The city of Holyoke, Massachusetts made history last night, electing its first Latino mayor, Joshua Garcia.
Garcia, 35, and the current town administrator of nearby Blanford, beat out At-Large City Councilor Michael Sullivan with 56 percent of the vote —4,566 votes to Sullivan’s 3,548— to become the city’s 45th mayor.
Sullivan conceded just after the polls closed at 8 p.m. As the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported:
“First and foremost, we’re Holyokers,” Garcia said, his son hugging him around the waist and the crowd roaring. “Whether you’re white, Puerto Rican, Black” he said, smiling as people called out more of the identities represented at the victory party. “Colombian! Costa Rican.”
“We’re all one,” Garcia said.
But he ran primarily on his administrative experience, having served not only as Blanford’s town administrator since 2018 but also in roles at the Holyoke Housing Authority, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and the city’s school committee. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from Westfield State University.
Garcia credits the city’s social services and opportunities with helping him and his family succeed.
“We made history,” said outgoing city councilor Gladys LeBron-Martinez, who is stepping down after 10 years of service. LeBron-Martinez described how the Garcia campaign went door-to-door and met with community members outside churches and events.
“I kept reminding him: you’re going to open doors,” she said. “For people who think civic engagement is not beneficial or that it’s not possible for us to win.”
Fifty-four percent of Holyoke’s residents identify as Latino, and the southern Massachusetts city is known as a strong Puerto Rican enclave. Outside the bar where Garcia delivered his speech, cries of “¡Wepa!” could be heard.
But Garcia told the crowd last night that he plans to use his administrative experience to rebuild the city of Holyoke for all of its residents.
“When we talk about the issues in our community that are impacting the quality of life, from the condition of our streets and sidewalks to the condition of our public buildings to schools being in receivership and concerns around public safety, each of those problems are management,” he said.
“My administration is going to be focused on bridging gaps in our neighborhoods, so that we can be sure we are building our community together.”
Garcia wasn’t the only Latino candidate to win last night. Israel Rivera won an open at-large seat on the city council, becoming the second-highest vote-getter in the field of 11 candidates competing for six seats.
Turnout was low, with a little over 30 percent of Holyoke’s 27,354 registered voters casting ballots. “The election went smoothly but the turnout was disappointing,” said City Clerk Brenna McGee, who noted that the city council will be the most diverse she has seen in the more than 12 years since she was first elected to the council.
Garcia lives in the Oakdale neighborhood with his wife, Stefany Garcia, the family access engagement coordinator in the city’s public schools. They have two children, twins Ethan and Allison.
Garcia will be sworn in on November 15, replacing the current acting mayor, Terence Murphy, who took over when the previous mayor became the town manager in Provincetown. Garcia will serve out the rest of the current term before beginning his own four-year term in January.