Dominican presidential race comes to JP

You can take the voter out of the Dominican Republic, but you can’t take the Dominican Republic out of the voter.

That’s why both candidates in this week’s Dominican presidential election campaigned in Jamaica Plain, which is home to a thriving Dominican immigrant community. The Kennedy Elementary School and English High School were two local polling places for the Dominican election on Sun., May 20.

“It is a tradition,” Tony Barros, an advisor on Latino issues to Mayor Thomas Menino, said before the election. “They are very excited.”

Barros said turnout for presidential elections averages 65 percent in the Dominican, and when people leave the Caribbean island country, they bring their political enthusiasm with them.

The first time Dominicans living abroad were able to vote in the presidential election was in 2004. Barros was then the coordinator for the region consisting of New York and New England, and said turnout was more than 85 percent.

“It was great,” said Barros.

Danilo Medina, a member of the center-right Dominican Liberation Party, and former President Hipolito Mejia, a member of the left-wing Dominican Revolutionary Party, were vying for the presidency this year. Barros said both candidates visited Jamaica Plain last year trying to garner votes.

By the Gazette deadline on Tuesday, Medina had won 51 percent of the vote, but Mejia, who garnered 47 percent, refused to concede, claiming fraud in the election.

Barros noted that the Dominicans living abroad have a strong tie to their native land and many send money back creating a large portion of the Dominican economy.

“That’s why the candidates are so political involved in what is going on here,” said Barros.

This year marks the first time Dominicans living abroad have the opportunity to elect representatives to the Dominican National Congress, according to Barros. He said there will be a total of seven representatives, two of whom will represent the New England and New York region.

Betsy Cowan, executive director of Egleston Square Main Street, said she has seen “significant activity” concerning the Dominican presidential election, including a get-out-the-vote effort in January. She said she saw one presidential candidate walking out of Sorella’s restaurant in Hyde Square last May. She could not recall which candidate it was.

“I’m impressed,” she said. “If we did such a get-out-the-vote effort, we would have a much higher participation.”

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