of their own that will enable them to go out and do wonderful things on behalf of their communities."
But, Golar Richie says in an ironic twist, black candidates may now have a harder time winning office — because white candidates now actively court minority voters.
"There was a time when I lived in Dorchester where you wouldn’t see many elected officials coming out to Dorchester," she said. "I’m talking about the white elected officials. And that has really changed, and I think it has changed because people understand that people of color are going to exercise their right to vote."
And with this year’s general election just one month away, retaining those first-time voters who came out in support of Patrick will be a challenge, Jackson says.
"It is up to us at the local level, at the state level, and at the national level, in communities of color, to keep continuing to engage people, again, around issues and not only candidates," he said.
In Boston’s Dudley Square, some minority voters have mixed feelings about Patrick’s impact. Takia Gorman voted for the first time eight years ago when Patrick first ran. And even though he won’t be on the ballot this time, she says she’ll be returning to the polls.
"You don’t really know until it’s affecting you," Gorman said. "Then it’s like, oh, you want to be involved. You know, you want to have a voice."
But college student Shatara Way doesn’t think having someone of color in office has really made a difference.
"I still feel like, even with a black governor, I don’t feel like that’s helped anything," Way said. "I still feel like there’s people who feel there’s no point in voting."
That’s a sentiment Jackson says he hopes to change, by paving the way for the next generation.
"I’m not going to do this forever," he said. "It’s really all of us thinking about a legacy: what we want leave behind and also, how many folks are we bringing in the door? How many people are we encouraging to run? How many people are we helping to run?"