As a 55-year old Giovanni Recupero stands on the front porch of his Essex Street triple-decker and stares down the street he has come to know and love, his emotions are mixed.
“I’ve raised 13 children here,” he says, referring to his neighborhood, a place he often speaks about with great reverence. “But a few weeks back my 17-year old daughter said, ‘Dad I don’t feel safe walking home.’ When a young woman tells you she doesn’t feel safe anymore walking through her own neighborhood, it’s time for a change.”
Recupero says that basic idea—that everyone should feel comfortable in their own neighborhood—is what made him declare his candidacy for District Six City Councilor last month. “I’m running because I want to make a difference here, and I think I can.”
Recupero, who is of Italian descent, moved to his Essex Street home from East Boston with his wife, who is of Puerto Rican descent, in the summer of 1980. “I thought it was a very nice place, a great place to raise a family.”
Raise a family, did they ever. Thirteen children, twenty-two grandchildren, and one great-grandchild later, the Recuperos have one of the largest families the city of Chelsea has ever seen.
“That’s why I care about my neighborhood,” says Recupero, who is currently retired, after working for 30 years as a Marine and USPS mail carrier. “The environment has changed, but I’ve never abandoned it. I could have left, but I have pride where I come from.”
Recupero says that sense of loyalty to his neighborhood is exactly what’s fueling his desire to run. “Too often my neighborhood is looked upon as being rundown, what some might refer to as ‘the ghetto part’ of the city. But we are just as good as every other part of the city, and there are some very basic things we can do to turn that around.”
Recupero says that, as an elected official, he would work towards making District Six a safer environment. One of his main policy initiatives would be to increase police presence at peak crime hours, install LED street lighting, and hold community meetings to discuss solutions to the district’s quality of life issues. Additionally, Recupero supports a residency requirement for Chelsea police officers and firefighters hired from now on, and also those hired within the past five years. Recupero is in favor of a ten-year residency requirement from the time of initial employment, a plan almost identical to that of the City of Boston.
Given the rash of crime in his district in recent months, and the outcry of residents, that might be exactly the approach his district needs. Essex Street resident Ramon Oreon agrees with Recupero’s general sentiment: “This is a great neighborhood. But there’s too much crime here. More vigilance would make me feel more safe,” he said.
As for Recupero’s plans for development in the city of Chelsea, on the whole, Recupero says he believes the city is moving in the right direction, and that, under the direction of city manager Jay Ash and a hard-working Council, the city will continue to make great strides.
With a little over a month left in campaign season, Recupero says his greatest asset is his eagerness to make a difference. However, he realizes his passion can be a weakness, too. “My greatest weakness is my passion. Other people might interpret it as crazy,” says Recupero, who is known in the city as being particularly outspoken, and has a reputation in his neighborhood for saying what is on his mind. “But at the end of the day it’s because I’m passionate about what I believe in, and I hope people get a chance to see it isn’t ‘crazy’ when I get results as a councilor.”
Recupero is running against School-committeeman Jim Dwyer in an election that is far from decided at this point. Dwyer has two terms of experience as an elected official on the Chelsea School Committee, but Recupero has the upper hand in a few other areas, namely, that he speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese, and has raised thirteen children of Hispanic decent. A cursory glance at the District Six voting list reveals that the overwhelming majority of voters in his District are Hispanic.
Additionally, Recupero has some name-recognition of his own; after all, this isn’t the first time a Recupero has been on the District Six ballot. Recupero’s son, Chelsea High School graduate Lorenzo Recupero ran for city council in 2007 and 2009 against incumbent Marilyn-Vega Torres. He lost by 20 votes and 13 votes respectfully in two hotly contested battles.
The young Recupero, who currently works as a Boston Globe correspondent and full-time student, says he’s very proud of his father and intends to throw his full support behind him in their third attempt to send a Recupero to City Hall. “I think it’s a great thing, that he’s running. Obviously there is a passion in our family for what goes in this city. It’s good to see that if I can’t run again my dad will take the reigns.”
“If he displays his passion and expresses it to people the way he does to friends and family, he absolutely can win, and I think the District and the city will be better for it.”
Now, all Recupero and his son can do is hit the pavement, ask voters for their support, and hope that, at least in District Six, the old adage will hold true: the third time is, after all, a charm.