This year’s Primary Election was one to remember, and with State Rep. Dan Ryan prevailing in the vote – and no challenger on the ballot in November – he said he is thinking about his next term and noted it will be all about getting Charlestown and Chelsea back on their feet after COVID-19.
Ryan prevailed over Chelsea Councillor Damali Vidot in the Sept. 1 Primary vote, winning Charlestown handily but losing the Chelsea vote and winning overall by about 1,100 votes. However, unlike previous re-election campaigns, the new term will be anything but typical. In fact, he said, many of the goals he might have typically had will need to be put aside for the next term.
“It’s really going to be about just getting my two communities that I represent back up on their feet,” he said. “That’s my goal. We all know the story of how hard Chelsea was hit and we need to achieve the same structure we had in Charlestown and bring some normalcy back to where it was before COVID-19. Chelsea was headed in a good direction before COVID-19, but I think COVID-19 also showed us the structural issues that exist in our urban areas and that we have to address. Both communities have pretty large public housing re-developments going on. We have to do a lot of work making sure those are done right. We’re re-inventing public housing in Charlestown and Chelsea. Regardless of COVID-19, I think we need to move forward on those projects.”
Most of the work to be done, he said, will be making sure basic needs are met for residents in Charlestown and Chelsea – such as housing foreclosure/eviction prevention and making sure essential workers can safely get to their jobs. Those aren’t grand plans for a newly elected representative, but Ryan said that’s the work that is going to be required for his district.
“The biggest thing we need to do is to make sure we are being safe to get our numbers down so we can get people back to work when it’s safe to do so and then keep people in their homes,” he said. “There is a lot of work to do on that. The primary issues I’ve been working on for the last six years are really going to have to be put on the back burner.”
One of the major concerns he said he has is with downtown areas in Boston and Chelsea – and how the changes in work dynamics are going to affect businesses there and workers who go there for jobs. He said the delegation in the State House has already been informally talking about these issues since COVID-19 hit, and he expects them to be more prominent moving forward.
“It looks like this is going to bring a huge societal shift,” he said. “I don’t think downtowns will be completely empty, but I think businesses and workers that go there will be affected…What I think eventually we’ll be dealing with is downtown businesses that are the day-to-day services – the sandwich shops, the stores and the bars – they’re going to take a big hit if the economy doesn’t come back.”
Ryan, reflecting on the election process, said it was a very hard campaign to define and to carry out. With COVID-19 hitting just after he had announced his re-election campaign, there was a lot of uncertainty about how to proceed. First, he said he took a pause, and then the work of the State Legislature picked up and he described it as being one of the busiest and hardest few months of his career.
“I didn’t really start campaigning until June,” he said. “We were so busy unemployment cases and getting PPE to places that needed it and getting food to the elderly, there wasn’t time for it. When we started, it was by telephone and Zoom meetings. When I saw people walking around more and going to the coffee shops and supermarket and getting out, I started on my own street in Charlestown where people know me. Gradually I worked my way out in Charlestown and Chelsea. For the most part, I got a good reception. Nobody told me they didn’t want me at the door…The majority thanked me for coming out and doing it.”
He said he found that there was a much higher turnout than expected, largely driven by mail-in voting, early voting and other unique aspects of this election process. He said he believes that the turnout was balanced on mail-in voting, and it is likely here to stay in some form.
“Going forward post-COVID, we’ll have a good process in place and much more efficiencies like everything else,” he said.
Now, back in the legislature, Ryan said it will be his job this coming term to make sure places like Chelsea and Charlestown get their fair share of funding to put things back in order. That will be particularly critical in Chelsea and parts of Charlestown hit harder by the virus and the downturn in the economy.
“We have to make sure that Gateway Cities and urban areas get a weighted share of the monies,” he said. “Do we have a better argument now? Yes. But I think we were moving that way already. The Student Opportunity Act was a good step to help these urban cities and towns. I don’t think COVID exposed to us anything we didn’t know, but it gives us more of an immediacy to move where we were going.”
State Rep. Ryan will be inaugurated into his fourth term in January.