IT WAS A little more than two weeks before Election Day as Juan Jaramillo took a seat at Casa Blanca, a pastry shop that takes up a sliver of space in a shopping plaza between the last stop on the Blue Line and four lanes of the VFW Parkway in Revere. 

Around him, the background chatter was a mix of English, Spanish, and Arabic, the three main languages spoken in Revere. “If you turned on a public hearing, you wouldn’t know it,” Jaramillo said.

With his election victory on Tuesday in the race for an at-large city council seat, the 30-year-old son of Colombian immigrants is on track to change that. Jaramillo will become the lone Latino and only non-white official serving on the 11-member council. 

Revere, a city of 62,000 residents just north of Boston, was long known as a sleepy working-class Italian enclave. But it has seen enormous demographic change in recent years. The share of its population that is Latino has increased four-fold, from 9 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2020, and 55 percent of Revere residents are now people of color. 

As in many communities, the racial and ethnic make-up of local elected bodies in Revere has been a lagging indicator of sweeping population change that has been underway for years.

“There’s been a significant transformation of the population,” said Robert Travaglini, a former state Senate president who for 15 years represented a district that included Revere. “Look, this is all cyclical. The only difference between the Italian Americans and the Latino Americans is time. We got here 100 years before that, and now everything is catching up.”

Jaramillo was one of 10 candidates running for one of the Revere City Council’s five at-large seats, three of them open. Alexander Rhalimi, a Moroccan immigrant, was also an at-large candidate but lost. Jacqueline Monterroso won a seat on the school committee, becoming the first Latina elected to office in Revere. She waged an unsuccessful run for school committee in 2021, and then stepped in to fill a vacancy earlier this year before winning a full term on Tuesday.

Jaramillo’s victory comes more than two decades after the first and only other Latino and person of color served on the council. John Perez served two terms between 1998 and 2001. 

State Sen. Lydia Edwards, an East Boston Democrat who now is in the same seat that Travaglini once held, recalled attending Jaramillo’s campaign kickoff earlier this year inside Rincon Limeño, a Peruvian restaurant in Revere, and being taken by the diversity of the crowd, which included longtime residents, or “townies,” as well as newly arrived immigrants.

“For a city to meet the needs of its constituents, our local government has to look like their constituents, and have similar backgrounds,” said Edwards, a Black lawyer who is the first woman and person of color to hold the East Boston-Revere seat. 

Jaramillo, whose parents worked as janitors at Massachusetts General Hospital, said he wants to keep Revere a working-class city. He believes universal pre-kindergarten and more affordable and reliable public transportation are key. 

Similar to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s pilot that made three MBTA bus lines serving Dorchester and Mattapan fare-free, Jaramillo is interested in a fare-free pilot for bus lines that cross between Revere, Boston and Chelsea. 

He and his parents, who still live in the apartment towers between the Wonderland and Revere Beach MBTA stations, were once undocumented immigrants. “I remember always being on edge about ICE making a visit or my father being deported,” said Jaramillo, who arrived in Revere at the age of 7.

The feeling led him into organizing for immigrant rights, and he later interned and worked on Beacon Hill, in the offices of former House speaker Robert DeLeo and former state senator Joe Boncore. His resume also includes stints at SEIU Local 509, a union that represents service workers, and the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

November 7, 2023
Revere City Council candidate Juan Jaramillo urges a supporter on the phone to vote in the November 7 election. (Photo by Gintautas Dumcius)

When DeLeo announced his resignation at the end of 2020, Jaramillo jumped into the special election that followed. He finished second in the Democratic primary, losing to a much more conservative candidate, Jeff Turco, a Winthrop attorney.

Working his extensive network of political connections, Jaramillio was endorsed in the state rep race by US Sen. Bernie Sanders and US Rep. Ayanna Pressley. Looking back on that contest, Jaramillo said the high-profile backing became a distraction from the groundwork needed to win a local race. 

The focus needed to be on “the issues that working class families in Revere and Winthrop were facing,” he said. 

Despite losing the race, Jaramillo did well in Revere’s immigrant-heavy Ward 2, and turned to city politics this year. He was more low-key about his endorsements this time around, and he focused on getting out the vote during the city’s two-week early voting period. “The early voting means we can drag our voters out, voters in places where we do well, earlier on, so we’re not cramming come Election Day,” he said while sitting inside Casa Blanca two weeks before the election.

On Election Day, Jaramillo was outside the polls at Revere High School, with his wife Crystal and Edwards joining him to greet voters coming in and out. He was heartened by what he was hearing about voter activity in the ward, which historically sees lower turnout. “We saw an increase in early voting from the prelim. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that we’re going to finish in the top five tonight,” he said of the 10-way race for five seats.  

When the votes were counted, he placed fourth. 

Bob Marra, whose grandfather came to Revere from Italy more than 100 years ago, sees Jaramillo’s election as the city shifting out of a village mindset. “There may have been some reticence among people to acknowledge the change in Revere, and it has slowly taken root,” said Marra, who has worked as city solicitor, served on the zoning board, and worked as a senior adviser for Patrick Keefe, the acting mayor who won a full term on Tuesday. He said Jaramillo’s election is “a sign that people have really embraced what Revere now is.”