When Councillor Melinda Vega-Maldonado decided to run for the District 2 Council seat, there weren’t a lot of introductions necessary.
The lifelong Chelsea resident was born into a storied family in the City, and cut her own political path early in life by winning a seat on the School Committee when she was just 18.
Vega-Maldonado, 30, now works at NOAH in East Boston on environmental justice issues, and is the coordinator of community building and environment there – having worked at NOAH since she was a teen. However, it was tagging along with her mother – Gladys Vega, director of the Chelsea Collaborative – to meetings about constructing the Burke Complex that led her to get active in community organizing and local politics.
“Growing up and going to community meetings with my mom and things like that, I learned you could shape how things happen,” she said. “I remember going and discussing about how to get our parks because the new elementary school was being built. I remember being part of the design process for the parks. That was really big for me because it put in my mind that we are surrounded by water, but had not access to the water – and we had such a lack of greenspace here.”
As a worker at NOAH, one of her first actions was to advocate for the Condor Street Urban Wild on the East Boston side of the Chelsea Creek. It has stuck with her, and as she continues to advocate professionally for the Creek, she also intends on bringing that passion for environmental and social justice to the City Council.
“I truly love being on an organization that works to improve the Creek and being in Chelsea and being able to advocate for the Creek as well,” she said. “I’m really excited about that.”
She said she is happy that the City is working carefully on resiliency when it comes to climate change and sea level rise. She said she has reviewed plans the City has to improve the Island End River and protect the New England Produce Center.
“We have to be savvy about resiliency and climate change and the challenges we have with flooding,” she said. “It’s great to see we are being proactive already.”
Vega-Maldonado grew up in Chelsea and attended the Shurtleff School, the Sokolowski School, the Clark Avenue School, and she attended Chelsea High School until her junior year. At that point, she went down to Puerto Rico and graduated from high school there, but returned to Chelsea shortly after to resume her life here. It wasn’t long after that when she ran for School Committee.
She said she ran for School Committee because of a revelation from one of her teachers during high school – a teacher whom they were giving a hard time. She told them curtly that she believes in them, but most of the other teachers did not, calling Chelsea a “jail cell.”
“She told us that the teachers laughed at her for making the classes challenging because none of the kids would ever leave Chelsea and would always be stuck here,” she said. “I took that to heart. I don’t want to leave Chelsea, but I want to make it a better place to raise my children and my family.”
Vega-Maldonado said she wanted to run for Council after her tenure on the School Committee, but decided to have children first. Recently, she married Chelsea Police Officer Jonathan Maldonaldo, and they are raising two children – Armani and Akyllis – at their home on Clark Avenue. Now that her kids are in school, she said she felt it was time to make a run for District 2.
So far, she said she is ready to tackle not only the overarching issues around environmental and racial justice, but also the district issues in her neighborhood.
She said there are concerns about streets like Clark Avenue and others being too narrow – and she’ll advocate for better safety. Likewise, she said the construction and renovations at the Soldiers’ Home will be a major focus of her advocacy in the neighborhood. She said there wasn’t much information given to neighbors about the timeline and the work being done, and she hopes to change that through working closely with the Home.
Beyond that, she said, it’s been a pleasure re-connecting with everyone in the community and seeing how many people already know her and her family.
“That’s the beauty of being here my whole life and being brought up in such a strong, prominent family with a voice in the community,” she said. “I’ve already seen where there is that built in trust because people know about me. It’s made it easier to have meaningful and difficult conversations. I was born and raised into this type of work and that makes it easier I think to have tough conversations. I know their struggles and I’m from Chelsea.”